“T’was Christmas day in the Workhouse and the cold bare walls are bright, with garlands of green and holly, and the place is a pleasant sight …” wrote George R Simms in his famous monologue.
He must have known that in Christmas 1944 the Mayor would pay his annual short visit to the site. His visit was “much appreciated by staff, patients and inmates”, or so the Surrey Advertiser reported on 29th December 1944 in an article entitled “Warren Road Institution”. Like the monologue it also went on with expressions to the effect that the wards of the hospital were tastefully decorated. However Rev WAE Austen, Chairman, Surrey County Council Public Health Committee, took exception to this report and responded in a “Letter to the Editor” publish on 13th January 1945.
In this he pointed out that the “… whole emphasis [of the article was] on the word ‘Institution’ [and the]… curious idea that because Warren Road was once a workhouse it had no right to be regarded as a hospital”. Also “By a further curious mental process it is assumed …. that for some mysterious reason the hospital must be of the sort to which one would only go if he or she could help it”. He then went on to list the many improvements made to the Hospital over the last six years since it became a Public Health Hospital (i.e. managed by his Public Health Committee) and that further expansion of the Hospital had been postponed by wartime conditions. He concluded “Warren Road [Hospital] is, in fact, an acute general hospital and last year admitted some 6000 patients, a very large majority were acute cases”.
The Surrey Advertiser responded by printing, in the same edition, a short article expressing the hope that “… the County Council will renew its efforts to find a more suitable name for the hospital. Until they succeed ‘Warren Road’ and the ‘Poor Law’ of unblessed memory will be inseparable … for Surry folk. Evidence of this comes to the notice of the ‘Surrey Advertiser’ repeatedly.”
This hope was discussed by the Guildford Hospital Sub-Committee at a meeting on 1 February 1945. The minutes record that “The Chairman of the Public Health Committee suggested that as the Hospital was in the Parish of St Luke’s, Guildford, the Hospital should be renamed ‘St Luke’s Hospital’, Guildford.” The minutes also record that “The Sub-Committee do authorise the renaming of Warren Road Hospital as ‘St Luke’s Hospital’, Guildford”.
Remarkably the change took place very quickly. So, from 1 April 1945, the hospital became St Luke’s Hospital Guildford.
While the original corrugated iron church was later demolished it is remembered in the name of the hospital that continues to play a large role in our community.
Christmas was always a special time at St Luke’s. For the patients, being in hospital over Christmas was very hard and so the staff did everything they could to make a cheerful atmosphere on the wards and behind the scenes.
Senior management and doctors served the staff Christmas dinner and would join the nurses who visited the wards singing carols and wearing their capes inside out to show the red lining. Wards were decorated with a new theme each year, usually set by Matron. The children’s ward made sure that there was a tea party and games to play.
The Mayor and Mayoress of Guildford would pay a visit, with the maternity ward being a very popular place for the all important Surrey Advertiser photograph welcoming the first baby born on Christmas Day.
Take a look at our archive selection of festive wards from 1958 to 1974:
1. Henrique’s Ward in 1959
2. Sells Ward on Christmas Day 1958
3. Sister ‘Robbie’ Robinson with children on Harper Ward, Christmas 1974
4. A Christmas party for ex patients on the children’s ward
The cell doors at the Spike tell a story all of their own: scored with century old graffiti and bearing the marks of time. Sadly, there were very few peep-holes left in tact and the bolts and locks had long been stripped away.
Luckily for the Spike, Len Norman has been able to find some of the original bolts and made new peep hole covers so that visitors can now see what the original doors would have looked like.
Len came in today and after some discussion with Gordon McBrearty one of our leading guides, fixed the new bolts. Thanks Len – as usual you have come up trumps!
45 Baccalaureate students from Lorraine , France, paid a surprise visit to the Spike today.
They are studying topics related to future careers in nursing and social care. Their tutor had asked the Tourist Information Office for a suitable destination on a rainy afternoon in Guildford. No contest, really!!
Dave and Sarah gave a costume tour of the Spike and Jane helped with information on the project exhibition. The students were a delight and we hope that our leaflets and information pack on the history of St Luke’s Hospital help in their studies.
Their tutor Veronique wrote in our Visitor’s Book- ‘Stunning tour – shudders down the back….’
When Guildford War Hospital was established in Warren Road in 1916, its first Matron was Agnes Harriett Withers. Miss Withers who was 40 at this time, had been born in Somerset, the daughter of a dairyman, and trained as a nurse at the General Infirmary and Gloucester Eye Institute. On completing her training she continued to work in Gloucester as a Staff Nurse before moving to Brighton Hospital for Women as a Sister Midwife from 1901 until 1904. After a year in charge of a private medical and surgical Home in Ipswich, Agnes was interviewed to join Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service. She was recommended for a position at Louise Margaret Hospital in Aldershot and a year later she moved to the Military Family Hospital in Curragh. In 1911 her breadth of experience was rewarded by appointment as matron at Shorncliffe Military Families Hospital in Folkestone.
Towards the end of 1913 the QAIMNS Reserve was prepared, ready for the event of war. Agnes Withers was one of only 300 trained nurses in the Reserve, although by 1919 it was made up of 10,404 fully trained staff. In September 1914, Miss Withers was told to prepare herself for travel to Malta but this was cancelled and she remained at Shorncliffe Hospital until her appointment as matron in Guildford on June 10th 1916. Agnes worked at Guildford war Hospital for 13 months before being posted to Salonika via France on July 26th 1917. Her duties establishing the Military Hospital at Guildford were recognised by the Royal Red Cross Second Class awarded to her by the King in April 1917 and she retained a link with Guildford, having her post sent to the Williamson sisters who lived in Epsom Road, Guildford.
Agnes continued as Matron in Salonika until the end of the war, receiving the Greek medal for Military Merit before being posted to Malta as Sister-in-Charge. When she left Salonika in 1919 she was given a glowing report by Lieut-Col. Gates, the Officer in Charge. He said that Miss Withers was, “of even and cheerful disposition and displayed great energy and zeal for the welfare and nursing of the sick and wounded. Her tact and high standard of conduct have made her respected and liked by the whole staff of the hospital.” He added that she was, “A good organiser and manager who obtains the best work from her staff with the minimum of friction. Her determination and personality make her thoroughly capable of managing a large staff.”
In 1922 Agnes was finally allowed to return to England for a long leave which she spent with the Williamson sisters in Guildford before starting work at Chatham Military Families Hospital. She was probably relieved to return to Louise Margaret Hospital in Aldershot in 1924, where she worked until her retirement in 1926. She obviously continued to enjoy travelling as during her retirement Miss Withers can be found on the passenger list of ships to Gibraltar and Port Said and she also visited Switzerland. Her residence from 1922 until at least 1945 was in Guildford and when she died in 1952 her funeral service was at Woking Crematorium.