Dorothy Mary Williams 1895-1993




A short biography by her niece Elizabeth Scott-Taggart


Dorothy Mary Williams was born in London on 29 July 1895, the elder daughter of Josephine (née Brewer) and Clarence Barcham Williams and the granddaughter of Fanny Elizabeth Barcham. Dorothy’s mother died after the birth of a younger sister when she was just over a year old. Her father married again and had five more children – so Dorothy was the eldest of a family of seven. They lived near Walthamstow in north London and later at Ilford, Essex.

At the age of 12, Dorothy had scarlet fever and was put in hospital. A kind night nurse comforted her and helped her to say her prayers. This nurse – Nurse Pratt – made such an impression on Dorothy that she made up her mind there and then to train as a nurse when she was old enough.

When Dorothy was old enough she was sent into the Civil Service where she did clerical work for about two years. Next door to her place of work was a library where she read the nursing papers including advertisements for probationer nurses. She was now 18 and went to see the Matron of St Bartholomew’s Hospital (‘Barts’) in London. She was told: ‘Youth is a disease which cures itself. Come back when you are 23 and you shall train.’

Dorothy couldn’t wait that long, so she applied to a hospital where the minimum age requirement was 19. This was the Park Hospital, Hither Green, in south-east London, where she was accepted. She had made all these arrangements privately, telling no-one at home. There were angry scenes with her step-mother, nonetheless Dorothy started nursing at Hither Green in 1914 and spent three years at this ‘fever’ hospital. It was very hard work – a 72-hour week and off-duty time once a fortnight. There were stringent regulations to be gone through before a member of the staff could leave the building, and during the whole period Dorothy worked there she was never allowed to go home to visit her family for fear of taking infection to the children. She herself caught diphtheria at this time and was seriously ill. She was advised to take a year off nursing and went to stay with friends at Southampton where she did clerical work for the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC). World War I was still on.

From 1918 to 1922 Dorothy took her training as a state registered nurse (SRN) at Southampton General Hospital. She was top girl of her year in midwifery and was put in charge of a maternity unit. This entailed very long hours during the day and often during the night as she had to be present at every birth. After about two years her health was again affected. In 1924 she applied for a post in London at the Middlesex Hospital in the Department of Medical Electricity. She then went to Guy’s Hospital to qualify in X-ray work. This training had to be paid for, but fortunately Dorothy was able to pay the fees and keep herself while not earning from a legacy she had received.

Dorothy returned to the Middlesex Hospital and was advised by the Matron to apply for a sister’s post at Croydon General Hospital. At Croydon she set up, and was in charge of, the X-ray department for diagnostic work and treatment. After some years at Croydon Dorothy was asked to take a post at the Middlesex Hospital, regarding this as a great honour because posts at the hospital were not advertised, but offered. She opened the new X-ray department at the Middlesex in 1936.

After a time Dorothy’s blood count was discovered to be too low [a hazard of working with X-rays] and she was advised to leave and go to a warm climate. She worked for a time in the south of Spain. She would tell of the time she was nursing in a hospital where the patients were looked after during the day by nuns and at night by the patient’s family who came in and slept on the floor under the bed to minister to the patient’s needs during the night.

Later, back in England, Dorothy worked for the Nursing Council, devising general knowledge tests to examine the educational background of candidates for nursing training. After World War II she moved to Bath where she was the warden in charge of sheltered accommodation. Subsequently, for several years she looked after a retired headmistress in Bath. When this old lady died at an advanced age, Dorothy nursed the widow of the Dean of Lichfield, where she lived with her in Cathedral Close, Lichfield.

When this lady died in 1967, Dorothy was 72. Time to retire at last! She applied to the Essex Wynter Trust at the Middlesex Hospital and was granted a cottage in Argyle Road, Newbury. She lived at ‘St Agatha’ contentedly for about 20 years, especially enjoying tending the garden behind the little houses.

In 1987 Dorothy became ill with shingles and needed to be nursed. She was finally persuaded – much against her will – to enter the New Donnington Residence on the Wantage Road outside Newbury. She hated having to give up her old home and most of her furniture and move into one room. In February 1992 Dorothy was moved back to Newbury, this time to the newly built Argyle Nursing Home which was close to her old cottage and near old friends. At last Dorothy was resigned to being looked after – being nursed rather than the nurse. She remained mentally active, doing the Daily Telegraph crossword puzzle and some reading, although she could no longer see well enough to write letters or to knit or to sew.

Dorothy died of old age on 25 January 1993 in her 98th year.