Penybont and District Local History Group 1st September 2014 at Thomas Shop Main Item: Penybont and District Local History Group 1st September 2014 at Thomas Shop A History of Medicine and Social Care in the Penybont Area given by Sister Rosemary Hughes S.R.N.

Mary welcomed everyone to the meeting; once again there was an excellent turn out.

Marion mentioned an excellent book she had come across covering buildings in Radnorshire.

Jennifer reminded members that she is happy to do some research into family history as part of her preparation for our October meeting.

It was noted that John A was not with us this month – perhaps he is too busy to be able to come!?

Mary introduced the session by way of her and Richard’s birth certificates. She had discovered that they had a section for ‘who was present at the birth’. Mary was intrigued to find that there was mention of her mother and grandmother, but no mention of Nurse Gittings. Was she delivered by her grandmother! Birth certificates in England and other places did not record who was present. This difference in the birth certificates is probably worth exploring. Mary’s mother could not remember the birth. She did remember her brother’s birth as he was born on a Sunday. She had played the organ in Chapel in the morning, walked home, and then gave birth in the afternoon.

Mary then introduced Rosemary who was to give today’s talk on the history of medicine and social care. Rosemary had suffered a bump on her head the day before but she was prepared to give the talk.

Rosemary started by talking about the intriguing fact that the old name for Penybont is RHYD Y CLEIFION
The Ford of the Sick/Wounded/Lepers
The early name for Penybont – first recorded in 1603. The location of Rhyd Y Cleifion was under the bank on the west side of the river in a sheltered position facing south.
There has been much speculation about the origins of the name and possible origins include:

 A place where wounded were cared for after battle – the strategic castles Crug Eyryr and Cefn Llys locally meant that battles were not uncommon in the area.
 A Lazar house. There were many such colonies. Usually for lepers but also a place for old, poor or diseased people. Interestingly there is, what appears to be a ‘squint window’ in Maesyfed, These are common in Cathedrals and Churches of the period and they allowed people with leprosy to partake in religious practice without entering the church.
 Associated with an old Inn, a place where people might come to be looked after – replaced by the “New Inn” at this location in 1755. When John Price named his Inn the New Inn he left us to speculate whether there had been an ‘old’ Inn. There are no records to confirm this however.

Another association with medicine in the area were the sulphur springs – LLANDEGLEY MEDICINAL WELLS. These were described in 1854 as “superior to those of Llandrindod” and they were used for healing skin conditions and eye trouble.The active elements were Sulphur and Chalybeate. Unfortunately the old pump house has now disappeared.

Also at Llandegley the other mystery relates to the dedication of LLANDEGLEY CHURCH to St Tecla.
St Tecla of Iconium was a companion of St Paul who was noted for his healing powers. Dedications of Churches to St Tecla are associated with the Knights of St John Hospitallers.
In about 1188 Meurig ap Adam of Llanfihangel Nantmelan made a gift of tithes to their Commandery at Slebech. (Slebech is situated on the upper Eastern Cleddau and was once part of the Barony of Daugleddau. In the Middle Ages Slebech belonged to the Knights Hospitallers of the Order of St John and the original church on the bank of the river was established in 1161, together with a commandery which became the headquarters of the order in West Wales. See Wiki)
Why? Did he live at Llanevan? (‘Church of Ifan/John’)

As long ago as 1694 the Churchwardens of Llandegley reported in 1694:

“We have neither hospital, alms house nor any school in our p’sh, no doctor of physick, midwife nor churgeon”.

We know from this that there was very little health-care provision in the area and this would continue for many more decades into the nineteenth century. People had to help themselves. Epidemics spread less quickly in the country areas and the last plague in the area we know about was in Presteigne in 1636.
People would have known about the healing wells at Llandegley and the medicinal waters may have been used to relieve some symptoms.
Most housewives would have had a basic knowledge of herbal remedies or had a favourite family recipe or there would be some women in the village who did and could be called upon to help in illness, at childbirth and for laying out the dead. Until the late 19th century all women in childbirth relied on a wise woman from their community who had been taught by the previous generation and gained experience over the years. Few women could afford a doctor.

Herbal Medicines in Common Usage

Some of the Herbal remedies that were commonly in use were:

SAGE was gargled for sore throat.

RUE was used for worms

FEVERFEW for headaches and fever.

