The Great Wyrley Hospital Fund: Our First Carnival?

The Wyrley Carnivals and Parades
Great Wyrley Parish Council hosts several public events annually; Remembrance Sunday, the Star bonfire and firework display, as well as the most ambitious the Wyrley Carnival being at the forefront . Carnivals are of course anathema to me for two reasons; firstly, because I am so miserable and secondly, because I struggle with lots of people around me unless a pub and real ale are involved 🙂 . The Wyrley Carnival takes place on the 28th June this year and I wanted to rush this little article out – researched and written today – to coincide with the event. Sadly, I will be ‘researching’ the real ale pubs of Ludlow, so I can’t be there, but this little story is dedicated to all those involved – it never ceases to amaze me just how good the community of Wyrley is – and so selfless some people are. You would never get me doing anything like that.

Promotional poster for the 2014 Carnival (GW Carnival Committee)

Promotional poster for the 2014 Carnival
(GW Carnival Committee)

The current carnival is well documented in both the ‘Great Wyrley Millennium Book’ and the more recent ‘Great Wyrley Reflections Over the Years’. However, if you are mean, like me, you may not have purchased them – and whilst you can get the second from the Great Wyrley Local History Society, I will give the salient points.

The carnival starting point was given or traced back to the Wyrley celebrations for Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee back in 1897, but this is somewhat fanciful, as I see that as being a one-off celebration. The carnivals had certainly been an annual feature in the 1930s and in the 1950s, as the books show photographs – but the books are sadly vague as to when they started, or why they initially ceased. I suggest that the first regular (in other words, annual) celebration of such a nature was in fact the annual Hospital Fund parades, which started in 1910.

The current carnival is a reincarnation dating back to the Queen Elizabeth II’s silver jubilee in 1977. I lived in Birmingham at the time and it stands out in my memory as the first community social event I feigned illness to get out of 🙂 . Another annual parade is the Easter procession organised by the local churches.

The Great Wyrley Hospital Fund
In the Parish Council records at the Staffordshire Record Office there is a single minute book for the Great Wyrley Hospital Fund Committee, covering the years 1913 to 1925. I wasn’t even there researching this minute book, or the Fund, but I found if fascinating as it is clearly a local slice of social history and, dare I say, a warning too.

What was this Fund? Well, it was formed in 1910 in order to provide some medical protection for the people of Great Wyrley. The NHS wasn’t formed until 1948 and so before this date medical provision was really a hotch-potch of doctors (effectively private businesses) and hospitals that could be operated by local councils, charities, private companies or the Poor Law Guardians through the workhouses. It was potentially very expensive, so many resorted to contributing to ‘Friendly Societies’, which, in short, was a form of medical insurance, while many more went without any help whatsoever.

It needs to be remembered that this was an age before antibiotics. A glance through any school log-book will show you just how rife sickness was; with outbreaks of measles, whooping cough, scarlet fever and mumps being near daily occurrences. Child mortality was still so common in 1915 that Councils up and down the country formed specialist committees to tackle the issue. The Wyrley soldier tales I have retold on this blog are littered with dead children – it is shocking.

Log book entry for Whitehall Infants' School, 30th April1915, talking of sickness (Walsall Local History Centre)

Log book entry for Whitehall Infants’ School, 30th April1915, talking of sickness
(Walsall Local History Centre)

Things started to improve in 1911, when the National Insurance Act came into force. The Act required all those between 16 and 70 to contribute (directly, deducted from their wages) 4d a week to a fund, which was then topped-up by a further 3d from their employer and a further 2d by the state. This then entitled them to free medical care and any necessary medicines. The problem was that this Act only benefited those earning wages.

The Hospital Fund had many on its committee that were also on the Parish Council, which is likely why the minute book ended-up in their collection. The Fund raised money, which it then used to purchase hospital tickets or notes entitling the holder to medical care at that hospital – this was a sort of pre-paid hospital care system. Initially, these tickets would be for the Walsall Cottage Hospital and the Wolverhampton General Hospital, but later they would include the Wolverhampton Eye Infirmary, the Birmingham Eye Hospital and the Wolverhampton Women’s Hospital.

October 1916, payments made to the local hospitals in return for 'tickets' (Staffordshire Record Office)

October 1916, payments made to the local hospitals in return for ‘tickets’
(Staffordshire Record Office)

So, how did they raise the money? Well, the main fund-raiser was an annual parade to start. One was held every year, in the September time, certainly from 1910 until 1925. The route of the parade varied slightly from year to year, one year starting at Gilpin’s at Churchbridge for example, the next at the Institute on Norton Lane. Wherever they started, they always ended-up with a service at the old Landywood Methodist Chapel, which was located at the bottom of Bentons Lane, until it was demolished and rebuilt at the present location (at the junction of Walsall Rd/Shaws Lane) in 1925. Parades at this time then met at St Mark’s Church.

