The Danbury Society

Danbury Palace Babies.

Danbury Park Maternity Hospital 1939-1946 by Marie Polley, Friend of Chelmsford Museum Committee Member.

The Maternity Hospital came about when a coach load of expectant mothers were evacuated from the East End of London at the beginning of the Second World War. It seems that no one expected them or wanted them. They arrived at Danbury and Mrs Wigan (Wife of General Wigan, owner of Danbury Palace) took them in, turning her sitting room into a sleeping room for them.
Later the ballroom downstairs was adapted for the main lying-in ward still retaining all the paintings on the walls and the beautiful view of the gardens for the mothers to enjoy as they awaited the arrival of their babies. The labour ward and sluice was on the first floor. Nappies had to be dried on the roof which froze solid in the winter.

The Essex County Council was approached and after consultations, arrangements were made for Danbury Park to become an Emergency Maternity Hospital. Although General and Mrs Wigan and their family occupied their own wing the house was always kept as a private home for the comfort of everybody. The catering was all done by Mrs Wigan's staff with produce from the gardens and milk from their own Jersey herd. All the mothers remarked how well they were fed as at home there was, of course, rationing.

There was a Matron, trained nurses and Red Cross VAD Nurses to help. The VADs used to bus or cycle to Danbury Park from Chelmsford and the surrounding area. Dr. Bullough was the Medical Officer of Health at County Hall and Dr. A H Pirie from Gt. Baddow attended the Mothers. Mrs Wigan's gardening staff also acted as porters and helped in many ways.

Queen Mother at Danbury Palace

Queen Mother at Danbury Palace.

Queen Elizabeth (The Late Queen Mother) sent a layette for the 1000th. baby and came to Danbury Park in November 1945 and presented a layette for the 2000th baby!

Queen Mother with the 2,000th Baby at Danbury Palace

Queen Mother

Queen Mother with the 2,000th Baby to be born at Danbury Palace.

This was a private visit so she was able to speak personally to the mothers and staff. She was also presented to local dignitaries as well.

There were often famous people as guests of General and Mrs Wigan including military personnel. They were always interested in the mothers and babies.
A story is told of how a VAD came down the lovely staircase with her arms full of bed pans at the same time as the General arrived with another high ranking officer. The General, to save embarrassment to the VAD, remarked 'well nurse is it a boy or girl?' A large blackboard was kept by Matron to chalk up the birth of boys and girls.
Apparently she favoured boys.

Many stories have been told of how Mrs Wigan always said goodnight and if she was going to an important 'do' she would say goodnight to the Mums and babies wearing her lovely evening clothes. She would often stay up all night with a difficult birth to help and encourage the Mum to be and, if necessary, they would be transferred to St John's Hospital.

Christmas was a happy time for everyone. In the Nativity play Baby Jesus was one of the new born babies laying in the crib who always behaved well. The General carved the turkey and the staff were all treated like the family.

General Wigan died in 1952 and Mrs Wigan died in 1973.

Letters from Mothers received in 1973 in response to ex VAD Puxley's letter in the Essex Chronicle, when Mrs Wigan died, show how they all appreciated being at Danbury Park because of the care of Mrs Wigan and her staff.

The article above is with the Essex Records Office, together with the letters written to my sister Winifred Puxley when Mrs.Wigan died in 1973.

My sister had been a Red Cross nurse at Danbury Park for three years before joining the Army to nurse the troops. Oaklands Museum also has a copy as well as copies of the letters and, in addition, the silver bowl presented to Mrs.Wigan from the staff when Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, came to present the layette for the 2000th baby.

Oaklands also hold a lustre that is reputed to have belonged to the Bishop of Rochester when he was at Danbury Palace, as it was called then. Bishop Claughton died in 1892.
I inherited these items when my eldest Sister, Isabel died. She had been Secretary to General and Mrs. Wigan from 1943 and was given them in memory of Mrs.Wigan.

We have had a reunion of babies born at Danbury Park and it was a very pleasant and nostalgic occasion. We hope to have another to include those that could not make the first one. I am also trying to trace any baby whose mum was on that first coach from London in 1939.

I was first introduced to Danbury Park by my sister when I was about twelve or thirteen to see the Nativity play. I remember that I was rather shocked to see all the ladies, waiting for their babies to be born, who were so large! I was very impressed with Baby Jesus though, as he didn't make a sound all the way through the performance. He had obviously just been fed!

Thank you Marie and for allowing the Danbury Society to reproduced your Article.

The Danbury Society was alerted to interest in the Palace Babies after a Danbury Society Meeting about Danbury Palace was presented by Mr Jim Henton, Manager at that time of The Palace, after which 3 ladies said they were born there.

Danbury Society, Excutive Member, Norman Bartlett noted their names and hence the Register was formed. There are now over 106 names on it.

If you, or you know someone who was born there, please report to Norman who will add you to the Roll of Honour.

Click here  to e-mail Norman directly.

Contact Information

Telephone Marie Polley on 01245 356276

Click here  to link to Danbury Park Babies Web Site

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Copyright (c) Danbury Society 2007
Last revised:- 24th November 2007 - Updated to include Danbury Babies Web Site link.