Local Stories: Letitia Sarah Leake

With thanks to Annette Guterres for submitting this story of her grandfather’s aunt Letitia, one of the owners of the Harefield Park Estate on the outbreak of the First World War.

Letitia Sarah Leake’s early life was  spent in the “frontier” lands owned by her father Edward Leake in South Australia. Her father, with his brother Robert, were the pioneer European settlers in the area and when her father died he owned over 50,000 acres.

Letitia was born on the 28th May 1859. She was the first child of Letitia and Edward Leake who had married in 1854.   The marriage was not approved of by Edward’s family as his bride was an Irish Catholic girl and the Leakes were very prominent in the Church of England. Edward’s father had represented the Church  in Hamburg, Germany before coming to settle in Tasmania ( then called Van Dieman’s Land) in 1823.  Family letters were very critical of Letitia’s mother expressing great concern about Edward’s marriage.

In the “wilds” of South Australia, Letitia spent her early years and a brother John was born in 1862.  However, in 1867 her father died and her Uncle Arthur, then in charge of the family affairs, persuaded her mother to allow Letitia to go to Tasmania to live with the Leakes there. The mother agreed to this arrangement and Letitia went to Tasmania on the condition she was instructed in the Catholic faith.

In Ross, Tasmania, Letitia lived a more genteel life, with her Uncle Arthur as guardian. She was educated at a school from 1867-1872 and with a governess from 1872 -1876. In 1876 she travelled to the continent with her uncle and governess and spent some time at school in London.  As she was the sole beneficiary of her father’s estate she was very well off. There are claims that her uncle Arthur managed to mix up the monies from his brothers’ estates with his estate. It appears little provision from the family fortune was made for Edward’s wife and son who remained in South Australia. Family documents indicate that Letitia maintained contact with her mother and brother.

When her Uncle Arthur died Letitia became the main beneficiary of his estate which  meant that she was a very wealthy woman. Letters held by the University of Tasmania indicated she called off an engagement as she felt the suitor was only after her money. However, a successful suitor turned out to be Charles Billyard, a solicitor from Sydney who decided to set up practice at Ross where Letitia lived.

Newspapers of the time record two wedding celebrations: one at Ross (March 14 1891), with a special train bringing guests from Hobart, and another at Bowral NSW, where the couple were to live. Hundreds of Bowral residents were invited to a lavish fete style celebration.  Letitia issued a statement to the press that the couple would be known as Billyard-Leake. For some reason the family returned to Ross where their four children were born.

A photo of Letitia now in a photo album in the family home Ashby House in Ross Tasmania. The family there now named Leake are no relation to the original Leakes but bought if off the family  who purchased it from Letitia.
A photo of Letitia now in a photo album in the family home Ashby House in Ross Tasmania. The family there now named Leake are no relation to the original Leakes but bought if off the family who purchased it from Letitia.

The family then decided to go back to live in the U.K. in 1895.  What prompted this move is unclear though they did not sever connections with the family in Australia. After the death of her brother John in 1901 Letitia took on some responsibility for the care of his six children, paying for the four boys to be educated at St Xavier’s College in Melbourne. She also maintained contact with John’s wife Agnes.

When World War 1 broke out, two of Letitia’s nephews went to England to sign up for the King Edward Horse a cavalry unit for colonials. The nephews Edward and Leslie served with distinction. Edward was awarded the Croix de Guerre, the Military Medal and the Medaille Militaire. Leslie was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. Letitia’s sons Edward and Charles also served, with Edward being the youngest Lieutenant-Commander in the British Navy.  Edward her son had also become friendly of the Prince of Wales and was his Aide-de Camp on his Royal tour of 1921-22.

Also at this time the Billyard- Leakes owned property in NSW. Edward (my grandfather) and his brother John were managing one of these properties when Edward signed up to fight overseas and he returned to it after the war. Leslie his brother went to New Guinea to manage another family property there.

Meanwhile back in London the Billyard-Leakes had signed over their property, Harefield Park, to the Australian government to be used a hospital for wounded soldiers from France and Gallipoli.  A family letter from Letitia’s daughter (also named Letitia) talks of her work at the Hospital and the joy at the knowledge that her brothers and her cousins survived the war.  My grandfather and his brother spent time there when on leave.  This Letitia wrote to his mother Agnes in Melbourne of a visit by Leslie to Harefield. She worked  at Harefied  during the war and married a Captain of the Russian Guard. Letitia’s other daughter Mary died at the age of ten and is buried in the cemetery at Harefield.

