Midwives in Laindon ( 5 of 10)

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

Although it is reasonably certain that in the main the expertise gained by exponents of the craft of midwife came chiefly from the experience of the individual, the accompanying growth of the body of knowledge in medicine has had a bearing on the craft’s development. As with the practice of nursing generally, also very much a female preserve, advances were achieved in both crafts, not least in consequence of the efforts made in the 19th century.  As is well known, the reforming efforts of Florence Nightingale, consequent on the Crimean War of (1853-56) raised the scientific level of nursing considerably; granting it the right to be called a profession. Much the same can also be said of midwifery. Thus, while their remains a level of expertise which might be said to be basic in both crafts, there exists at the same time a level of expertise which, because it is also backed by study, raises the practise of the craft to an academic level, thus creating a specific hierarchy.

The midwives depicted in Jennifer Worth’s account (certainly as that in the version adapted for TV by the BBC) shows the midwives all dressed in uniforms. This would suggest that, as well as being midwives, they were also what was considered to be District Nurses, a team of trained persons who, as well as attending patients in childbirth, also performed other nursing duties in the home for other patients. This is borne out by some of the individual episodes of the TV series. It was certainly a feature of the 1930s that such an organisation as District Nurses existed; uniformed nurses going about their business in many localities on bicycles, and in this regard Laindon was little different from anywhere else. In fact, the self-same edition of the “Laindon Advertiser” detailed in the opening paragraph of this essay, in its Directory section, lists three addresses in the area at which District Nurses can be found. These are “Coulsworthy”, High Road, Laindon; High Road, Langdon Hills and “Homeleigh”, Dunton Drive, Laindon. Only one nurse is mentioned by name: Nurse Gibbard who resided at “Homeleigh”. (I do not know if it is in anyway significant but in 1949, the dwelling “Coulsworthy”, High Road, Laindon was occupied by a family named Cook).

What emerges from this is that Maude Burling was not listed as a member of the Laindon District Nursing team whose nurses must on many occasions, since in the 30s the majority of births took place at home, have acted in the capacity of midwives. The inference must be that Maude Burling was what is best described as a “Lay Midwife” for, as events were to turn out, in 1937, it was in that capacity that she attended upon Lillian Bathurst at the birth of Lillian’s second baby, David Michael.

The birth of David Michael Bathurst was a long-awaited for event. From before the time that she had wed Stan Bathurst, Lillian had been a firm advocate of planned motherhood. Always involved with what she regarded as “progressive” politics (she and Stan had met as a result of this mutual interest), Lillian in her teen years and early twenties was very much a disciple of Marie Stopes. Stopes (1880 – 1958), who had scandalised the Establishment, particularly the Roman Catholic Church, with her publication in March 1918 of “Married Love” followed by “Planned Parenthood” written the same year, was a prime mover in the emancipation of womankind both politically and domestically in world dominated by male chauvinism who, even to this day, does not receive the recognition and admiration she deserves for her efforts on behalf of her sex. It was Lillian’s intent that, her second planned pregnancy, after the birth of the writer, should be as soon as possible so that Stan and Lil’s children would grow up together. Unfortunately, nature decided otherwise and Lillian did not “fall” again until 1937, a fact that was, I have little doubt, the subject of considerable earnest discussion between Lillian and Maude Burling who was, it is quite clear, ready to lend an ear to her fellow woman’s woes whenever their paths crossed.

Thus it was that, in August 1937 that Maude Burling, as midwife, attended upon Lillian Bathurst, (by now a well-established friend, their views being so coincident), at “Cranford”, Basil Drive Laindon for the birth of the writer’s brother. His birth in comparison to my own was far more usual than was mine. At the time, the vast majority of births were of the “home” kind, since, except in pretty exceptional circumstances, hospital or maternity home births were an expensive business which only the more affluent could afford. The full circumstances that had led to my birth at Queen Charlottes were never fully explained to me although there was always an element of charity attached to that institution for the really needy and my home circumstances in 1929 were dire in the extreme. By comparison, the circumstances at “Cranford” in 1937 were palatial. Running water on tap; electric light in every room and the bedroom in which David Michael emerged into this world had its own fireplace in which, if necessary, a coal fuelled fire could be lit.

In passing, it should be mentioned that Laindon and Langdon Hills did have its own locality in which what I have described as “the more affluent” could be either confined or treated as an “in” patient. This was the Langdon Hills Nursing Home in High Road, Langdon Hills created out of two adjacent and attached houses (“Sissinghurst” and “Lyndhurst”) which had been made interconnecting. This establishment was run by the Misses Young, Altogether, there were four ladies with the surname Young listed at these addresses; Ivy, Rose, Daisy and Lily, and I am, regrettably, unable to say which is which in relation to the actual running of the nursing  home itself. However, after Stan Bathurst was conscripted into the British Army in 1941, Lillian Bathurst went to work in a domestic capacity for the Misses Young. One consequence of this was that we, (Lillian, David Michael and the writer), went on a long train journey from Laindon in the summer of 1942 to stay for a week’s free holiday at a farm cottage called “Leigh Down “ near Skilgate in West Somerset that was the Young family’s own holiday retreat! This was a welcome break from the repeated tensions of living so close to the Thames Estuary during the Blitz.

5 of 10

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