Anne Rowney



By Peter Edden B.A.


Guy’s Hospital.  Engraving by T. Higham – 1831

This is an attempt to give an account of the life and background of Anne Rowney (1678 – 1748), who was appointed the first Matron of Guy’s Hospital in 1725.  The most decisive factor in Mrs. Rowney’s election was doubtless because she had known the founder, Thomas Guy, all her life.  She even was distantly related to him, although in what degree is not certain.  Both came from the same background.  Thomas Guy, descendent of Hampshire and Staffordshire clothiers, was born in London in 1644.  In 1653 his father, a prosperous carpenter died and the 7-year-old boy returned with his mother to his native Tamworth.

Later he became a successful stationer in London.  As his fortune grew his benefactions to his mothers’ native town were commensurate.  The grateful burgesses, no doubt with timorous glances at the powerful and hostile local magnets, returned him as their Member of Parliament.  In 1708 at St. Thomas’s Hospital, London, the opulent merchant, Sir Thomas Abney, became President.  Sir Thomas and Mr. Guy were neighbours in the midlands and naturally Thomas Guy soon appeared on the governing body of that hospital.  His donations show that he quickly became keenly interested in hospital work.  Mr. Guy had been an early and prolific investor in The South Sea Company.  The immense fortune, which enabled him to become the founder of a great new hospital, was realised in three months in 1720.  Between April and June that year, he sold his South Sea stock, worth £54,000, for rather more than £234,000 before the general fever of speculation ended in disaster.

Although he was 75, it was reported he made preparations like a bridegroom contemplating marriage.  On 19th May 1721 he leased ground from St. Thomas’s Hospital for building the hospital, which has since borne his name.  The hospital was almost complete, but not operative at the time of his death in 1724.

From her earliest years Anne Rowney would have known this remarkable man, for she was born in Tamworth, in a house in Market Street on 30th September 1678 and was the daughter of Robert Cawne and his wife Anne.  The Cawne’s were a well-established family in Tamworth.  For several generations they had been in business as tallow chandlers, supplying the community with tallow candles and wax lights.  William Cawne (1610-1698), grandfather of the Matron, had prospered.  In 1663, he and his son Robert struck a half penny token illustrating their craft.  He was chosen one of the bailiffs or mayors of the town in 1681 and again in 1687.  Robert Cawne succeeded to his father’s trade some time before the latter’s death.  He married Anne Rhodes in 1676.  A son, Thomas, was born in 1677, Anne in 1678 and later on a son William.  Their home was in one of the busiest streets of the old town, dominated by the keep of the ancient castle belonging to the Ferrers family.  The smell of animal fats, skins and hot tallow, softened a little by the perfume of beeswax, must of clung to that house.

Anne Cawne was inured to bad smells at an early age.  If she wished, she could run in open fields on the edge of the town, play by the two rivers which joined beneath the castle walls.  Markets were held every Saturday and occasionally fairs, but the large animal fair held in the suburb of Fazeley would have been a great treat. The Cawnes were a religious family, as their personal confessions of faith embodied in the their last wills and testaments, bear witness.  Anne’s father served as a churchwarden in 1681 with Thomas Varnam, the urbane mercer, whose wife was Mrs. Guy’s sister.  Samuel Langley, Vicar of Tamworth from 1658 to 1693, made a deep and practical impression on his flock.  His influence is especially noticeable in respect of Thomas Guy and two of his local contemporaries, Thomas Barnes and John Rawlett.  All of who devoted their wealth to charitable causes.  Langley, learned and much loved for his own work, delighted to extol deeds of charity from his pulpit.  His manuscripts show an active mind, bent on the practical relief of poverty.

Anne Cawne learned to read and write, an attainment rare in hospital staff, even in the second half of the 19th century, as Henry Burnett observed.  She may have attended the school founded by John Rawlett. Her orthography was quite capable, though she could hardly hope to rival Mr. Guy’s mother, who drafted complicated documents with great ease in her rather masculine handwriting.  As well as being in business as a chandler, Robert Cawne farmed his own land outside the town in common with other shopkeepers.  He was also, for many years a member of the Corporation, one of the important men in securing Mr. Guy’s return as a Member of Parliament.  He died early in 1701 when Anne was 23.  Mr. Guy’s uncle, John Vaughton and his cousin Thomas Vaughton, drew up the inventory of the estate for probate.  Robert Cawne’s goods were worth £242:3s:4d – quite a large amount for those days.  His land he bequeathed to his sons, charging William with raising a marriage portion for his sister.  For Anne’s immediate use he left “20 yards of stuff and seven yards of silk in consideration of some sheep she claimed title to in the park.”  One suspects that the suture Matron of Guy’s Hospital was interested in her appearance as well as having a determination of her own.

