Manor Hospital Public Art - Nuneaton

Balteum Fibula by Spencer Jenkins

In 2020 Escape Arts was awarded funding through Arts Council England to undertake two pieces of public art work in hospital settings across Warwickshire.  The first being in Warwick Hospital the second at the Manor Hospital site in Nuneaton.

Escape Arts commissioned artist, Spencer Jenkins, to design and build a sculpture that would involve the community in its conception and design. The entire research and engagement process was undertaken virtually through various platforms throughout the Covid-19 pandemic in 2021.

The sculpture is inspired by the architectural beauty of the building and an overwhelming response of personal experience, conversation, stories and photographs shared through emails, phone calls and social media platforms in response to a request for staff and patients at Manor Hospital to share their memories. These personal experiences and the story of the building itself, became the creative start point for the sculpture. A narrative of unseen human care, dedication, generosity and kindness, with themes of support, rebuilding, aesthetic beauty, humanity, quietness and calm led to the final artwork you see today.

The Manor Hospital has nurtured a long history of medical care and support for people in Nuneaton. Instigated by Nuneaton Surgeon Dr Edward Nason and sons – who witnessed during training in London the benefits of medical care in clean conditions. These doctors and surgeons led the way to create the story of ‘Nuneaton’s Hospital Fund’ which led to the building of Nuneaton’s first hospital. Helped by MP James Tomlinson and local businessman, entrepreneur and humanitarian Reginald Stanley and funded by generous donation and creative fundraising.

Since its conception as Nuneaton’s first hospital, The Manor has witnessed pioneering surgery, medical care for infection and disease, specialist care to local workers and residents, WW2 service men and women, the setting up of a nurse training school and the development of George Eliot General and Maternity Hospital. Led by Ellie Deeming in 1930 it’s fundraising roots even established the first town carnival and carnival queen.

The beautiful architecture of the building design itself is also thanks to the generous support of community benefactor Reginald Stanley – of Stanley Brickworks, who was notably instrumental in developing some of the towns finest architecture. Stanley bricks were famed all over the world not only for their strength (the clay and stone quarried from Nuneaton was pretty special) but also for their decorative beauty. Stanley ensured even the modest of houses were adorned with decorative features as he believed everyone deserved beauty in their lives. So he donated the bricks for the hospital and hired a local building firm from Coton, who won the competitive commission to build the hospital.

Research and history from nuneatonmemories.wordpress supplied by Alexandra Price

The Manor Hospital site is now managed by Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership NHS Trust

THE ARTISTIC PROCESS

Prior to becoming an artist Spencer was a hairdresser, one of his clients was a surgeon working at the Manor Hospital –  Spencer remembers while cutting his hair, the surgeon describing the specialist facial reconstruction work he was performing at the time.

This story held a fascination for Spencer, he was impressed by his clients skill and knowledge – not only did he rebuild faces but peoples lives too.

Spencer became a patient at the hospital just before its closure, after breaking his back in his early 20’s.

He said “I remember as sense of calm, care, kindness and understanding, the hospital was small and very special”.

 These personal experiences and the story of the building itself, began a creative start point for the sculpture.

A narrative of unseen human care, dedication, generosity and kindness, with themes and peoples stories of construction – support – rebuilding – aesthetic beauty – humanitarian ideals – quietness and calm.

Now more than ever we have appreciated our caring and medical staff.  The engagement process which will lead to the creation of this sculptural artwork began with this dedication and appreciation.

RESEARCH

Consultation was undertaken by Alisha Miller.

Along with historical research, staff and patients needed to be a fundamental part of the creative process. Through various avenues of virtual communication we asked, ‘What was your experience of being a patient or a member of staff at The Manor Hospital, Nuneaton?’

These human stories connect the building to its past and present and provide a personal insight to its importance and memory. Along with these we gathered external research from medical archives.

PROJECT ENGAGEMENT

We have had an overwhelming response to this project.

We have had over 500 comments/personal stories and many, many more ‘likes’ through Facebook/Nuneaton Memories FB and website, emails, direct conversation and phone calls from ex patients, staff and relatives.

An extensive collection of colour and BW photographs from many eras of the hospital, including the wards, surgery, nursing staff, exterior photos – colour images from the 60’s, 70’s’, 80’s and early 90’s, were sent to us from Nuneaton Memories, people on face book, through email, donated slides and the Nuneaton Hospitals book by Dr John Bland and Jennifer Burton.

Human care and dedication – this concept had underpinned the project right from the initial research. From the dedication of Dr Nason and is family and others who were instrumental in building the hospital, to the overwhelming response we have had from people who describe how doctors and nurses went above and beyond their line of duty to provide specialist treatment and a safe, caring and fun environment to be in whilst in their care.

