The Fulham Palace war hospital

Discover the war hospital at Fulham Palace through scrapbook entries.

Sister Mary Latchmore

In 1918 the Bishop of London, Arthur Winnington-Ingram, handed over Fulham Palace to serve as a hospital for soldiers injured in World War I. The war soon ended, and the hospital closed its doors in June 1919. This brief event in the Palace’s long history would have been forgotten had it not been for Sister Mary Latchmore (1871-1939).

Mary was a nurse at the hospital and collected mementos during her time here, including autographs, poems, letters, drawings and photographs of the patients and staff. The mementos were placed into a scrapbook which was later donated to Fulham Palace Trust by Mary’s family. This exhibition on display contains copies of selected photographs and drawings found within Mary’s scrapbook. Thanks to staff and archive research volunteers at the Palace we have been able to flesh out the lives of the people featured in the scrapbook.

A & B ward patients on the Palace terrace, 14 May 1919. Image by Fulham Palace Trust.

Patients on the terrace (1)

Fulham Palace became the Freemasons War Hospital No.2 in spring 1918 when it was opened by the Duke of Connaught, Grand Master and President of the first Freemasons’ War Hospital on Fulham Road. It was one of more than 3,000 ‘auxiliary’ hospitals throughout the country and was financed entirely by donations collected by the Freemasons.

The hospital could accommodate up to 100 patients, though it is not known whether it was ever full. The drawing room and dining room (now the drawing room café rooms) were converted into large wards (Wards A and B, respectively). These rooms had large windows that could be opened onto the terrace and overlooked the main lawn and woodland area.

Patients in A ward (now the drawing room café), 14 May 1919. Image by Fulham Palace Trust.

Patients in A ward (2)

Auxiliary hospitals tended to serve patients who were less seriously wounded than those in military hospitals. However, we know from photographs that many patients had lost limbs and some of them were recovering from shell shock, a term then used for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The kindness and care of the nurses was a key factor in the patients’ recovery. From written accounts found in the scrapbook, we know that Sister Latchmore was thought of fondly by her patients. In one poem, Signaller Jack Low thanks Sister Latchmore for being ‘gentle, loving, patient and kind’.

Patients dining in the great hall, 14 May 1919. Image by Fulham Palace Trust

Patients dining in the great hall (3)

Through the scrapbook photos, we can see how the Palace rooms changed to accommodate the hospital. In this image, the great hall was fashioned into a dining hall for the patients. The 1868 Bishop Tait inscription above the fireplace was covered by cloth. Stained glass can be seen on the left – sadly destroyed during the air raids on London (‘the Blitz’) in 1940.

Sister Latchmore with two patients, Private English (left) and Sergeant Blackburn (right). Image by Fulham Palace Trust.

Sister Latchmore with patients (4)

Sister Mary Latchmore was born Mary Braban in 1871 in South Shields, northeast England. She married Arthur Thomas Latchmore, a ship’s surgeon, in 1896 but the marriage did not seem to be particularly happy. She petitioned for a divorce in 1899, but it was never finalised.

Mary enrolled as a midwife in early 1909 and later travelled to New Zealand. She returned twice to the UK over the next five years. On 30 September 1914, she signed up as a volunteer with the British Red Cross and served in France until 30 January 1915. Mary then returned to Britain to volunteer as a nurse in the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) hospitals. For her services during the war, she was awarded the Mons Ribbon and the Victory Medal.

The Crossways, New Zealand, final home of Sister Mary Latchmore. Credit unknown, with thanks to Barbara Mann. Image by Fulham Palace Trust.

The Crossways (5)

After the war, Mary moved back to New Zealand with her husband. She continued nursing until she became a school principal, alongside a woman called Nancy Sheath who became an incredibly significant person in Mary’s life. The school relocated in 1931, as did Mary and Nancy but not Arthur, who died that year. Mary passed away on 24 January 1939.

Mary’s final home in Auckland, New Zealand was called The Crossways. Photographs of this home, other personal mementos and the scrapbook were donated to Fulham Palace Trust by Mary’s niece.

The town of Rye in Kent, copyright Leslie Arthur Condren. Image by Fulham Palace Trust.

The town of Rye (6)

Leslie Arthur Condren was born in Lambeth in 1892. He joined the Royal Engineers as a sapper in January 1914 (six months before World War I broke out). He was injured at Passchendaele, receiving gunshot wounds to his back and right side, and was evacuated back to England.

Part of the rehabilitation of soldiers at the hospital appears to have been recreational, writing poetry and drawing. The men also helped in the Palace gardens and farm.

Condren was a talented artist and drew this watercolour of Rye in Kent. His mother was from nearby Hastings, and so Rye may have been a special place for him. He exhibited a piece called To The West Country at the Royal Academy in 1952. He never married and died in Hastings in 1971.

Patients at the hospital with their matron, Lady Fox-Symons. Image by Fulham Palace Trust.

Patients with Lady Fox-Symons (7)

At the hospital, the patients wore blue uniforms, also known as ‘blue invalid uniform’, ‘convalescent blues’ or ‘hospital undress’. They were accompanied with a red tie, to be worn with medals and the relevant regimental cap. Attached to the lower left sleeves were ‘wound stripes’ made from Russian gold braid. Each stripe represented the number of times the soldier was injured.

Due to Nurse Latchmore’s diligent record-keeping before the hospital closed, we were able to identify some of the names of the patients and nursing staff. This includes Leslie Arthur Condren who lies on the ground in this photograph.

The nursing staff at the hospital. Image by Fulham Palace Trust.

The Palace nursing staff (8)

Most of the staff at the hospital were volunteers with the VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment), which was formed by the Red Cross and the Order of St John in 1909.

The woman seated in the centre of the photograph is Lady Maude ‘Minnie’ Fox-Symons, matron at the No.2 hospital at Fulham Palace. She was born in Camberwell in 1868 and began her training as a nurse in 1897. She married Robert Fox-Symons who was a surgeon. In 1914, he took charge of the Auxiliary Home Hospital Department and Maude became acting sister at the Freemasons Hospital No.1 before becoming matron of the No.2 hospital at the Palace in 1918. We know she was presented with a bouquet and set of silver knives and spoons when the hospital closed.

Garden party for patients and their friends, c.1918-19. Image by Fulham Palace Trust.

The garden party (9)

Events were organised for the patients at the Freemasons hospital. The photograph shows patients and their family members enjoying a garden party in the Palace grounds.

During World War I Bishop Winnington-Ingram lived at his other house in the city but visited Fulham Palace regularly. There are multiple photographs taken of him with the patients and staff at the hospital.

Café map

This exhibition was created by collections & conservation officer Roxane Burke and was based on the research done by community archaeologist Alexis Haslam.

Many thanks to Fulham Palace’s volunteer archive and research group and Pamela Greene.