Click here to return to the main site entry page
Click here to return to the previous page
From the archive of Rowan J. Flack,
Former Clinical Nurse Officer, Rushden Hospital, 1966-1990.
Presented by Greville Watson, December 2009.

Retirement of Mr Eric Prior

A transcription of the presentation to Mr Prior,
on his retirement as Secretary to Rushden Hospital, April 1973

Messrs Prior & Flack at Rushden Hospital
Mr Eric Prior
pictured with Mr Rowan Flack in front of Rushden House

Dr O. Fisher:

Well, Mr Bilson, ladies and gentlemen, it’s very nice to see such a large congregation here this afternoon.  We’re very pleased you were all able to come and as it’s not a very convenient time it shows what a popular, if rather sad, occasion this is when so many people have taken the trouble to turn up.

I particularly would like to thank Mr Bilson, Chairman of Kettering Hospital Management Committee for giving up some of his time and coming today; and Mr Arthur Colton, Chairman of Northamptonshire County Council who as you all know is a very busy man, and yet has found time to come today; and Mr Banks, who was a member of our now defunct House Committee, and who is still our representative on the Hospital Management Committee.  Also very pleased to see Dr McQuillon here today, and also very nice to see some of our old friends and ex-colleagues; I refer particularly to Mrs Ward, the ex-matron here, and of course we’re all delighted that Dr Lord has managed to get through all the traffic that seems to be surrounding Northampton at present and, of course, we all give a very warm welcome to Mrs Prior and Mr & Mrs Ian Prior and Adam.

I’ve had apologies from Mr R. J. Bruce, the Chief Clerk of Northamptonshire County Council who is away in Italy at present; from Mr Wilkinson, County Ambulance Officer; Miss Millgate from Newport, Isle of Wight, who was health Visitor in Higham Ferrers for very many years; Miss Nellie Dickens, former matron, who is unable to come, and Miss Schofield, the Honorary Secretary of Daventry Care Committee sends her apologies as no members of that Committee were able to attend today; and finally Dr Hodgson-Jones who, as many of you may be aware, is now recovering from a long and serious illness.  He won’t be able to come but he sent me a letter which I should like to read to you this afternoon because, of course, he is the Consultant Physician in charge of the Dermatological Unit and has, therefore, worked with Mr Prior for very many years.  He writes to say: “Dear Elliott, I will not be able to come to Mr Prior’s presentation on Thursday.  I have no doubt you will be saying a few words so will you please mention that I regret not being present and have written to express my gratitude for all Mr Prior did to help the Dermatological Unit become a model of what all skin in-patient units should be.  He really has done a very great deal for us over the years and never once during the various crises that inevitably occur has he been anything but cool, calm and helpful with a quick grasp of the essential problems.  He’s been a very, very good Hospital Secretary.  Yours sincerely, Ivor Hodgson-Jones.”

I should like to thank everybody who has contributed to this presentation.  We have been gratified and, indeed, astonished at the response to it, and many people who we had not approached have heard indirectly and sent donations, including many ex-patients.  I think it just shows how popular and highly esteemed Mr Prior was that in his post, which doesn’t come into intimate contact with patients in the same way, say, with the nursing staff and the doctors do, yet, obviously he’s been held by the patients in such high esteem that they felt they would like to show their appreciation and, as a result, the amount raised has been £170, and shortly we will ask Mr Bilson to make the presentation.

Well, I don’t want to anticipate what Dr Lord and Mr Colton are going to say, but I should like to say on behalf of the Hospital how much we shall miss him, he really has been a most devoted servant of us all, in fact he’s been at the beck and call of everybody and yet whenever there’s been any problem put to him you know he’s dealt with it in his quiet, good-natured way, but the crunch is coming.  No longer shall I be able to say, when there’s some problem that I can’t tackle: “Then you’d better go and see Mr Prior about that,” then smartly walk away but, however, he has over and over again deserved this retirement and we wish both Mrs Prior and him a very long and happy retirement, and I should now like to introduce the person who probably knows him better, has worked longer with him than anyone else, in fact, it would be no exaggeration to say that Mr Prior has grown up and matured under Dr Lord’s wise guidance.  Now, without more ado, I’m going to call upon Dr Lord.

Dr G. Lord:

Dr Fisher, Eric and Nora Prior, Mr Bilson, Care Committee Members, staff and friends; we are met her today to greet Nora and Eric Prior, and I am specially happy to be amongst you.

