Women of Geddington: Nurse Bessie Mary Rumbold

The village nurse, like the village policeman, was part of the village furniture. In the nurse’s case, intimately involved with most of the families of the village and a source of knowledge and wisdom often deeper and wider that most of her patients.

Nurse Rumbold followed a tradition set up in 1909 when the Nursing Association was established to provide a service to each community for a small payment of around 2d (<1p) a week for a family. Given how large some families were this seems to be good value for money!

It was the Nurse who attended to all the minor (and sometimes not so minor) ailments, supported mothers in childbirth and children with fevers and infectious diseases and was there at the end of life to ease a passing in practical and caring ways. Nursing was done in the home, however small, in rooms with no heating other than a smoky fire, no running water, sometimes not even a sink and certainly no electricity. There were no antibiotics and no vaccines against common diseases like polio, diptheria and measles.

Geddington’s first Nurse was Nurse Miller in 1909 and she lodged with a family on Wood Street opposite the Royal George, as did her successor Nurse Holmes. When Nurse Rumbold arrived in 1923 to take up her first post after qualifying, she lived in West Street before moving to what is now No 5 Queen Street, opposite the Village Hall and close to her beloved Chapel.

Born in Hampshire in 1897, Nurse Rumbold had all the qualities vital to a community nurse. She was supremely practical and would always leave a chalk board on her door with a list of her visits for that day so that if she was needed in a hurry she could be hunted down. She had high levels of energy and would cycle or walk between her patients’ homes in Geddington, Grafton, Weekley and Newton. She was adaptable and coped with being on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with no provision for a day off.

She was, above all, supportive, non judgemental and sympathetic to the circumstances in which she found herself with her patients. She offered hope, advice, sympathy and her time as well as her medical knowledge. She befriended the children and counselled their parents. She tried to improve the living conditions of villagers and to promote hygiene and good nutrition amongst her families. She led by example and her home was always tidy and welcoming. She also kept Lady Scott at the Priory and Mrs Brookes at ‘White Gates’, up to date with news of families who needed help and they would send over supplies of soup, fruit and other basics to help the family out.

She socialised among the community but her greatest commitment, outside of her work, was to the Union Chapel where she worshipped, taught at the Sunday School and, in later years as the Chapel secretary, was the one to organise the arrangement of preachers. It must be said, however, that many a Sunday service for her was interrupted by a small child tugging at her sleeve saying ‘Me Mam says ‘can you come ?’

In 1944 ‘Nurse’ Rumbold became a ‘Queen’s Nurse’ in recognition of her 21 years of service to her community and the regard in which she was held there. She received her cheque of 110 guineas from Queen Mary at a presentation ceremony held at Lincoln’s Inn Hall.

In 1957 Nurse Rumbold retired and the very first ‘baby’ she had delivered way back in 1923, a Mrs Barbara Last of Chase View Road, presented her with a cheque from the villagers whom she had supported for nearly 25 years. Mr Harker, as Chairman of the Parish Council, summed up the views of villagers by saying that everyone had been pleased to give and that the kindness and encouragement she had shown was particularly appreciated by the older residents.

Nurse Rumbold remained unmarried throughout her years in Geddington, but built up such a strong bond of affection with the village that when she died in 1981 her funeral service in the village was full of village friends from several generations, whose strong memories were of a much loved lady who was admired for her professionalism and respected for her unwavering devotion to the physical and spiritual needs of her patients.

She was known simply as ‘Nurse’ .

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There are many of you still living in the village who will remember ‘Nurse’ or know that she helped your family in a previous generation. If you have a picture or a story to add to her history we would love to hear from you before memories of her life are lost. Please use the Comments button or Contact Us on the Home page to get in touch.

    7 Comments

    1. Sandra

      Fri 15th May 2020 at 9:55 am

      I do remember my Father speaking highly of Nurse Rumbold and in fact, one day when with my parents walking down West Street, she came out of her home wearing her uniform and a lovely smile and spoke with to us all.

      Reply
    2. David Valentine

      Fri 15th May 2020 at 4:13 pm

      I remember Nurse Rumbold very well. She brought me into the world 81 years ago also my sister in 1944. She put my arm in a splint when I broke it on my 10th birthday in 48 before sending me to KGH to be set by Dr Frank Ratcliff himself our family Dr during the war. (My Gran bought me a pair of roller skates for my 10th birthday. Yep. 1st day) She went around the village on her bike & also her car an Austin 7 which i believe was bought for her by the village. Later on she had a new grey/green Ford Popular. She brought a lot of Kids around my age into this world. She knew everyone & always called you by you first name. Towards the end of her “reign” she was helped by a Nurse Hankins who came in from Tichmarsh. I missed her retirement in 57 as that was the year I went in the RAF. In 1965 Whilst in the RAF I was posted to Gan in The Maldives for a year & my wife & son ended up in a Council House in Chase View Rd. Nurse Rumbold lived a few doors along.I went along to see her. She new exactly who I was. I missed her funeral or when she died or I would have been there. Wonderfull woman. One of the best. When did Lady Scott leave The Priory? We lived at the priory all through through the war & it was owned by Jimmy Carney the film star. Was there another “White Gates” where Mrs Brookes lived?The only White Gates I remember was on the corner of Queen St & Grange Rd & Wicksteeds lived there well before & after the war. The only Mrs Brookes who I can recall who was a big Chapel woman & friend of Nurse Rumbold had a bungalow built up Newton Rd on l/h side just before entrance to Sherwins farm. That would have been about 1950 but where she lived before that I cant remember. When I was a bakers boy with Abbots I used to deliver her bread despite her living next door to Swinglers bakehouse she was never charged for it. After her retirement Nurse Furniss took on her roll to a lesser extent & she patched me up after an accident with one of the Dukes tractors in 1958. That got me off a posting to Christmas Island.

      Reply
      • Janet

        Fri 15th May 2020 at 5:38 pm

        Thank you David for taking the time to add your memories to the story of ‘Nurse’. You paint such a vivid picture, like Sandra in the previous comment, that she really comes to life. I hope lots of others will write in too.
        One snippet I didn’t include in the story which makes me think that she was a very positive, outward looking character is that not long after her retirement she took a trip to Canada with her sister. Quite an adventure for two single ladies!
        Keep those memories coming!

        ‘White Gates’ was apparently also known as The Cottage and was as you say at the corner of Queen Street and Carver’s Lane (now Grange Road) before the building of New Road. The Brooks moved there about 1901. His wife was the daughter of the vicar at Cranford and a keen horsewoman. Monica Rayne in her book ‘Geddington as it was suggests Charles Wicksteed moved there in the late 1920s.

        Reply
        • David Valentine

          Fri 22nd May 2020 at 3:55 pm

          It was not Charles Wicksteed ( of park fame) It was Robert Wicksteed of the engineering firm in Digby St. although they were related.

          Reply
          • Janet

            Sat 23rd May 2020 at 9:41 am

            Thanks David, my mistake,though when I checked Monica’s reference she had Ralph Wicksteed, Charles’ son.
            Is that correct?

            Reply
    3. Mary Rose Randall

      Sat 16th May 2020 at 7:54 am

      Mary Rose
      Nurse Rumbold helped deliver me in Warkton at 11 00 am on a Sunday morning in November 1947.
      Much against her religious beliefs, she sent somebody to the Rectory in Warkton to request some brandy to give to me, to revive me, as I was unwell. I still have the medical chart about my birth and on the back is written, baby given brandy.

      Reply
      • Janet

        Sat 16th May 2020 at 9:11 am

        What a practical lady! How marvelous that you survived and are able to tell the story!

        Reply

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