The Perranporth Convalescent Home, provided for the Royal Cornwall Infirmary in the memory of his mother, was Passmore Edwards’ second gift to the people of Cornwall.
In his autobiography “A Few Footprints”, Passmore Edwards wrote that “Next to the demand for hospitals I learnt that more convalescent home accommodation was necessary.” His first of several Convalescent Homes was provided for the Royal Cornwall Infirmary at Perranporth, on the North Coast of Cornwall about 8 miles from Truro.
The home was opened by his wife, Eleanor Elizabeth, on 1892. In response to a motion of thanks, Passmore Edwards said that he was particularly pleased to be present, as there was abundant evidence that the home was required, and that it would supply a long felt want in the County. It was the realisation of a long cherished dream. He had first bought the site, which was exceptionally good, and for its purpose could not be surpassed in Cornwall; he then built the home, furnished it and endowed it and handed it over, in trust to the authorities the Royal Cornwall Infirmary; his son laid the foundation stone, and his wife had that day opened it in the presence of auspicious circumstances; and it was associated with the name of his mother, who died in Bath about 25 years before but whose memory was to him a perennial inspiration and a joy. And the richest satisfaction of all was that the home, so provided and equipped on that sunny slope, and overlooking the sea so frequently crowned with glorious sunsets, would, in the days and years to come, offer healthful assistance to many a weary and worn Cornish brother, and enable him to live in future with revived strength and hope.
On April 6th, 1892, the weekly board of Royal Cornwall Infirmary had before it for consideration a letter from John Passmore Edwards offering to endow the Infirmary with a Convalescent Home he was building at Perranporth. His offer was to provide both the building and the freehold site.
With such financial backing, acceptance was a foregone conclusion but, as always canny in financial matters, the governors decided to issue a circular appealing for donations towards the maintenance of the home. It was drawn up by Lord Falmouth who headed the subscription- list with a donation of £25 and an annual subscription of £5 5s. Edwards gave £1000 as a nucleus of an endowment fund and later doubled it.
The governors set up a subcommittee to make the necessary arrangements for staffing the home and for the opening ceremony when completed.
Dr. William Whitworth was first asked if he would act as honorary medical officer to the home. It should, of course, be remembered that except for the occasional cup of tea there was neither salary nor “perks” of any sort attached to the appointment.
One cannot, therefore, help sympathising with him in his reply. He accepted but pointed out that there were now three convalescent homes within the area of his practice. He concluded-
“However willing I am to give my services to any or all of them it is hardly in my power to supply medicines gratuitously. … I suggest the home be furnished with a small supply of medicines and a small charge made to those requiring medicines, or alternatively, if supplied medicines from my own surgery, then patients should pay the cost price.”
The next step was the appointment of a matron. Those who applied when the post was advertised were first asked if they were willing to accept a salary of £30 per annum. One only was asked to come and meet the committee. She was Miss Isabella Rimington. She obtained the post and was asked to go to Perranporth, take up residence at one of the hotels and, together with Miss Burgess, matron of the City Infirmary, supervise the furnishing and staffing of the home which was now nearing completion. The governors paid her travelling expenses of £3 to the interview. They had clearly arranged that she would take up duty immediately if appointed.
The home, built on a plot of land purchased from the Enys estate, was designed and built by Mr. John Symons of Blackwater. Built mainly of stone obtained from a quarry at Lamorna, it comprised on the ground floor a library, a reading room, a day room and dining room with a kitchen at the rear. The main entrance in the eastern wing of the building lead into a spacious vestibule divided from the lobby by a screen filled with cathedral tinted glass. The reading room and library was in the front of the building as were the dining room and ady room. The day room was particularly light and chearful . Occupying prominent positions on the walls were portraits of Harry Passmore Edwards, Bishop Wilkinson, and Mr Arthur Laverton, ex mayor of Truro. Other rooms on the ground floor included the matron’s room and other offices.
A staircase, eight feet wide, lead to the first floor where there was accommodation for twenty patients in seven bedrooms, with hot and cold running water (rare in those days), linen closets, and electric bells. A large bathroom was also located on this floor. On the second floor a room was set aside for “private devotion” at the suggestion of Bishop Wilkinson. Running between the east and wets wings there was also a balcony, 27 feet by 16 feet with commanding views of the sea. The balcony was fronted with a bold dolphin head railing, adding much to the effective appearance of the home.
Symons and Sons were not only responsible for the building works but also responsible for most of the joinery and furniture such as cupboards and tables. The remainder of the furniture and cutlery was provided by Criddle & Smith of Truro, and the furnishing by Andrews & Co, also of Truro.
Shortly after the opening Lord Falmouth presented a piece of land adjoining the site to the home.
Mr Passmore Edwards was elected president of the hospital in 1893. In the same year he was made the first Freeman of the City of Truro on which occasion 2,500 school children lined the streets in his honour. In the long history of the R.C.I. he stands out as one of its most generous benefactors.
