Canvey Emergency Hospital

From Fred McCave's Bulletins 1984

A Local Non Mystery Explained

Hospital collecting box

“What happened to the hospital fund – or is it one of those island mysteries?” I have been asked. Of course it isn’t a mystery and never was one. In the ultimate all the money went to establish the Little Gypps centre – which is still there, writes Fred McCave editor.

To throw some light on the early days I have prevailed on Miall James to write a very interesting and factual article.

To show the financial position at the end of the day the expenditure and income account appears as a local historical document.

The Canvey Hospital    Oh where, Oh where did it go!

Ask any long-standing resident of the island about hospitals and sooner or later the comment is made…a lot of money was collected for a hospital on Canvey but no-one knows what happened to it. Or something like that anyway. Well, I think I know what happened, and why.

The first record I can find of a Canvey Hospital Fund is a minute book of the ‘Canvey ‘Adelaide’ Emergency Hospital’, dated February 8, 1928, with meetings held at first at the residence of Mr G Phillips, a prominent Islander of the time. At the time of writing I have not yet examined the records in the Canvey press for 1927, but there is no mention in the Southend Standard for 1926 of a Canvey Hospital, and one assumes therefore that the project was started sometime in late 1927.

The local scene, medically speaking, was dominated by the new Southend Hospital. That which we now know as the old building, in Prittlewell Chase, Southend, familiar to many Islanders who have trailed across there using two or three buses.

The ground for that was donated in 1926 by Viscount Elvedon, MP for Southend, and it was estimated at the time that the 120 beds planned would cost £100,000, with annual running costs of probably £18 – 20,000. I found, at about the same time, a proposal to erect a Shoeburyness Hospital (for Shoebury was not then part of the Borough of Southend), and since there were some 1000 families (presumably households) in Shoebury it was estimated that to provide a six bedded hospital would require each household to contribute 6d (2s/2p) per week, on top of the initial costs of £6000 to build and equip.

Canvey, it should be remembered was much smaller than Shoebury at that time, the population being about 2000 at the most, including children. It was also not a wealthy area, as will be seen from the fact that at one sitting of the Rochford bench 43 summons were dealt with from Canvey for keeping a dog without a licence! It was therefore no mean task that Messrs Phillips, Francke, Bartlett, Bensley and Wade, and Miss James (no relation) took on, although of course they could rely on numbers of visitors coming to Canvey for holidays, who might be called upon for assistance. (Indeed it is often these visitors, now residents, who say to one nowadays…whatever happened to all that money we used to give at pre-war Carnivals?).

In 1928 the proposal was for a site in the Long Road, and there was much discussion and negotiation on the question of £200 from a Mrs. French, but for one reason or another, and the records are not clear as to why the matter was never concluded, and as a result the name Adelaide was dropped, and the fund became known as the Canvey Emergency Hospital Fund. It was also recognised early that the word Emergency would have to be in the proposal, and that only short-term care would be possible on the island. Writing in 1984 it has difficult to appreciate the differences in medicine, between then and now and one has to recall that in the late 1920’s diseases such as pneumonia and diphtheria were regular killers, and that penicillin, the first antibiotic was but a mould on a dish in St. Mary’s Hospital.

Many people required hospital care for what we would now regard as complaints to be treated at home, and the technical equipment in such a hospital would be more on the lines of commodes than computers.

Not daunted by the money involved the Emergency Fund Committee decided to hold a Carnival on September 1st 1928 and a flag day sometime in August. Various residents offered donations and other assistance. It is recorded that the flag day held in August realised £16.1.3, plus one farthing and no doubt a number of foreign coins, but there are no records of the takings for the Carnival itself.

The only relevant comments, perhaps, come in dark remarks at the Committee meeting held in August 1929, a year later when one member ‘spoke at length re  certain criticisms that had been freely spoke of by certain individuals’.

No Carnival took place that year because the internal walls were lowered and the roads were reconstructed. The treasurer was instructed to produce a balance sheet for the next meeting, held at Kingsley Hall, Central Wall Road, in September and meanwhile the committee agreed to continue with their plans.

The next meeting, September 24, 1929 received a report that there was a credit (presumably at the bank) of £80,4,11d. Mr Bensley was re-appointed chairman and Mr Phillips treasurer. Mr Wade was the secretary, and the rest of the committee, the Misses Evans and James and Messrs Griffiths, Brassington, Jones and Bartlett. Progress however was halted a month later because the new Southend Hospital, due to be opened by the Duchess of York (now the Queen Mother) needed more funds, and Mr Bensley was instructed at the November meeting of the committee to interview Canvey residents and raise a purse of money to be presen­ted to the Duchess, and it was also agreed to raise the donation from the Canvey Carnival from 10 to 25%.

There is no record to say whether or not 25% of funds held was given to the Southend fund, but if they were, then by the turn of the year 1930 the Canvey Fund would have stood at no more than £60/65, far, far, too little to even consider such action.

That people were disheartened seems to be borne out by the events of 1930, when no meetings were held, although it appears that some money may have come in. There was no committee meeting in fact until August 1931, when it was agreed to share the profits of an unspecified function with a fairground operator, Mr Playfair, and also, that as no public meeting had taken place for some time, to call one to ‘further the fund which had been commenced for the purpose of purch­asing land as a site for the hospital’.

The later 1930’s did see some progress, and I will continue the story in the next issue, up to the War, by which time a site had been purchased. In the mean­time I would be very grateful if any readers have records of the period I have discussed, which might throw more light on this local endeavour. At the time of writing I have the minutes book for the committee, but if there are sets of accounts existing I would be most grateful for sight of them.

The final accounts

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