2 April 2013

B is for Beneden Sanatorium

Mary Sheila Doheny 1920 -1948

Tuberculosis and Benenden Sanatorium

Mary Sheila Doheny was my Aunt and she died on the 26th July 1948 at the National Sanatorium, Benenden in Kent of Pulmonary Tuberculosis. Whilst I may blog further about tuberculosis in my A to Z challenge I am dedicating this entry to a brief history of the Sanatorium.

Benenden Hospital, as it is now called, began life as a completely different organisation. It was founded in 1906 as the ‘National Sanatorium for Workers Suffering from Tuberculosis’ to treat tuberculosis in postal workers.

The Post Office & Civil Service Sanatorium Society was established in 1905 by Charles H Garland, a post office telegraphist. The aim of the society was to tackle Tuberculosis, which at the time accounted for about half of all deaths in the post office. It was often contracted when workers handled contaminated post sacks. These sacks were thought to become contaminated when they were dragged along train station platforms where passengers infected with tuberculosis had spat.

A circular distributed to all post office workers in 1904 revealed that 30,000 workers would be willing to join the Society. Charles Garland and his colleagues had realised that Tuberculosis was treatable, and calculated that the construction of a sanatorium designed to treat 120 post office workers per year, would require an initial outlay of £8,000 and a yearly income of £2,600. He realised that if 30,000 workers consented to have a penny a week stopped from their salaries it would provide £6,505 per year. If staff at the sanatorium also contributed one halfpenny a week, this would raise the £8,000 needed for construction and a further £3,250 per year for maintenance.

The foundation stone for Benenden Hospital was laid in 1906, and the hospital admitted its first patients in May 1907. Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was most impressed with the establishment of the sanatorium and the wonderful service it gave. He said that the example and experience of the sanatorium at Benenden had been the inspiration behind tuberculosis clauses in his 1911 National Insurance Act. This act produced a service for patients with tuberculosis, including the building of sanatoria nationwide for 15 million workers. See the Youtube video below for more  information.