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Re-enactment remembers start of hospital's 100-year story

PUBLISHED: 11:02 05 September 2019 | UPDATED: 11:07 05 September 2019

North Walsham War Memorial Hospital's friends group secretary Angie Batson took on the role of Lady Suffield for a re-enactment of the laying of the hospital's foundation stone, 100 years ago. Picture: Richard Batson

North Walsham War Memorial Hospital's friends group secretary Angie Batson took on the role of Lady Suffield for a re-enactment of the laying of the hospital's foundation stone, 100 years ago. Picture: Richard Batson

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A century ago the foundation stone of a hospital which has brought treatment, care, and comfort to generations of patients was laid.

A 1919 newspaper cutting of the stone laying at North Walsham War Memorial Hospital, which was performed by Lady Evelyn Suffield. Picture: ArchiveA 1919 newspaper cutting of the stone laying at North Walsham War Memorial Hospital, which was performed by Lady Evelyn Suffield. Picture: Archive

And now the milestone for North Walsham War Memorial Hospital has been marked in style with a re-enactment of the stone laying, which took place on September 17, 1919.

The hospital's friends group secretary, Angie Batson, donned an Edwardian-style outfit supplied by Sheringham's Community and Theatre Wardrobe to take on the role of Lady Evelyn Suffield, who laid the original stone.

Keith Jarvis, friends group chairman, said: "We didn't want this important centenary occasion to go unnoticed, so we thought we would make it happen again.

"The hospital was built using funds and land gifted by local people, after a public meeting earlier in 1919 voted unanimously to provide a hospital in memory of the men who gave their lives in the First World War.

North Walsham War Memorial Hospital's friends group secretary Angie Batson took on the role of Lady Suffield for a re-enactment of the laying of the hospital's foundation stone, 100 years ago. Picture: Richard BatsonNorth Walsham War Memorial Hospital's friends group secretary Angie Batson took on the role of Lady Suffield for a re-enactment of the laying of the hospital's foundation stone, 100 years ago. Picture: Richard Batson

"Although today's rebuilt hospital is run by the NHS, it still has a big place in the hearts of local people because of the care it provides.

"And the friends continue to rely on public support for funding the 'extras' the NHS cannot provide. So the bond between the hospital and the community is still strong today - which is something we want to celebrate."

Work on the hospital did not start until fundraising was finished in 1923.

It was opened in August 1924 by Princess Marie Louise. Over the years it has carried out minor operations, and provided post-operative and rehabilitation care - as well as a maternity unit.

The hospital was demolished in 2011 to be replaced by a new unit the following year, and the original site is now a wildflower meadow.

Over the past decade the friends group has provided 'extras' worth around £400,000, ranging from a new training suite, and refit of the day room, to presents and carol singing to cheer up patients at Christmas.

The group recreated the ceremony to remind people how vital public support was at the beginning of its proud history - and still is today.

Lady Suffield was the first - and last - president of the Norfolk Federation of WIs, and the first woman to serve as a Norfolk county councillor.

Re-enactment remembers start of hospital's 100-year story

Edwardian VIPs wore their Sunday best for the foundation stone laying, a cutting from the Eastern Daily Press on September 18, 1919 reported.

Ladies are seen sporting their best hats and long skirts, gentlemen a mixture of bowlers, trilbies and big caps.

Lady Suffield did the honours with a silver trowel, and said: "I declare this stone to be well and truly laid, and I trust that the hospital which is to be erected on this site will have a very prosperous and successful future."

Guests included war memorial committee chairman John Dixon, and high sheriff Mr F H Barclay.

A string of speakers stressed that the hospital aimed to complement rather than rival the Norfolk and Norwich, and the crowd was told that it would cost £4,678.

Prayers were said and schoolchildren sang a hymn. The day finished with a tennis tournament which raised £5 for hospital funds.

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