Mrs. Cawne and Anne lived in reduced circumstances after Robert’s death.  Their condition is indicated as well as Thomas Guy’s kindness by their signed receipts for his gifts of money still existing at Guy’s Hospital.  The years until 1718 are almost blank, by then Anne had married Mr. Rowney, a linen draper in Birmingham.  A son, Robert was born to them early in 1719.  Although knowledge of materials of her husbands business would have been of service to the prospective Matron, I imagine the marriage was not a successful one.  Mrs. Rowney never mentioned her husbands name and after her appointment she could not have lived with him.  Later she assumed custody of her son; Mr. Guy remembered her in his will, leaving her an annuity of £20.  He mother and brother William were also thoughtfully provided for.

In the spring of 1725, after the magnificent funeral, which the executors lavished on the remains of Thomas Guy, preparations were made for the furnishing and staffing of the splendid new hospital opposite St. Thomas’s Hospital in Southwark.  On 11th May 1725, before the solemn long-wigged governors, Mrs. Rowney appeared as a candidate for the post of Matron.  There were three other applicants.  Mrs. Rowney was appointed.  Even before he died, Thomas Guy may have hinted that Anne Cawne would make a good Matron.  Indeed her acquaintance with the founder would give her an insight to his mind and an ability to work closely with his intimate friend Charles Joye, The Treasurer.  Apart from this she had none of the training and experience essential today, but her character was such that nursing at the hospital was successful from its inception.

The hospital founded a sole costs and charges of Thomas Guy, began as an experiment.  In administration all of the best features of existing hospitals had been borrowed, but the innovation consisted in the overall accommodation for incurables with a small department for mental patients.  Long term patients for whom relief could normally be expected from physic or surgery were not welcomed at existing London hospitals.  It was Thomas Guy’s aim to help “Four hundred poor persons or upwards labouring under distempers, infirmities or disorders though capable of relief by physic or surgery; but who by reason of small hopes there may be of their cure, or length of time which for that purpose may be required…may be called incurable and as such not proper objects to be received into …. The present hospital of St. Thomas’s or other hospitals….”

The design of the new hospital incorporated several new features.  It was built in the conventional manner around two courtyards, it had arcades around them providing access to wards and shelter for convalescents.  Separating the courts was a covered way with further wards on top.  Most of them were large and airy, with cross ventilation, supplied by long, and sashed windows set at regular intervals along opposite walls.   The salaries of the nursing staff were much higher than usual.  An attempt was made to attract the best possible candidates to a career with prospects.  This truly was an innovation, for female labour was cheap.  Whilst physicians and surgeons received only £40 per year, Mrs. Rowney’s salary was £50.  But “without any allowance for servant or other allowance or perquisite whatsoever, but of coals and small beer.”  With her annuity left by Mr. Guy and her marriage settlement, she was extremely well paid and no doubt wore a silk gown every day.

Her staff consisted of 11 Sisters whose annual salary was £25 and 8 nurses at £16 per year.  Both Matron and nurses had living quarters in the hospital.  Eight months after her appointment Mrs. Rowney’s work began in earnest, the first 60 patients were admitted.  Prior to this, she was given a comprehensive list of her duties.  Equipment, nursing staff and patients, her responsibilities are clearly defined.  Linen and other textiles for the use of the hospital were of major importance.  A good deal of bookwork and receipting was involved in checking consignments of goods.  Old linen could be use for bandages or burned if unserviceable.  All the bedding in the wards must be checked weekly to ascertain its condition.  Economy must be studied and repairs were to be effected where possible.  Surgeons’ patients must be furnished with dressings.  If necessary new linen could be used.

On taking-in days when patients were admitted it was Mrs. Rowney’s duty to acquaint the doctors with the number of beds available.  A small proportion always stood ready for casualties.  Afterwards she was to attend to the more ceremonious Governors taking-in with her sisters and patients to be newly discharged.

“She must frequently inspect into the behaviour of the sisters and nurses and watches towards the patients and if she discover any neglect of duty, she must acquaint the steward therewith.”  Ultimately the nursing staff could be dismissed when the £10 surety they deposited on appointment became forfeit. “She must be particularly careful to be well informed that the characters of such persons as are admitted to be watches in this hospital be good.  Much depends on this, for from a thievish, drunken, vicious watch what mischief’s may not be dreaded when all the family else are in their beds.”

To all her staff  “She must be careful to carry an equal hand and due distance towards all sisters and nurses… advising and encouraging the diligent and … to reform the negligent…” One wonders whether her advice embraced aspects of practical nursing.