COMFREY for bruises and strains (its popular name was knit bone)

One remedy our grandmothers still used was Goose Grease for aches and pains, bronchitis anything requiring rubbing in.

POLTICES made of cow dung or marshmallow

DRY ADDER SKIN used for drawing out and rheumatism.
(Howse mentions a girl who had a needle in her hand which the hospital could not remove and the adder skin did)
Cobwebs for stopping bleeding


These remedies had little effect against childhood illnesses.

Like whooping cough, scarlet fever, diphtheria, measles and infant mortality was high among adults – TB, Smallpox and Typhoid were killers.

A quick glance at the Llandegley Burial registers for the year 1813 showed that most deaths recorded are in early infancy (to the age of 10), men from 18-38 and women 18-42 (childbearing age.
If people survived these ages they sometimes lived to a good old age – usually wracked with rheumatism.

The Officers of the Parish did what they could:

The Churchwardens and Guardians of the Poor (Guardians were appointed officials under the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834) made some provision for the relief of sickness.

1789: “..for curing a wild wart 10/6”. The wild wart being a cancerous form commanded what seems like a huge fee. There is an interesting article from Angelsey on the treatment of the wild wart which gives some insight.
1814: “…£5 to a doctor for coming to see a poor patient”
1818: “…To Doctor Hammond for maintaining S Evans 4 weeks and drugs for her £1.4.0”
By 1891 there was a Lodging House at Pound House “containing a Housekeeper, 3 ‘hawkers’ and one pauper aged 84.”

Some local remedies have survived – used either for animals of people.
For Red Water
For the itch
In a book written by William Owen in 1829 see


Anne Elizabeth Warner (1845 – 1928)
Anne Warner was the daughter of Robert Horne, a merchant and citizen of London. Shetrained at St Thomas’ Hospital in London and later became Matron of the North eastern Hospital for Children renamed the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Hackney Road.
She married Yardley Warner, an American Quaker, and they moved to the Pales in 1877 at the age of 32. She shared in her husband’s duties as Schoolmaster.
Small wonder that on it becoming known that the new-comer at the Pales was a London nurse, especially one trained at the Florence Nightingale School at St Thomas, her services were in frequent and universal demand.
She writes on April 7th 1880:

[Read ‘Treatment of illness’ from Warner P167]

“The scarcity of people able to nurse the sick is striking.”

She wrote to her daughter: “When sent for to see a patient suffering from the all too prevalent inflammation of the lungs she found him swathed in a sheet which had been smeared with semi-fluid cow dung, linseed meal, bronchitis kettle and other modern remedies were almost entirely absent.”

“Poor cottages with leaking roofs with often earth floors were the homes of many even in the last stages of illness. But the fear of being sent of the workhouse kept many people from having any kind of comfort even when in their death beds. Workhouses for our area were in Knigton, Rhayader and Presteigne.

The is an excellent booklet at the Pales written by Lynda Williams on the life of Anne Warner, The last teacher at the Pales – A Pales Love Story.


John Samuel Morgan Evans a farmer from Cardiganshire who moved to the Faldau, Llandegley in about 1860.

John Morgan Evans arrived in Llandegley from Cardiganshire sometime between 1851 and 1861. He is described in the 1861 census as being 43 years of age and a ‘Farmer having 72 acres and employing 2 labourers”.
In the 1871 census he is described as a “Surgeon and Farmer, living at the Faldau with his wife, 4 daughters and 2 sons and 3 servants”
He must have had considerable skill in bone-setting and healing and his reputation would have grown by word of mouth. He probably held a surgery in the front parlour and his daughter, described in 1871 as “surgeon’s daughter” probably acted as his assistant. He is is known at this time a ‘Dr’ and was ‘registered’.
In the 1881 census he is described as ‘surgeon and farmer’. He was probably self taught. In the same census his son (also called ) John now aged 19 is described as “a medical student”.
In the 1891 census the residents at the Faldau are John Samuel (father) now aged 70 and described as “Physician and surgeon” and his son John Morgan Evans now 29 is given as “General Practitioner”. We know from his funeral report in 1928 that he held the degrees of MRCS and LRCP – so he is fully trained. He practiced as a GP in Llandegley and later moving to the Cottage in Llandrindod where he practised for many years.
By this time the profession had become more organised. The medical profession was one of the first to set the example of qualification by examination and a legally based right to practice.

