Midwives in Laindon ( 4 of 10)

Some thoughts on the manner in which attitudes can be altered by changing circumstances

The 1930s were a period of population expansion for Laindon chiefly because so many families in that period of the post 1929 depression era found it was the only way they could escape the pernicious housing shortage that persisted in the eastern parts of the Capital. As the decade ended, the outbreak of WWII and the German aggression against London during the “Blitz” worsened that shortage and Laindon’s population continued to swell creating the situation which the post-war government decided could only be resolved by the creation of Basildon New Town. Before this happened, Lillian’s position as a permanent member of the Laindon community was cemented as she entered into every day, domestic life as it was lived by so many of the community.

It was entering thus into the average daily life as a housewife that would bring her into contact with Maude Burling in due course. As previously indicated, as well as shopping, a great deal of social activity centred on the Laindon High Road and it was, most probably, this more than anything that would have encouraged the acquaintance between Maude and Lillian, cementing it into a lasting friendship. Out of necessity, a great deal of that social activity was targeted at the level of “do-it-yourself”, its scope limited by the funds available to the participants. Thus, the majority of social activity tended to be based on Whist Drives, what were usually referred to as “Socials” (gatherings in which refreshments accompanied chat between the participants) and regular meetings between more formal groups. It was the female members of the district who predominated when it came to socialising in this manner, the male community, largely, at that time, considering it to be their traditional and primary duty to be the bread-winners of their families, tending to regard such activity as little more than mere frivolity and handing down their somewhat occasional reluctant participation as if it was really beneath their dignity and little more than a sop to satisfy the ladies.

Although not able to support the assertion with any firm evidence, it is most likely that the firm friendship that grew up between Maude Burling and Lillian Bathurst was fostered at the regular meetings of the Women’s Cooperative Guild. This was supported in Laindon by the Grays Cooperative Retail Society, a small society founded in the 1860s in Grays Thurrock, and which had managed to establish a footing on the 1920 in the LCC’s Becontree Housing Estate in the face of keen competition from the much larger London Society based on Stratford (East). Following WWI, the Grays society established retail outlets in the Pitsea/Vange area following this up with a similar arrangement at Laindon in the early 1930s, despite the fact that the Billericay area had been patronised by the London society. At Laindon, the purpose built shop established in Laindon High Road on the south corner of Worthing Road consisted of, in one building, a Grocery, Butchers, Greengrocers, Bakery, Drapery with Shoe-shop attached and a Tobacco Kiosk. The one thing the building lacked, however, was a meeting hall unlike those built elsewhere (at Vange, Gale Street for example) by the society. Despite this the political/educational wing of the Grays Society was well supported, the Women’s Cooperative Guild usually holding its regular meetings in St Peter’s Church hall at the junction of High Road and St Nicholas Lane.

Lillian Bathurst was an enthusiastic member of the Women’s Guild and was a member of its women’s choir chiefly because she had been drawn towards the Fabian and democratic principles upon which it was based. In fact it had been her pursuit of such ethics throughout her youth that had led, ultimately, to her marriage in 1938 to Stanley Bathurst when he and she had been both singly and jointly following such similar activities when they were both in West London. This marriage had led 1929 to the birth of the writer at Queen Charlottes Lying-in (Maternity) Hospital then situated at the corner of Old Marylebone Road and Harcourt Street, London W2 (the following year the hospital was moved to a new site at Goldhawk Road, Hammersmith, W6. Although not directly associated with the subject of this essay, it is worth noting this fact simply because Queen Charlottes was and still is considered one of the most important of the world’s leading centres of research into the study of obstetrics and, therefore, into midwifery practices. For this reason, it might safely be said that Queen Charlottes represented a centre of excellence that turned out midwives versed in the art to the highest of standards, standards that would act as a yardstick to which all who indulged in the craft would aspire regardless of the level of their training.

The idea that primitive or peasant women, about to give birth, broke off from their work, retired to a nearby hedge, gave birth and returned immediately to the task they were previously performing, although possibly true for some, is probably greatly exaggerated. There is considerable evidence that for thousands of years women about to give birth have consistently sought and enjoyed the assistance of other women at such a time that is not necessarily free from its own particular dangers. It is somewhat axiomatic that such assistance is more likely to be provided by an older, more experienced, woman than the mother-to-be, perhaps her own mother, or somebody whose own experience comes not only from their own child bearing but also from attending many such events. Man or Homo Sapiens being a social animal, means that such attendants at births, have emerged into the realms of society known and recognised as mid-wives, their ranks largely composed of women but not exclusively so as medical expertise has expanded over the centuries.

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