The Health Centre

One Sunday afternoon, a group of adventurous pupils with time on their hands began to explore. The Accident Book from that day records how one girl fell through a ceiling causing her some injuries. It had been incidents such as this that had encouraged Miss Matthews to open a Sanatorium and to employ well-trained medical staff.

In 1919 the first Sanatorium, known as Gazelle, was opened in Curzon Street. The Health Centre we know today was built in 1925 on land sold to St Mary’s by Lord Lansdowne and was described by the Headmistress as, ‘a model sanatorium’. The plot was adjacent to the school grounds when the current hall and dining room were yet to be built and the main entrance road did not exist. The land, screened in the front by a row of fir trees, ran down a slope into the garden by School House. Built of unpainted red brick, as can be seen in the photograph below, for 23 years the Health Centre looked rather different from today.

The Health Centre in the 1930s

The following description is from the 1926 news sheet:

‘It was opened in January and is indeed a delightful building and one that is most convenient in every way. It stands on high ground, a little plot acquired by the governors to the north of the school hall and has beautiful views right over to Compton and the downs. Built in Queen Anne style with warm red bricks and a fascinating roof, it is a beautifully airy building, flooded with sunlight, and we feel it to be a very great addition to the school. On the ground floor there is a sitting room, a nurse’s room, four small isolation rooms and kitchen, while upstairs there is a larger isolation room and a beautiful big ward.’

Returning for a reunion, Jean Sorsbie, who had been St Mary’s Head Girl in 1922, remarked that ‘the corners of its roof curl like the hair of the Assyrian bull.’ The school diary of 1926 recalls that, ‘much to our regret Nurse Mooney is leaving us because we are too healthy. She has had only two cases since the new Sanatorium was opened.’ However, in the years since, the Health Centre has served its purpose well, if not always for medical cases, then by visitors to the school who were offered a bed for the night there.

The day-to-day medical needs of the St Mary’s community were always well-supported by the local GPs, some of whom remained for many years and became close friends of the school. The regular epidemics of diseases we are now inoculated against, such as measles, mumps and whooping cough, were managed within the school by the school nurse, the teaching staff and on occasions, additional nurses were brought in. All the Lent Term of 1948, the San was full of mumps cases, including Miss Diack, the nurse. Sometimes whole dormitories were taken over as wards. As the patients began to recover, they were sent on extra walks and given singing exercises, ‘to strengthen their lungs’.

When the Matthews Building was erected in 1935, a driveway from the main road was cut out below the Health Centre and the row of fir trees came down. In 1949 the building was redecorated giving it the white appearance which is familiar to us today.

The Health Centre after its redecoration in 1949