The Normansfield Bills

By Ken Howe

Ken Howe is a historian and author of several local history books. 

Ken has generously loaned to the Langdon Down Museum archive the whole collection of Normansfield Bills. 

One of my pastimes when I’m not being chased for some deadline or other is to trawl the e-bay pages for items of Teddington ephemera. These trawls can produce some surprising results or can be a complete waste of time.

Some years ago I spotted an invoice from a firm of hospital supplies which had a very attractive letterhead. On scrutinising the bill more closely, I noticed that it was made out to Normansfield Hospital. I put in a bid and waited. On this occasion I was pipped at the last minute and lost out on that sale. Feeling slightly bitter about missing out, I looked at the same dealer the next day and sure enough, there was another invoice made out to Normansfield from a totally different supplier. I made sure of getting this lot by putting in a high bid but the item went for the original asking price and I was the happy winner. A couple of days later, two similar items appeared and I set out to win these also. Everything did not quite go to plan – I won one and lost one. There was obviously another Teddington collector in the market!

Over the course of the next week more items appeared and I think I won seven out of eight of them. It was becoming a bit wearing having to check closely on every bid submitted, so I decided to speak to the seller who was an extremely helpful chap. I explained that I was a local historian and that Normansfield Hospital was right in my patch, so to speak, and that there was a story to be had from reviewing all of the invoices together. He agreed with me and said that he had a substantial bundle of invoices left that he was feeding into ebay one or two at a time. I asked him if he would be prepared to sell the remainder outside of ebay in one batch and he said that he would. I then made an offer which was accepted and waited for the postman to deliver…

Two days later a parcel arrived containing the invoices. I spent some time going through them all and adding the ones I had already acquired. There were one hundred and thirty seven (137) in all covering the period from March 1921 to July 1930. Each bill was made out to either Dr Langdon Down or Mrs Langdon Down at Normansfield and was written or typed on the most attractive personalised letter heads of the day.  Some were for local firms e.g. Job’s Dairy had a milk book, W G Bishop of Kingston Road supplied gallons of oil and others were national retailers. All in all it was a working synopsis of how a private hospital was run.

By far and away the biggest supplier was W B Fordham & Sons Ltd, Wholesale Hardware Merchants of 36/40 York Road, King’s Cross, London N1 who had 29 invoices. These supplied : 1 sack of ferlo (?) fibre, 1 ½ doz pulp bowls, 2 x 4 gallon tea urns, 3 x black tea trays, 1 cast iron saucepan, 6 egg whisks, 1 x 3 gallon fish kettle, 18 rolls of “Clevedon” toilet paper, 1 doz mop heads, 1 gross of coat hangers, 6 flat irons, 3 clothes buckets, 6 kneeling mats, 3 large bottles of Cedar Oil, 4 Pioneer fire extinguishers, assorted cleaning materials, 1 No 22 Enterprise mincer, 6 more fire extinguishers, 3 doz broom handles, 3 doz chamois leathers, and so on. Almost everything one could imagine in the efficient running of a hospital kitchen.

Electricity was supplied by the St Marylebone Borough Council Electricity Department at the rate of 2/6d per quarter. How on earth did that work?

A couple of interesting items appeared from Joshua Margerison & Co Ltd, Soap Works of Preston. They supplied 5 cwt of White Windsor soap and 5 cwt of Golden Windsor soap at £27.0.0d. in 5 cases and 20 boxes, carriage paid to Kingston Station. They also supplied 2 gross of Buttermilk at £3.4.6d.

Next on the list was Jones & Homersham, Wholesale Ironmongers of Clarence Street, Kingston-on-Thames. They had 16 invoices which were for the supply of : 4 doz brass hooks, 7 lbs of cut nails, 2 lbs galvanised binding wire, 1 set of castors, 1 tool bag, 6 x 6” barrel bolts, 6 x 2” cast bulbs, 1 set of fire bricks, 2 steel shovels, 1 gross gutter screws and bolts, 6 x 5” striking plates, 7 lbs wall nails, miscellaneous screws, 20 feet of lead piping, 12 bib-cocks, 1 6” mortise lock and 1 gross of curt on hooks

J C & J Field of Lambeth provided 5 cwt of Pure Oil Soap.