The name Letitia is carried on through the family. John (Letitia’s brother) called one of his daughters Letitia and she in turn called her daughter Letitia.  Letitia’s mother Letitia remarried in 1870 and had three more daughters  and the name Letitia appears again through that family tree.

Letitia’s son Edward married a number of times but only had children to his first wife. At this year’s Harefield ANZAC celebrations his daughter Mary attended with her daughter Fiona. Mary’s nephew the son of her sister attended.  Descendants of Mary’s Uncle Charles also attended.

Letitia’s life in London was certainly in sharp contrast to her early life in South Australia. The National trust in South Australia  has taken over the control and care of a significant woolshed built by Letitia’s father Edward.  One cannot imagine that Letitia would have gone  to live in the U.K. except that her husband Charles was getting into some difficulties in Australia with various schemes and business ventures. However, if  they had not gone, Harefield Park would not have been given over to the Australia government for use as a hospital and the current Harefield Hospital might not have come into existence. The fortune that allowed the purchase of the original home was built in the scrubland of South Australia by the sons of a man who emigrated to this land in 1823 with his six children.  The unlikely union of the son of Englishman and an Irish girl  led to the birth of Letitia Sarah a lady who returned to the U.K. and possessing a generous spirit  provided a place of comfort, rest and care for the wounded of her birth nation. Letitia died in 1923.

Glencoe Woolshed in the background
Glencoe Woolshed in the background

Patient Stories: Andrew Whitby

In 2015, Andrew Whitby was confirmed as the longest surviving heart/lung transplant recipient. His combined transplant was performed by Professor Sir Magdi Yacoub on 25 February 1985. However, his story as a patient goes back much further than this. Here, his mother, Eve Whitby, takes up the story:

‘Andrew  was diagnosed at 6 months old with an malformed heart. In 1964 there was no operation available and life expectancy was very limited.  We visited many hospitals during Andrew’s life due to chest infections and other related illnesses.  At last at the end of 1984 we were referred to Harefield where transplants were in their infancy. Andrew was assessed as a candidate for a transplant and went on the list.

‘We were called back to Harefield in February having been informed a donor had been found. When we arrived we were informed the donor had a slight chest infection and would need 24 hours on antibiotics, (this was in the days before the organs turned up at the hospital, the donor was in the other theatre) and that the operation would not take place until the following day. We left Andrew and came home having been told not to visit the next day as he would be in the operating theatre. When we did see Andrew again although he was full of tubes and wires he was PINK, he had never been pink in his life, he was always a blue/grey.

‘His motto now “every day is a bonus”.’

Andrew Whitby
Andrew Whitby


Join us for an interactive history day for all ages at the Harefield Hospital centenary exhibition this Saturday, 14 November. From 12 – 4pm, the exhibition will be open, with a variety of activities suitable for all ages.

Learn about the history of surgery through regular interactive demonstrations, on the hour every hour. Find out what surgery was like during the First World War, and what has changed in the last 100 years, and get a chance to handle real historical instruments, from bleeding bowls to cautery irons.

Historians will be on hand to guide you through Harefield Village history, with a chance to look at the village scrapbooks with local historian Lorraine Piercy. There will also be displays of original postcards of the village and hospital from the First World War, many of which have never been shown before, and were written by Anzac soldiers to send home to Australia.

L0013110 A surgical operation to remove a malignant tumour from a man Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org A surgical operation to remove a malignant tumour from a man's left breast and armpit in a Dublin drawing room, 1817. Watercolour, 1817. Watercolour 1817 after: Robert F. PowerPublished:  -  Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Wellcome Library, London

Patient Stories: Joan Goodman

Joan Goodman has lived in Harefield her entire life and been admitted to the hospital on various occasions – once to have her appendix removed as a teenager. Now, some six decades later, she is an outpatient there. She speaks most passionately about the role it has played over the past century as a central fixture in the village, as well as her own engagement with it over this time.

