Memories of Bideford Hospital.

Bideford Hospital 1962

My father had a chemist’s shop in the High Street and I married a local girl just before my final exams. From a London teaching hospital to Bideford Hospital was a steep learning curve for me as a junior hospital doctor, just registered! to be the sole senior house officer in residence. My wife and I lived in a two roomed flat above the casualty department with our baby son and our meals were cooked and brought up to us from the hospital kitchen each day. I was expected to be ‘on call’ except for one half day a week, (which ended at midnight) and the local GPs were on hand for help and advice. Mr. Stirk and Dr Hewetson did the major surgery and I was their assistant, while Dr Shaw and Dr Hunt did most of the anaesthetics.

Consultants from Exeter came regularly – Mr Capener for orthopaedics and Dr Brimblecombe for paediatrics, visiting the tiny children’s ward next to our flat. Dr King and Dr Smart (of Marwood Garden’s fame) were the physicians.


It would be true to say I became a better doctor in the next few months as casualty officer as well as my other duties. We had a patient with an adder bite and sent for anti venom from Exeter. I didn’t know how to give it, but happily one of the staff nurses had worked in India and told me how to inject it into the abdominal wall muscles. Another patient arrived one evening asking to have his ears syringed. I said I thought he should be going to his doctor as it was hardly an emergency. ‘I’m the catcher of the the trapeze artist in the local circus’ he said. I syringed his ears.


We used the stomach pump for overdoses, always a hairy moment, but I do recall someone from the shipyard at Appledore when the casualty floor was awash with cider. He must have drunk about a gallon! We also had a smallpox scare that year when there was a big catch-up with vaccinations, rather like the recent measles epidemic.


I left to work in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, prior to finding a general practice in Sussex and have only returned to our roots in the past eleven years, but Bideford has always been where we wanted to be.


Michael M Wilks M.B. MRCS. LRCP.D.Obt; MRCGP.



Bideford Hospital 1940

I spent some time in Bideford Hospital as a child.I lived in Orpington, Kent and suffered frequent sore throats so my Doctor thought I should have my tonsils out .As the 2nd World War had started my parents did not want me to be in hospital there and arranged for me to come to Bideford where some relatives had already moved.


I was about 7 years old and remember vividly my confusion and embarrassment being carried to the operating theatre with the back of the gown being apart and my posterior being visible to the other children! I didn’t much like having my hands held down when the anaesthetic was given either. Afterwards I was given thin bread and butter slices – with the crusts cut off! It was disappointing to find subsequent ones had the crusts on!


I was longing to get out of bed and play with the rocking horse and doll’s house, although I don’t remember doing so.


The girl in the next bed – the end one- had doctors to see her without at first drawing the curtains and I was fascinated to see that she had all sorts of tubes coming out of her. When they saw me looking they pulled the curtain and I could see no more; I often wondered what she had wrong.


My aunt by marriage, Phyllis Prentice, was a ward sister at Bideford hospital for some time before she became Sister Tutor before retiring. In her retirement she spent about a year as a patient- in the new buildings and did her best to keep the nurses on their toes!


Mary Maine



Jean Summers

I noticed in the June Buzz that you are hoping to run a feature on Bideford Hospital.

In 1975 my mum Jean Summers worked as one of the cooks alongside Mandy and Edna. I also worked as a kitchen assistant with Janet Evans,Joanne Moody,Sheila Mugford, Mary Mugford and a lady from Torrington (Dorothy Stapleton) and the Scottish gardener called Jock who lived at Fairy Cross. We had a lot of fun and laughter as my mum had a brilliant sense of humour.


After a while they shut the Bideford Hospital kitchen down, and re-opened it a few years later after refurbishing it. Hope you print this as my mum, who passed away last year in March, was a well liked lady.


Janet Summers

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One Response to Memories of Bideford Hospital.

  1. Michael Sheppard says:

    Bideford Hospital holds many memories for me. My first visit was occasioned when, age 4, I was playing a game of poking my fingers in the large mangle we had in the back garden on washday. Unfortunately, my sister turned the handle when middle finger was in the cogs !! I remember screaming and then fainting; the finger was crushed from middle joint to tip, but Dr Hewetson saved my finger and although it’s stiff from the middle joint it functions perfectly. Second occasion was to have my tonsils out as so many did back in the 40’s. I remember I had to share a bed for short period with a little girl and I was outraged !! and for some reason I had big woolly bedsocks on!!. Next time I feel out of a tree and burst a blood vessel in my eye – once more Dr Hewetson to the rescue.

    He was our family doctor back when that really meant something and the NHS was in its infancy,and I think his dedication to his work influenced me as I ended up working in Community Mental Health for 30 years myself first as a CPN and in later years as a Senior Nurse Manager for CPN’s Day Care and Elderly Care units, a long way from the early days.

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