A brass bed plaque originally donated to Leeds General Infirmary in 1909 has been handed over to the West Leeds family that originally bought it.
Ronnie Walsh, a receptionist at Leeds General Infirmary, dedicates much of his spare time to extensive research into the history of the hospitals in Leeds. In summer 2017, a number of brass bed plaques were uncovered in storage in the Gilbert Scott Building at LGI.
One of the plaques recognised a donation made to The Infirmary in 1909 by the wife of Abimelech Hainsworth. The Hainsworth family run textile company Hainsworth in Stanningley – and they donated Hainsworth Park to the Farsley community 100 years ago.
“I decided to research the plaque dedicated to Abimelech Hainsworth in an attempt to find out more about the gentleman, and whether any of his family were still alive and living in the local area. What this research managed to uncover proved to be quite extraordinary!”
Prior to the formation of the NHS, hospitals received funding from various sources. These donations were often from local fundraising events – which could include the proceeds of an estate or in recognition of a loved one having received such fantastic care whilst a patient, as was the case with Abimelech Hainsworth.
Plaques were subsequently displayed either above a bed/cot or displayed at the entrance to a particular ward in recognition of the donation.
Abimelech Hainsworth, or ‘Young Bim’ as he was known, was the third-generation owner of Hainsworth Textiles. In May 1900, Abimelech was involved in an accident and spent 12 weeks as a patient being treated at The Infirmary.
In 1909, his wife made a donation to The Infirmary in recognition of the care her husband had received. By researching the hospital’s 1909 Annual Report, Ronnie identified that the amount donated to The Infirmary was £500, which equates to £60,863.16 today.
Hainsworth Textiles were established in 1783 at Stanningley, Pudsey, and are still on the very same site 238 years later. They have a long tradition for manufacturing high end fabrics and in 2004 received a Royal Warrant for providing furnishing fabrics to HM The Queen.
A notable part of Hainsworth Textiles history includes The Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Napoleon’s Imperial Guard advance came up against what went down in military history as ‘The Thin Red Line’ – this term referred to the soldiers of the British Army, whose red uniform fabric was manufactured by Hainsworth Textiles.
Ronnie spoke with Adam Hainsworth, a direct descendant of Abimelech, and told him about the plaque and that Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust wanted to pass it into the safekeeping of his family as a cherished piece of family history, which the Hainsworth family were only too happy to receive.
Ronnie was invited by Adam to come along to the Mill to hand over the plaque to the Hainsworth family. On the day, he was given a guided tour of the premises and an insight into current textile manufacturing processes.
“After finding out the fascinating history behind the plaque, it was a real privilege to meet Adam and hand it back to the family.”
Dame Linda Pollard DBE DL Hon LLD, Trust Chair at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust said:
“Our Trust Board are incredibly grateful to Ronnie for the dedication and time he has spent researching our history and finding the families who donated the bed plaques. It is wonderful to hear of the connection our hospitals have to Hainsworth Textiles and the difference our medical teams made so many years ago.”
In his spare time, Ronnie also volunteers as an Archivist with West Yorkshire Archives. He is currently working on a project indexing the Surgeon Ledgers for patients who were treated at The Leeds Infirmary between 1880 and 1918.
As part of the Building the Leeds Way project, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust will be sharing more historical news and stories as the Trust embarks on building the two new hospitals on the Leeds General Infirmary site – a new adults hospital and a new home for Leeds Children’s Hospital.
This will also include the history of the Old Medical School, which was originally built in 1894 and currently houses the Trust’s pathology team. A new pathology laboratory is being built at St James’s Hospital for teams currently working in the building, which is planned to open in 2023. The old building will be retained as part of the plan for an LGI Development Site project to release the potential of this old estate.
I think it’s a shame that the plaques aren’t still fixed to beds and/or wards. I once was in a bed which had a plaque marking the giver and I felt privileged.