Hospital History

Community History Project for Savernake Hospital

History page intro

The Friends are always looking forward, with the aim of supporting and enhancing healthcare both at Savernake Hospital and in the surrounding Marlborough area.  However, we are also respectful collectors of fascinating pieces of history relating to the hospital.  We have talked to countless people with fond memories, visited the History Centre in Chippenham where there is a wealth of information and collected bits and pieces from various other sources, including old newspapers.  We have cobbled together a representation of the past but……

We are not historians!

You will certainly find errors and omissions on our pages which we’ll happily put right.  The history is an ongoing project.  If you would like to add to it, please click here to email us with memories or pictures.  There is much more to see in our paper files which were made during the History Exhibition in 2009 and, as soon as they find a permanent home where they can be easily accessed by the public, we will let you know!

Janet Louth (Chairman of the Friends of Savernake Hospital and the Community) & Val Compton


Grants list from 1958 – a fascinating insight

Please click on the link below for a summary of items provided by the League of Friends of the Marlborough Hospitals (now the Friends of Savernake Hospital and the Community) from its formation in 1958 until 2003.

This summary was the painstaking work of a previous Trustee of Friends.  It provides a fascinating insight into the grants supported.

Where no details are noted it is assumed that these items were donated by members of Friends or the community which supported its cottage hospital throughout the years and continues to do so.

Items appearing in Friends’ accounts but not included in this list include daily newspapers and Christmas presents for patients, a tradition continued to this day.

Community-giving was often in the form of labour, sewing or making shelving or furniture items.  Seasonal crops were donated and used to make fresh, healthy meals.

Historical grants list – click here.


Savernake Hospital – Accounts from World War 1

We are always delighted to receive personal accounts – and stories passed down through the generations – from those who worked or stayed at Savernake Hospital in the past.  Not only does it help paint a fuller picture of the Savernake Hospital of yesteryear, but also, more generally, of the local social history of Marlborough and the surrounding villages.

We were very therefore very interested to receive the following information from a recent visitor to our website, Jean Blackman:

Violet Sweet

” I found your website very interesting and have a story to share. My mother, Elsie Violet Blanche Sweet,[referred to as Violet] often told me about her time nursing at Savernake Hospital during the First World War.  She started working as an unqualified nurse at Savernake Hospital in 1915 or maybe 1916, when she was about 20 years old and was trained on the job.

She had heard that the mansion house in which the hospital was based had been made available for use as a military hospital during WW1 by the rich owners as a contribution to the war effort.

She also told me that when the indoor space at the hospital was fully occupied, marquees were erected outside to create additional space for hospital beds. Every morning, the nurses would open up the marquees to allow fresh air to circulate. On some occasions, deer from the surrounding forest wandered into the marquees and around the beds to the delight of the wounded soldiers, who sometimes fed them their sandwiches. This seemed to lift the spirits of the wounded men.

I wonder if anyone else has heard about these marquees and the visiting deer. Unfortunately I don’t have any photos from my mother’s time at Savernake, but would love to see any that you have from the WW1 period.”

The Friends are very fortunate to have both Janet Louth, their chairman, and former committee member, Val Compton, who have spent many years compiling historical accounts, photographs and reports from various sources about Savernake Hospital since it was established in the 1800s.  However, as regards the WW1 period specifically, the Friends have relatively few photographs.

Violet Sweet and a group of fellow nurses

Janet contacted both Jean and Jean’s brother, Tom, who mentioned that the lady in charge took no pay. Friends know that, although Miss Evelyn Rossell Lavington did not become matron at Savernake Hosptial until 1919, she took no salary during her years there. She was, prior to this, involved with the Red Cross Hospital in Marlborough. Coming from a local family, she would have known Savernake Hospital well, and it is quite possible that she would have had involvement with Savernake Hospital, taking wounded soldiers during WW1. We therefore think Jean’s mother, Violet, might have known her. (see further details about Matron Lavington on the Friends website:

Janet wanted to check that the reference made by Jean in her email to “the mansion house” was not a reference to Tottenham House, given the connections between the two establishments.  However, Jean and Tom were certain that their mother’s memories related to Savernake Hospital; further Janet has found no record of Tottenham House taking wounded soldiers during WW1 (although many large estates did).

