Monday, 8 February 2016

The Red Cross Medal and the lost Dover House on Oxford Road ................ stories behind the book part 1

An occasional series on the stories behind the new book on Manchester and the Great War.*

The Medal, 2016
Now the great thing about any research is that you never quite know where it will take you so when my old friend David Harrop told me that he had just acquired this Red Cross medal for 1916 awarded to a Manchester support worker it was clear that there was a story.

I don't yet know who the medal was given to but already it has opened up a fascinating story.

The inscription on the medal refers to the Manchester War Hospital Supply Workroom at Dover House which was established in the June of 1916 to meet “the demand for hospital requisites of all kinds.”**

There were three workshops which were to produce “surgical requisites and hospital garments.  To each department a separate and beautifully fitted room has been allotted at Dover House.  

There is for instance a room which is devoted to the manufacture of slippers for men who are convalescent and able to be out of bed.  These are made with strong water proof soles in order that the bolder spirits who find their wards too small for them to wander outside without any untoward results-at any rate from the damp!

In another room the workers are justly proud of a new arm sling, known as the ‘Davies sling’ which they have originated; while in yet another bandages, dressings and surgical swabs are being made.”**

The work was undertaken by a group of volunteers  assisted by “girls from the Manchester High School [who] attend each afternoon and do yeoman work service in the way of running errands and generally waiting on workers.”**

The activities of the workshops was vital in plugging the short fall in hospital materials which were being produced by “working parties connected with individual hospitals and by various funds.” 

Dover House, 1956
But despite this by December of the same year there were fears that the workshops would close for lack of funds. ***

All of which seems rather bizarre given that we were now two years into a titanic struggle where the State had undertaken sweeping powers in the direction and control of labour, introduced military conscription and committed the national treasury in pursuit of victory.

And yet much of the medical care for recovery of wounded and sick servicemen was in the hands of the voluntary sector from Red Cross Hospitals to funds and charities designed to assist the families of men at the Front and provide the fighting men with comforts in the field.

Now I went looking for Dover House which was at 315 Oxford Road on the corner with Dover Street, but it has gone.

Just exactly when it was demolished I have yet to find out.  It was there in 1956 and may still have been standing when I made those regular trips up and down the Oxford Road corridor in the early 1970s.

Nor can I be sure when it was built.  It does not show up on the 1849 OS map of Manchester but is there as the Albert Club by 1863 which was a club for German businessmen.

One of its members was Frederick Engels and in time I should be able to track the club’s history.
I know it was till there in 1886 but by 1895 was listed as Owen’s College Refectory and the Geneva Club in 1911.

As such it was just the sort of grand old pile which the Red Cross were given at the start of the Great War.

So lots more still to find out and when the medal arrived at David’s house we might strike lucky and find a name inscribed on the reverse which will take e off on a whole new journey.

We shall see.

Location Oxford Road, Manchester

Pictures; Red Cross Medal from the collection of David Harrop, Dover House, 1956, F.Hotchin, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, m03869,

*Manchester and the Great War, Andrew Simpson, due out at the end of 2016,

**Hospital Supplies New Workrooms at Dover House, Manchester Guardian, June 7 1916

***Manchester War Hospital Supply Workrooms, Manchester Guardian December 15 1916

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