A bundle of receipts from 1910 and 1911 for goods and services provided to the Bealey Convalescent Hospital may not sound like the most rivetting reading, but you would be amazed not only at the information they contain on local businesses and the lifestyle and buying habits of the time, but also how beautifully designed and illustrated some of the receipts are. These documents are miniature works of art in themselves, perfect examples of fashionable graphic design and typography.
They are often accompanied by delicate etchings, for example James Rider & Son Butchers and Farmers; Thomas Bradford & Co (‘Asylum, Hospital, Hotel, Workhouse, Baths and Laundry Engineers’), whose receipt is embellished with a detailed etching of the Crescent Iron Works, Salford, complete with trams and horse-drawn vehicles; and Samuel Renshaw & Sons Ltd. who manufactured cotton sheets and bedding from their Britannia and York Street Mills in Bury. The Britannia Mill building on Cobden Street is still there, although nowadays it is home to several small businesses and a dance and fitness studio.
On 30 September 1910 a mop and bucket was purchased from James Lawless the Ironmonger in the old Market Hall. Bury Market Hall is still thriving, albeit in a different location, although
100 years on this is now quite a different environment with its nail bars, delicatessens and mobile phone accessory stalls. Bury Market as a whole is one of our most popular attractions, attracting shoppers from all over the country.
We can see from the receipt from Samuel Yates the Seed Merchants that the hospital must have grown some of its own herbs and vegetables, including cabbage, cauliflower, celery, parsley and sage. In fact, patients at the hospital appeared to eat quite healthily, as there are lots of receipts for fresh fruit, vegetables and meat, which were plentiful at this time.
They operated independently and purchased all their own medical supplies (both medicines and equipment such as laundry stoves) and utilities (coal, coke, water) in a world before the existence of contracts and tenders.
The Radcliffe & Pilkington Gas Company pointed out the ‘advantages of the gas cooking stove’ thus: ‘The stove can be used at any time at short notice…they are also invaluable during the absence or illness of servants, when by their use ladies and their daughters can undertake or supervise the household cooking without discomfort.’
More intriguing receipts include those for two weeks’ hire of a piano and two bottles of Hennessy’s XXX Brandy, although whether these are for the benefit of patients or staff is unclear.
All these provisions could be obtained locally when horsepower (literally!) was the preferred mode of transport. Coal came from Clifton, Kersley (their spelling) and Newtown Collieries and Outwood Collieries, both local mines.
These humble receipts paint a picture of the everyday life of a hospital that shows not only how medical establishments operated pre-NHS – self-contained, autonomous communities operating free from outside influences – but also show that even the most mundane of everyday items can yield a wealth of information about past lives.
A quick inspection of the contents of my handbag reveals a similar batch of ephemera: bus tickets, shop receipts, loyalty cards for various hot drinks purveyors, restaurants’ business cards and flyers for exhibitions I will probably never visit. Should I be keeping them? Will they still be of interest to anyone in 100 years’ time?