Born in 1935, Joan’s father lived in Harefield before her. He witnessed the hospital as a military facility during the Second World War. Joan describes the numerous ANZAC soldiers that were brought there and the local community’s desire to care for them. Her father and his two siblings would go to the hospital and entertain the soldiers and even take them home for tea. She explained that while the village population was small, her family was not the only one to admire ‘how courageous [the soldiers] were’ and similarly seek to care for them. She summed up this widespread feeling by noting her family’s continued attendance at the ANZAC Day services at St Mary’s Church:

‘I just sort of appreciate what the soldiers did for us and I feel like I would like to go and thank them for what they did. It’s just part of my life, really.’

She also described the Hospital’s first heart transplant, in 1980, and its role as a specialist Tuberculosis facility, with specifically designed ‘open air’ wards.

As the Hospital continues to develop and re-define its specialities it looses the physical reminders of its diverse history. Talking about the huts that were built during the Second World War and the influx of soldiers needing medical aid, Joan noted that:

‘It was sad because we felt that part of the ANZACs had been pulled down, you know, what the soldiers used. It sort of had a sad feeling about it, because it was part of history I suppose.’

However, as Joan’s tales are testament, Harefield Hospital’s century of assorted functions and forms give it a resonant history that is not soon forgotten. And with an engaged community surrounding it, such tales are more likely to be repeated and extended than to fade or be forgotten.


Staff Stories: Ramon and Josefa Suarez

Chus Suárez Mato’s grandparents worked for several years at Harefield Hospital in the 1960s. Chus takes up their story:
“My grandfather’s name was Ramón Suárez Ucha. He was called Raimond in the hospital and he started working in the kitchen in 1962. I’ve been told that he finished cooking for the staff and later became head cook. Before that, he lived with my grandmother in someone’s house, and worked as gardener and driver for the family. My grandfather went to school at night to learn some English and become able to write and read, not just understanding and speaking.”
Suarez in uniform
Ramon Suarez at Harefield in his kitchen uniform

“My grandmother’s name was Josefa Barcia Rioboo; people in England used to call her Joseph Suárez. She worked as a nursing assistant, and she mostly did night duties. That was her way of managing working during the day for someone who also worked for Harefield Hospital, taking care of their house.

“It was really hard for them being far from home and their kids – my father and uncles, who were 5, 7 and 10 years old when they left. They worked really hard for their children to have an education and basic things.

“They communicated by letter. They wrote as often as they could and also sent money, and tried to pretend it wasn’t as hard as it was for them, because they didn’t wanted their family to suffer. My grandmother was great at sewing and knitting, and she made a lot of clothes for their kids. Sometimes it was so long until they met that clothes didn’t fit them. I still remember, when I was a kid, that my grandmother had her closet full of sweaters no one had used, in several sizes. She kept all those clothes. I supose she liked to remember all they’d worked just to appreciate even more the result. A man and a woman who, early for their time, learned how important family is and not to give up no matter how hard it can seem, because every effort has its reward.

Photograph of Ramon and Josefa at Harefield Hospital
Ramon and Josefa at Harefield Hospital
“My grandparents integrated into your society’s rules and laws perfectly, and adapted to them, and also broadcasted them to their sons and daughter. That seed my grandparents planted grew. And that’s my family. And Harefield Hospital is part of that big tree, so we’ll always be so grateful for the opportunity they had there. And we are really proud that they had also contributed to make Harefield Hospital grow.”

Staff Stories: George James

When asked to describe his early life, George James responded: ‘I was born on Tyneside, a place called Hebburn on Tyne, County Burham. I was eleven years old when the war started.’ Like many children born in the early twentieth century, George’s life was inextricably bound with the events arising from and responding to the Second World War. Over his 87 years, however, George has also shown a strong connection to Harefield Hospital. As a member of staff, taking on a variety of different roles over his career, and later as a patient as well, his story reflects Harefield’s own  – one in which the social and political context of the period affected all.

When the war started George was evacuated from his home to a small village near Barnard Castle, where he lived and worked on a farm. However, when his father’s heath deteriorated following a bullet wound he received in the First World War George moved again, this time to Kent to work as an apprentice sheet metal worker in a shipyard. Soon after he switched roles once more and began working for a carpenter ‘making ammunition boxes and things like that for the war effort’ and it was there that he decided to go into nursing and joined the Royal Army Medical Corps.