The story of his working life goes back a very long way and I am the only one who knows fully all about this.  I must interrupt myself at this point and say there are two gentlemen here who have worked with Mr Prior in Northampton but even so I don’t think they have the years’ knowledge of him that I have.  First, I am sure Eric Prior will be hating every moment of this because his own especial domain is not platform but the desk.  However, we must ask him to be patient whilst we say all the wonderful things about him that he so fully deserves.

In 1928 Eric Prior entered the Public Health office in Northampton as a very young man indeed, a junior in a staff of juniors, and all of them boys.  That was forty five years ago and Northampton has changed just as the scope of the work has changed and developed, and you will please forgive me if I wander a little because only myself can tell this story, and I would like to very, very briefly set the scene as it was in Northampton in 1928 and 1929 when I myself joined the staff.  There were trams in Northampton in those days which you boarded in the middle of the road.  It was quite safe; there were only cyclists and horses about.  You saw a motor car once in a quarter of an hour; there were gas lamps, private shop owners managed, and stone sets; there were many police walking about – yes, walking, not in Z-cars, and the villages of Kingsthorpe and Weston Favell to the north and east of the town remained apparently secure in their own country retreat.  Now, our offices, then in the County Health Department, were in Guildhall Road, Northampton – a road which descended gently from a Town Hall built by Edward Godwin to St. Johns Street railway station from where trains puffed their way along the meadows of the Nene valley to Peterborough.  This station – the area of this station – is now going and is typically a large part of that conquering king of the twentieth century, the motor vehicle.  Our very cramped offices in Guildhall Road (no one could pass you on the stairs) were on the right hand side of Guildhall Road, next to a fish shop and with our morning post came the flavour of haddock and other delectable odours.  In 1930 we all moved from these quite tiny rooms into our first County Hall which was, I was told, once a jail.  Well, maybe, but jail or not it suited us and there we three men, still no girls, were all allowed our own private cells, with short barred windows suggesting captivity.  Finally, the frontage of the shops down Guildhall Road was demolished and we went into the newly built County Hall in 1937, specially designed for the whole of the County Council office staff.  So much for the scene, Eric Prior grew up in it.  He was very much a part of a changing world.  The 1930s was a heyday, spring tide for the public health service, with very busy years of vaccination and immunisation, school services, care of the old and the unstable, a growing health visitors’ crusade, maternity and child welfare and all the hospitals in the county were under the care of the local authority except, of course, the voluntary hospitals and this hospital, or Rushden House Sanatorium as it used to be called, was rebuilt between 1934 and 1940, and how lucky we were to have it done during that time.  I feel if we waited another ten years we should never had had it done.  It happened, a few weeks ago, to have to take a patient in Stratford-upon-Avon to the general hospital there for an X-ray and I found that both Pathological and the X-ray departments there at Stratford-upon-Avon are still in huts and sheds whilst the absolutely devoted staff struggle against these troubles.

Well, back to ourselves.  In addition to all these services, of course, we had our own tuberculosis service in which Eric Prior specialised.  Indeed, no one but he so well knew all about the scheme and its cross attachments with the practitioners, the health visitors and the Care Committee, which began their rewarding and devoted work in the 1930s.  I am very thankful here to pay my own tribute to Eric Prior as fellow worker and friend.  He has had a very large experience and yet he’s so quiet and confident and has such a wide outlook.  I recall with relief how I used to rely on him in the old offices; a familiar situation in the office would be when we discussed some problem and I would make some daft solution that really wouldn’t work at all, then there would be a pause, Mr Prior would be very quiet for a moment and he would look at me and then he would say something which would act as a corrective or even as the gentleman on television in ‘Dad’s Army’ says: “Do you think that’s right, sir?”, but then Mr Prior was always attentive and courteous, with a quiet humour and with the numbers of patients he was dealing with though, as Dr Fisher said he may not have seen them all, yet the point is he knew about all of them and their families as well, which is so vital in our work.  As a complete digression at this point may I say that Eric Prior was a cricketer of quality.  I will not dwell at any length on the Care Committee’s debt to Eric Prior and especially the Central Care Committee, this has been very considerable over the years, and Mr Colton will, I’m sure, want to pay his tribute.