Convalescents, who would not attend prayers, might find their ungodly way rewarded with a smaller diet the following day on Matron’s orders.  At least once a week the sculleries adjacent to the wards where food was prepared, were to be inspected to “see that all the things be kept fresh and clean”.  The food was the province of the steward who was to cater for special diets ordered by the doctors.  Those fit enough were to eat at the tables.  The Matron and the Steward were jointly responsible for the discipline of the wards except that Mrs. Rowney had entire responsibility for female wards.  All were to be in bed by 8 o’clock in the summer and 9’oclock in the winter when Matron went on her rounds.  The Governors had confidence also in Mrs. Rowney’s capabilities in childcare.  Every year children aged between 7 and 8 and descendants of relations of Thomas Guy, presented themselves to the Governors to obtain recommendation for places at Christ’s Hospital School.  Thomas Guy had left £400 to Christ’s for educating his descendants.  When a dispute arose between heads of respective foundations, the children remained at Guy’s Hospital in Matron’s charge.  Most of them came from Tamworth.  Mrs. Rowney received £22:4s expenses for looking after three such children.  Her own son, Robert Rowney was admitted a scholar of Christ’s Hospital in 1728.  He finished his education there in 1734, when he then apprenticed by his mother to Mr Jonathon Gale, of Rude Lane, London, merchant with whom he was to serve the customary 7 years.  Mrs. Rowney also entered her nephew, William Cawne, in Christ’s Hospital School in 1729.  He later entered the administrative department of St. Thomas’s Hospital.

The scope of Mrs. Rowney’s duties is worth comment.  On paper, at least, most of them seem concerned with linen and dressings – suggesting that her task was one of housekeeping only.  But copious supplies of linen were vital in view of the terrible suppuration prevalent in most hospital cases.    A direct concern for the nursing and the nursing staff is implicit in orders relating to taking-in days, ward inspections, staff control and her shared responsibility with the Steward.  The Matron’s and the Steward’s combined control was a compromise typical especially of this period, and in the event it was a sensible one.  A woman could hardly cope unaided and there was much that could escape the man’s notice.  When gross negligence or misbehaviour occurred, Matron would inform the Steward, who, via the Treasurer would present the matter to the governing body.  The Governors met frequently.  Their discipline was strict.  They could act peremptorily for example, a petition of the sister’s in 1726 ‘paying a consideration for washing linen’, was curtly met with a salary reduction of 20 shillings. (Four months later, full wages were restored).

The whole court admonished Mary Otty, Sister of Lydia Ward, for excessive drinking and threatened that next time she would be dismissed.  There was no next time, for poor Mary died shortly afterwards.  The Governors were impartial.  Elizabeth Vincent, Sister of Naaman Ward, was summoned to justify herself because ‘she had laid out of house several times without leave and had otherwise misbehaved herself’.  Elizabeth Vincent was subsequently exonerated.

Mrs. Rowney had little choice of staff.  This is not to say that she was without influence.  She had to be ‘well informed on the suitability as the person employed as watches’ (the woman who looked after the wards at night).  It seems likely that Matron employed them.  If this was so, it was significant, for the watches were a source of potential nurses.  Mr. Hollister, Treasurer after Charles Joye, left a note-book which cites among other examples ‘That in March 1740 Elizabeth King, a watch in Dorcas Ward, was appointed nurse in the room of Anne Jarvice deceased.’  Apart from a list of the entire nursing staff in 1738, little information is obtainable about the watches.  Even their receipts of pay are not in the hospital receipts book.

Whilst Mrs. Rowney was Matron (1725 – 1748), there was considerable change in the staff of sister’s.  31 vacancies occurred, three sisters were dismissed, they had been noticed, and death cut short the service of 20 sisters.  At least four resigned in order to get married and the remaining four resigned without giving reason – or may have had something similar in mind.  On average, the first sister’s served just over six and a half years each.  The shortest was one year and the longest was fourteen years.  Martha Wood (who may have also come from Tamworth), was unsuccessful in the first election of sisters, but was promoted in 1727 and spent the remaining 22 years of her life in the service of Mr. Guy’s hospital.  The percentage of sisters leaving to get married is surprising.  But it argues they were young women; new nurses were perennially attractive and Mr. Hollister deprecated the flirtation of one of the nursing staff.

Over long intervals sisters were moved to different wards.  Several instances have been noted. Alice Summers is typical, she became a nurse in 1727, was promoted sister in 1733, was a sister of Luke Ward in 1738 but when she died in 1743 was described as sister of Samaritan.  Regular holidays for nurses were not instituted until late in Queen Victoria’s reign, but at Guy’s in Mrs. Rowney’s time, they had some vacation.  At Christmas quarter it is not unusual to find nursing staff signing the receipt book for companions pay – implying that some were absent.  At a more anxious time, Mrs. Rowney returned to Tamworth.  In September of 1734 she was back there nursing her brother William Cawne, who lived for another four years, but finally died in debt to his own daughters.  Mrs. Rowney provided for one of his nieces, Mary Cawne, with a post at the hospital.  Mary became a sister and eventually aspired to the position of Matron.  She was not successful.  By this time Mrs. Rowney was an old woman by the standards of the day.  She still carried on.  She could remember the year Charles II died, William and Mary, Queen Anne the first of the George’s, the excitement of Mr. Guy’s great and sudden fortune, and was present to receive casualties of the Jacobite Rebellion in 1745.  She died on 23rd October 1748, the year of peace.  Her funeral took place at St. Thomas’s Church a week later.  Under the ceiling of the Court Room, painted with the apotheosis of Mr. Guy, the Governors received the news and proceeded to appoint her successor.  Her grave is now probably underneath the extension of Guy’s Hospital.

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