Saturday, 31 July 2021

Petition launched to change name of Townlands hospital

A PETITION has been launched calling for the name of Henley’s old War Memorial Hospital to be

A PETITION has been launched calling for the name of Henley’s old War Memorial Hospital to be included in the new Townlands development.

It follows fresh calls last week for the hospital to be called Townlands Memorial Hospital instead of the Townlands Community Hospital.

The petition is available to sign at the Over-60s Club in the Greys Road car park, the town hall, the Christ Church Centre in Reading Road, New News, also in Reading Road, Ways Bookshop in Friday Street, the Oxfam shop, the Bell Bookshop in Bell Street and Hot Gossip cafe in Friday Street.

The idea was first put forward by visitors to an exhibition to mark the centenary of the start of the First World War at the Old Fire Station Gallery in 2014.

Woodcote historian Mike Willoughby, who staged the exhibition as part of the Lest We Forget project, raised the idea again following the completion of the £10 million hospital, which opened last month.

He is supported by Mayor Lorraine Hillier, John Green, chairman of the Henley and Peppard branch of the Royal British Legion, the branch’s standard bearer Brian Hughes, former Henley mayor Elizabeth Hodgkin and the Rev Duncan Carter, the vicar at Holy Trinity Church, where a plaque has been installed in memory of the town’s fallen servicemen as part of the project.

Mr Willoughby said: “At the exhibition I did a straw poll and people thought it was a good idea and then Brian raised it again two weeks ago. There was no point doing anything before because there wasn’t a hospital.”

He believed that NHS Property Services, which owns the Townlands site, was prepared to consider the idea if the people of Henley supported it.

Mr Willoughby added: “Now it’s put the ball in my court to prove it’s what the people of Henley want.”

Mr Hughes, 83, of Harpsden Road, said: “If there’s nothing done about it I personally will take it as a gross insult to the people it was commemorating, the old hospital that is.” Mayor Lorraine Hillier said the history behind the former war memorial hospital was important and it should be remembered.

She said: “I think it’s very important because people feel very strongly and they are quite emotive about when the War Memorial Hospital closed and what happened to the money which Henley had paid into it.

“It’s fitting that that’s retained and it’s not forgotten why there was a War Memorial Hospital. It’s only one word. I think it would be unreasonable if NHS Property Services refuse.”

Town councillor Stefan Gawrysiak, a member of the Townlands Steering Group and Stakeholder Reference Group, said: “It’s important that we have a reference to the history of Townlands Hospital and to the old hospital to acknowledge the history of the development of it by the people of Henley.”

Cllr Gawrysiak said the matter was raised at Tuesday’s reference group meeting adding: “The naming of the hospital is in the gift of NHS Property Services, therefore we have to persuade them to change the name.”

The original hospital was officially opened on June 3, 1923 as a memorial to those who died in the war.  It was paid for with money raised from public subscriptions and cost £20,500.  It 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 in 2014 — more than 30 years later — following a long campaign. 

Mr Willoughby 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.”

A spokesman for NHS Property Services, which owns the Townlands site, said: “We recognise the importance of the hospital to the town and would be interested to know whether there is any wide support for the idea of changing the name.”

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