During the war, in the army, Mr Prior became a Regimental Sergeant Major, but I never saw him in this act.  Then, towards the end of the war he came into my room in the County Hall and, in his most confidential way, said he had news for me and there was someone outside.  ‘Goodness knows who this could be,’ I thought, but I guessed wrongly.  Eric Prior went out and came back with a bright young lady called Nora and I knew there was going to be a wedding.  At this point allow me to pay tribute to Nora Prior’s contribution to the life of this town and her singular talents as a librarian.  Then came the Health Service Act and quite a bit of upheaval and disturbance.  Our work was the same though it was increased with mass radiography and BCG vaccinations but our employer changed, indeed we suddenly began to have two employers and all this became effective about 1949, and then Eric Prior came into office here in Rushden, already full of experience from Northampton and with its scaling complication the Health Service Act divided the responsibility of its officers in tuberculosis into two, relating to two authorities responsible to the County Health Department and also to the Management Committees.  They even put this into working fractions – these people in London would do, wouldn’t they?  This wasn’t important but I just mentioned what went on in those days.  There was 3/11ths time to the doctors and staff of the Health Department in Northampton for care and prevention and 8/11ths for diagnosis and treatment.  That makes 11/11ths so, we too, Mr Prior and myself became individuals of 3/11 and 8/11.  For what part the Sanatorium got of Mr Prior was the top part – the head part – but the decisions of these people away in London did not bother Eric Prior.  The work was to be done and when he came here from the office in Northampton there was an opening up, a fulfilment of his service to patients, and he now saw clearly the whole of the patient’s life whether at home or in hospital, in the 1930s.  Rushden House Sanatorium had just been a name to Eric Prior in his office in Northampton, 16 miles away.  Now the Sanatorium was for him a real, live place with human beings and their many problems, and, of course, with the control of tuberculosis there has been a change in the work picture here, fewer beds available but very many more patients passing through the wards and markedly increasing the medical tests and examinations and all this has increased the duties of doctors, nurses, the kitchen and domestics – yes, even our devoted outside staff.  Well, that’s about it.  45 years’ devoted to one cause, to one service, to the welfare of others; a unique achievement.  That is not quite al.  I’ve spent rather a long time on what we might call the formalities of Mr Prior’s work, but there’s something else, something indefinable.  It’s going to leave a very big gap here in our hearts and our affections because for so long he’s been our companion, counsellor and friend.  But let us now be dejected about this and let us rejoice in work so splendidly done; it is the springtime of the year, season of renewal.  What a splendid time for Nora and Eric Prior to start their own renewal down in the West Country with the refreshment of scenes by sea and estuary, may their future be blessed with success and contentment.

Dr O. Fisher:

Well, I’m sure we all endorse those very eloquent words of Dr Lord who has known Mr Prior and worked with him more closely than anyone else, and I can certainly endorse his remarks too that there would be a big gap to fill, though we all wish his successor, Mr Haseldine, a very happy time and successful work here.  And now I have very great pleasure in asking Mr Arthur Colton, the Chairman of Northamptonshire County Council, whom we’re delighted to see here and who would, I’m sure, like to say a few words on this occasion, and we’re very grateful to him for giving up his time here; but he has always been a tireless and devoted worker for the T.B. and Chest Service ever since he was a patient here 40 years ago and, in fact, even with all his extensive public duties at present he still finds time to be Chairman of the County Care Conference, Chairman of the Higham Ferrers Care Committee, and President of the Rushden Care Committee, and has, therefore, also had a long and fruitful working association with Mr Prior, and I have very great pleasure in asking Mr Colton if he would kindly say a few words.

Mr A. Colton:

