Harlow Wood Orthopaedic Hospital

How and why it began

At the beginning of the twentieth century (and before) many children were deformed, they were known as ‘Cripples’, thus was their fate!

‘Those who go into the back streets and little alleys of our towns know, alas, the number of crippled children who are lying in their homes, or are sometimes out into the courts among the linen drying on lines with little fresh air and no interests around them.’

(Taken from “Men Women and Things” Memories of the Duke of Portland)

People were beginning to care and recognise that cripples should not be regarded as hopeless cases, and in 1907  a Cripples Guild was formed in Nottingham. Activities and outings were arranged, facilities for treatment were considered, but plans were delayed because of the war years. It was in 1923 the first clinic for treating cripples was established. Other Clinics were set up in Mansfield, Worksop, Hucknall, Loughborough, and Coalville. A greater need was then felt – a need to establish a Special Hospital in the Fresh Air – ‘A Palace of Hope.’

 

A Brief History

The ‘Palace of Hope’ was the hospital built. after much fund raising on land donated by the Duke of Portland in Harlow Wood, Nottinghamshire.

It became known as Harlow Wood Orthopaedic Hospital and the Duchess of Portland laid the foundation stone on the 7th November 1928.

 

On the 3rd August 1929 the hospital was officially opened by the Duke and Duchess of York, (later to become King George V and Queen Elizabeth). It was a time of great celebration.

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 Alan Malkin was the first Surgeon in Charge. Dorothea Denman the first Matron.

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In the beginning there were just two wards with large verandas, patient’s beds were pushed out on to the verandas in all kinds of weather. For many years ‘fresh air’ was advocated as helping to cure ailments.

Patients came to the Harlow Wood Hospital from near and far, including Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire. They spent weeks, months, and years in Harlow Wood and from the onset a school was established to enable the children to continue with their education.

Originally it was mostly children who were treated in the hospital, but as more wards were added and the facilities grew, so did the age of the patients.

 

Rehabilitation played a key part in treatment. Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy Departments were established. The hospital was in an area where many coal miners needed therapy to help them return to work, and for this purpose a Drift Mine was created at the hospital in 1968. It was replaced in 1980 with a newer and more modern Drift.

During WW2 special wards were added to cater for wounded soldiers, these were run on military lines with military personnel in the hospital to look after the soldiers needs.

 

The Duchess of Portland was a great ambassador of Harlow Wood Hospital, she was known to be there on many occasions both officially, and unofficially. She is still recalled by many former patients, with much affection.

Fund raising and gifts were very important in the years before Harlow Wood became part of the National Health Service. Gifts large and small came from people in all walks of life, not just locally but from overseas. Fund raising after 1948 continued via the ‘Friends of Harlow Wood’ and other people.

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There were many visitors to Harlow Wood, including royalty, local civic dignitaries and the England and Australian Test Cricket teams in 1934. All would boost the moral of patients and staff. Additionally there were many visits from overseas orthopaedic surgeons. The work of the hospital was renowned world-wide.

Medical teaching facilities were established, and a school of nursing built.

The hospital continued to expand up to 1990. A new theatre was built, various departments, were refurbished and upgraded, and a new reception area was established.

The hospital closed in 1995

After it closed, all items above and below ground were sold in a three-day auction. Buildings were demolished, and the land was sold. Quality housing now stands where once there was a ‘Palace of Hope’.

 

Acknowledgement – it is not possible to name individually the many people who have contributed over past years to my information on Harlow Wood Hospital, they are all acknowledged. The original source of some documents and photographs are unknown, anything published is done so in good faith to share the information and keep the memory of this wonderful hospital alive.

Patients in the fresh air
HW Collection
Matron Denman
HW Collection
The Duchess of York & Duchess of Portland
HW Collection
Alan Malkin & Duchess of York 3rd August 1929
HW Collection
Alan Malkin
HW Collection
The Foundation Stone
HW Collection
The end of an era
HW Collection
The Duchess of Portland
HW Collection
HRH Queen Elizabeth visiting the hospital July 1950
HWCollection
Opening of new Drift Mine 1980
HW Collection
Alan Malkin and the Duchess of York 3rd August 1929
HW Collection
Matron Denman
HW Collection

Comments about this page

  • If anyone is interested in looking at material relating to Harlow Wood Hospital from my mother (Barbara Fent)’s time there, the accession number to items in the collection is C796 and it is lodged with the RCN archives in Edinburgh – they can be contacted online.

    By veemauve (22/11/2018)
  • My mother, Barbara Fent (nee Watson) became an orthopaedic nurse probationer at Harlow Wood in 1942. Staying until around 1948, her letters, pictures and paperwork from this time are now in the RCN archives in Edinburgh but details can be accessed online through their website.

