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100 Years Of Alder Hey – Stephen’s Story

100 Years of Alder Hey - Your memoriesThroughout our long history, millions of people have visited Alder Hey, including the United States Military during World War One. In this new blog series to celebrate Alder Hey’s 100th birthday, we are taking regular trips down memory lane to share your stories of years gone by.

If you have memories or stories of your time at Alder Hey, we’d love to hear them. You can submit your story on our Centenary pages.

Stephen Guy’s story

They were once adjacent private estates surrounding two houses – Alder Hey to the north and Springfield to the south.

Alder Hey was guarded by a Swiss-style lodge still standing in Alder Road next to the gates which originally led to the mansion. The main job of the lodge keeper was to open the gates for carriages as well as postman and visiting tradesmen.

Springfield stood on what is now the children’s playground. The house was reached along a curving drive reached through a gate alongside a lodge on Prescot Road.

The Alder Hey and Springfield estates were divided by boundary walls and fences. Several ponds dotted the area – Springfield gets its name from the pools formed by water bubbling up from below ground.

A plain sandstone column commemorating Admiral Lord Nelson – hero of Trafalgar – was erected in the grounds by sugar refiner Mr R Downward.

He had planned it to grace Liverpool town centre but the Corporation said it was “too small and unworthy”. This led a local wag to dub it The Half Nelson. The column was recently moved to a different location in the park to make way for the new hospital.

The Alder Hey estate (28 acres) was bought by the Poor Law Guardians of West Derby Union in 1906 for the new children’s hospital.

The following year Springfield (22 acres) was bought by Liverpool City Council for £14,000 and opened as a public park.

Country

Until the 1930s the hospital was largely surrounded by open country. Both Alder Road and Eaton Road had few houses. Exclusive Sandfield Park housed wealthy people in large detached houses set in leafy grounds.

Fir Grove House stood at the junction of Alder Road and Black Horse Lane (now Queens Drive). A mansion called Oakville stood on what is now the Alder sports field.

Eaton Cottage was, despite its name, a large house at the top of Honeys Green Lane overlooked by what was then the hospital entrance.

Further down Eaton Road Springfield Cottage (on the site of the vet’s) was an atmospheric Georgian house pulled down in 1964.

Knotty Ash was a bustling community with a famous brewery, several pubs and terraced cottages quaintly called Little Bongs. Bongs, in Lancashire dialect, means banks and refers to little hillocks that once filled the area.

As Liverpool expanded, Prescot Road was made into a dual carriageway – the new section was cut between Knotty Ash Village Hall and Garden Cottages.

Eyes

My memories of Alder Hey Hospital go back to the early 1950s, both as an in-patient and out-patient. I contracted measles and my parents noticed I had a squint or lazy eye, as it was called in those days.

Stephen Guy in 1955I had two operations at Alder Hey, in 1952 when I was four and at the age of six in 1954. The operations, while successful, left me short sighted and I have worn glasses since the age of four.

I was a shy boy who was very finicky about food. My stays in Alder Hey – both lasting about a fortnight – were ordeals.

In those days the hospital was very different from today. A grim lodge with a glowering attendant guarded the main entrance in Eaton Road.

Once inside the main building, the smell of anaesthetic gas pervaded everywhere. It churned my stomach and created nausea.

Sister ruled the ward firmly but compassionately. Boys and girls occupied alternative beds. I used to admire the older girls in their pretty nighties or pyjamas and the younger ones were fair game for teasing.

“I’m going to eat you for plum pudding!” I told the girl in the next bed – she was about my age. She pulled a face and hid under the bedclothes.

Visiting hours were strictly controlled. I was delighted one day when gran brought me some of new multi-coloured chewing gum wrapped in cellophane.

Nurse sniffed: “Don’t swallow it Stephen or it will wrap itself around your heart.”

To this day I have a dread of swallowing chewing gum.

Food was served using sensible unbreakable tin bowls, mugs and plates. The ward was filled with weird scratching sounds as we finished off our corn flakes.

If the weather was fine we were moved into the open air at the end of each ward. We sat in chairs in our dressing gowns with blankets over our legs.

I was utterly homesick and felt I was in prison. I would look wistfully over at the busy shops on Eaton Road and choked back tears as I longed to visit them with mum.

Operations

The real terror started after the operations. Both my eyes were covered and I was plunged into darkness.

Meal times were the biggest ordeal, times of unimaginable horror.

The squeaking of the trolley and smell of over-cooked food filled the ward. I could hear the tinny scraping as the food was dished out.

“Open your mouth Stephen,” instructed nurse.

There was no clue or indication of what was being shovelled in. I was not keen on savouries and remember gagging as a mass of garden peas filled by mouth. Puddings were fine.

Each meal time was torment but I was well brought up and did not spit anything out. I simply swallowed to get rid of whatever it was.

I remember vividly when the bandages were taken off and I was back in the familiar world. They gave me my stitches as souvenirs and I kept them until they fell to bits.

I returned to Alder Hey as an out-patient three times before I was 16.

The first time was shortly after my second operation. We were playing Let’s Shove a Wax Crayon up Our Noses. I took a big breath and a crayon vanished into my head. All efforts to remove it failed. A kindly doctor strapped a big light to his forehead and carefully probed my nose to skilfully remove the crayon.

Next I was showing off to one of my girlfriends by walking along our gate like a tightrope walker. I fell and broke my left wrist and writhed in pain as she asked: “Are you all right Stephen?”

Finally, we were playing ollies (marbles) outside our house when one went down a grid. I managed to prise the heavy lid up to retrieve the marble.

However, the lid crashed down on my finger causing excruciating pain. The nail went black and I spent the night in agony – it was like having violent toothache in your hand.

A nurse laid my finger on a board and produced a sharp needle. “We need to get rid of the dead blood,” she told mum.

Nurse expertly plunged the needle into my nail and blood spurted out in a plume. The relief was amazing – I almost cried with joy.

  • Stephen is Chair of the West Derby Society, which campaigns for the preservation of West Derby’s heritage and environment. Memberships costs just £10 a year including four free printed Newsletters. To join send a £10 cheque / PO (made out to West Derby Society) to West Derby Society, Lowlands, 13 Haymans Green, West Derby, Liverpool L12 7JG.

Your comments

  • Once again, Stephen, a masterpiece of yesteryear. I can almost feel your pain & panic. A very interesting read – thank you.

  • I remember being in Ward E2 in 1954, when I was 12 years old. I had suspected appendicitis and was expecting an operation to remove it, but they rectified the situation by means of enemas – an eye watering experience!
    I remember in the middle of one night, a little girl of about 3 years old shouting out “Nurse, I want a sh.t !” She continued you this for some time, till the nurse relieved her! Such language at that time was disgusting to me; how things have changed.

  • My grandfather was the ‘glowering lodge keeper’. I remember visiting him while he was on duty and being allowed to play with the rubber stamps and office paraphernalia.

  • In 1933 aged 3 I contracted Scarlet Fever and subsequently Measles with mastoiditis. I was hospitalized for both conditions in the case of ear complications for a mastoid operation. I know that two hospitals were involved, Fazakerly and Alder Hey but I am not sure which hospital dealt with what. From what I have read it seems likely that Fazakerly which has history as a fever hospital treated the scarlet fever and Alder Hey the mastoid operation, Does that sound right?

    I have only one memory of my time in hospital. I was visited by an unknown man ( my father !) who brought jar of home-made jam which even as a three-year I old I found puzzling.

    What a worrying time for my parents. Being a child at that time was an obstacle course with the much-reared Diphtheria a major hazard.

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