Two interesting items appeared from Gosling & Sons Ltd of George Street, Richmond, which seemed more suited to the Langdon Downs themselves rather than the actual hospital. The larger of the two was for £48.9.4d. and covered lace wool petticoats, navy knickers, white knickers, nightdresses, frocks, dresses, coats and a child’s Jersey frock.

An account from Garhard & Hay Ltd, Shipping Agents was in connection with the delivery of a consignment of machine parts from Malmo. What could these have been for ?

The firm of George Bettle & Co Ltd, Manufacturers of Hosiery, Underwear, Ties, Shirts and Pyjamas, were a busy supplier with 12 bills to their account. These all covered items such as Dutch tape, pure linen floss, Lombard ties, linen buttons, collar studs, various pins, black bone buttons and so on etc, rather than any finished goods. Were these items for running repairs or were some of the patient’s clothes made at Normansfield ?

A solitary invoice from Genatosan Ltd of Regent Street, Loughborough was for 3 phials of anti-influenza vaccine.

There also appeared eight bills from Gaydon & Sons, Watchmakers and Jewellers of Thames Street, Kingston. These were slightly different from the others in that they were made out to Drs R(eginald) and P(ercival) Langdon Down. All bills were for clocks and watches of some sort and some even had the names of the ultimate receipient in brackets. Were these in respect of long service awards to some of the staff ? Perhaps we will never know.

A small batch of “one-offs” were also included – Gaze’s of Kingston had an indecipherable account for 5/6d, Gauntlett’s Carding Machine Co produced a bill for 150 steel spikes for Carding Machine No 183, Frederick George carried out repairs to the welding operating table for 4/6d, the Formalin Hygienic Co Ltd supplied 2 x 1 ld cartons of Formalin Disinfecting Tablets, Fassett & Johnson of the Clerkenwell Road supplied 1 doz large size Angiers Emulsion, whatever that may be!

Entertainments were catered for by Messrs Etherington’s of Richmond who serviced and repaired the hospital gramophones and also supplied new records. One of their invoices was for the repair of no less than five separate gramophones.

The well known firm of Eastman & Son, Cleaners kept the hospital in order with five invoices covering their services.

A lone account from Eagle Star Insurance was in respect of Normansfield’s livestock.

The firm of D Wilkin & Co Ltd provided a monthly supply of “En Avent” yeast as is evidenced by their accounts.

The still trading company of Arthur Sanderson & Sons Ltd was a regular supplier to the hospital with 16 invoices for the supply of decorating materials. Arthur Beale, Specialist Upholsterers, provided various products.

Local grocers, W G Bishop & Sons of 210 Kingston Road were regular suppliers of gallons of oil, black Meltonian, soap flakes, sugar, Ideal sauce and a variety of cakes.

A delivery book from Job’s Dairy shows that there was a liking for cream at the hospital.

Lastly a couple of items of delicacy from the well-known and still trading firm of Wilkin & Sons Ltd of Tiptree, Essex. Addressed to Mrs R Langdon Down, these invoices were for various jams, conserves, chutneys and jellies. Clearly someone had a sweet tooth.

Having reviewed all of the items to my satisfaction, there was one thing that still puzzled me and I needed to go back to my seller in Dorset for this. My question was “From where did you acquire this collection in the first place?” The answer was that they came from a council rubbish tip in Reading. Rather than settle the matter, it now begs the question of how a series of settled invoices from a private hospital in Hampton Wick from 1921 to 1930 could end up in a council tip in Reading in 2009? Should any readers have any answers or suggestions, I would be delighted to hear from them.

This article first appeared in TW11 Magazine in December 2017