Fall in Love with the Past

Monthly Archives: April 2016

Ellen RanyardIf you do a quick search for the history of District Nursing you’ll no doubt discover that William Rathbone’s founded of what is described as the first district nursing service in Liverpool in 1863. If you dig a little deeper you might also unearth the fact that almost forty years before Rathbone’s philanthropic gesture Elizabeth Fry, the well-known prison reformer, set up home nursing services in Brighton after seeing for herself the shocking conditions of the poor.

You’ll even read how Florence Nightingale supported the founding of District Nurse Associations throughout the country describing district nursing as “that most important of all its [nursing] branches”.

This seems a laudable statement until you learn that as the notable Lady with the Lamp was lamenting in 1867 that “until we have district nursing in London we shall have done nothing even when we have refoRanyard Nurse visitingrmed all the hospitals and all the workhouses” Ellen Ranyard had already laid the foundation of the first district nurse service in London ten years before.

Born in Nine Elms in 1809 Ellen Ranyard, the wife of a non-conformist minister, founded the Bible and Domestic Female Mission in 1857. Unlike many of the mission societies formed at that time instead of utilising middle and upper-class women to further its cause Ellen Ranyard recruited her Biblewomen from the poor working-class communities the Mission was reaching out to.

Although very successful in their initial goal of distributing bible tracts to the poor it soon became clear that a practical as well as spiritual dimension was needed so in 1868 the Biblewomen nurses were established.  They, too, were poor, working women who after three months training in a London hospital would return to serve their communities as Biblewomen nurses.

Although initially based in Covent Garden they soon expanded east to Whitechapel and south to Bermondsey. Their duties included referring patients to doctors and hospitals, inspecting infants in mother’s meetings, and encouraging medical self-help among the poor.

Within 25 years the Bible and Domestic Female Mission had over 80 Biblewoman  nurses in London and Ranyard’s Biblewomen nurses continued to operate in South London even after the introduction of the National Health Service but were absorbed into the London borough’s district nursing services in 1965.

I discovered Ellen Ranyard when researching my post-war East London District Nurse series and the fictitious St George and St Dunstan’s District Nursing Association in my books is based on the East London Nursing Society founded by Ellen Ranyard’s Biblewomen Nurses Mission in Poplar.

Today her fierce evangelical fervour and views on the causes of poverty would be regarded as narrow and bigoted. However, her pragmatic way of ministering to the poor and sick introduced for the first time the model of cultural link-workers used in health promotion work throughout the world today.

I can pinpoint the moment I fell head over heels in love with history to the day, as a child I watched Roger Moore as Ivanhoe gallop across our black and white TV screen on a white horse. Roger moore

My infatuation grew throughout my childhood fed on TV series like the Buccaneers, Robin Hood, The Forsyth Saga including a brief flirtation with the Wild West with Bonanza.  Dr Who, too, in its earlier days went back in time, who could forget one of his early companions Jamie McCrimmon?  I later moved on to the Onedin Line and of course, along with the rest of the female population in 1975 fell in love with Robin Ellis as he strode across the screen as the original Ross Poldark.

I just love the thought, feel and possibilities of the past. All my life I’ve fanaticised about broad-shouldered, chiselled featured men with piercing eyes dressed in doublets,  kilts, starched collars and cravats and redcoats, what woman hasn’t?

Of course I didn’t just watch historical fiction but I read it almost exclusively in books by Anya Seton, Mary Stewart,  Nigel Tranter, George Shipway, Dorothy Dunnett and Sharon Penman to name but a very few.

The joy of writing historical fiction is also that the past isn’t just one point in time. It can be Nero’s Rome, Robert the Bruce’s Scotland, Revolutionary Boston or Lautrec’s Paris or for me, post-war East London.

It can also focus of major historical character such as, the Empress Matilda, Cecily Neville, Joan of Arc, or Marie Antoinette but it can also have more lowly protagonists such as Frances Nelson Lord Nelson’s long suffering wife or Elizabeth Fry, with her eleven children and bankrupt husband.

Of course, you can have fictionally characters, who inhabit a real time and place and who fall in and out of love but who aren’t constrained by actual events.

But that then leaves me with another question I’m often asked which is ‘Do I write Romance or History?’ and again my answer is always the same. ‘I couldn’t tell you; I just write stories?’

Wedding Bells for Nurse Connie.

It’s 1948 and the nurses of the East End of London are making the most of life post-war. For Connie in particular, things are looking rosy as she looks forward to planning a future with her sweetheart, Malcolm. But, as many a young bride-to-be has proved, the course of true love never did run smooth and Connie finds herself having to grapple with interfering mothers and Malcolm’s reluctance to set the date.

But while there are many obstacles to overcome before walking down the aisle, at least Connie can relax in the knowledge that she’ll soon be married to the man of her dreams, can’t she?

Life at work isn’t all smooth sailing either. The newly-formed NHS is keeping the nurses of Fry House extremely busy and as ever in the life of a nurse heartbreak lurks at every turn. But there are some new faces to keep things interesting. And one in particular might be the answer to all of Connie’s problems.

‘A delightful, well researched story that depicts nursing and the living conditions in the East End at the end of the war’ (Lesley Pearse talking  about Call Nurse Millie. )

‘…The writing shines off the page and begs for a sequel’ (Historical Novel Society)
‘…you will ride emotional highs and lows with each new birth and death. Beautifully written with some sharp dialogue.’ (THE LADY)

Wedding Bells for Nurse Connie.