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Lest we forget: remembering Bermuda’s first civilian hospital

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The Cottage Hospital circa 1894 (Photograph courtesy of the Bermuda Archives)

The Royal Gazette of October 21, 2021, posted an aerial view of a building on Happy Valley Road. The headline read, “Interest in disused building attracts interest from developers”. It was further described as the former Prison Service Headquarters.

Had a frontal view of this building been posted, many of our older generation would have immediately recognised it as the Cottage Hospital, Bermuda’s first civilian hospital.

Fortunately, the Bermuda National Trust researched this building for its Pembroke Architectural Heritage book which was published in 2017.

J Randolf Williams in his book, CARE: 100 years of Hospital Care in Bermuda, published in 1994, also recorded important and interesting details relating to the history of this now derelict building.

When studied in 2015, it was listed as Grade 3, under the Bermuda Government Buildings of Special Architectural and Historical Interest, Development and Planning Act 1974. Had these two books failed to recorded this building, it would have faded into our past without its importance being revealed and due respect given.

Dr Eldon Harvey saw the importance of a hospital to accommodate the growing tourist industry and the local population. At that time there was the Military Hospital at Prospect and the Naval Hospital at Ireland Island. There were no hospitals for civilians except the Mental Hospital, as it was then described. Undaunted by obstacles and criticism, Dr Harvey pursued his dream, which was realised in 1894 when The Cottage Hospital, our first civilian medical hospital, was completed.

In the early 1990s, Walter Brangman, the late Bermudian architect and former Member of Parliament, described his interest in architecture of that era. He had not been able to discover the architect for the Cottage Hospital or the workforce involved in its construction. He did know that when the British military came to Prospect, the support staff lived in the Happy Valley area. He felt, in studying the building, with its military look, that the plans were probably drawn by a civil servant in the Colonial Office. However, he could not locate documented evidence as proof.

Lest we forget: Cecille C Snaith-Simmons

This first hospital was opened during the era of racial segregation which resulted in only white nursing students, including a few from Barbados and Turks Island, being accepted and trained.

The Lodges of Bermuda, in an effort to correct this inequality, assisted in the establishment of the Bermuda Nursing Home in Middletown as a training facility for Black nurses.

The Cottage Hospital became vacant when King Edward VII Memorial Hospital was completed in 1920.

By 1935 the Bermuda Nursing Home had outgrown its Middletown facility and it moved into the Cottage Hospital facility, where it was renamed the Cottage Hospital Nursing Home. The training of black nurses continued until it was eventually closed in 1957.

KEMH employed its first black nurse, Barbara Allen-Wade, in 1958, bringing an end to its history of racial segregation.

The Cottage Hospital gave us Dorothy Snape, who was instrumental in the formation of the Bermuda Wellness Society. She was later employed as a supervisor in the Department of Health.

The former prison service headquarters on Happy Valley Road in Pembroke (File photograph)

The Cottage Hospital Nursing Home gave us many pioneers in the nursing community. These include Sylvia Richardson, for whom the Sylvia Richardson Care Facility has been named, Iris Davis MBE, who became the first Black chief nursing officer at the Department of Health, and Leonie Harford, district nurse/midwife, who broke the racial barrier created within the Bermuda Welfare Society.

How fortunate I am to have worked with these historic names in nursing. How fortunate I am to have the opportunity to tell of the humble training facility on Happy Valley Road that inspired their greatness.

Bermuda is swiftly changing and with it much of our history is being lost.

Mrs Hilda Tucker, my history teacher at the Berkeley Institute, always reminded us “to know our history”. I wonder how many of her students remember her plea? What would she think of the proposed removal of the 153-year-old West End School? What would she think of the decay that was allowed to develop at Wantley? What would she think of the loss of the history of the Cottage Hospital? Did her impassioned plea fall upon deaf ears as another important part of our history becomes forgotten, unappreciated and unacknowledged?

Cecille C Snaith-Simmons is the 2020 winner in the Adult section of the Dr Stanley Ratteray Memorial Christmas Short Story Contest

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Published December 07, 2021 at 7:59 am (Updated December 06, 2021 at 3:10 pm)

Lest we forget: remembering Bermuda’s first civilian hospital

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