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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Wiltshire

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A model for the NHS?

From cradle to grave

Dentist surgery
A dentist was appointed by the fund in 1887
© STEAM - Museum of the GWR, Swindon
In the decades after the fund’s formation, its remit expanded from merely administering medicine and attending accidents into a proactive body campaigning for improved sanitation in the town. In 1853, minutes of one of the society’s meetings show requests for improved and increased paving and for the keeping of fowl and rabbits to be prohibited on account of the unsanitary conditions they create. While in 1859 the post of “Keeper of Lime, Brushes and Invalid Chair” was created. Thereafter, lime could be obtained free of charge by any fund member in order to cleanse their cottage’s floor, walls and drains.

The fund’s membership and concerns continued to expand and assume more responsibility in the latter half of the 19th Century. In 1869 a new swimming baths was opened by the Medical Fund Society, comprising washing, Turkish, shower and swimming baths for the use of members. In 1871, a cottage hospital was opened by the fund to deal with the alarmingly high rate of accidents among GWR employees. Part of this accident hospital’s facilities was a mortuary, a surgery and an operating room. A dentist and undertaker were appointed by the fund in 1887.

Swimming pool
Swimming baths were also provided by the Fund
© STEAM - Museum of the GWR, Swindon
The last piece of building work undertaken by the GWR in Swindon was a new dispensary and swimming baths located on Faringdon Road which opened in 1892. According to Cattel and Falconer in ‘Swindon: the Legacy of a Railway Town’, this centre “anticipated by several decades the medical centres set up by the national Health Service after World War II.

In 1924 the success and achievements of the GWR Medical Fund Society were recognised by their inclusion in a Royal visit. King George V and Queen Mary visited the Medical Fund buildings as part of their tour of Swindon Works. By this time the works employed 14,000 people, their medical assistance was managed by nine working railway men who formed the part-time committee.

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