In the latter part of the 18th century surgical methods were crude. Doctors graduated from apprentiships to practicing doctors. A surgeon setting up his business in 1771 in Knighton advertised that he had been a pupil of a surgeon in the town and practiced entirely as he did. The apprenticeship systems for training doctors were still in force in Radnorshire in the 1850s. But throughout the 18th century the medical profession was moving out of the ‘dark ages’ into the light of ‘science’. The physician/surgeon/apothecary and the unlicensed practitioner were all going forward in knowledge and devoted service.

Description of a Country doctors work 100 years ago (from the transactions)
Country doctors hours were indefinite. He could be called out at any time day or night. He usually bought his own practice or bought in as a partner with another doctor. He travelled in all weathers to isolated farms by pony or pony and trap often over difficult terrain. He would carry his case containing emergency drugs with him. He would be faced with patients suffering from many different conditions such as typhoid fever, children with diphtheria, severe rheumatism and might even have to operate on the kitchen table calling on a colleague to give the aesthetic.
Patients who whose condition was too serious for his skills would be sent by train – usually to Shrewsbury – form this area.
Towards the end of the 1800s this was made possible by using ether, chloroform – first used by James Simpson in 1847 in Edinburgh and then became the standard British anaesthetic for the next 50 years.
Lister discovered the principle of curing sepsis. He insisted that everything touching the wound should be treated with antiseptic. The effect of using these principles meant that there was a dramatic drop in mortality rates and enabled abdominal and chest surgery.

Charles Evan Lomax M.R.C.S of Hernog Villa, Crossgates [Name ]
There is a massive monument in Llanbadarn Fawr churchyard
This monument was erected by neighbours and friends who wish to show their appreciation of his honourable character and his useful professional career of 36 years in this parish and vicinity. He died January 24th 1875 aged 61.

He was a native of Weobley who came to Crossgates in 1839.
When he first practiced in Crossgates there was no doctor in Llandrindod.
There would have been a close bond between doctor and patients because he would be involved with the family over many generations.

Dr Morgan Evans and Dr Lomax were involved in the establishing of an efficient health care system in association with Llandrindod wells Cottage Hospital founded in 1881.


After the Boer War, and again after the First World War, concerns about the health of the nation were raised by a powerful lobby in the army. The poor state of health of the recruits was worrying. At the time of the Boer War one third of the applicants for service were rejected, so alarms were raised by top army brass and very slowly wheels began to turn. Developments for the regulation of public health were laid down by the government. The appointment of a County Medical Officer of Health was required by the Act of 1888 and Radnorshire made an appointment to this position.
The County Officer’s report for 1911 speaks of ”many unsatisfactory privies and pail closets and that sewage is disposed of generally in gardens. There are a large number of unregulated private slaughter houses linked with local butchers and many animals are killed and rendered on farms. Outside the towns, all water supplies are from springs and wells, many of which have never been tested or isolated from contamination, and there is no organised system of refuge collection. Childhood illnesses abound and infant mortality continues to be of great concern.”


Local Nursing Associations, which in some parts of the country can be dated back to the 1880s, provided properly qualified midwives and nurses to visit the sick in their own homes where they undertook general nursing. Patients were asked to make a small contribution to the funds of the Association

In Radnorshire there appears to have been a number of independent voluntary associations providing nursing care similar to the committee which established Llandrindod Hospital in 1881. There was certainly such an association in Llandrindod and also in Penybont.

The committee was made up of eminent citizens, squirarchy, clergy etc. The representative from Penybont was Mrs Walsh.
Their chief work was fundraising. This was done by holding Flower Days, Concerts, Markets, Garden Parties, collecting boxes and donations.
Church collections were often given to the local Nursing Associations. In 1917 (and regularly until 1957) collections were given from Llandegley Church to the Nursing Association.

Radnorshire Nursing Association
The Radnorshire Nursing Association was in existence in 1917. A collection for the ‘Nursing Association’ is recorded in Llandegley Church register (from 1917 to 1958). As well as receiving funding from local councils the Association was supported through fundraising by ‘Country Markets’ and ‘Flower Days’.

