Care homes for people who were dying were first created in the UK in the late 1800s.
Five palliative care homes were established in London between 1879 and 1905, but no such facility existed in the Midlands.
On the death of eminent gynaecologist Professor John Taylor, a new home for the ‘dying poor’ was thought to be an appropriate commemoration to his contribution to the Women’s Hospital in Sparkhill.
His colleague Dr Mary Darby Sturge took the helm and a small house adjacent to the hospital in Park Road was found to accommodate five beds, at a maintenance cost of £300 per year.
The Taylor Memorial Home of Rest was given considerable support by a number of influential people including the MP for Erdington Sir Arthur Steel Maitland who agreed to be president of the proposed institution. He chaired the meeting to launch the appeal for funding in April 1910, which began on a high with the donation of £500 by Mrs William Cadbury – this enabled the home to open the same year.
At the first annual meeting it was reported that the five beds had been occupied continuously and many more patients had to be refused – there was an obvious need for larger premises.
In September 1911 the Management Committee of the Women’s Hospital purchased Showell Green House, to be let to the Taylor Memorial Home of Rest Committee. The house was planned to resemble a family home, to recognise the fact that those approaching the end of life are still a part of life – the beginning of John Taylor Hospice’s ‘Taylor-Made’ approach.
The new home was opened by the Bishop of Birmingham on 9 March 1912. Though the original plan had been to take patients from the Women’s Hospital only, it was decided that the additional new beds would allow GPs to refer ‘patients suffering from hopeless malignant disease’ to the home.
The Taylor Memorial Home of Rest was not a religious institution unlike many homes for the dying which at this time were set up to save patient’s souls. Instead, emphasis was placed on the care of the patients, making them as comfortable as possible.
The outbreak of war in 1914 brought about a concerning shortage of staff. Previously the Women’s Hospital had supplied nurses for the home but by June 1917 the hospital informed the committee this would no longer be possible due to the extreme shortage of nursing staff. At this time the matron at the home began advertising for staff.
The home was also under constant financial pressure – the secretary reported in November of the same year they were £412 overdrawn. This was alleviated in the following year by the Women’s Hospital, who gave the home £900 from the money raised by an appeal to pay off their own bank overdrafts.
Despite financial pressure throughout the war Mary Darby Sturge was very anxious to establish a pension for those members of staff dedicated to the service of the home. In April 1923 she reported that £100 had been collected to supply a pension for the senior sister and a further £90 to start a benevolent fund to provide pensions for other staff.
Mary also presented a pamphlet on the need for nursing staff accommodation, though unfortunately she was unable to see her plans come to fruition as she died in March 1925.
But her legacy continued – a fund was begun in her memory by her family to improve accommodation for nursing staff and provide additional single rooms for patients. This fund eventually payed for the new Dr Mary Sturge Memorial Wing which opened on 1 April 1926.
The aim of the Taylor Memorial Home was ‘the relief of the pain, discomfort, and the fear associated with dying’. Staff did not pretend to be able to cure the patients but instead did something equally necessary – they ‘alleviated the pain of the sufferers all they could and comforted them in every possible way’.
This philosophy struck a chord with local people and many continued to donate money or gifts-in-kind, specifically for the provision of extra comforts for patients.
During 1940-1 the bombing raids over Birmingham forced the committee to shut up the house in Showell Green Lane and look for a location in quieter surroundings. The home reopened on the 2 April 1941 at White Lodge on Cannock Chase.
Here the shortage of staff became acute, with only two nursing staff for far more beds so only patients who were convalescing from radium treatment and did not need nursing at night were admitted.
The intention had been only to remain at Cannock Chase for the duration of the war but at the annual meeting of 1946 it was reported that the Women’s Hospital had taken over Showell Green House, preventing the Taylor Memorial Home’s return.
In 1948 the committee therefore purchased the previous home of Sutton Coldfield Conservative MP and renowned photographer Benjamin Stone. It cost £2,000 though it was estimated the building would need another £10,000 of refurbishment.
In July of the same year the National Health Service Act came into effect. The Chair of the new Committee Mr Grosvenor stated that he looked forward to his association with the new scheme and he wanted the meeting to close ‘with the feeling of confidence in the knowledge that the new Health Act was not only desirable but capable of administering a great service to the sick’.
The Taylor Memorial Home was then gifted to the NHS with the words of Mrs Aston who ‘hoped the Taylor Memorial Home would rise again’. And so it did.