North Sunderland and Seahouses WI, March meeting

LADY ALMONERS: Mrs Wood opened the meeting of North Sunderland and Seahouses WI, welcoming all 23 members present. The minutes were read by Mrs MacFarlane.

Future dates were discussed: Outings with Travelsure; the spring council meeting at Whitley Bay, March 31; Harrogate Flower Show, April 27; make a fascinator, May 17; down your way (the coast), June21; Howick Hall Gardens, May 14.

Our Jubilee celebration plans are going ahead. We will also purchase some bulbs to plant in our area. Our next pub lunch will be on March 24, at Sunny Hills, Belford.

Our speaker for the evening was Sandra Gann, who was a Lady Almoner for many years in a London hospital.

She came along with an excellent selection of slides depicting the central part of London and of the oldest hospital offering free patient care when it was founded in 1123, St Bartholomew’s.

Many of us had no idea of the type of work carried out by the Almoners department. The phrase was discontinued in 1965 and became the social workers department, employed by the local authority.

We were shown slides of the medieval type of hospital, run by monasteries which in turn were interrupted by the dissolution of King Henry VIII. He gave special permission for Barts to be reinstated as a hospital. It is also interesting to know that there are, scattered around our countryside, the remnants of some of these buildings.

People who could afford it would seek advice of specialists but more often than not the apothecary would prepare potions from plants and they would be cared for in their own homes.

Some hospitals were the forerunners of the almshouses and workhouses set up by religious or charitable foundations, known as Maison Dieu or House of God.

Other hospitials were leprosaria as leprosy was rife in the early middle ages.

These medieval hospitals were usually laid out in a quadrangle, as Barts still is today, complete with market garden and a brewery as the water in those days was too dangerous to drink.

The first Lady Almoner was appointed in 1895 at the Royal Free Hospital.

By 1906 there were six Lady Almoners in cities from London to Newcastle and by 1911 the LSE had set up the first training course.

After the introduction of the 1948 National Health Service, the financial problems through being ill lessened and the Lady Almoner became the medical social worker. In 1975, the responsibility for the social work was transferred to the local authority.

The vote of thanks was given by Marjorie Turner as Sandra Gann had given us a very comprehensive view of the position of the Lady Almoner in days gone by with a fascinating insight into life in the middle ages and the progression of our way of life and how fortunate we are now with the NHS.

Our next meeting will be on April 12, which will be our AGM.