Under the leadership of Radnorshire County Council (founded 1889) a County Nursing Association was formed based in Llandrindod. This group probably came into existence after the passing of the Notification of Births (extension) Act in 1915. This Act necessitated the appointment of health visitors to homes with infants and the provision of medical inspection in schools and the employment of school nurses.

A nursing scheme was prepared to cover the whole county. This scheme allowed for the employment of nurses already belonging to the local nursing associations already in existence and was comprehensive, covering midwifery, maternity and child welfare, school medical services and the treatment of tuberculosis. At the County Council meeting held in June 1917 the nurses of the five associations then in existence became employees of this County Association and eventually the whole county was covered. Expenditure on the nursing scheme included:

• 1929 Bicycles for nurses reported to be in a poor condition.
• First mention of Penybont & District Nursing Association in 1934 when Miss Todd the County Supervisor is asked to check the boundary of the area covered.
• In 1936 the Nurse at Penybont paid £150 per annum is increased to £160 as she was an SRN.
• In 1937 a Car is to be purchased for the Penybont Nurse for £50
• 1938 Nurse Gittings mentioned as employed as a Supply Nurse @ £3.3.0 a week.
• 1939 Nurse Thomas appointed.

By 1936 there were Nurses in the following villages in our area:-
Rhayader, Painscastle, Newbridge, St Harmon, nantmel, Llangynllo, Llandrindod (2), Llanddewi, Llanbister, Hundred House, Penybont.

The County Nursing Association interviewed and appointed nurses and set their salaries. Nurses worked under a supervisor – the first being Miss Heard. She was followed by Nurse Jones and later by Nurse Todd.
Requests for bicycles and later cars came before this committee.
In 1929 it was reported that the ‘bicycles are in a bad condition’
In 1937 a car was purchased for the Nurse at Penybont at a cost of £50
The pay of the nurses depended on their qualification.
In 1936 the pay of the Penybont Nurse was increased from £150 a year to £160 as she was an SRN.
The local nurses continued to work in their own locality. In 1934 the Penybont Nurse was asked by supervisor Nurse Todd to take over responsibility for the Boundary Terrace area in North Llandrindod.
Some nurses also did supply work. Nurse Gittings in Penybont was employed as supply nurse @ £3.3.0 a week in 1938. This is first time a Penybont Nurse is mentioned by name in the County Association Minutes.

In Penybont, the arrival of Nurse Gittings brought a person qualified in nursing to serve as nurse and midwife. When she first arrived she travelled by bicycle or on horseback to see her patients.

Rosemary showed pictures of Nurse Gittings walking and then with motorbike.

She became one of the first people in the community to have a car – a Trojan with solid tyres. Mrs Gittings lived at Brynhyfryd where at the age of 61 in 1961 she was found dead (by John Abberley) after a fall. Nurse Thomas who was the School (nit) Nurse took over from Nurse Gittings. Nurse Gittings had been in charge when several members of the group were born.


A National Insurance Act passed in 1911 provided patchy coverage but was never able to provide for the growing needs of the whole population.
In 1946 a second National Insurance Act attempted to provide a comprehensive system of social security. People then had the right to receive some employment benefit and a single payment of 30/- maternity benefit.

On the fifth of July 1948 the first health system to offer publicly funded medical care to the whole population came into effect. Doctors, pharmacists, opticians, dentists and hospitals were available to all. Everyone befitted, but the lives of the poor were transformed

Inevitably there was some opposition. It would be funded by taxation (which nobody likes) and some GPs feared that their income would suffer and that an increased work load would affect patient care. The voluntary sector seems to have worked alongside the NHS for a while. A Nursing Association box was last opened in 1951 and Llandegley continued to send a church collection until 1958.

On the first birthday of the NHS, Aneurin Bevan conceded that it had started in an atmosphere of friction, doubt and of great hope and he said most of the shortcomings which have been revealed by the British Health Service are not the result of the intrinsic defects of the service but because of the overwhelming volume of need that the service revealed. There has gone on in the past a vast amount of silent suffering.”

Rosemary entered the Nursing Profession in 1953 as a Nursing cadet and qualified in 1957 in the early days of the NHS. We were all very proud of belonging to what was then the best health service in the world.

