A little local heritage for sale

Ford House in its heyday as the Nurse's Quarters for Forbes Hospital. Photo from the Pictorial Forbes collection.
Ford House in its heyday as the Nurse's Quarters for Forbes Hospital. Photo from the Pictorial Forbes collection.

On one of our regular walks up Hospital Hill recently we noticed the auction/for sale sign on Ford House the old nurses quarters and latterly part of the local health service.

I started to tell Ollie about Ken Ford, a family friend of my grandfather after who the residence was named.

It also occurred to me that not many people would know of Ken Ford and indeed many of the others whose names have been gifted to other parks and places in Forbes.

Nurse Stokes Park, Grinsted Oval, Spooner Oval, Gordon Duff Drive, Hughie Wilson Oval to name a few.

There’s a few there that I don’t know about myself but intend to find out.

I also gave Ollie the shortened and censored version of my memories of Ford House, the former nurses quarters when we young lads would be entertained and ‘take out’ the female occupants to the ‘flicks’ or a dance.

My memory is going to need a bit of assistance from some of the former occupants, please, as to the number of trainee nurses and qualified Sisters that resided there. From memory it was quite a few.

I can remember there was a curfew and some lads (not me of course) assisting the young lasses to get in a window if we arrived back later than the stated time.

I think they were able to get an extended time if going to a Ball or such.

Come on all you former nurses, send in an email or better still photos of your time in Ford House.  

The front Lounge Room was the place of entertainment and we would all gather there – no booze of course – and sing, talk and dance.

There was always someone who could play an instrument and at times we would have a complete band crowded into that front room.

But accommodation was not always the best as a report from the Forbes Advocate in 1936 states.

The quarters at that time were above the entrance to the old hospital, the nurses were working 12 hour days and not living in the best conditions:

FORBES ADVOCATE FEBRUARY 21, 1936

A DISGRACE

Nurses’ Quarters at District Hospital - Director’s Complaint

When it was declared at a meeting of the Forbes District Hospital board last Tuesday night that the nurses’ quarters were shabbily furnished, and were a disgrace to the institution, it was decided to investigate the statement and prepare a report on the cost of refurnishing the quarters.

The complaint was made by Dir. D Harrison who said that during a visit to the institution he had been informed that the nurses’ quarters were devoid of all comforts.

In their sitting room, where they had to spend the time they were off duty, there was an old couch that had long since seen its best days, and was patched up with bagging.

Other chairs there were not worthy of the name. The room was almost free of other furniture.

The speaker thought that by providing comfort for the staff, the board would be repaid with better service, and would find it had a more satisfied body of nurses.

They worked twelve hours a day and deserved some consideration.

Chairman H. K. Ford agreed that something should be done to improve the living conditions of the nurses, whose leisure hours were mainly spent in their quarters.

To get warmth in the winter time they had to go downstairs to the dining-room fire.

It had also been mentioned to him that the bed mattresses were worn out, and badly needed replacing.

The board, in striving to provide all the requirements of patients, had almost neglected the staff.

The tender for new quarters (Ford House) was let after a lengthy battle in 1946, the nurses moved in during 1949 and the premises finally opened, after a few problems getting a relevant politician there, in April 1951.  

The new quarters were named after the former President of the Hospital Auxiliary and tireless advocate for the nursing staff Mr H K (Ken) Ford, a fine man indeed.

I have always enjoyed interviewing former and current nurses for our National Library Oral History collection and documenting the changes in their profession over the years.

Nurses are an amazing bunch with a unique sense of humour, which I suppose goes with the job and an amazing devotion to their profession.

An online interview we did with Lilly Mooney Haydon the daughter of Nurse Stokes who ran the St Elmo’s maternity hospital in Forbes is available in the oral history collection on Trove at http://catalogue.nla.gov.au/Record/2215393

Ms Haydon, herself a retired nurse, speaks about her mother, born in 1880, who started nursing in 1909.

Nurse Stokes was a midwife in Forbes and stories include delivering babies at the hospiral and at patients’ homes; doctors and midwives of Forbes in the area and Crombie Private Hospital.

The days of nurse’s residences such as Ford House have long gone but the dedication and humanity of these highly skilled professionals remains – and let us hope that their working conditions have improved.

Rob Willis is a Forbes local and oral historian with the National Library of Australia.

You can find open interviews he has recorded online at trove.nla.gov.au