The 1916 parade, for example, started at the Institute on Norton Lane, then headed all the way up the Walsall Road to the junction with Holly Lane, where it turned off and continued down to the old chapel, passing the Harrison’s Club. On another year the parade went along the Walsall Road to the junction with Wharwell Lane, moving down that road, again passing Harrison’s, before going onto the chapel.

The route of the September 1916 parade. (Staffordshire Record Office)

The route of the September 1916 parade.
(Staffordshire Record Office)

Who took part? Well, again, the committee were nice enough to provide a list – the best one being for the September 1915 parade. The parade that year was accompanied by the Cheslyn Hay band – at the cost of a quid. Other years would see the Salvation Army and Norton Colliery bands performing for the same fee. The Cheslyn Hay Fire Brigade were invited, as were the Great Wyrley Brigade (yes, we had our own fire brigade) and in fact, they carried the buckets and collected the money on the parade itself. Other guests included the parish officials, poor law guardians, representatives from the Cheslyn Hay and Landywood social clubs, representatives of local Friendly Societies, the Ancient Order of Druids – that met at the Star Inn, the Ancient Order of Foresters – that met in Bridgtown, the Loyal Hussey Lodge of the Odd Fellows from Norton Canes and the Loyal Gilpin Lodge of Odd Fellows from Cannock. Finally, the parishioners of Wyrley could obviously attend.

The 'guest list' for September 1915 (Staffordshire Record Office)

The ‘guest list’ for September 1915
(Staffordshire Record Office)

Originally, the Committee placed collection boxes all along the route – in all the pubs, clubs and some businesses. A collection was made en route, door-to-door and in the chapel. Later, collections would also be made at Gilpin’s at Churchbridge, Harrison’s Colliery, The Nook Colliery, Great Wyrley Colliery and at the railway station. By the mid-1920s the parade was being bolstered with further income from other events such as whist drives and football matches.

Over £9 raised through a football match in the mid-1920s (Staffordshire Record Office)

Over £9 raised through a football match in the mid-1920s (Staffordshire Record Office)

So, what kind of money did they manage raise? Well, the astonishing thing is that the community dug deep just when you thought it would be financially suffering the most – that is during and immediately after the First World War. The 1913 parade raised some £6 or so, but after this, it doesn’t just steadily increase, it positively leapt up, despite the War. Indeed collections rose throughout the War until the early 1920’s – when the country was in a deep recession. In 1915, that £6 from 1913 had doubled to around £12, in 1916 it was £22, in 1917 it was £31 and in 1918 it was a staggering £74. It rose higher, peeking a couple of years later at £88. After this, it fell considerably and they sought other ways of supplementing their income.

It isn’t clear when the Fund ceased, as the book only goes up until 1925. I didn’t manage to follow it up with any other research, as I wanted to write-up this small article for today.

All-in-all, what is shows is firstly the chaotic health system that existed in the country prior to the formation of the NHS and, if we are not careful, what we could return to if the NHS isn’t safeguarded. It also shows that in a time of austerity people still managed to hold such celebration events, but to dig deep as well. Finally, it show that back in 1910 there was a committee that organised fund-raisers for the benefit of the local community, as there is now.

Rushed as this article has been, I do hope it was of sufficient interest to merit reading – and to the Carnival Committee, I salute thee.

My thanks to:
The Staffordshire Record Office
Great Wyrley Parish Council
Great Wyrley Carnival Committee

Comments
  1. tonykulik says:

    Another interesting and informative read (as usual) Mr Wyrleyblogger.

    ‘The 1916 parade, for example, started at the Institute on Norton Lane, then headed all the way up the Walsall Road to the junction with Holly Lane, where it turned off and continued down to the old chapel, passing the Harrison’s Club. On another year the parade went along the Walsall Road to the junction with Wharwell Lane, moving down that road, again passing Harrison’s, before going onto the chapel.’

    There seems to be a theme emerging here………….obviously no doubt possiblyto ‘take on water’………….but begs the question if ‘everyone’ finally managed to reach the chapel !!!!

    • wyrleyblog says:

      I heard that you were in fact on that ’16 parade, it’s just that you haven’t got out of Harrison’s yet – your dinner may be a bit burnt 🙂

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