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The Nerve, May 1979
From the archive of Rowan J. Flack
Former Clinical Nursing Officer, Rushden Hospital, 1966-1990.
Transcribed by Greville Watson, 2009

Hospital with a History

War prisoners and 'white plaque' patients lived here

By R. J. Flack, Snr. Nursing Officer

Busy in the kitchen, head cook, Miss M. Stewart

Built in 1870 for Mr and Mrs Currie, Rushden House stands on high ground commanding an excellent view of part of the town.

The house was sold after 30 years when Mrs Currie died in 1901.

The house was then bought by Edward Campbell Browning who greatly enlarged the house and beautified the grounds between the years 1903 and 1907.

When Mr Browning died in 1914 the family moved away and the old house was once again up for sale.

In 1915 George Henry Lane, a leather merchant from Kettering bought the house with its 25 acres of land.  But he never lived here.

He kept on the head gardener, George Woollard, who had worked for Mrs Currie as a boy and right through the Browning years.  This faithful servant was instructed to concentrate only on the two large kitchen gardens.  The produce was sold and Mr Lane visited Rushden each month in order to settle the accounts.

An agreement was then made with the Government to allow part of the property to be used for the purpose of a prisoner of war camp.

German prisoners slept above the old stables and would go out daily to local farms with military guards.  In that way they were put to work to help the war effort.  Repatriation came with the end of the war, but certainly the camp was still functioning in September 1919.


George Henry Lane, who never really wanted the house in the first place, agreed to sell to the administrative council for the county of Northamptonshire for the purpose of opening a sanatorium for those suffering from tuberculosis.  Local newspapers of the day blasted out with a devastating headline: “White Plague in Northants”.

The Council of the day were adamant that the place was quite unsuitable.  There were other houses not far away that would suit the purpose in every way better than Rushden House.  They mentioned the fact that Wymington Road was a busy thoroughfare with people going backwards and forwards to work in the shoe factories.


The terrible scourge of tuberculosis in those days was of such a magnitude that it is understandable the council made such a strong protest although many patients came from factories where poor working conditions left much to be desired and contributed to the possibilities of contracting the disease.

Tea being served on Crane Ward

The protests were lodged and dismissed and in September 1921, following the erection of six old wooden army buildings in the grounds, Rushden House became Rushden House Sanatorium under the direction of Dr J.H. Crane and Matron Miss B. Allsop.

It is really only those unfortunate people who in the early days contracted tuberculosis who can tell the tale of the discomforts of sanatorium life.

Duration of stay was sometimes as much as two years and certainly not less than six months.

Charge nurse Mr R. Barker with receptionist Mrs Martin

Living conditions were appalling and many patients woke in the morning to find snow on the red blankets.  The regime was strict.  There were no anti-tuberculosis drugs and the whole treatment revolved around plenty of fresh air, wholesome food, graded work in the kitchen gardens, strict orders not to spit except in the proper container and the elimination of dust harbouring factors.

As a dust control measure, all the ivy was stripped off the walls of the house and outbuildings and the head gardener – who was still George Woollard – was ordered to shoot the cat.

The next decade saw the replacement of the old wooden huts by excellent purpose designed brick buildings.  The first of these in 1934 was Crane Ward named after the first Medical Superintendent.

Three more wards followed giving beds for 82 patients.

Of the six original wooden huts, three were removed as the new buildings were erected.  One sited on the present car park was taken down in the early 1960s and two remain to the present day.

In 1957 the Dermatological Unit was opened and 11 years later Colton Ward was altered to provide accommodation for up to 20 mentally handicapped children.

It was decided in the early 1970s to offer beds to the General Practitioners of Rushden, and a new prefabricated building was erected in 1975 adjoining Sharwood Ward for psycho-geriatric day patients.

Of course the whole function of the place was no longer that of a sanatorium and this was recognised some 15 years ago when the name was changed to Rushden Hospital.  The old name lingers on, however, and we now have Rushden House Day Hospital.


In such a brief history much has to be left out, but special mention must be made of two voluntary organisations.  The first is the Tuberculosis Aftercare Committee who gave considerable help to patients in the days when there was no Welfare State.

The Friends of Rushden Hospital also carry on with an ever increasing strength supplying over the years all sorts of equipment and other aids.  A public thank you to both organisations is timely and fitting.

We have three medical wards, namely Sharwood, Hensman and Crane (20, 14 and 13 beds respectively).  The GP beds previously mentioned, ten in number, are included in that total of 47.  The Skin Unit has 11 beds and Colton Ward 20 beds.  The Day Hospital, although designed for 20 patients, can in fact accommodate more and has on occasion reached as many as 35.

There will always be changes because of the changing needs in society; small peripheral hospitals are often vulnerable in this respect.

In our case we expect there to be changes in the future as there have been over the years.  There will be feelings of concern in some minds, but in the past staff have risen to the occasion and I have no doubt that they will once again react with vigour to new ventures.

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