Memorial placed to celebrate history of old maternity home

Peter Lascelles Connell with his wife Betty and sister June, Jaxon  and Andrew Connell.
Peter Lascelles Connell with his wife Betty and sister June, Jaxon and Andrew Connell.

A memorial board has been placed in Castleford to commemorate the War Memorial Maternity Home which served the town from 1929 to 1974.

The information board, at the Victoria Court sheltered housing scheme, on Barnes Road, was unveiled by 87-year-old Peter Connell, who was the first baby to be born at the home, in September 1929.

It was funded by Castleford Heritage Trust and designed by local historian David Pickersgill, one of the thousands of Castleford people born there.

The board complements a blue plaque placed on the building last month by Castleford Civic Trust and was created by the Heritage Trust in response to an offer by Victoria Court’s owners, Guinness Partnership.

The board tells the story of how the local community raised £4,000 to convert the Victorian Hanbury House into the Castleford War Memorial Maternity Home, which was officially opened on August 23, 1929, by Her Royal Highness Princess Mary, Viscountess Lascelles.

At the end of the First World War, communities all over the country were mourning those lost and creating war memorials in remembrance. The people of Castleford decided to mark the deaths of the 826 men from the town who died between 1914 and 1918 with something dedicated to enhancing life.

It took several years to raise the money, owing to hard economic times, but a contribution of £2,800 from the local miners welfare committee and the proceeds of a pre-season rugby match between Castleford and a Yorkshire XIII brought the sum up to the necessary £4,000.

The home was initially run by Castleford Urban District Council and financed through the Ministry of Health, with the first matron there being Miss E Petty who earned £110 per year. It became part of the NHS in 1948 and was closed in 1974, replaced by the maternity ward at Pontefract General Infirmary.

Before the maternity home, the women of Castleford had to give birth at home in often unsanitary conditions, with only the assistance of a midwife. If women wished to give birth in a maternity home, they had to travel to Leeds or Wakefield, which many could not afford.

Children from Henry Moore, Half Acres and Park Junior schools attended the unveiling of the board, where they received information leaflets on the history of the maternity home, including photos of the 1929 opening ceremony. Reverend Laurence Turner said prayers of dedication.

Castleford Heritage Trust chair, Alison Drake said: “It was a lovely occasion and the trust is grateful to the schools for attending and to Peter and his family for coming along.

“We especially appreciate the work done by our volunteers who produced and erected the board. It is good to pass on this important part of our community’s history to its children.”

1914-1918: The First World War takes the lives of over 700,000 British men, including 826 from Castleford.

1929: After years of fundraising, Castleford finally raises £4,000 to buy Hanbury House to convert into the War Memorial Maternity Home.

August 29, 1929: The maternity home is officially opened by Her Royal Highness Princess Mary, Viscountess Lascelles.

September 1929: Peter Lascelles Connell becomes the first baby to be born at the maternity home.

1974: The home is closed and replaced by a new maternity ward in Pontefract General Infirmary.

1985: Building becomes part of the Victoria Court sheltered housing complex.