    By V. Walker (12/11/2018)
  • I spent many years in and out of Mansfield General and Harlow Wood eventually having a operation by the wonderful Mr Jackson who said when I was 9 or10 that I had to decide whether to have it or not. It was a operation to put bone from my leg into my spine to fuse it. It involved almost a year in bed on the ward where you spent most of the time on the veranda. We had fun and must have been hell to nurse. A teacher came every day to try and teach us but she was not allowed to wake us should you fall asleep so we were brilliant at pretending. I could go on for years but suffice it to say I grew up and had 2 healthy girls. Thanks Harlow Wood staff and especially Mr Jackson.

    By Janet Lockwood nee Golding (17/10/2018)
  • My mother Janet Wheatley nursed at Harlow Wood during the war. She would often talk about the hospital. She told me about the blackouts and how once when hurrying between wards she fell of one of the raised concrete paths and broke her nose badly. She carried on nursing until deathly white and in so much pain she collapsed. She was sent home to recuperate and it was then with two black eyes and a broken nose she met my father fell in love and eventually married!

    She loved the children’s ward and would read stories and sing songs. She told me how even if was freezing they would have to push the children out onto the verandah. Some boys would listen for the sounds of the airplanes flying overhead and they could name them long before they could see them. The pilots that arrived where mainly badly burned and nursing was difficult as the men endured such pain and often had to lie in saline containers which caused such pain. When my mother got engaged they wanted her to leave as there were no married nurses. Eventually they agreed she could stay on but for a long while sister was not happy! Eventually she softened and offered my mother a drink in her room to celebrate her engagement! 

    By Judy Porter (24/05/2018)
  • I visited Harlow Wood twice and the first time may have been around 1953 or slightly later when I would have been 3. I went in for examination of a condition the midwife had missed at my birth. I had Sprengel shoulder on the left side and Klippeil-feil syndrome of the neck. I believe I was too old for an operation for either condition so left after a short stay. I remember the orange glow illuminating the ward from the nurses desk and lay there frightened. My only memory of that time is of a nurse placing a large enamel jug on my bed, which was to collect our “wee”, she said don’t knock it over and I did. This warranted a change of bed clothes and the nurse was not happy! Neither was I! Researching my condition in teenage years I found the only operations being carried out on my condition in the early 1950’s were in Australia. By the age 16-18 it was decided I could have the part of my left shoulder blade that grew up the side of jaw removed for cosmetic reasons(!). My head was partly shaved and the operation carried out. At 67 I still have the scar. I remember the porter who arrived every morning in the men’s ward with a rude greeting to do with socks! It lives in my memory still. My neck condition was left and I had no problems until 1987 when two vertebrae slipped and Addenbrookes put them back in place. By this time I lived in Norfolk so a trip to Harlow Wood was not on the cards. 

    By David Holt (25/02/2018)
  • To add to my previous post – like Lee, I was treated for Perthes hip and had a plaster cast over my legs and body. Mr Malkin performed the operation, really happy to find a picture of him here. I was 2 years old when admitted and couldn’t understand why my parents had ‘left’ me.  They were allowed to visit once a week, usually Sunday. Apparantly my attachment to Sister Homer was really important to me.  I too was pushed out on to the veranda and returned home after a year with a real tan!  Being only two, I have no memories of it, all of the above was told to me later by my parents. 

    By Tricia Robinson (23/02/2018)
  • I was in Harlow Wood around 1959 – 1960 after catching Polio as a child. I remember well being pushed onto the veranda in the freezing cold being told it was good for me. There were many people in the ward with twisted spines who were in plaster casts for months with them turning a screw on the side to straighten their spine. My mum used to bring me boiled eggs so I could have something different for tea other than bread and jam. They were very straight and as a child I missed my parents who were not allowed to visit only at visiting times not like today. Afterwards I have happy memories of attending the Disabled Sports Club swimming sessions held at the Harlow Wood rehab pool with Miss McMain who also organised participation in Disabled Sports events at Stoke Mandeville Hospital now a world famous spinal unit. 

    By Margaret Clement (Mills) (22/02/2018)
  • I was in Harlow Wood when I was two years old from June 1950 for about one year.  I can’t remember much but I did make a very special connection with a Sister Homer (spelling?). Can anyone remember her as I’d really like to read a description of her as a nurse and a person.