The Home made a slow start and on August 24th, 1893, the Gazette carried an editorial lamenting the small extent to which it was being used. In the first complete year following its opening fifty-five patients were admitted from twenty-nine parishes and the average number in the home was 4.4 patients with an average stay of twenty-four days. This, in an institution of twenty beds, was a poor rate of usage. In the following year eighty-nine patients were admitted with a shortened average stay of twenty days. By 1900 the number using the home in a year had risen to 114 with an average stay of twenty-four days. Miss Rimington had proved a very popular and satisfactory matron but the committee found it necessary to admonish her as she was constantly using her influence to keep patients longer than necessary. It is hardly surprising that some of her patients found the accommodation to their liking and a contrast to that provided in their own homes. At this time (May 10th, 1899) the Gazette carried a report from the St. Austell medical officer to the rural district council on the poor condition of local housing.
“Many of the cottages in the district had only one bedroom which sometimes was divided by a wooden partition half the height of the room. There was only one window, a foot square as a rule, no ceiling, no proper outlet for foul air and no fireplace. Many of the cottages were old and out of repair and should not be inhabited.”
It was estimated that the average weekly earnings of an agricultural labourer in England was 17s 5d and the average value of food consumed by an agricultural labourer, his wife and four children 13s 6½d. (Royal Cornwall Gazette, March 2nd, 1905.) The highest rate for old age pensions in 1909 was 5/- a week. The income limit beyond which no pension was paid was £31 per annum.
In 1909 the Home admitted 124 patients from forty-three parishes. The average stay was twenty-five days and the cost per patient £2 7S 2d. From the beginning the idea had appealed to the Cornish public and considerable financial support was forth coming. As so often happens, charitable bodies and individuals failed to assess the relative requirements of the R.C.I. and the Home. Collections and donations were, therefore, sometimes earmarked for the Home, when it did not need them, in preference to the hospital, which needed them badly.
On May 30th, 1895, matron was told by the committee that patients were staying too long and that the four week limit, which had just been imposed, must be strictly adhered to.
Miss Rimington had a lot of friends, some of them quite influential. In July, 1894, Mr. Passmore Edwards’ daughter came to stay with her for a month. The committee could hardly reprimand her for this gesture of hospitality.
In August 1904, Mr. Passmore Edwards himself came for a period and left a cheque for £10 when leaving. No doubt Miss Rimington felt herself on firm ground on this occasion.
In July, 1901, her request that the committee should supply some light coats for the patients was turned down.
Miss Rimington’s influence with the committee was, however, considerable. In 1893 her salary was raised to £40 per annum. In June, 1899, it was again raised to £50 per annum. In 1903, no doubt stimulated by the fact that the post of matron at the R.C.I. itself was advertised at £6o per annum, Miss Rimington applied for a further rise. The committee on this occasion refused with expressed regret. “In view of the financial situation”. Miss Rimington thereupon resigned but subsequently withdrew her resignation.
In February, 1914, following the usual six-week closure at Christmas, the official visitors to the Home reported unfavourably on the conditions found. Matron was informed by the management committee that they were much surprised to receive this report- ” . . . as to the uncleanliness and disorder in which they found the home on their last visit”. She was informed that in future she must return from holiday at least a week before the reception of patients and that the home should he thoroughly cleaned, and in order for their reception not later than February 15th. Despite this aberration there is no doubt that this first matron of the Home was a great success and when she retired in 1916 after twenty-four years service, expressions of appreciation were received niot only from the president of the R.C.I. but from many other sources.
One drawback of this first convalescent home lay in the fact that it catered only for men. In 1907 various suggestions for similar provision for women were explored. Negotiations were started with a “House of rest” at Perranporth with a view to sending patients there. These seem to have fallen through. In September of the same year Mr. Henry Williams offered a house at Tregoney as a convalescent home for women with some land as an endowment. A special court of governors considered this offer very carefully but came to the conclusion that the maintenance costs would be such as they could not meet. The offer was declined “with the deepest regret”.
In 1910 a more promising opportunity presented itself Mr. T. L. Dorrington, a jeweller who had been Mayor of Truro in 1896, offered to provide a home in Perrariporth on a site convenient to the Passmore Edwards home. A financial limit of £1,500 was placed on this offer. When the sepcial court of governors met to consider it, their architect, Mr. Cornelius, informed them that the home would cost £1,600 plus the cost of furnishing. The donor, however, agreed to let the offer stand for three months to test the response of subscribers and public to an appeal for money to furnish and endow the home.
The subsequent course of events provides a good illustration of the rigid financial standards of the age. On May 2nd, the committee were informed that the appeal had brought in £1,128 in gifts and £98 per annum promised in annual subscriptions. This, in the view of the committee was not good enough. Mr. Cornelius was then asked to produce amended plans for a building to cost £1,300 and these were in due course approved. The appeal was now renewed and letters sent, not only to all subscribers of the R.C.I. but to the subscribers of the Miners’ and Women’s Hospital at Redruth and of the West Cornwall Hospital, Penzance, as well as to outside bodies such as members of the London-Cornish Association. The appeal was published in both Cornish papers and in the Plymouth papers.