Violet Sweet and a fellow nurse

Since first being in touch with Jean and Tom, Jean has unearthed some photographs of her mother from around the WW1 era when Violet was a nurse.  We cannot be certain where or when they were taken.  (We know that Violet moved from Savernake Hospital to Great Somerford near Malmesbury and went on to be a registered nurse and qualified midwife.)  However, one of the photographs is of Violet and another nurse in front of what looks like temporary/nurses’ accommodation.  Possibly this was at Savernake Hospital?

We – and of course Jean and Tom – would be delighted to hear from anyone who might be able to provide more information about Savernake Hospital during the WW1 era – and especially if that information might be able to answer some of these unanswered questions.

For more information about the history of Savernake Hospital, please visit the Friends website at

Violet Sweet picking flowers

Violet Sweet in garden – signed photo




The History Project Attracts University Interest

History Academics from the University of Warwick have also been taking an interest in the Friends’ History Project – click here to read more about their research project.


Other News

Dawn Griffis

As reported in February, we discovered an eBook entitled “Nursing at the Horton: The Way it Was – When Care to the Local People Really Mattered” written by Dawn Griffis nee Alsford.   The book contains a chapter all about Savernake Hospital, where Dawn Griffis started her training in 1956.  We have included a link to the book, which provides excerpts and details of the author as well as how to purchase.

Since then we have managed to make contact with Dawn(!) who has been kind enough to send us more delightful memories of her nursing days at Savernake Hospital.  Click here to read more.

New (old) photographs

Savernake Hospital Children's Ward, printed with the permission of JJ Hunt Wiltshire Archive, courtesy of George Barbour

Savernake Hospital Children’s Ward, printed with the permission of JJ Hunt Wiltshire Archive, courtesy of George Barbour

We have also been provided with some lovely historical photographs of Savernake Hospital.  Our thanks to George Barbour for the first photograph (right) featuring Matron Lavington in the Children’s Ward (circa 1930s) which is shown here with the kind permission of JJ Hunt Wiltshire Archive, and to Rob Dickens of his photographs of Hospital Week (circa 1930s, we understand).

Source - Rob Dickens - Hospital Week featuring John Bower and Phyllis Sainsbury c1930s

Source – Rob Dickens – Hospital Week featuring John Bower and Phyllis Sainsbury c1930s

Source - Rob Dickens - Hospital Week featuring John Bower and Phyllis Sainsbury 2 circa 1930s

Source – Rob Dickens – Hospital Week featuring John Bower and Phyllis Sainsbury 2 circa 1930s

Savernake Hospital’s Historical “Who’s Who”

Charles Ponting, Matron Lavington, Matron Blackwell, Rev J O Stephens, Samuel Farmer, Jack Spratt and Sir George Gilbert Scott are some of the individuals who have made a significant contribution to Savernake Hospital over the ages.  Click here to read about their contribution – and that of a donkey – to Savernake Hospital.  New Who’s Who – Ray White.

Hospital Memories

The Friends thank all those, many of whom attended the 2009 Friends’ History Exhibition, who have given their time to recount their memories of the Savernake Hospital of yesteryear.  Both former patients and former staff having given us wonderful insights into, and anecdotes about, Savernake Hospital and life in Marlborough in the past.

Special thanks must go to former Friends committee member, Val Compton, and to Chairman Janet Louth for compiling these summaries, which we will steadily add to the website.  Click here to read the first of these accounts.

History Gallery

We now have dedicated subpage of photographs from the various decades relating to Savernake Hospital.  Click here to see Savernake Hospital in pictures.



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