Full names of nurses and doctors have been remembered by patients for over 50 years in some cases. Working at the hospital too seemed like it was a ‘family’ environment and everyone worked well together to provide the upmost support for the patients. But the lasting impression from all this research was that all the patients felt that they were ‘personally’ cared for. These notions have led to two sculptural ideas –

DESIGN DEVELOPMENT

Structures of medical equipment and external fixtures – These early designs were based on specific stories shared. Research into the mechanical and engineered side of procedures led to an association between building a sculpture and fixing a broken bone. Framework, bolts, pins, structural problem solving and the use of stainless steel components all led to a similar way of working.

Portraits of people – Exploring simple line drawings of relevant historical surgeons, to important nursing staff, to patients who have spent nearly each year of their childhood at the Manor Hospital. Combined with these figurative ideas, colours and shapes have been taken from colour photos of images within the wards –  curtains, paint work, lay out of wards, beds, an ambulance, external colours on the building and the nurses uniforms.

Belt buckles – given that the overwhelming response was directed at the wonderful nursing staff, we began to look at how the nursing ‘image’ i.e uniform, hats, capes, colours etc have changed over the years. This led to the ornate belt buckles worn by the nurses featured in many of the photos we had gathered. These were beautiful, ornate, decorative, like sculptural jewellery – we noticed that some of these belt buckles featured flowers and images similar to the ornate brickwork of the Stanley bricks in the hospital architecture. We wondered if there was a relationship and whether the imagery of the buckles had a significant meaning to those who wore them. This led to another Facebook request – we posted a belt buckle and asked if nurses still had theirs and how did they come about.  Again this caused an absolute flurry of immediate responses – stories and photographic sharing.

I worked at the Manor from 1980 till it closed. First 5 years on Elizabeth ward which was burns and plastic surgery. We also have to work on Mary ward which was children’s plastic surgery. Then I went to Victoria female orthopaedic then welfare male orthopaedic. Then alas to the Eliot.  60 years ago I was a patient in Victoria with a mastoid and had to have IM injection 3 times a day. Every time I didn’t cry my dad gave me 2 shillings! Jennifer Smith

These belts were bought for nurses either by their parents or themselves once they had graduated from the training – Very symbolic – and that they could choose them themselves or were bought especially – many people travelled to specialist jewellers and makers to buy them. Each belt came with its own story and was worn with pride and are now kept as prize possessions.

Making the Sculpture

The sculpture is made from steel bar which was hand formed in the artists workshop using hand made tools and physical strength. It’s very much a hands on procedure where steel shapes are created then laid and welded over a scaled drawing of the artists design.  Throughout the build, additional elements were able to be brought into the structural spaces to continue to reference  stories that were being shared with us and allowing the sculptural aesthetic to enhance.

Mid blue was chosen to powder coat the sculpture – coated in blue to represent the blue uniforms and belts worn by nursing staff and painted elements of the building as pictured on the design development page in the 1980’s and 1990’.

The sculpture title – Balteum Fibula – is Latin for belt buckle.

www.spencerjenkins.co.uk

Credits and thanks to those who contributed to the engagement process of the Manor Hospital Sculpture – By Spencer Jenkins

Firstly I’d like to thank Artist Alisha Miller who led the engagement process for this project.

 Thank you for personal stories, photos, slides and actual body parts shared via email, phone conversations and face to face meetings:

Dr John Bland, John Miller, Janet Flavel, Sheila Loughan, Eileen Marshall, John Bedingham, David Turner, Freda Hemsley, Peter Wooding, Mary Cottrell, Kirstie Wilson, Bev Gallacher, Lynn Dagnan, Andrew Muir, Pauline Harding, Gwyneth Cox, Diana Malton, Mary Tweed, Jennifer Smith, Dawn Tweed, Ray Berry, Christine Parker, Lisa Brown, Mark Palmer – Nuneaton Memories, John Burton – The Heritage Centre, Nuneaton.

Thank you to the following people who shared their memories, stories and photos via Facebook:

 Claire Anne, Diana Morgan, Maureen Ball, Patricia Bunn, Jennifer Smith, Robert Bennett, Maureen Smith, Mandy Williams, Carole Powell, Julie Alcock, Beki Ruban, Gloria Wheeler, Carole Powell, Jane Brennan, Kay Hope, Pat White, Linda Patel, Stacey Court, Christine Kendall, Sarah Evans, Robert Evans, Julie Reece, Chris Stradling, Jean Lewis, Andrea Mc, David Hall, Lisa Summers, Derek Newton, Julia Manning, McNie, Maxine Allen, Tina Proctor, Gail Davenport, Linda Jebson, Chris Hunter, Christine Harris, Sue Charlton, Sandra Ward, Lorraine Butler, Patricia Bunn, Dave Ball, Kelly Eccles, Jackie Harcourt, Lisa Harvey Burr, Carolyn Rowberry, Annette Tracey, Susan Robins, Andrew Muir, Terrina Jayne, Susan Cross, Karl Morton, Carole Powell, Darren Moore, Jane Wilman, Jean Lewis, Joan Whitehouse.

Your contributions were greatly appreciated and helped to inform the sculpture.

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