From the archive of Rowan J. Flack,
by Mrs Hensman, 1975
Speech making is not my strong point, and I apologise because my Rushden friends will have heard before, much of what I have to say. I am very nervous and ask forgiveness for reading it.
It’s a long way back to that first Saturday morning in 1933 in the Rushden Y.M.C.A. Room Miss Sharwood will remember, as she supported my promise to attend on four Saturday mornings to help some ex‑patients of the then Sanatorium, with some worthwhile O.T. [Occupational Therapy] work. I had just returned from a leather-work course to include in my craft-work in school. The men said at once, that was just what they wanted to do, as they had all worked in leather in the factories, and so we started. They were all very keen, and at the end of the month, with working also at home, they were producing very attractive articles for which they found a ready sale. They used my patterns and tools, and I was able to obtain things, studs and other necessities, and we have gift leather from local people.
Then Dr Crane asked me to transfer to the Sanatorium for a Centre, so that patients and ex‑patients could work together. This was arranged, and as I lived near, I was able to be there on some evenings, and generally on Saturdays, and men and women were interested. We were at this time suffering from the effects of War, and many materials were scarce and on coupon. This was overcome by registering as a Hospital necessity, and thus obtaining some groups of materials coupons-free “for the use of patients only”. This enabled me to get supplies of articles and cottons for embroidery, and wool for knitting all kinds of garments, which was a great boost to the women’s efforts. For the men, Miss Sharwood and I made occasional visits to a leather firm in
At this point I obtained most materials, other than leather, from a
Gradually other crafts were introduced, and all were welcomed. Rug-making was very popular at the early period, as patients got a substantial discount, but a full-sized rug is heavy to handle and fluffy and so was discouraged and gradually dropped.
Over the years we have had periods of working at most crafts:-
1. Including needlework tapestries for fire-screens, stool-tops and pictures.
2. Doll dressing with felt, wool or materials, and making other toys of felt and fur.
3. Attractive calendars, cards and scrapbooks chiefly by children patients.
4. Match-stick musicals made especially by men.
5. Embroidery is worked by men and women on aprons, cloths, chair-backs, tray-cloths etc.
6. Lampshades we have made of all shapes and sizes.
7. Costume jewellery.
8. Weaving scarves, occasionally, and
9. Cane-work making plant-pots, trays, baskets, etc. and making anything else we have found interesting.
At first materials were all kept in a cupboard in the Front Hall of the House, and at my home. When I retired from school in 1946, I was free to visit, most mornings and afternoons, Saturdays and some Sundays if needed.
Miss Putnam had been Librarian, and when she left the town I took over from her with around 3,000 books, along with O.T. and at that time F.R.H. [Friends of Rushden Hospital] decided to convert 5 huts (which in the early days had been cubicles for patients) for my use; one for workshop, two for library, one for leather-room and one for sewing-room with electric machine which was very useful for women to make garments etc.
And so the work goes on day by day. Most of the patients now are in for a very short time, and though interested and keen to be busy, when sufficiently well, may leave before becoming really proficient. Some still carry on at home and come to me for materials and advice. The library is a great joy to patients and staff, and I can find something for all requests, both fiction and non-fiction. We now have over 5,000 books. I have a duplicate key to the non-fiction room so that student-patients can use it, if needed, for quiet study. Occasionally a book disappears mysteriously, but on the whole, great care and interest are shown in the return of books. Surprise is often expressed at the number and varieties for all tastes.
1. We have some very interesting discoveries among the patients. For instance, an Indian woman was a marvellous knitter, designing her own patterns and shapes never working from a pamphlet.
2. A little time ago too, in the Men’s Ward, there was a foreigner who had travelled the world over, and been a member of the Foreign Legion. He became interested in leather, had wonderful creative ability, designing his own patterns and left with his distinctive briefcase, shopper, and school-satchel.
3. Another man, who had been in for some time, became a wonderful basket and tray maker.
4. Then there was the man who became my special helper in the library. He re‑arranged lists and general arrangements, so that for some time I couldn’t find a thing, but all excellently planned. When he left he said how happy he had been, and that the care of the books had been his salvation.
There is never a need, but someone supplies what is necessary, in materials or time, and for this I am truly grateful as otherwise it would be impossible to carry on. So there is something for all, and I am kept quite busy, including lessons if we have children of school age, and I visit the children in the Colton Ward, and the patients in the Dermatological Unit who are specially interested in the library.
Without the backing of our Committee, past and present, Hospital Staff and various other people around, I could not have carried on so long, so happily, and so successfully.
1. I shall always think with pleasure of the gardeners, the joy of the lovely lawns and flowers and free advice regarding my own garden.
2. Of the maintenance men, and their service with a smile, to all my difficulties with locks, shelves, etc.
3. Of the kitchen staff all branches welcome me whether to wash my hands or for a bucket of water for cane-work.
4. The nurses must often wish me away, with arms full of books, and messy materials, but they are always interested, rather than annoyed.
5. Matrons have all been wonderfully helpful. Never “Why are you roaming around?”
6. Office staff always ready to search for patients’ addresses, or times of appointments, providing stationery, etc.
7. Doctors must often have wondered why I have interrupted their visits, though I make myself scarce as soon as possible.
May I finish with my favourite anecdote, which I know many of you have heard before:-
Some time ago we had an elderly woman patient who was very bored and found the days long. Each day, at Doctor’s wish, I suggested she tried some easy knitting, in spite of severe rheumatism twinges in her fingers. Then one day, after my usual remarks, she said, “Ah! My dear. When you’re as old as me you’ll understand how I feel.” I replied, “How old are you?” and her reply was “63”. I was speechless, and have since carried on, though I had often previously said, “I have been Grannie here for so long, a nice young Auntie would be appreciated.”
I am proud to work with such a wonderful Committee with people of different ideas on many subjects, but in this the One Aim.