Retro: Doncaster when the health service relied on donations

Doncaster Infirmary carnival 1909 - Judging the collectors
Doncaster Infirmary carnival 1909 - Judging the collectors
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Many Retro readers at some point in their lives might have crazily imagined sneaking into a Tardis and soaring back to an era of their choice.

Personally I would have liked a peek into Victorian life. But I quickly hurtled back to the present when reading about medical facilities in Doncaster during that period.

Although we have an occasional moan about savage cuts in the health service today, funding was virtually non-existent in the 19th century.

Gary Swan in his well-researched Doncaster Royal Infirmary 1792-1972 states that the infirmary finances during the mid to late 19th century were a constant cause of concern.

A new infirmary and dispensary had been completed in 1866 and Gary wrote: “The institution depended entirely on the generosity of the public and frequent reminders were necessary if a steady flow of subscriptions, donations and legacies was to be maintained.”

He also mentions that the cost of running the institution was increasing annually and in 1874 matters were so bad that the number of in-patients had to be limited to 10 at a time due to the anticipated deficit at the end of the year.

Desperately attempting to boost funds during this troubled period, the infirmary resorted to street collections, which in effect was no more than begging.

Thus, it was arranged that one Sunday of the year should be designated Infirmary Sunday and collections would be made at the large number of churches and other institutions in the area.

As time went on, this switched to other days and the event developed into a fantastic carnival and was staged under various titles.

One of these exciting events is described in the Doncaster Chronicle of August 2, 1909 where we learn that fortune favoured “the annual Doncaster Fancy Dress Cycle Parade and Carnival on Bank Holiday”.

The weather was fine and enabled the event to be, once more, a huge success and thus added substantially to the infirmary funds.

Long before the event began, the streets started to fill and at all points of the planned route there were large numbers of interested spectators. The procession, as usual, was formed at Glasgow Paddocks in Waterdale and shortly after 1pm a start was made.

The route went down St James’s Street and Camden Street along St Sepulchre Gate, up High Street and along Bennetthorpe to the Doncaster Rovers field where the carnival was held.

The procession was headed by the mounted police, followed by the Doncaster Public Subscription Prize Band. The Boy Scouts formed a very important part of the programme and most of the local troops were represented.

First came the St Andrew troop and immediately behind were a number of ladies in fancy dress on decorated cycles and it was noted “some real ingenious designs were to be seen”.

Then came the Doncaster Fire Brigade, and not far away were the members of the GNR Plant Fire Brigade.

A good number of excited children were present in the snaking procession, many of them in bright garments. A special feature was the brightly-decorated wagons carrying prettily-dressed children from the St James’s Church Band of Hope and the children of St Peter’s School.

During the afternoon St Peter’s School children in costume gave two very entertaining ribbon dances and Spanish dances.

The St James’s Band of Hope children, also in costume, gave two equally impressive performances of the Maypole dance and the rainbow dance.

There was a fair sprinkling of comically-dressed collectors in the procession and prizes were also given to them. Their various clever costumes and characters ranged from the old time jester to the Lancashire mill girl, and from the tramp to Mrs Carrie Nation.

A comic band hailing from Hemsworth created much amusement whilst one or two tradesmen were also represented in the procession.

Upon arrival at the field, judging began and in front of a large field. After this came the sports, fire drill and other imaginative competitions – potato race, tug-of-war for firemen and police, the crazy ‘dragging an unconscious man’ stretcher race and a three-legged race.

The receipts taken at the gates and on the stands amounted to about £30. The sum of £10 was also collected in the streets, this including 13s 6d which was collected by two patients at the infirmary, who cleverly suspended a collecting bag from one of the hospital windows. Considering the day, the total was regarded as very satisfactory.

Aspects of this unique hospital fundraising carnival were thankfully photographed by Edgar Leonard Scrivens.

His daughter Ivy, who I was fortunate enough to meet in the mid-1980s, said her father was born in 1883, obtaining his first camera when a schoolboy.

He also worked as a press photographer before establishing a photographic business in Doncaster’s Cooper Street during 1909.

As Scrivens began producing postcard views, nearly all bearing his initials ELS, he evolved a meticulous numbering system. For example on a card numbered 1-46, the first digit refers to the locality, in this case1 relates to Doncaster. The second number denotes that the postcard is the 46th in the Doncaster series.

Scrivens photographed over 250 localities including places in Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, with a fair number of cards in each series.

Additionally, he produced cards of events, ranging from the Doncaster Aviation Meeting of 1909, to another Hospital Carnival in 1910, and from the cutting of the first sod at Rossington Colliery in 1912 to the unveiling of the Doncaster War Memorial of 1923. He died in 1950.