In the discussion that followed Rosemary’s excellent talk we talked about the fact that little health care as we know it existed in the, and before, the nineteenth century. Communities and families had to be largely self-sufficient. The major plagues and cholera outbursts seemed to miss this area, possibly due to clean air and a dispersed rural community. There were also the healing waters at Llandegley said to be stronger in sulphur and minerals that the waters of Llandrindod. While most housewives would have a basic knowledge of herbal medicines most communities would have a ‘wise woman’ who would have expertise in birthing and remedies. Even if there was a ‘doctor’ few families could afford their services. Members were aware of herbs and substances that were in use until relatively recently. Feverfew, foxglove, ground liver wart, spleen wart, white poppy, comfrey, goose grease and cow dung poultices were mentioned. These remedies were generally effective on simple illnesses but were not so for more serious conditions.

Mary mentioned goitre which affected a lot of women. More recently it was discovered that it was due to a lack of iodine. Surgeons in Switzerland were famous for removing the goitre and it was said that a good surgeon could remove it without leaving a scar. Some woman wore a scarf to cover the scar. Latterly salt was sold with iodine to overcome the condition. Average age of life expectancy was just 43 years with a lot of deaths tied into child birth and early conditions. If a person lived beyond this they could go on until a ripe old age. It was the survival of the fittest.

Alongside the herbal remedies were superstitions, customs and charms that gave people the hope of a cure. One story was told of a person who had a sheep pulled over her face to remedy romatic fever – this person went on to live until 88 years. Rosemary herself remembers having romatic fever and spending 3 months in bed. The teachers in her school brought her regular school work to do. Staying in bed with jig-saws and buttons were common experiences for members of the group. Another member of the group had been sent to school with appendicitis and just told to ‘get on with it’.

The Drew family had a tradition over many generations of being bone setters. There were highly skilled. They would break a chicken’s bones to rest them as part of learning their skill. Lloyd went to St. Thomas’s in London to teach them the art.

Nurse Gittings was something of a legend in the village and some time was given to discussing memories.
She and her husband from south Wales lived at Brynhyffrid
Nothing was too much trouble for either of them
Nurse Gittings herself came from Brecon. (The B&R referred to her as Nurse ‘Gittoes’, a local name, when they published her memorial. ) The discussion settled on the changing role of the nit nurse over the years and how schools and parents have dealt with the problem. In the days of Nurse Thomas every child would be examined for nits. Great shame was often attached to having a child identified with them. Children would be kept at home. Today the problem is referred to without using the word ‘nit’ – a notice might appear on the noticeboard that – ‘there may be a problem’. Children who have nits must not be spoken about and the matter is dealt with confidentiality and tact, or one might say ‘politically correct’.

More worryingly was the discussion about kitchen table operations. Gwen mentioned her father’s appendix operation in this context, Rosemary a hernia operation and even gallstone operations were done. It was not until anaesthesia and antiseptics improved and a greater appreciation of hygiene that patients had a better than even chance of surviving the knife. Marion told us of operations before this time at St. Thomas Hospital in London where there was a bucket to collect the blood and aprons were only changed irregularly.

In village life, Marion went on to tell us, that people in sickness or trouble would turn to Charmers and sometimes to witchcraft. Charmers, sometimes known as ‘cunning folk’ or ‘white witches’, were providing ancient wisdoms to people as recently as the 1950’s. They were often closely associated with the Church and in more ancient times some Clergy set themselves up in business dispensing charms. Some Churches locally and across Wales still have charms. Cascob Church has the Abracadabra Charm inscribed on one of the walls. Llandegley Church has its own charm or riddle that involves a chicken, a cockerel, tying legs to the alter and passing a sheep under the alter. Another common charm is associated with notching a hazel stick and burying it in the garden where no-one else knows.

Richard told the story of the son of Deacon playing rugby on a Sunday, being kicked in the face, lots of blood, taken to the doctor who operated in the kitchen with the only anaesthetic being told to hold onto the door knob. Disapproval was expressed in this way.

‘Laying out’ the dead was then discussed and Jean ‘confessed’ having taken responsibility for this in the past. There was a story of a trip to Brittany to the home of a Welsh Pastor when the housekeeper took on this duty. This discussion followed on from Neil telling us that his mother had been a Red Cross Nurse during the War and that she would be called upon to lay out the dead.

The next meeting will be at the Thomas Shop on Monday the 6th October 2014 at 10.30 a.m. when Jennifer Lewis will lead the session on the topic: Tracing your family tree.