Thanks to Sue Ripley at Swanley Library for taking the time to search out the newspaper cuttings about Hiawatha.
Photos courtesy of Keith Whitmore and Bill Lambert
Memories of White Oak Hospital from Peggy Lambert nee Mycock.
Recorded by Bill Lambert May 2018
I am William Lambert and my wife is Patricia (Bill and Pat). We are both 77 years old, married for 54 years, with 3 children and 5 grandchildren.
The generation before us have all passed away.
She is Margaret Lambert nee Mycock. Aka Peggy.
This is her story and how we came to cross paths with you and your Swanley History Group.
Peggy was born on 20th September 1920 in Manchester, she is now 97 and a widow ( twice over ). She lives alone and is housebound, in a flat in Lancashire. She is registered blind, but partially sighted, has arthritis in her hands of late, and has problems walking. She now has carers to help her every day, but only since October 2017.
I have always known that Peggy spent some early days of her childhood in a "home", and assumed the "home" was in Manchester where we all lived.
On a visit to Peggy some 6 weeks ago, talking about the past , the subject came up and l asked where the "home " was. The reply was instant -
“White Oak, Swanley in Kent.”
I was amazed to find that she had spent all of her childhood there from 2 years up to the age of 14, when she returned to Manchester.
Curiosity took over, l needed to know how and why she was there for such a long time .
Using the internet to search Swanley, the Swanley History Group popped up. A plea for some help had an immediate reply from Ann Hollands.
Here is the story that evolved.
Peggy’s father Charles came home from the Great War in 1918 to his wife and family, 3 sons and 2 daughters. He was a sick man and died before Peggy was born. Peggy was diseased in the womb.
She was found to have serious damage to her eyes at age 2. Manchester’s children Hospital Boothhall advised that there was no hospital in the north of England capable of the residential specialised treatment that she needed to save her sight .
Her mother could not cope with the situation so Peggy was transferred to White Oak, the specialised Hospital set up in 1895 for children in the London area with serious eye problems.
The normal in-patient time at White Oak was 7 to 10 months, the 12 years she spent there was due to her mother " not being able to cope." and the seriousness of the eye problems.
White Oak was not in any way a traumatic experience for Peggy. She is adamant that she was lucky to have the best childhood possible in pleasant surroundings, clean clothes every day, clean frocks twice a week and fresh food grown in the grounds.
She had her eyes washed out several times each week and injections every month.
Pictures supplied by SHG were recognised as the treatment rooms with the wash solution bottles hanging from the ceiling, and other children waiting their turn. After treatment soft tissues were used to dry and then binned to avoid cross contamination.
She also recognised, from the pictures Ann sent, the Sun Ray treatment taking place with the children seated round the Ultra Violet light, with their eyes protected by masks. The treatment lasted about 15 minutess then the seats were turned to treat their backs.
This was to boost the vitamin D for children not able to stand bright sun light that could damage already fragile eyesight.
Peggy confirmed that the children lived in houses with a mother (Nurse) in residence. Bedtime was 7pm and breakfast at 8am. School was attended every weekday, embroidery was an added skill they acquired and so were able to embroider motifs round the hems of their skirts and dresses.
Everyone attended Church, the Catholics went one way out of the main gates whilst the C of E’s went the other way Peggy recalls that the church was not ordinary but a high Church. (COE)
In the right weather the children were taken for a ride on a horse drawn flat cart with wicker chairs attached round the sides, kids strapped in, around the village. The villagers always waved to them.
The had a trip to the seaside every year which was very exciting with tea in a cafe.
In all the years she spent at WOH she had only one visit from her mother and her eldest sister (my mother). The journey would have been long ,complicated and relatively expensive. She did not know her family until she arrived back in Manchester in1935.
She did however have fairly regular visits from her eldest brother Sid, who was in the Royal Navy. He visited, in full uniform, with his shipmate Bill Lambert, (my dad) when they had shore leave from Chatham or Portsmouth. She recalls feeling very special when they visited, and the nurses were delighted!!!
At the age of 14 Peggy was offered a paid job to stay at WOH and train as a nurse. 10 years’ experience of living in the hospital was invaluable but her mother wanted her home if she was capable of working.
She returned to Manchester to a family she did not know which was not comfortable in the least.
She got her first job sewing gloves at Busses Gloves but the management recognised on day one that her eyesight was poor, so they transferred her to delivering the expensive gloves and collecting the new leather.
She met her first husband Harry at work, married in 1937 and had a baby girl, Barbara in 1938.
At this time they lived with Harrys mother in Middleton, Manchester. Barbara was only 6 weeks old when Harry died. He came home from work really ill and died 2 days later from Meningitis.
Peggy went back to work to provide the income while Harrys mother ( a widow ) looked after the baby. Sadly Barbara died at age 6, also of Meningitis, the Doctors traced the source of the infection to Oldham Open Market which mother and daughter had visited the previous Saturday.
My dad Bill Lambert married Hilda Mycock (Peggy’s eldest sister ) in 1939 and left the Navy in 1945 after 22 years in the service. My uncle Alf Lambert,
my dad’s youngest brother came home from the army in Palestine also in 1945.
Peggy and Alf later married, hence Peggy was now my mother’s sister, married to my dad’s brother. Hence the close ties.
Alf retrained as a baker and confectioner working with Peggy initially at the Holiday camp in Douglas, Isle of Man then in a Bakers shop in Manchester.
The work was hard starting each day at 4.30am, 5 days a week before the shop opened at 8am. They had a good life there until they retired in1982.
Alf died in1992 after a short illness. Peggy now a widow for the second time, is now living independently.
She has had some very good friends around her in the last twenty odd years. Harry Derrick (a widower) and his son Gary and wife Carol and their sons Craig and Jamie. Harry died few years ago, but his family are still ever in touch with her.
Next door neighbour Peter is a great friend now she is unable to get to the shops.
When you consider all that has happened in her long lifetime, Peggy is still remarkably cheerful and alert.
One thing is certain, the White Oak Hospital, doctors and nurses and the people of Swanley did a remarkable job when they stopped the decline to total blindness and gave a young girl a better start in life than could have been experienced anywhere else.
Margaret Lambert knows that only too well !
A special thanks to Ann for helping to fill in the gaps in this little story. l know you have talked to Peggy and hope you got something out of the chat worth having.
Bill and Pat.
Footnote from Ann Hollands Group Secretary Swanley History Group
I had a lovely chat to Peggy on the telephone when she told me about her memories of the Annual Christmas Production of Hiawatha which the children of White Oak performed to the residents of Swanley, including a scene where the child playing Minnehaha was placed on a raft like construction and floated down a stream. This surely would never happen today! Peggy recalls the production was so popular with the local people that they had to perform it every year.
She also recalled finding herself a job in Thomas Woods’ jam factory in which she worked on placing the paper covers and lids on to the pots of jam.
Thank you, Peggy, Bill and Pat, for sharing these memories with us and putting some real life memories to the photos of White Oak Hospital.
Copyright Bill Lambert