In sickness and in health…

Local Authority

At the end of the Nineteenth and beginning of the Twentieth Century, Hemingfield came under the local governance of Wombwell Urban District Council. The body oversaw most local services and reported on the health and welfare of the population, numbering an estimated 17,764 souls.

Detail of area from Ordnance Survey Quarter inch, Second Edition, 1914

A place in history

Detail of Wombwell and Hoyland Urban District Councils from map in West Riding County Council, Report of the County Medical Officer upon the Sanitary Districts within the Barnsley Union, 1898

Describing the area, and setting the social and economic scene of Wombwell and Hemingfield a hundred years ago, now sounds almost like a foreign country.

“The district is divided into five wards, namely, South-East, South-West, Central, North and Hemingfield, and is 3,851 acres in extent. The soil consists of marl and clay, with a sandy sub-soil resting on the shales and sandstones of the coal measures. The surface is undulating and the average height above sea level is 200 feet. The Great Central and Midland Railways and the Dearne and Dove Canal pass through the district, the last named is not much used, being chiefly for the transportation of coal and timber.”

Wombwell Urban District Council, Report of the Medical Officer of Health for the year 1920, (Wombwell, T.M. Thornsby & Sons, 1921) p.3

Comparing 2020 to the world of 1920 is intriguing…

“The chief occupations of the population are coal mining, glass bottle making, the manufacture of by-products from coal, and engineering.”

Wombwell Urban District Council, Report of the Medical Officer of Health for the year 1920, (Wombwell, T.M. Thornsby & Sons, 1921) p.4

Hemingfield’s health

Of the 4030 people then living in the Hemingfield ward, it is interesting to reflect on their lives and their health, especially compared to the current COVID-19 pandemic.

In 1920 Hemingfield had a death rate of 16.8, with 131 births and 68 deaths, amongst which 15 were infants, compared to a death rate 15.1 per 1,000 for Wombwell overall, and a national average for England and Wales of 12.4 in 1919. A high birth rate and significant child mortality played a large part in these figures.

Tuberculosis was also a significant disease,and overcrowded housing with poor ventilation was pointed to as a major contributing factor. 519 houses out of a total of 3671 in the Wombwell district contained more than one family, and 404 houses had more than 2 people per room living in them.

So then, for our pre-Welfare State and pre-NHS predecessors, how did access to healthcare work?

“For the purposes of Infectious Diseases your Authority contributes to the maintenance of the Kendray Hospital in the Urban District of Ardsley (Stairfoot) to which all cases of Scarlet Fever, Diphtheria and Enteric Fever are removed, while in times of epidemic bad cases of Measles can be taken there also, and generally beds are available for such rare cases of Encephalitis Lethargica.”

Wombwell Urban District Council, Report of the Medical Officer of Health for the year 1920, (Wombwell, T.M. Thornsby & Sons, 1921) p.4

  And not forgetting the mineworkers:

“For colliery accidents in your district the Beckett Hospital Barnsley is available as it is also for other accidents, and subject to the available accommodation for surgical and medical cases generally. Other cases from your district are admitted to the General Hospitals of Sheffield or Leeds. For Poor Law Cases the Workhouse Infirmary at Barnsley is available.”   

Wombwell Urban District Council, Report of the Medical Officer of Health for the year 1920, (Wombwell, T.M. Thornsby & Sons, 1921) p.4

Outbreaks

Of Infectious Diseases, notifiable under the Infectious Disease (Notification) Act 1889 (now repealed), Hemingfield had its share:

  • Diptheria – 1
  • Erysipelas – 8
  • Scarlet Fever – 8 (6 cases taken to hospital, no deaths)
  • Enteric Fever – 5 (4 cases taken to hospital)
  • Puerperal Fever – 2
  • Pneumonia – 82
  • Encephalitis Lethargica – 1
  • Opthalmia Neonatorum – 7

Enteric Fever was generally understood to be typhoid fever, caused by consuming food or water contaminated with the faeces of an infected individual. 5 of Wombwell’s 9 cases in 1920 happened in Hemingfield ward. 4 cases ocurred in a single yard in the village.

Echoes of the 2020 NHS Track and Trace system come to mind in the 1920 report’s description:

“Bacteriological examination pointed to these latter being caused by a carrier in the same yard, who had had the disease, which was unrecognised at the time. The carrier conditionally agreed to go to Hospital for treatment and was kept in 4½ weeks. A special report on this outbreak was sent to the Ministry of Health.”

Wombwell Urban District Council, Report of the Medical Officer of Health for the year 1920, (Wombwell, T.M. Thornsby & Sons, 1921) p.10

1950

Thirty years later, post-war and under NHS provision, the population of the district had increased only a little, to an estimated 18,790. Hemingfield had 74 births and 39 deaths that year. The ward had a couple of cases of Scarlet fever and 1 of Enteric fever, but the cases of Measles and Whooping Cough were high at 57 and 29 respectively in the ward alone. There was a sharp epidemic of Measles in Wombwell in 1950, with 367 cases compared to only 66 in 1949.

Public service challenges

The commencement of the National Health Service, and changes to nursing and the provision of ambulance services were not an overnight success, as supply, demand and organisation were not all in balance.

“It is perhaps too soon since the inception of the National Health Service Act to expect a satisfactory balance to have been struck among the hospital needs of the acute and chronic sick, the infectious diseases and the mental illnesses.”

Hynd, R.S., Urban District of Wombwell, Report on the Health and Sanitary Administration of Urban District for the year 1950, pp.14-15
  • By 1950 the Sheffield Regional Hospital Board steered the local General Hospital service:
    • United Group Hospitals, Sheffield
    • The Beckett Hospital, Barnsley
    • The St Helen Hospital, Barnsley
    • Moorgate General Hospital, Rotherham
  • Infectious disease cases were sent to Kendray Hospital
  • Maternity services were provided by:
    • St Helen, Barnsley;
    • Montagu, Mexborough; Hallamshire Maternity Home, Chapeltown;
    • Pindar Oaks, Barnsley
    • and The Jessop Hospital Sheffield

“Whilst we must be grateful for an efficient ambulance service its continued efficiency must to a large extent depend on the co-operation of the public and the careful use of the service.[…] We must distinguish between an ambulance service and a taxi service, the one is a necessity which we must afford, the other is a convenience which we cannot.”

Hynd, R.S., Urban District of Wombwell, Report on the Health and Sanitary Administration of Urban District for the year 1950, p.18

Tuberculosis continued to be a major issue, with postwar housing shortages and overcrowding still being pointed to as major challenges. Equally there was hope: 1951 would bring Mass Radiography to Wombwell district, and progress was being made with vaccination of at risk children with the B.C.G. (Bacillus Calmette-Guérin) vaccine. Later generations of children right up to 2005 will remember having a B.C.G. TB injection after the Heaf test (sterneedle or “six needles” response test).

Read more: 1920/1950

What was your experience of local healthcare in Hemingfield, home births, district nursing and the development of the NHS? We’d love to hear from you.

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