Dr Fisher, Dr Lord, ladies and gentlemen, you said forty years, Doctor, yes indeed it is, that I have been connected here, and when I at once say Doctor how strange life is that you’ve mentioned Guildhall Road and how you and Mr Prior started there.  Earlier this week I spent two and half long days looking at new plans for a new County Hall so that the Health Department can move out in order that we can sell Guildhall Road and move the Health Department into Northampton House.  The wheel is turning completely, and here again, in a year’s time, many of the Health Departments of the County Council will have a new employer in that many of them go back to the National Health Service, so that our nurses, our ambulance service, our health visitors all leave the county and go into the National Health Service, just the wheel that goes this long way round, so that where you and Mr Prior started ends the other way.  I can think of men who’ve been associated here with this Hospital and I think of men like Mr Sharwood, who you worked with originally, Mr Rawlings Patenall, who Eric started with.  I took over as Chairman from Mr Patenall and Eric was Secretary to the House Committee all the long time that he’s been associated here, and Mr Banks followed me.  I think I did probably 12 or 14 years as Chairman of the House Committee and Eric, of course, as you say, sir, always had the answer; and I’ve always been a thruster and a pusher and a shover anxious to go on.  I was sometimes the engine, but Eric was always the brakes and the speedometer.  He directed the pace that we should go and how wise it was that Eric was there because what we did and the progress we made here, and if one reflects on the progress that’s been made, especially in this Hospital from purely chest into the various specialities and successfully done too, as we’ve had tribute from Dr Hodgson-Jones this afternoon, successfully done over the years from the ward for the mentally and physically handicapped children, from the dermatological unit, from the geriatrics, from other diseases that we’ve referred to, now all this has been done and Eric has coped with all this.  He’s been an utterly wonderful chap in-so-far that he’s been able to absorb all this and go on with it.  But I think that the most outstanding thing about Eric is this, that he’s been someone who’s had his finger on the pulse of all that has happened in the chest service in the county whether it’s been the clinics that Dr Fisher still runs, whether it’s at Corby or whether it’s at Kettering or whether it’s at Wellingborough, or even when we were running the Northampton side, Eric still had his finger on the pulse, still had the records here and still knew what was going on and so when we started the County Care Conference twenty six or more years ago, after Miss Sharwood gave us the initial start, who could we go to but Eric.  Eric has been a tremendous servant and colleague and help to the Care Committees of this county and every one of the Care workers here today loyally say to Eric: “Thank you so much for the tremendous service what you’ve given to us all and to every patient,” and I think this has been exemplified in the manner in which Dr Fisher says has happened in this list which has come forward in which patients hearing and knowing of Eric’s retirement have desired to pay tribute to the service and the human way and the interested way that he’s dealt with their problems.  Eric, how we shall replace you and how we shall deal with it I’m not quite sure, because when we knock on the office door and walk in and sit down and talk about our problems and you have the succinct but quiet way of dealing with this, I’m not quite sure how we shall deal with it, and there’s a lot of us out in the world and I think a few of us within the Hospital will want to ‘flap’ and will miss Eric Prior tremendously.  But on behalf of those intimately connected with chest, those who’ve been patients, those who’ve worked to help patients, those who’ve tried to serve the chest service and tried to serve the Hospital, may I say on behalf of everyone of us, thank you so much; may you and your wife enjoy the retirement and happiness that you so richly deserve, you’ve been at the beck and call of everyone for forty five years, please God you have happiness, health and richness of life that you so well deserve in the next period of your life.

Dr O. Fisher:

And now I have very great pleasure in inviting Mr Bilson, the Chairman of the Kettering Hospital Management Committee, to make this presentation of an inscribed carriage clock, this portable radio and the balance as a cheque, to Mr Prior.

Mr W. Bilson:

Mr Prior, I cannot say how delighted I am to have been asked to make this presentation to you this afternoon, but I’m sure that you and everyone else will be delighted to hear that one of the grounds of my being asked was that I should not make a speech, but I feel that I really can’t let the moment go without saying on behalf of the Management Committee and on behalf of myself, thank you very much indeed for all that you have done over these many, many years, and we wish you every happiness in your retirement, and I have the greatest pleasure in presenting to you this very handsome clock, radio and cheque, and I think the idea is that every morning you look at the clock and turn on the radio whilst you’re deciding how to spend the cheque.

Dr O. Fisher:

Before I ask Mr Prior to reply, Mrs Perry would like to make a little token presentation wishing good luck and a happy retirement to Mrs Prior.

Mr E. Prior:

Mr Chairman, Mr Bilson, friends and colleagues, may I thank you all very much for the very kind remarks you have made about me and for these wonderful presents.  May I also thank you all very sincerely for coming along today and it is particularly gratifying to see so many former members of the hospital staff present.

