Calls for development to bring back ‘war memorial’
CALLS are growing for the name of Henley’s former War Memorial Hospital to be included in the new Townlands development.
The idea was put forward by visitors to an exhibition to mark 100 years since the start of the First World War held at the Old Fire Station Gallery.
Henley MP John Howell, the Mayor and the chairman of the Townlands Steering Group have all welcomed the suggestion and the NHS has said it will happily consider it.
The hospital, built in 1923 as a memorial to those who died in the war, closed in 1983 and was then demolished and the land sold off.
Money from the sale was earmarked for the redevelopment of Townlands Hospital but this only began earlier this year — more than 30 years later — after a long campaign. Amateur historian Mike Willoughby, who staged the exhibition, said many of the 800-plus visitors felt strongly about the issue.
Mr Willougby, from Woodcote, said: “It started off as a sort of casual conversation about the new hospital. It gathered volition over the course of the week.
“By the end of the week I was actually asking every local person that came in about what they thought. Everyone said ‘good idea’ and suggested different names.” Townlands Memorial Hospital, Townlands Centennial Hospital and Townlands War Memorial Hospital were among the suggestions for a name of the new £16 million “health campus”.
Mr Willougby, who spearheaded the Lest We Forget project for three new war memorials for Henley, said renaming Townlands would “appease” people who still felt resentment over the sale of the old hospital site in War Memorial Place.
“It’s not just my feelings, it’s the feelings of the people,” he said. “It has always been a bone of contention where the money went because Henley people raised the money for the hospital in the first place. The money from the sale was just absorbed into the NHS. Through the Lest We Forget project I have done a lot of research into the War Memorial Hospital and just think this would be an extremely appropriate thing to do. It was a lovely hospital and most long-term Henley residents have had some dealing with it.
“I would love this idea to be put to the people of Henley through the Henley Standard. I think there would be a lot of people wanting to put their views forward.”
Town councillor Ian Reissmann, who chairs the steering group, said it would discuss the idea and raise it with NHS Property Services, which now owns the Townlands site.
He said: “In principle I think the idea is a very good one as it brings back the name and reminds us of our history. In this year that’s something we’re all doing because of what happened 100 years ago.” Cllr Reissmann recalled that £500,000 from the sale of war memorial hospital site went to the NHS.
He said: “The money was promised to Henley and Townlands Hospital for a rebuild but it disappeared and, of course, the NHS has been subject to multiple re-organisations since then.
“Originally we were part of the West Berkshire District Health Authority but with the re-organisations the money was absorbed into NHS funds.
“Congratulations to Mike and his team for helping us to remember and bringing the idea to our attention.”
Cllr Reissmann added that after spending 10 years fighting for the survival and then the redevelopment of Townlands, it was “wonderful” to now be able to consider a secondary issue.
Mr Howell also welcomed Mr Willougby’s idea, idea saying: “I think it’s a suggestion we should take up.”
He suggested having a competition organised by the Henley Standard in which residents were asked for their views.
“I don’t think the NHS would object whatever the town wished to call it,” he added.
Henley Mayor Martin Akehurst said: “I think having a meaningful name is an excellent idea and I would certainly support that.”
He thanked Mr Willoughby for compiling the exhibition as well as a new book called Bringing Them Home about the men from Henley who died in the war.
James Wakeham, south regional director at NHS Property Services, said: “We welcome all suggestions for the name of the new hospital.
“As the build is not due for completion until 2016, nothing has been decided yet. In time, we would like to invite the local community to help us decide on a suitable name and will consider all ideas which come forward.”
The redevelopment of Townlands Hospital began in June, when workmen levelled the site so that construction could begin.
A ground-breaking ceremony was attended by representatives of Henley town and Oxfordshire county councils, developer Amber Solutions for Care, contractor Vinci Construction and NHS Property Services.
The new hospital is due to open in the 2016. The development will include inpatient, outpatient, ambulatory care, X-ray, podiatry, physiotherapy and dentistry services.
There will also be a 12-bed Sue Ryder hospice, which is moving from Nettlebed, and a new 64-bed care home to replace Chilterns End care home in Greys Road.
The remaining land and listed buildings on the site will be adapted to provide 32 assisted-living and 12 new “key worker” homes.
The War Memorial Hospital was built with money raised from public subscriptions and cost £20,500. It was officially opened on June 3, 1923.