Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: Fundraising on a grand scale

Charities paid to build and run towns’ hospitals

Sunday, 17th October 2021, 6:30 pm
Dewsbury Ladies’ Linen Guild in the 1930s: Pictured on Healds Road in front of what used to be the Cottage Homes. Bella Smith is pictured seated on the second row, fifth from the left wearing a coat with a fur lining on the collar. Three of the other ladies in the picture are Mrs Speight, Mrs Lydia Brewer and Mrs Thornton.

One has to wonder how working class towns like ours survived without the charitable organisations which once abounded here.

I am talking about the days before the National Health Service was formed to look after the sick or the Welfare State to care for the poor.

The names of some of the charities which existed in my grandparents’ time tell their own story and act as a reminder of how harsh life could be for some.

There was “Boots for the Bairns” which provided footwear for poor children who often had to go barefoot.

And “Charity House of Help”, sometimes referred to as the “Refuge for the Friendless”, which was situated on Ashworth Road on The Flatts, Dewsbury.

There were many more which I will not go into but they all tell their own story of how bleak life could be for some.

Today we are used to being taken care of from cradle to grave and we take our free hospitals for granted.

But if you look at the photograph above and wonder what all these smartly clad ladies had to do with looking after the poor and sick, I will tell you.

They were members of the “Dewsbury Women’s Linen Guild” which raised money to provide sheets and blankets for Dewsbury General Infirmary in the 1930s.

This was at a time when towns like Dewsbury and Batley not only had to find the money to build their own hospitals but also to run them.

How these towns could raise enough money to build a hospital and pay for its upkeep is hard to imagine today. But the community spirit which existed at that time ensured that this became possible.

It is inspiring to read how they managed to do it, especially here in Dewsbury, where the hospital they built turned out to be one of the finest in the country.

Various voluntary groups, including the group pictured above, were set up to ensure the hospital would be run on a sound financial basis. This group raised vast amounts of money towards the upkeep of the hospital, and to buy all the bed linen required.

I have shown this photograph before, but I show it again because it always fills me with hope and lifts my spirit. I hope it does the same for you.

The picture was sent to me some years ago by Judith Ward whose grandmother, Bella Smith, had once been the guild’s president.

I researched more about them and discovered that, like many other voluntary organisations connected with the hospital, they raised huge amounts to keep it going.

Dewsbury people rallied to the call for a new hospital to be built on Moorlands Road, Dewsbury.

Every village appointed its own fundraising committee, and in 1930 the hospital was officially opened to great rejoicing.

But this was only the beginning because now they had the burden of raising enough money every year to pay for its upkeep and wages of staff.

One of the biggest money raising events in Dewsbury was an annual carnival which lasted a full week.

The carnival held in 1933 gives us some idea of how public spirited the people of this area were, and the same was happening in Batley as well.

The first day of the Dewsbury Carnival was on Sunday with a Civic Service in Springfield Congregational Church, preceded by a civic procession from Dewsbury Town Hall, headed by Dewsbury Borough Band.

This was followed by an open-air concert in Crow Nest Park by Dewsbury Permanent Orchestra and Chorus.

Every village put on a major event that week.

It started on the Monday with Earlsheaton, who held a massive event on Chickenley cricket field.

There were children’s sports, dancing displays, concert parties, band selections, community singing and dancing.

Also that day, Thornhill held their event on Thornhill Cricket Field, starting with a procession headed by Thornhill Brass Band, followed by maypole and folk dancing, a Punch and Judy Show, numerous sideshows, and dancing with music provided by Thornhill Prize Band.

On Tuesday, Dewsbury Chamber of Trade and Dewsbury and District Butchers’ Association organised a cricket match between the Yorkshire County Cricket Club Seco nd Xl, and a Dewsbury and District Team of Fifteen.

The Ravensthorpe event, also on Tuesday, included a grand fancy dress procession, children’s sports, gymnastic display by the Boys’ Club, ambulance display, physical culture display, music and dancing by the Ravensthorpe Subscription Prize Band and side shows.

Wednesday at Crown Flatt there were Sheep Dog Trials, and on Thursday, the Children’s Day was held at Savile Town Playing Fields with sports and entertainment, massed choirs, country dancing, physical exercises, maypole dancing, fancy dress parade and donkey rides.

On the Friday a grand carnival dance was held at Dewsbury Town Hall with the Piccadilly Dance Orchestra. Tickets were three shillings each.

Saturday was Gala Day at Crow Nest Park, starting with a grand procession from Dewsbury Town Hall with prizes for best decorated horse vehicle and best decorated cycle.

At the park there was entertainment on a grand scale with performing ponies, clowns, performing dogs, eccentric boxing comedians, trapeze artistes, acrobats, contortionists and gymnasts.

Music was provided by Ravensthorpe Brass Band and Dewsbury Military Band with dancing into the evening.

The grand finale was a delightful musical programme in the band stand by the Dewsbury Borough Brass Band. Chairs were 2d each.

Just reading through all these events leaves one breathless, and it is little wonder it took thousands of people to organise it on such a grand scale.

The carnival raised more than £1,000, a massive sum in those days, but sadly the hospital they had all worked so hard to build and support was closed down in the 1980s and demolished.

It was replaced by the present Dewsbury and District Hospital on Healds Road which, fingers crossed, will not suffer the same fate as its predecessor.