Savernake Hospital’s Historical Who’s Who

On this page you can find out about some of the significant and memorable individuals who have helped shape Savernake Hospital through the decades.  Many thanks to Val Compton for collating such a considerable amount of information on so many fascinating characters (including one donkey!) connected with the hospital’s past.

Raymond Eric White 1916-2013: Committed to League of Friends (which became Friends of Savernake Hospital and The Community) from 1958-2013

The late Ray White

The late Ray White

Looking through the history files, Ray appears time and again, raising money, inspiring people, wielding a shovel, writing letters to the paper, designing a logo, opening an exhibition and we must remember, this was only the visible part of his work and the very tip of the iceberg.  Behind the scenes was a mountain of files and paperwork, endless hours of meetings, tedious research and reading to keep up with the latest healthcare organisation, talking to groups… listening to local people, the list will be endless.  Savernake Cottage Hospital was not just a huge part of this gentleman’s life, for him it was a way of life.

Ray was not a man who would say “this is the way we’ve always done it….”, he embraced progress and moved in his mind with great agility in an ever changing time.  His sense of humour was legendary, his chuckle infectious, his interest in people real and Savernake Cottage Hospital was clearly one of his passions.  Click here to read the full article: Who’s Who Ray White pdf



Charles Edwin Ponting FSA, 1849-1932 – Honorary Architect to Savernake Hospital 1891-1924

Charles Ponting worked tirelessly during a distinguished career that lasted over 50 years. Yet he still managed to find time to serve as Honorary Architect to Savernake Hospital. He became a Life Governor of the Hospital in 1890 and was appointed Honorary Architect in 1891. Each year, the Life Governors, together with subscribers of over £1.1.0, appointed the Committee. This power of appointment therefore meant that Ponting was also indirectly involved in the management of the Hospital.

For many years Ponting also served as a House Visitor for a month. The duties of a Visitor were more onerous than the title might suggest. They were expected to visit the Hospital at least once a week, inspect the wards, ensure each patient was comfortable, discuss matters with Matron, note any repairs required and, lastly, inspect the Weekly Report Book. Click here to read the full article: Who’s Who Charles Ponting pdf.

Mabel Blackwell – Matron of Savernake Cottage Hospital 1952 – 1965

Much has been written about Matron Blackwell and her huge enthusiasm for all things Savernake.  The interview Val Compton (see Hospital Memories) recorded with her just a short while before her death was both entertaining and informative. Matron’s last outing from Marlborough  Lodge, was to the Savernake Hospital History Exhibition in 2009 where she derived much pleasure from looking at the pictures of “her nurses”. As with so many people, you learn most about their lives perhaps from the eulogy at a funeral and we were able to help with stories and pictures, the research carried out by Janet Louth and Val Compton having yielded quite an amount of information and stories which showed what a determined, feisty but very caring lady she had been. Click here to read the full article: Who’s Who Matron Blackwell.

Miss Evelyn Rossell Lavington M.B.E.  A.R.R.C.  1875 – 1956 – Matron of Savernake Hospital from 1919 – 1937

Matron Lavington

Matron Lavington

Evelyn Lavington was the eldest daughter of Mr & Mrs Thomas Lavington, born in Fyfield House near Marlborough.  It may well have been her father’s name that appears on the original accounts in 1872, when the second Savernake Hospital was built and the fundraising accounts were examined by Thos R. Lavington, Manager of the North Wilts. Bank. (As yet unsubstantiated information which doubtless will be researched in time).

Evelyn took up nursing on leaving school and despite poor health, became a Sister at St Thomas’s Hospital in London. She trained in the Nightingale School, where she also met Florence Nightingale on occasions, who although elderly, was still taking great interest in the trainee nurses.

Health problems forced Miss Lavington to leave London and returning to Marlborough in 1914, she worked voluntarily in the Red Cross Hospital, subsequently becoming Matron. Her voluntary work continued at Savernake between the two world wars, transforming this small 20 bedded hospital into one of the best Cottage Hospitals in the country. With new buildings, equipment and modern ways of nursing, the success of Savernake attracted visiting specialists and huge support from the community.  Finding 100 beds was the limit, she would ‘top and tail’ children in the beds (much to the surprise of H.R.H. Prince of Wales when he visited) and willingly give up her own bed to a patient when required.  Click here to read the full article: Who’s Who Matron Lavington pdf.

Rev J O Stephens

Rev J O Stephens - portrait

Rev J O Stephens – portrait

That Savernake Cottage Hospital exists at all is largely down to a compassionate train of thought from the Rev Stephens, Vicar of Christchurch Savernake, coupled with a good deal of this gentleman’s energy and enthusiasm. His attention had been caught by the plight of a local farm labourer who had suffered a serious accident.  The unfortunate man had to be carried some miles to reach a doctor, but was so seriously wounded he then had to undergo a further long journey to reach a hospital, arriving in a distressed condition. Rev Stephens conceived the idea of a cottage hospital – a very modern way of thinking – in order to bring treatment much closer to home. He was spurred on by Mr P.D. Maurice a local surgeon, from what was to become a long line of medical practitioners well known and much loved in the area. The Rev Stephens was to become the first Hon. Sec. of the hospital – but it was the speed of his actions, coupled with huge local support, that got the first hospital established in under a year that I find impressive. An unthinkable feat in this day and age! The first public notice dated December 1865 to the opening of the original hospital on June 28th 1866 must surely set something of a record.  Click here to read the full article: Who’s Who – Rev J O Stephens pdf.

