Fragments of history from disabled children?

MYSTERY – Could these fragments of leather boots have once been worn by the waifs and strays of the St Nicholas’ Home for Crippled Children in Pyrford?

WERE these fragments of leather boots once worn by those known as waifs and strays who lived at the St Nicholas’ Home for Crippled Children in Pyrford?

They were recently found by Cindy Murtagh in public woodland where the home that later became the Rowley Bristow Orthopaedic Hospital once stood.

It is thought the fragments were initially unearthed by people, mainly children, doing wheelies on their bicycles.

As previously featured in Peeps into the Past, the original buildings of the home were erected in about 1907 and provided accommodation for 110 children, most of whom had disabilities that included hip disease, rickets, brittle bones and other limb deformities.

Children from another home in Byfleet were transferred to St Nicholas’ Home, and sadly some died young. The chairman of Byfleet Heritage Society, Jim Allen, has supplied a burial record of children and young adults of St Nicolas’ Home who are buried in the churchyard of St Mary’s, Byfleet.

The dates go from 1890 to 1914, and presumably the deaths before about 1907 were those who lived at the Byfleet home.

More fragments of footwear that may have been worn by children at the home

There are 50 names, and their ages range from 10 months to 26 years. While Jim does not think there are any headstones to commemorate them, he is making further investigations.

In 1915, a second building, called St Martin’s, was built on the site at Pyrford, and in 1922 an orthopaedic hospital was added.

After the celebrated surgeon Rowley Bristow became associated with it in the 1920s, it changed from being an institution to becoming a successful hospital that specialised in the repair and reconstruction of bones affected by TB, polio and rickets, and also from accidents and war injuries. The hospital closed in 1990.

After readers’ memories of the hospital were featured here, we have received more.

Judy Costello rang to say her late husband, Christopher, who was born in 1935, spent a year in the hospital, being admitted in 1959. He had been diagnosed with TB of the spine and was given a bone graft. He made a good recovery, convalescing outside under a glass roof, but had to learn how to walk again.

June Gilbert says her next-door neighbour, Sarah (Sadie) Martin, was admitted to the hospital, probably when she was about nine years old, with a curvature of the spine. June adds: “I was very young at the time but still remember how upset everyone was because it was a very serious condition and involved major surgery.

PRAISE – Sarah Martin’s lengthy stay in hospital is documented in her book

“I have the frontispiece from her book of birds that she gave me, and you can see that she was in hospital for quite a long time.

“On a lighter note, my dad had back surgery there in the 1980s and I can remember what fun they all had on the men’s ward. The cans of beer were flowing and because it was summer they spent a lot of time outside on their beds.  

“I can remember that one chap who lived on his own kept trying to find reasons why he couldn’t go home as he was enjoying himself so much!”

IF you have some memories or old pictures relating to the Woking and its people, call David Rose, on 01483 838960, or drop a line to the News & Mail.

DAVID ROSE is a local historian and writer who specialises in what he calls ‘the history within living memory’ of people, places and events in the west Surrey area covering towns such as Woking and Guildford. He collects old photos and memorabilia relating to the area and the subject, and regularly gives illustrated local history talks to groups and societies. For enquiries and bookings, please phone or email him at davidrosemedia@gmail.com.

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