Agnes Maria Bowditch & the Cold Ash Children’s Hospital

childrens homesThis photograph of children in the grounds of Cold Ash Convalescent Home and Children’s Hospital was taken by my (Great) Aunt Nella on a trip to Cold Ash in May 1901. It is relaxed and joyful but also a bit frustrating as there are no names written underneath or on the back of the picture.

I would like to think that the smiling lady surrounded by happy children is the founder of the Home, Agnes Maria Bowditch.

Originally from Wakefield in Yorkshire, Agnes Maria Bowditch was born on 19th July 1850, the daughter of the then vicar of Wakefield St Andrew.1 Quite what made her move south to a small village in Berkshire and establish a children’s convalescent home is a mystery, but that is exactly what she did, in her house in Cold Ash, in 1886.2

According to the 1891 Census, Agnes was a ‘trained nurse’, which at least explains how she managed from a practical point of view. As the ‘Lady Superintendent’ she had the responsibility of 23 patients, aged between 3 and 21, suffering mainly from hip or spinal problems. The majority were from London but interestingly, there were a couple from South Africa and a couple from New Zealand. In 1891, she had one nurse and three ‘probationer’ nurses working with her, plus a cook and a housemaid living in.3

childrens homesBy census night 1901, things had changed dramatically. The Convalescent Home had now only 7 ‘boarders’ (rather than patients), aged between 3 and 14, who shared the house with Agnes (still the Lady Superintendent) and Matron Margaret Rhodes, plus a cook, a housemaid and a wardmaid. Two of the boarders came from abroad including 12-year-old Jack Cole, born in the Punjab in India. Unlike the return of ten years earlier, the ‘infirmities’ section was not filled in, so we don’t know what the children were convalescing from but judging by my photos, perhaps the conditions were similar to before.

Significantly, Agnes had expanded her endeavours and the 1901 Census shows the new Children’s Cottage Hospital. Apparently specialising in respiratory illnesses, it offered lots of fresh country air to its 20 young patients. There were four nurses, including Sister-in-Charge Arabella Spencer from Dublin and ‘Sick Nurse’ Helen Marlin from Wantage. The only other live-in staff member was the cook, Emma Hussey. This time, nine patients’ birthplaces were simply listed as ‘N K’ ie ‘Not Known’. Two children were born in Russia and one, 14-year-old William Locke was an American.4

A quick look at Cold Ash St Mark’s burial register shows several entries for patients from ‘Cold Ash Hospital’, including a baby of 1 year and 7 months in 1920 and a young woman originally from Tabard Street in Southwark in London, aged 19, buried in 1903.5 The Berkshire Record Office also has a log book from the hospital school, full of well meant wrangling between the school mistress and the hospital matron, over country walks and class timetables. Fascinating stuff if you happen to have an ancestor either teaching, nursing or being treated in the years after 1917.6

Agnes Maria Bowditch never married. By the time of the 1911 Census she had moved to Hermitage and was living with another elderly single lady of private means, Hester Madden. They had a cook, Annie Barr from Cold Ash and a housemaid, Lilian Elizabeth Buckle from Beedon.7 Agnes died, aged 80, in 19318 and is buried in the churchyard of Cold Ash St Marks.9 The Cold Ash Children’s Hospital eventually closed in 1964, was demolished in 197010 and, according to the very useful Berkshire Family History Society ‘Berkshire Places’ page on Cold Ash, the site is now a cul-de-sac called Sewell (sadly not Bowditch) Close.

Footnotes
[1] West Yorkshire Archives Service Wakefield St Andrew Baptism Register (MS Ref: WDP152/1/1/1) via http://www.ancestry.co.uk/
[2] ‘Cold Ash & Ashmore Green Road by Road’ RB Tubb (2nd Ed. 2004 Henwick Worthy Books)
[3] 1891 Census (TNA Ref: RG12/968/84/8-9)
[4] 1901 Census (TNA Ref: RG13/1123/87/1-2)
[5] Berkshire Record Office Cold Ash St Mark Parish Records (MS Ref: D/P130D/1/3)
[6] Berkshire Record Office Cold Ash Children’s Hospital School Log Books 1917-1956(MS Ref: C/EL106/1)
[7] 1911 Census (TNA Ref: RG14/6500/56)
[8] GRO Deaths Index via http://www.freebmd.org.uk/
[9] Berkshire Record Office Cold Ash St Mark Parish Records (MS Ref: D/P130D/1/)
[10] ‘Cold Ash & Ashmore Green Road by Road’ RB Tubb (2nd Ed. 2004 Henwick Worthy Books)

© Emmy Eustace

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