Princess Elizabeth of York Hostel
 Winchester Place, Highgate, N6 5HQ
Medical dates:

Medical character:
1924 - 1950 ?

Infant welfare
In 1924, as the lease on its Centre in Trebovir Road was due to expire, the Mothercraft Training Society bought the freehold of Cromwell House, formerly the Convalescent Home of the Hospital for Sick Children in Great Ormond Street.

In May the following year, after work had been done to alter and improve the property (electricity and central heating were installed), the  Mothercraft Training Centre opened in Cromwell House.  Its purpose was to train nurses and mothers in the basic principles of successful child-rearing.

The Centre had 25 cots.  Only babies suffering from malnutrition and digestive problems were admitted from about 4 weeks old, as well as a few normal babies; each had its own nurse.  Their mothers acted as maids, nursing their infants and staying for about 15 months.  Parents paid according to their means, but, if they were very poor, the child was admitted free.

Its Matron was Mabel Liddiard, the founder of the Society.  She had trained under Sir Truby King, the New Zealand paediatrician who was one of the pioneers of the child welfare movement.

The nursing staff consisted of qualified nurses, who stayed for about three months, those with a CMB qualification who came for four to six months, and unqualified students who remained for a year.  The latter, once they had passed the Society's examination, could find employment as nursery nurses.  Three Sisters were in charge of the nurses.

The Society encouraged innovative methods of baby-care.  The mothers - both new and prospective - could stay at the Centre for a while to learn how to care for their babies.  Resident nurses showed them the correct way to breastfeed, how to follow dietary plans and how to recognise the symptoms of malnutrition and diarrhoea, the common causes of infant deaths.

In 1928 an Appeal was launched to build an annexe in the grounds of Cromwell House.  This raised £25,000 and the new 4-storey building was officially opened on 26th November 1930 by its Royal patroness, the Duchess of York (later Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother).  It was named the Princess Elizabeth of York Hostel after her.

A teaching programme of lectures and open days on the principles of baby care was held for nurses from other establishments.

  Because of the high demand, the Society also ran a Health Clinic and a Day Centre.

The Centre presumably closed in 1950.

Present status (September 2013)

In 1951 the Hostel was sold to the Metropolitan Police and became accommodation for police cadets.  It was renamed Elizabeth House.

By the late 1980s the building was in private ownership.  Plans to demolish it in 2005 were unsuccessful and instead it was Grade II listed. 

In 2009 it was converted into student accommodation.  It has been renamed Greenview Court.

29-31 Trebovir Road
The first site of the Mothercraft Training Centre at Nos. 29-31 Trebovir Road is now the William Temple House, managed by the International Students' Club (Church of England) Ltd.

Elizabeth House
The Neo-Georgian building in Winchester Place is now known as Greenview Court. It has 84 bedrooms.

The Mothercraft Training Society
(formerly the Babies of the Empire Society)

At the beginning of the 20th century the infant mortality rate (that is, those dying within one year of birth) was 160 per 1,000 live births.  Anxieties about the declining population of Britain encouraged the early infant welfare movement.  Gradually, Infant Welfare Centres began to be established.

The main causes of infant death were diarrhoea and enteritis.  The convenience of tube bottle feeding had led to a decline in breast feeding by the end of the 19th century.  However, the equipment used was difficult to clean, while the cow's milk itself might well be contaminated by faecal matter or bovine tuberculosis.  The milk was sometimes watered down, providing poor nutrition and resulting in marasmus.  To add to this, the mothers lived in insanitary, overcrowded conditions and possessed poor mothering skills.

As the century progressed, local authorities employed Health Visitors, who encouraged mothers to breastfeed, as did the local Medical Officers of Health, and gradually the decline in breastfeeding was halted.

The regime instituted by the Babies of the Empire Society was based on the tenets of Sir Frederic Truby King, a New Zealand paediatrician who had dramatically reduced the infant mortality rate by nearly half in his own country.  He had been invited by the Society in 1917 to advise on the training to be given at its Mothercraft Training Centre at Nos. 29-31 Trebovir Road, which would later be officially opened by the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Mr W.F. Massey, on 9th July 1918.

According to King's methods, which emphasized discipline and detachment, babies had to be breastfed every four hours, but not at night and never in between feeding times.  After feeding, babies were returned to their own rooms immediately; cuddling the infant was restricted to 10 minutes a day.  King believed that the early months of the child's life were for eating, sleeping and developing, not for bonding with its mother.  To toughen them up, babies were to be left outdoors in the fresh air for as long as possible (at Cromwell House, babies were left out in their cots on the balconies overnight).

References (Accessed 15th December 2014)

(Author unstated) 1918  Babies of the Empire.  The Midwife, 20th July, 56.

(Author unstated) 1918 Babies of the Empire Society.  Ottawa Citizen, 26th October, 14.

(Author unstated) 1918 Babies of the Empire.  British Journal of Nursing Supplement, 28th December, 408.

(Author unstated) 1923 The Mothercraft Training Society.  The Midwife, 21st July, 48.

Wrench JE 1935 Chapter 18:  The Babies of the Empire.  In: Struggle 1914-1920.  London, I. Nicholson and Watson.

References (Accessed 15th December 2014)

(Author unstated) 1925 Untitled.  British Journal of Nursing (May), 92.

(Author unstated) 1927 Plunket System.  Reception to Miss Liddiard.  Sydney Morning Herald, 28th January, 5.

(Author unstated) 1930 Outside the gates.  British Journal of Nursing (December), 334.

(Author unstated) 1932 Unique gathering.  The Mercury, 27th July.

(Author unstated) 1938 Nursing echoes.  British Journal of Nursing (July), 171.

Hygeia 1924  Our babies.  Cromwell House.  Mount Ida Chronicle 45, 1.


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