Kendal Oral History Group aims to compile a picture of earlier times through the recorded memories of the area’s older residents. Daphne Cunningham was born in 1924 and interviewed in 1999. She was matron at Westmorland County Hospital:

KENDAL’S first hospital was opened at Ghyll Head at the top of Captain French Lane in 1870. It cost £2,500.

It was a gift from Mr James Cropper and dedicated to the memory of his wife, Fanny, who had died two years earlier. Mr Cropper felt it was a privilege to be able to provide the hospital and it “would long uphold the spirit of Christian charity.” It had eight beds and was staffed by a matron and two servants at the beginning. It saw 79 patients in the first year.

It was very difficult to actually get admission to the hospital. You had to have two signatures to say you should be admitted and you weren’t allowed in if you had an infectious disease or were terminally ill. It was almost specifically for respite care, to go in to try to get better. You were only allowed to stay three weeks and then you had to go out, whether or not you were better. Presumably you had to be cared for at home.

The discipline was so strict and matron’s word was law. If any patient swore or became drunk or unruly, the matron had to dismiss them, and there was no second chance. The records show they were very short of nurses. One nurse got engaged to a patient and was dismissed. Another nurse was “of a flighty nature” – dismissed! And yet another “had a tendency to consumption” – dismissed. Staffing must have been very difficult.

The patients had tea, milk and sugar plus bread and butter for breakfast. They had roast meat or boiled meat and potatoes and they had milk pudding every day, which is a staple diet of every hospital I have ever been in.