As I’m sure most of you are aware this Hospital was opened by the County Council in 1921, essentially for the treatment of tuberculosis, and over the years since its opening as Rushden House Sanatorium at that time of day, the Hospital has played its part in the very successful fight against tuberculosis, so much so that with its full complement of approximately eighty beds were in the early days used entirely for the treatment of tuberculosis there are at this time of day only about six patients suffering from tuberculosis who are receiving in-patient treatment.  Now this is not an occasion to weary you with statistics but I hope you will bear with me for a moment if a say that to further illustrate the dramatic fall in the number of cases of tuberculosis requiring treatment there were in England and Wales, when I was first appointed over forty years ago, between twenty five and thirty thousand deaths from tuberculosis a year and this figure has now dropped, on the latest figures available, to between two and three thousand deaths a year.  Similarly in Northamptonshire during the corresponding years the figure has dropped from one hundred and seventy four years ago to only twelve deaths a year from tuberculosis in 1971.  The fall in the number of tuberculosis cases requiring treatment thus provided beds for other chest diseases to be treated and for other specialities to be brought into the Hospital, hence the change of our name from Rushden House Sanatorium to Rushden Hospital.

Now, we’re all aware of the main reasons for the enormous success in the fight against tuberculosis, the development of X-ray techniques, the coming of the mass radiography unit, new drugs, BCG vaccination, chest surgery, improved housing conditions etc, but in addition to these various developments we must also add the expertise of the medical and nursing profession in such chest hospitals as Rushden, supported in a very important way by the ancillary staffs who are required to carry out a variety of jobs without which the medical and nursing staff could not carry out their duties in caring for the sick satisfactorily.  From my experience throughout the years I have felt that there is no question that we have been very ably led by the medical staff of this Hospital, from the days of Dr Crane through the years of Dr Lord to those of our present Consultants Drs Fisher and Gerrard and I personally would wish to state at this stage how grateful I have been for the patience and tolerance which they have all shown towards me.  I’ve also been very fortunate to have had happy associations with the nursing staff.  I have seen over the years the extent of the work put in by the nursing staff for at times years ago their numbers were very thin on the ground and the hours long.  If I may individualise in this respect I would wish to express my gratitude to such former members of the nursing staff as Miss Dickens and Mrs Ward, former matrons of this Hospital, for their ever willing help and co-operation with me, and to Mr Flack, our present nursing administrator, during the years that Miss Dickens and Mrs Ward were here and I am grateful, indeed, to see Mrs Ward here today.  I am very pleased indeed to see her present.  There is one other colleague on the administrative nursing staff of the Hospital, Sister Perry, whom I would wish to express publicly my debt to her for her ever willing co-operation with me and for her patience towards me over the intricacies of hospital housekeeping.  To the ancillary members of the staff I would like to offer my thanks for the work they have put in, the domestic staff, our excellent cooks, the maintenance and portering staff etc, and the gardeners who keep our grounds so lovely.  These staff have been truly termed the backroom boys and girls of the hospital, without whom our medical and nursing care of the patients would be sadly hampered.  Finally, in this connection, I would like to mention my own staff, the administrative and clerical staff, for their support to me over the years and here again I am extremely pleased to see with us today former members of my staff.  Particularly I would thank Mrs Tusan, probably better known to you as Margaret, for her tremendous help and support to me over the years.  At this stage I must not forget to pay tribute to the voluntary personnel who have played such an important part in our work, the After Care Committee and the Friends of Rushden Hospital, who have in many ways helped individual patients in rehabilitation etc, and have also helped the Hospital with their many gifts, which have been such a help to us financially and a joy to the patients.  One well-known lady must not be overlooked at this moment.  I refer, of course, to Mrs Hensman, whose devotion to the Hospital and its patients is so well known to you all, and whose lengthy voluntary association with this Hospital surely cannot be surpassed anywhere in the country.  The changes and the challenges which the Hospital face over the years with the inauguration of the skin unit and latterly the opening of the children’s unit were all accepted so well by all the staff that I have every confidence in the future of the Hospital and I feel certain that Rushden Hospital will continue to play a very useful part in the Health Service.  Please believe me when I say I am most grateful to you all for your support although I have only mentioned a few by name.  Once more I would like to thank you all sincerely on behalf of my wife and myself for these wonderful gifts.  Although we are leaving the area we shall still have some interest in Rushden and its Hospital and we shall be delighted to see any of you who may be in Devon on holiday and care to call on us.

Dr O. Fisher:

Well, Mr Prior, Mr Chairman, Mr Bilson, ladies and gentlemen, thank you all very much for attending and now if you would like to adjourn to the Board Room I hope you will find some tea and refreshments if you don’t all rush at once.

click here to return to the Rushden Hospital main page

Click here to return to the main index of features
Click here to return to the Health & Welfare index
Click here to e-mail us