The story behind Elliott House in Herne Bay

Elliott House, the former care home in Reculver Road, Beltinge, is due to be developed into apartments, with a limited number of bungalows on site, but what is the story behind this iconic Grade II listed building? Local railway historian Mark Jones has been delving into the history.

 

Long before the creation of the NHS, Welfare State, and introduction of sick pay, railway workers often returned to work before they had fully recovered from sickness or injury. Most were forced to work excessive hours for very little pay. In some cases, signalmen would fall asleep on the job, resulting in the most horrendous accidents. John Edward Nichols, Chief Cashier with the London Chatham & Dover Railway, and Chairman of the Passmore Edwards Friendly Societies Convalescent Home in Reculver Road, saw a need for a Convalescent Home for railway workers.

Passmore Edwards, who served as the MP for Salisbury, between 1880 and 1885, was a passionate supporter of the working classes, and their struggle against the political system. He described the working conditions of railwaymen as “Oppressive”.

Edwards, who came from a modest upbringing, became a successful newspaper proprietor, and put much of his wealth back into society. He is best known for his twenty-four public libraries, but was also the benefactor of schools, hospitals, convalescent homes, orphanages, water fountains, museums and art galleries. He was responsible for opening the first free to use public library in Thanet at Cavendish Street, Ramsgate in 1895, equipping it with 1000 books which were later transferred to the Andrew Carnegie library when that opened in 1905.

Passmore Edwards agreed to provide £6,000 for the construction of a 50 patient Railway Convalescent Home in Reculver Road, eventually giving a further £1,000 towards furnishings or construction costs. Nichols who had been made Chairman, was more ambitious and desired a home with a capacity for 100 men, and the construction ran into financial difficulties as a result. In the end the trustees, all of whom were railwaymen, agreed to mortgage their own homes to raise the capital, and the building was completed at the cost of £12,000 including grounds and furnishings.

The home was opened on 8th June 1901, by Liberal Party leader Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, who became Prime Minster in 1905.

The railwaymen would each pay a subscription fee of half a penny a week which would entitle them to two weeks’ free recuperation at the home following sickness or injury; three weeks in exceptional circumstances.

Following the death of John Morgan, the long serving Secretary of the London Chatham & Dover Railway with 40 years’ service, in 1900, a ward was named in his honour. A bust of J. Morgan by Italian sculptor Professor Trentanove of Florence was placed in the room.

In 1907, the five surviving crew of the Great Eastern Railways’ SS Berlin, which tragically sank at Hook of Holland, were welcomed at the home. 128 of those on board the steam vessel, which had set sail from Harwich, lost their lives in the disaster, including 40 of the crew.

Her Royal Highness Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll, visited the Herne Bay Home in 1907, to open a new wing with 50 additional beds, and to attend a fundraising fete at Strode Park. The Princess later donated her Lavenham home to Edith Culver, wife of secretary William Culver Jr., for use as the first Convalescent Home for Railway Women, which opened in 1918.

During the First World War, the Railwaymen’s and Friendly Societies Convalescent Homes served as military hospitals, taking in approximately 10,000 British and Belgium casualties. The Railwaymen were temporarily relocated to “Belle Vue” in Richmond Street (now Richmond House), for the duration of the war, returning the Passmore Edwards building in 1919.

The Grade II listed wrought iron gates at the home, a gift from the railway workers, were opened in 1924 by then Chairman of the home, John Lundie Thomson of Whitstable, in the presence of the donation collectors and the railwaymen. Thomson, originally from Scotland, was one of the original trustees, and helped set up the London Midland & Scottish Railway Sick Fund in 1923, which provided free optical care, hospital and dental treatment to LMS employees before the emergence of the NHS.

The Herne Bay Home closed in the 1970s due to financial difficulties, and became a residential care home known as Heronswood from 1981, later Elliott House. The building is now due to be converted into residential apartments, and requests by local residents to rename the building in recognition of John Passmore Edwards, or place a plaque at the gates, have so far fallen on deaf ears, but they haven’t yet given up hope.

 

Mark Jones Herne Railway Historian

Find the group on Twitter @HerneBayRailway, and Facebook Railways Of Herne Bay History Group.

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