Samuel William Farmer 1847–1926 – Benefactor & Governor of Savernake Cottage Hospital

Samuel William Farmer was born at Market Lavington November 29th 1847 and educated between 1855 to 1863 at Devizes and at The Spa Melksham.

Between  Jan 1863 and 1868 he we went to Aberdeen, Kings College Grammar School and in Martischall College where he studied medicine.  He had wanted to become a Doctor but was unable to because of a medical problem with his lungs.

Sam’s father died in 1869 aged 43 years.  In 1874 he married Emily (Mary Elizabeth in 1926 newspaper) Redman, daughter of William Redman of Coulston.  They moved to make their home at Manor Farm, Little Bedwyn.

His business partners were WB Gauntless and Frank Stratton.  S.W.Farmer & Co managed farms amounting to 24,701 acres.  His business life had been successful and he was recognised as being a good employer and very knowledgeable – at one time advising the Ministry of Agriculture. His work on agriculture during the war was recognised by the Order of the British Empire award.  His name is closely associated with the setting up of the United Dairies and the transportation of milk by the newly built railways.

His charitable works were far ranging and enthusiastically undertaken.  His interest in Savernake Hospital was very great, and he was a life governor of the hospital from 1911.  He not only gave financial support but the benefit of a business-like mind.  Click here to read the full article: Who’s Who Samuel William Farmer pdf.

John Kingstone Spratt  1858 – 1932 – aka Jack Spratt –  Jack of all trades, poet and Savernake Cottage Hospital supporter

In 1911, George V was crowned; throughout the country villages looked for ways to mark this special occasion. Reverend Alcock, Wootton’s incumbent, proposed the making of a public clock, the Coronation Clock. Estimates were obtained but were considered too high; instead, a counter proposal to hold a public dinner was carried. However, John Kingstone Spratt, born in Wootton Rivers in 1858, pursued the clock idea; he volunteered to make a church clock free of charge if the village would seek and then provide ‘a few hundredweight of steel, iron, brass and lead’. As one can imagine, this proposal evoked considerable mirth and some derision. However, the village rose to the challenge – all sorts of fire irons, chaff cutters, gun metal, threshing wheels, perambulators and bedsteads were brought to Jack Spratt’s home, a small thatched cottage, formerly the village school, now known as Clock House.

The Musical Collecting Clock made by Jack Spratt which now stands in the entrance to Savernake Hospital in front of the Friends' Shop.

The Musical Collecting Clock made by Jack Spratt which now stands in the entrance to Savernake Hospital in front of the Friends’ Shop.

Jack Spratt’s inspiring story is that of a farm worker, struggling to use all his talent and skill at a time when an education was difficult to attain. He started his working life on the farm aged 7 ploughing, bird scaring, etc. but the pay (starting at 2 pennies and rising to 2 shillings per day) was hardly a living wage. He went on to Nicholson’s brewery in Maidenhead as a clerk, tinkering with watches and clocks in his free time. In 1881, he returned home to Wootton Rivers and started work as a ‘clock man’, repairing watches, clocks, mowers, pianos, harmoniums, music boxes and picture framing whilst also doing post work in the morning and evenings. He rapidly became known as Jack-of-all-trades. A London firm was approached to supply wheels and pinions – no reply was ever received. Help came from Messrs Whately & Co in neighbouring Pewsey – they offered to supply castings made from templates that were cut from wood by Jack Spratt himself. Mr Neale, the blacksmith, at his forge, shaped the steel and wrought iron parts.


We learned that Jack Spratt also made the much loved Collecting Box House that stood in Savernake Hospital hallway for many years.  One penny donated would bring the little man out of the door to raise his hat to you whilst the music box would play a tune.


In 1931 it seems that Jack Spratt was admitted to Savernake Cottage Hospital as a patient. Click here to read the full article: Who’s Who Jack Spratt pdf

Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811 – 1878)

Savernake Cottage Hospital

Savernake Cottage Hospital

For anyone who has come into contact with Savernake Hospital, the name “Gilbert Scott” will be familiar, for the original building this eminent architect designed, continues to be known as the “Gilbert Scott Building”.  Until recently, it was thought to be listed and was indeed treated as a Grade II listed building during the re-build of the hospital in 2005.  During research carried out for the 2007 Judicial Review, it was discovered by Val Compton and Joan Davies (Chair Savernake Parish Council) that an error occurred during the process of listing  by Kennet District Council, the listing  did not exist and despite best efforts, the Grade II listing was refused.  Click here to read the full article: Who’s Who Sir George Gilbert Scott pdf.

The Hospital Donkey

This lovely creature seems to have been crucial in many ways to life in the hospital – it drew water from the well, pulled the cart to Marlborough to collect medicines and also seems to have transported nurses.  There are several mentions but we have never discovered its’ name.

1899       Report referred to the difficulty of getting water from a 250 foot deep well, it was raised by means of gearwork operated by a donkey or a man.

1901 Gift of shoes for the donkey

1903 Report of water connection with town mains   “There is one being who would, I feel sure, join very heartily in the note of thanks for having the water laid on at the hospital and that is the old hospital donkey!”  Click here to read the full article: Who’s Who The Hospital Donkey pdf.

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