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Bleak House Clinic

Bleak House 1922
Bleak House Infant Welfare and School Clinic,
Dudley Road, Sedgley. circa 1922

The information and photograph on this page were kindly supplied by the author, Chris Nicholls, formerly Oliver. Many thanks to her and to Tony Matthews of South Shields for his help in supplying the information.
The Amy Matthews - formerly Harcourt - mentioned is Chris and Tony's Grandmother.

In 1900 it was the home of F.M.A. Powell M.B. Surgeon, Medical Officer and Public Vaccinator, Sedgley No.1 District, Dudley Union and Police Surgeon. Most local families remember it as "The Clinic"

Bleak House Clinic was one of the many establishments set up to help improve the health and welfare of women and their children after the First World War. Due to poverty and ignorance children's health was very poor during this period. Many babies died within the first five years of life and it was common for a woman to die in childbirth. Among the poorer classes it was a neighbour or member of the community who assisted in childbirth as they couldn't afford a Doctor or Midwife, hence the frequent deaths.

The date on this photograph is 1922 and Amy Matthews can be seen looking from the right top window. She was the Caretaker and responsible for keeping the clinic clean and ensuring that the fires were lit when surgeries were being held. At this time Cicely Matthews was about 8 years old and had just started to scrub floors and to do whatever needed to be done.

In the 1940's, during our childhood, children were regularly seen in school by a visiting Nurse and sent to the clinic if any treatment was needed for ailments such as Impetigo, Ringworm, boils, nits (Headlice). Eyes were tested there and ears inspected by a Doctor, if anything had been noticed by the Nurse on her visit to the school. On Clinic day children were taken out of school and walked to the Clinic where they would receive the appropriate treatment: drops in their eyes of ears, Gentian Violet put on sores, boils were dealt with by lancing them. Children would then return to school with purple blotches on their sores.

One of our neighbours, a girl called Sandra Owens had a succession of boils on her bottom and had difficulty sitting down. Today a course of antibiotics would cure such a condition, but at the time Penicillin was only being used on seriously ill patients. There was a clinic on Tuesdays for examining and weighing the babies where they would also receive inoculations, as they became available. One such program was for Polio during the 1950's and 60's. On Fridays there was an Ante-natal clinic held for expectant Mothers where they were seen by a Doctor, who monitored them through pregnancy. This is common practice today, but it was a very new idea then.

The nurses I remember were Nurse Holtom, Nurse Gibson and Community Midwife Clements who rode about on a bike until she had a car to attend the mothers during labour. Everyone remembers the "Nit Nurse" who inspected all the children's hair for lice. As far as I know this practice still goes on today in areas where the head lousee is very much alive.

Dionne and I had to submit to hours of combing with a tooth comb which extracted the eggs from the hair, then Mom would crack them with her thumbnails. We would then be clear for a while until we caught them from one of the poorer children again. Some families where very large, the Willis's were twenty in number, and very smelly!

The Clinic has now been demolished which is very sad as it was a fine example of a Georgian house. Modern houses have now been built on the land where both it and Nan's bungalow stood.

Author : Chris Nicholls


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