    By Tricia Robinson (back then -Pat Brook)

    By Tricia Robinson (12/02/2018)
  • I was in and out over two years being treated for Perthes Disease by full leg plaster casts and a bar between my legs. I remember the beautiful red toadstools covered in white spots in the grass by the car park. I was just corresponding with a work colleague from many years ago who I asked if was still living around Mansfield Nottingham. I said I hadn’t been there since was a child at the hospital there. Harlow Wood? He asked. Err yes. I live in a house where it used to stand! Amazing. 

    By Lee Marston (04/02/2018)
  • The first independent memories I have were from Harlow Wood. I was admitted, aged three, in 1947 with polio in my right leg. I was told a Dr. Belthorse diagnosed me in Chesterfield, Derbyshire which was my home town. My parents came to see me by bus but only at the weekends because of the distance. That was the worst thing about my three month stay. I was lucky in that I recovered completely without a limp, due to the treatment and the physiotherapy.

    By Jo Wright (21/10/2017)
  • I was a patient in 1968/69 for a whole two weeks went in feeling sorry for myself with a haematoma of the big toe but came out feeling blessed as all the girls on the ward were having or had had surgery for curvature of the spine and seeing what they endured gave me a big wake up to my very minor opportunity compared to their surgery would be nice to know-how those girls went on I was 14/15 at the time

    By Susan colluney (17/10/2017)
  • I was a patient  in Harlow Wood in (1988,  I was made very welcome as I did not live  in Nottingham  I am from Ashington  Northumberland. They could not help me where I lived so my husband saw a piece in the paper about Harlow Wood and  I got a appointment to see a professor Mulholland who said he could help me  with a  new technique called a nucleatone  it was still in trial. A Mr North did my  operation  does anyone know what happened to him? the op took the pain away but I was left to long back home. But thank God for Harlow Wood the staff were fantastic, I was in 4 days and came home 23rd Dec (1988). So sorry to hear that it closed, the swimming pool was great  they even let my husband stay with me . Thank You Harlow Wood  I owe you big time. Mrs Hazel BOON.

    By Hazel Boon (31/01/2017)
  • I remember Harlow Wood Hospital very well. I was a patient there in 1960. My surgeon was a  Mr Waugh who was very kind and caring. He straightened both my legs which had been fractured on many occasions in the past. I had what is known as an ostiotomy. A sterilised nail was threaded through both my tibias. I remember many of the wonderful nurses their and I owe them a lot , Mr Whaugh especially.  

    By Paul Barrett (11/11/2016)
  • I was thrilled to see so many memories of this wonderful hospital. I did not become a patient until much later than many of the other message sent. I was admitted for a very rare kind of surgery that I was told being only the third to have been operated on. This was in 1993 and by Professor Wallace  I believe also some German students were also in attendance . The procedure was known as the euder longer technique. I had developed a post viral trapeziums paralysis some 18 months before.I remember the care, physiotherapy & hydrotherapy were brilliant. Happy days. I’m back with lot more movement and pain free… ?

    By Elaine Ladds (02/11/2016)
  • I have to thank and congratulate Pauline for what I can only describe as an amazing history of Harlow Wood Hospital. It was a hospital that many people from Nottinghamshire were , and are eternally grateful for the treatment received from the marvelous staff there.  I would just like to add one more name who unfortunately is no longer with us. And I personally know how grateful he was to the Hospital for all the looking after he received . Mr. Kaye, ( Ex-Mayor of Mansfield ), and a Coal Miner at Pleasley Pit, was buried by a fall of earth whilst working on the Coal Face. By a miracle, he was still alive when pulled out. After spending 2 years at Harlow Wood Hospital, he was able to live an active life. 

    By alan curtis (22/10/2016)
  • I was in this hospital for lots of long periods. I was diagnosed with having a dislocated hip when I was 1 years old. Was in and out of hospital from 1977. I was operated on by Professor Waugh. I remember him being very kind and caring. I also remember the lovely care I received. My very earliest memory I have was waking up from an operation in recovery and having a blue blanket over me with lots of little holes in it. I remember glancing over in my cot and seeing another boy thrashing around his bed. He was much bigger than me. I was 18 months at this time.

    I am 40 years old now.

    I also remember the smell of the hospital. The old grey X-ray machines. The smell of the developer for the X-rays. The long corridors . The nurses wearing their hats. 

    I had a full body cast on having had an operation and being allowed home and my dad building me a board which [I could] scoot around on. I used to pull myself around with my elbows.

    I also remember my Dad coming into the ward whilst I was on traction and singing with his guitar. The nurses and I used to love it. I also remember playing with the play mobile toys especially the aeroplane.

    Oh the memories. 