After working for a short period treating men from prison camps in Northern England he was informed that he, along with a select few other staff, were being moved to Harefield Hospital – a place he had previously never heard of. While his role there would still focus on nursing injured soldiers returning from the war, it would be primarily those suffering from Tuberculosis.

George worked on the ‘North Wards’, in a ward entirely consisting of army officers with tuberculosis. Although Streptomycin, the first effective treatment for TB, had been discovered not long before George moved to Harefield (in 1943), its widespread use was still a few years away. Instead, George assisted doctors in drawing fluid from patients’ lungs and administering a mixture of saline water and penicillin – a drug that was being developed in Harefield, amongst other places.

George’s relationship with Harefield was not, however, simply one-sided. While he was a staff member for some time – as a medical orderly and later one of their first operating theatre technicians – he was also a patient. Years after working there, George returned to Harefield to have an MRI scan and a pacemaker implanted. In the few short years since he had stopped working at the hospital it had completely changed again and was almost unrecognizably ‘modern’.

Much like Harefield’s own history, George’s story above all tells of a desire, or even responsibility, to respond to the circumstances of the period – one that seems unlikely to come to a close any time soon.

Staff Stories: Pam Baldock

During her thirty years working for Harefield Hospital, Pam Baldock proved herself a central figure in its development into the largest specialist heart and lung centre in the United Kingdom. Much like the hospital itself, her entry into this specialist field seems to have been a mix of fortune and favour as much as determination and a desire to exceed the global standard for medical care.

From an early age Pam had ‘always wanted to be a nurse’ and ‘married the health service’ when she turned eighteen. She studied at Hillingdon Hospital in West London and, after completing her state registration, spent two years in Australia where she worked, amongst other roles, in a cardiothoracic unit. While she initially knew very little about the specialty, which focuses on the chest and lungs, she demonstrated a keen interest in the area and was assisted by the sister in charge of the ward, who was not only also from England but had previously worked at Harefield.

When she returned to London, Pam took up a role as a night sister at Hillingdon, largely because she ‘didn’t have the courage to go anywhere else’. However, when a Homograft Technician job at Harefield was advertised in the local paper she phoned straight away, despite knowing little of what the role actually entailed. She was offered the role and worked directly below Professor Sir Magdi Yacoub, the soon-to-be pioneer of heart and lung transplant surgery, where her main role was to receive and dissect heart values from mortuaries.

However, as Professor Yacoub was flying across the globe to perform heart valve replacements, Pam was making strides too and was soon promoted to Transplant Coordinator at Harefield. She went on to assist in their first transplant. As she describes:

‘Our very first [transplant] was on a Saturday morning and I was just about to go out shopping and the phone rang. At that time I had no reason to be phoned out of hours by the hospital because I was just working on the homografts. The switchboard said they’d got Dr Yacoub on the phone. My immediate thought was “My God what have I done wrong? Am I going to lose my job?” He said very quietly: “Pam we have an organ donor, I’d like you to organize a transplant for me.” I can’t remember where I was; my immediate response was “I am just going to Sainsbury’s sir”. What that had to do with it I am not sure – it was panic.’    

The surgery, however, was extremely successful, so much so that surgeons from all across Europe and further abroad soon began travelling to Harefield to learn about cardiothoracic surgery from Professor Yacoub and his team. Likewise, Pam was flying around the world retrieving organs from donors to take back to Harefield.

While Pam’s career at Harefield was far from monotonous – she did everything from overseeing the construction of the hospital’s helipad to assisting forensic teams with murder cases – undoubtedly her roles as Homograft Technician and later Transplant Coordinator were among her greatest achievements. Speaking on the medical advances and changes to surgical practice made at Harefield, Pam notes that ‘This is what we all found so fascinating about transplantation. We were in on history making’.

About Harefield Centenary Project

Harefield Hospital has a long and rich history. Over the last 100 years, it has built a reputation for excellence in health innovation and saving lives. It has also played crucial roles in the treatment of soldiers during both world wars, the development of penicillin, the fight to eradicate TB and the first joint heart and lung transplant.

None of this would have been possible without the people of Harefield and Hillingdon – many of whom have generations of families who have worked here. This project, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, will involve gathering oral history interviews from staff, patients and local residents; researching Harefield’s archive, and putting on an exhibition in September 2015. Project volunteers update this blog regularly with interesting snippets from the archives, behind the scenes information and excerpts from the oral history interviews.