Patricia Hewison, Nursery Nurse

The Mothers' Hospital
Interviewed by Anny Ash

Patricia Hewison was born in Luton in 1933. From early childhood, she always knew she wanted a career in nursing – one of her favourite games was to perform operations on her dolls. Patricia left school at 15 years of age and worked as a tabulator, punching holes in cards which were then read through a tabulation machine. Already a Salvationist, in 1949, aged 16, she defied her parents by secretly answering an advert in The War Cry for a two-year nursery nursing course at the Mothers’ Hospital. This suited her perfectly as it was not possible to begin general nursing training until the age of 18.

Once her parents had overcome their disapproval, and their fear of what fate might befall their daughter in the terrifying world of East London, Patricia spent two very happy years at the Mothers’, where her nursery nurse’s training involved hands-on experience from the very beginning, rather than formal lessons. She found this grounding invaluable when she moved on, aged 18, to her general training at the Luton and Dunstable Hospital, and to a lifelong career as a nurse. To see some of Patricia's photos from her time at the Mothers', click here

Below you can listen to extracts of Patricia's interview.

Image accompanying MP3 audio clip: My first visit to the Mothers' ( KB)

My first visit to the Mothers'

Patricia describes her mother's anger at her secret application to train at the Mothers' Hospital.

Looking after the babies

Patricia recalls being thrown in at the deep end at the start of her training, being expected to take responsibility for newborn babies from day one. She remembers the hospital's strict feeding regime, with babies being weighed before and after a 7oz bottle, the bed rest policy for mothers, and the experience of being on night duty.

Kind Eastenders

Patricia describes her mother's fears about her going to work in the 'dangeous' East End, but Patricia recalls the friendliness of the place and her relationships with some of the patients.

Different kinds of mothers

Patricia recalls unmarried and Jewish mothers. She remembers being tipped 10 shillings to be present at the circumcision ceremonies of Jewish baby boys - and sampling the ceremonial wine after the rabbi's departure!

Gabardines and storm caps

Patricia remembers trips to Selfridges to buy uniforms, particularly the elaborate storm caps and how the young trainees "fancied themselves" in their finery.

Mice in nurses' accommodation

Patricia describes the trainees' accommodation, and how the illicit toasting of smuggled bread on the gas fire led to a mouse problem.

Rationing after the war

Food rationing was still in force while Patricia was training at the Mothers', and here she recalls what this was like, and the joy of being given sweet coupons as presents by grateful patients.

Boiled eggs and religion

No opportunity was missed to remind staff of the values of the Salvation Army, and Patricia remembers how Biblical texts could be found in some unusual places at the hospital.

The all female staff

Patricia discusses the all-female environment of the hospital, the relationship between doctors and other staff members, and the role of religion in the lives of the staff.

Staff prayers and the building

Patricia remembers staff prayers on Sunday mornings, special prayers for good trainees, and what the hospital building looked like. Patricia also gives more detail here about staff accommodation, where exactly different staff members lived, and how the laundry was done.

Giving birth at the Mothers'

Patricia describes what a typical woman's stay would be like at the Mothers', and recalls the impression made by labouring women on a naive young girl. Patricia marvels retrospectively at her own youth in relation to the responsibilities she was expected to shoulder at The Mothers', and speculates on how much earlier people grew up 60 years ago, and the huge differences between being a teenager then and now.

This page was added by Lisa Rigg on 11/03/2010.

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