What is the age of the oldest part of the Esperance Hospital in Hartington Place? Originally called Fernbank, it was built in 1865, writes Harry Pope.
It stayed in the same ownership until 1898, when it was purchased by the Reverend Canon and Mrs Edmond, their two sons, and servants comprising domestic maid, house maid, parlour maid, a cook, and bottom of the lot, the houseboy.
Mr and Mrs Edmund decided to sell, and in 1917 it was purchased by the nursing branch of the Holy Family of Bordeaux Sisters. Financial support came from the paying guests, and within five weeks there were 20.
The war effort intervened, and within two months wounded officers arrived with the paying guests leaving.
From the very beginning the Sisters slept in the stables, the wash house, any corner where a bed could be placed.
At the end of the First World War the nurses continued caring for the sick of the area and, within five years of the cessation of hostilities, sufficient funds were raised to build a house at the end of the garden.
This was called Loretto, cost £4,180 to build, and was furnished by gifts and second hand furniture.
Loretto was to be where the Sisters slept.
The Fernbank chapel was only a small room, but the Sisters knew which room was to be converted for this purpose.
The main obstacle was a huge billiard table in the way, taking up most of the room.
A Catholic lady. Mrs Heaven, who was a visitor to Eastbourne came calling. The Heaven family lived in Norfolk, and wanted a billiard table for their two sons to practice on.
A figure of £70 was agreed, the buyers paid £30 to transport, and the Sisters were heard to say that their billiard table “went to heaven”.
The Esperance even in the 1920s was a proper hospital. The operating theatre was on the top floor, the kitchen was in the basement, which is where the theatre is today.
From 24 Sisters at the beginning, their numbers dwindled, with some weight on the outside staff.
The emphasis was on home cooking, apart from the cakes, some homemade, others provided by Bondolfies of Eastbourne. Bear in mind that there was no such thing as the National Health service before 1947, so medical treatment had to be paid for in one way or another.
One of the anaesthetists was Dr John Bodkin Adams, who lived opposite in Trinity Trees.
The Sisters were proud of their record in 1987 with 49 beds, 60 staff, and treating an average of 2,000 patients annually. The time had come to leave, selling initially to GM Healthcare and ultimately BMI Healthcare.
Harry Pope is grateful to the Esperance for their kind research assistance, and for the history compiled by Sue Jaques.
Harry Pope is Eastbourne’s only licensed sight-seeing guide. His walks are every Wednesday at 10am, meet at the pier, or Sundays at 11am and 3pm, meet outside the Seafront Office by the Bandstand. Call 01323 734107 or visit www.harrythewalker.com
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