The result of all this activity was that £1,186 11s was given in
benefactions and £104 given or promised as annual subscriptions.
The sub-committee which had been reconsidering the situation met and concluded that even with the modified plan which had been approved, not less than £200 per annum was necessary for maintenance. The amount so far collected, and promised, would provide an annual income of not more than £145 per annum.
Counsel was consulted and advised that none of the surplus income from the Passmore Edwards Home could be used to support the Dorrington House. Under the circumstances the sub-committee could not see any means of closing the income gap of £55 per annum and recommended that the offer should not be accepted. The governors, in due course, confirmed this decision and expressed their thanks to the donor.
This was July, 1910, but in December, 1911, Mr. Dorrington died leaving 229 shares in Lloyds Bank and the residue of his estate to the Infirmary for the establishment and maintenance of a convalescent home for women. Further legacies and donations of £400 earmarked for the home came in, and in 1913 the Charity Commissioners approved the site which had been donated by Rev. Enys H. Enys.
On April 11th, 1914, the plan drawn up by Mr. Cornelius for a seven bed house was approved. The tender by the builder of £1,695 was accepted, and work on the building commenced. Mr. Dorrington’s estate had provided a sum of £6,412 and with accrued interest and further small legacies the governors now had more than £7,000 at their disposal for this project. Considering the fact that many of the patients would pay charges and that donations and subscriptions would continue to come in for the upkeep of the home the governors could hardly be accused of lack of caution
However, just as building began, the first world war broke out and the Passmore Edwards Home was placed at the disposal of the government for the use of convalescent soldiers and sailors. After two years it was clear that the demands of the military authorities for this accommodation was small. In August 1916, an enquiry from the Girls’ Friendly Society was received suggesting the possible loan of the homes for the provision of accommodation for girls working in a munitions factory at Perranporth. After some delay a special meeting of the governors on October 26th, 1916, resolved:-That the two homes be handed over to the Girls’ Friendly Society on November 1st, (the Dorringtoii House was now completed), to be used by the G.F.S. rent free as a home for girls under their charge, working at the munitions works
And so for three years the homes were no longer under the control of the R.C.I. governors. Five beds at the Epiphany Convalescent Home at St. Agnes were placed at the disposal of the R.C.I. The pictures provided for the Dorrington Home, which had never been occupied, were auctioned.
When the homes were handed back to the control of the governors in 1919, following the closure of the munitions works, they were renovated and reopened under a new matron-Miss Jordan who had competed with forty applicants for the post. Her salary was now £60 rising to £70 per annum, that of the cook-£2s, two servants-£3s (the two); a charwoman and husband who occupied the cottage rent free £50. The assistant secretary was paid £15 per annum for his work in connection with the homes. These salaries show an appreciable increase over those prevailing before the war. Dr. E. J. Barker was appointed medical officer to the homes and a special sub-committee was set up to administer them. The charge for hospital patients was 10/6d per week, for others 25/-. Poor hospital patients were, of course, admitted free but the means test was strict. On May 27th, 1920, it was found that the income of the husband of a patient admitted to the Dorrington Home was £3 18s 10d per week. He was ordered to pay 10/- per week. In 1922 a R.C.I. porter now retired was allowed to stay at the Passmore Edwards Home free during the summer but his pension was stopped during his stay there.
Miss Jordan was succeeded by Miss F. A. Shipp in 1922 at a salary of £70 per annum, and Dr. Barker by Dr. A. R. Fuller the same year. In 1927 the income for the two homes was £1,222, expenditure £914, the number of in-patients during the previous year 171 (eighty men, ninety-one women). An extension to the Dorrington Home, opened in that year, provided a new ward of eight beds at a cost of £725.
Throughout the years of their usage the same criteria of admission have been applied as at the Royal Cornwall Infirmary. Infectious cases have not been accepted. This has inaturally excluded many cases of miners’ phthisis. Patients classed as incurable have also not been received. From an early date, however, patients were accepted from Cornish hospitals, other than the R.C.I., though there is no evidence that the homes were extensively used by the Redruth or Penzance hospitals. When accommodation was available patients were also at times received direct from their family doctors, provided a subscriber’s recommendation accompanied each.
Discipline was fairly strict. Troublemakers were dealt with severely. In September 1894, a patient was discharged from the men’s home because he grumbled and was causing trouble. In May 1914, when there was trouble with a few patients, matron was authorised to call in the police. All patients who were fit to do so were expected to attend a place of worship on Sundays though this rule was relaxed as the twentieth century advanced. Despite the strict discipline there is plenty of evidence that the homes were well run and served a most useful purpose particularly before the antibiotic age when convalescence following infective illness was often prolonged. The two outstanding matrons of this period were Miss Rimington and Miss Shipp. In contrast to the parent hospital the financial state of the homes was never such as to cause anxiety.
When the home closed it was converted into a number of apartments, which have been sold off. The building is now known as Nampara Court. The adjacent Nurse’s home, Dorrington Home, has been less than sympathetically extended and converted into several residential units.