Hospital air pageant by Terry O’Donoghue

Inventive ways funds were raised for the hospital pre-NHS

Before the NHS came into being in 1948, the old West Suffolk Hospital was funded in a variety of ways. Besides the original ‘Subscription’ model where for a set subscription the subscriber could nominate one inpatient and two outpatients in a year, funds came into the hospital via bequests and many fundraising activities – two notable ones being the annual up market bazaar, held in the Guildhall, under the patronage of the Marchioness of Bristol. The other being a fête started by Mrs Milner Gibson, which was also held annually, every September, within the grounds of Hardwick House. This fête ran until 1947 and only came to an end with the advent of the NHS.  The first of these in 1876 raising a staggering £1800!

As we get into the 1930s, various other curious fundraising activities were in existence, including a ‘Tin foil fund’; ‘The ladies Linen League’ which was run by the Marchioness of Bristol with the aim to provide all the linen for the hospital and the ‘Egg Collection Scheme’ – this latter enterprise supplied some 41,500 eggs to the hospital in 1938.

One really spectacular local fundraising event for the hospital took place on the 25th July, 1933 – a great air pageant held at Eldow farm. It was part of a series of 200 air pageants held nationally to raise money for British hospitals. Nationally over £100,000 was raised, shared out amongst participating hospitals. In addition, locally, the hospital received extra income from the gate receipts and side shows.

Pleasure flights, which was still a novelty at that time were provided to the general public and the Bury Free press records that the first passengers were Dr Marcus Bird, complete with cine camera, Miss Marjorie Blyde (Matron) and the hospital secretary a Miss Hardcastle.

However the central event was a spectacular air display courtesy of a flying circus led by the famous Capt. C. W. A. Scott who had made a record breaking solo air flight from Mildenhall to Australia the previous year.

As a sad footnote. Capt. Scott who had flown through the great war and re-enlisted in the RAF at the outbreak of World War 2, having had two failed marriages, fell in love with a married lady who refused to leave her husband.  As a consequence he committed suicide while serving in Germany in 1946.

Whilst in theory fundraising was not vital to the running of the hospital after 1948, such activities provided extra benefits and services to those using the hospital and continues today through various charities, notably ‘My WiSH’ whose tireless work helps fund those extra services.

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