    By Teresa Wiggins (19/10/2016)
  • I have no memories of this hospital, but very pleased my mother and father knew of it. I was born in 1944 at Elton Station as my father was the station master at the time. After 3 days from birth I was taken to see Mr Malcolm as I was born with Bilateral Talipes. It was he who got my legs down from behind my back, which was the start of my treatment over many years before the NHS was started. I can only thank all the staff at that time as I have at least been able to walk and work through out my life.

    By Bernard Brown (19/04/2016)
  • Wonderful to see that the history of Harlow Wood is acknowledged…I was in the hospital for four major operations between 1955 and 1959 to correct club foot affecting both feet. My surgeon was Mr Jackson.I have special memories of my bed being on the balcony and seeing the pine trees, also starting school in the hospital. The nursing standard was amazing. Thanks to Harlow Wood/the NHS I could walk by the age of 10.  

    By Linda Watts nee Lewis (19/03/2016)
  • I spent a lot of time at Harlow Wood, between, I think, approximately from 1970 to 1982, mainly during the summer holidays. I remember Sister Stone, and some of the nurses, Carol Chantry, Diane West, Ann Williams, and Lesley, can’t remember her surname.

    I also caught Yellow Jaundice, after an operation, got transferred to Kings Mill, then back to Harlow Wood, only to catch Chicken Pox a week later. Good times, especially when I got hold of a wheel chair, up and down the corridors.

    By Ian Gilsenan (01/06/2015)
  • I too have happy memories of Harlow Wood, 1948. They put my left arm back together with screws and plates that are still in there. As a 13 year old lad I was in constant fear of the ward sister, Katie Pitchfork finding another lad, Peter and I setting snares for rabbits in the surrounding wood! I’m  sure she was really an angel. John Bates

    By john bates (10/04/2015)
  • I was there about 1952/3 as I was born with a dislocated hip, I was age 3 years and remember being in plaster of Paris from my waist to my ankles for about 12 months (my mother told me it was 12 months), but I do remember being in plaster. I am now 65 but that memory is strong in my mind. My mother & father came to visit about once a week as it was very difficult to get there. I can still taste the Haliborange they used to give me in a cream coloured enamel cup trimmed with a  bottle green rim. We were pushed onto the balcony when the sun was shining. I remember it as if it was yesterday! 

    By Mary Rose Poyser (08/02/2015)
  • I was in Harlow Wood around 1952/3 with a TB ankle I was around 18 months old and was in there quite a long time. My dad was also in there, he died of TB aged 47, and I remember my mum saying how difficult it was to get there and it took her all day to get there and back to Sleaford in Lincs.  At one point dad and me were in there at the same time. What a terrrible time for my dear mum. My only clear memory is the day I came home with very heavy brown orthopaedic boots with slippery soles and a pink coat. I’ve got photos of me in a strait jacket strapped to the bed to stop me running about.

    By Lindis Payne (18/05/2014)
  • I was there for 6 months in 1960 for a hip problem. I was 10 years old. I was in traction for a few weeks and then had to have surgery. I was from Lincolnshire and a long way from home so Mum and Dad could only visit me once in awhile by train. Luckily I had an Aunt that lived in Nottingham. I remember those days in the “girls and woman’s ward.” They would have entertainment and all kinds of fun things. Really a shame they closed it down.

    By Marilyn Schram (28/03/2013)
  • I was on Portland Ward (1) for almost four years, from the age of 14 to 18 from August 1949 until 1953. I had TB of the right hip and because I came from Derbyshire, I came under the care of an eminent surgeon Mr R G Pulvertaft who visited the hospital every fortnight. During that time I saw many patients come and go and got to know many of the staff, including the head sugeon Mr A Malkin, even though I was not his patient. I was there when the Queen (later the Queen Mother) visited in 1950; in a prime position with a union jack fastened to my bed with scout poles – she remarked ” how appropriate” to me as she went passed the bottom of my bed! I could almost write a book about my experiences there, including the excellent treatment I received during my long stay in my teenage years. My family had 3 bus journies to make from Matlock to Mansfield in order to visit me, which they could only afford to do on average once every two weeks! What a pity the hospital closed it was so good, but strict. Ken Peach FCA MBE

    By Ken Peach MBE (08/10/2012)
  • Between 1954/5 to 1967/8, Harlow Wood was my second home, I can also remember being on that balcony. I made some wonderfull friends while I was in there, and we also had some great times too, and I also used the pool a lot, what a shame it had to close.

    By margaret mosley (north) (07/11/2011)
  • I was there in 1951 , I had Polio, I was 7 years old, I remember being out on that veranda on summer days with all the other beds , and the multi panelled dividing doors , small children on one side and us older on the other. We also had a indoor swimming pool, and a playpen for those learning to walk.

    By Roger Pope (29/05/2010)

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