NHS at 75: Tredegar digs up past with hospital time capsule

Eugenin Bevan

In the foundations of an old hospital built on the same site more than 120 years ago, a time capsule was discovered by construction workers building a new health center in the NHS's birthplace.

When the old Tredegar Cottage Hospital in his hometown of Cardiff opened its doors 75 years ago, Aneurin Bevan, the politician widely regarded as the "architect" of the health service, was only six years old.

The museum in the town of Blaenau Gwent now has the time capsule on display, which is made up of old coins and newspapers.

When it opens in November, the new health and wellbeing center will cost £19 million, including GPs, dentists, and pharmacists.

It is a far cry from the old hospital, which was built in 1904 for £3,200 and whose upkeep was supported by halfpennies donated each week by iron and coal workers.

The new center will bear the name of Tredegar's most well-known son, whose birthplace is just over a mile away on Charles Street.

Tredegar hospital opened in September 1904
On land that Lord Tredegar donated, the Tredegar hospital opened its doors in September 1904.

But when Bevan oversaw the establishment of the fledgling health service in Clement Attlee's Labour government 75 years ago, the pressures that the staff who will soon begin working there would have found difficult to imagine.

Leanne Watkins, chief operating officer of the Aneurin Bevan health board, stated that "the challenges are very different now [because] the needs of the people are so broad.".

People will be able to access social services provided by the council at the new center, which will function as a "one-stop shop.".

The new structure, which was constructed on the site of the former Tredegar hospital, is rooted in the past even though it is intended to meet present and future needs.

Following a tip from historians, construction workers dug up those foundations and found the time capsule beneath one of the four foundation stones.

The committee of the Tredegar Medical Aid Society spearheaded the construction of the cottage hospital.

Artist impression of the new Aneurin Bevan health and well being centre, which will incorporate part of the old cottage hospital
The new Aneurin Bevan health and wellness center as imagined by an artist.

This insurance program allowed miners and ironworkers to pool a portion of their wages to pay for medical expenses that they and their families otherwise might not be able to afford.

In the 1920s, Bevan would participate in this committee; in 1929, he would take the helm of the hospital.

The former headquarters of the society are now a heritage center.

"This has to be among the most significant locations in the UK, not just in Wales. The Medical Aid Society had offices in this very building, according to center director Kevin Phillips.

Even though there were other similar schemes, the Tredegar model was thought to be one of the biggest and most effective ones, with more than 20,000 members at its peak.

"We will Tredegar-ise you," Nye Bevan's well-known catchphrase, was frequently used, Kevin said.

"That solidifies Tredegar's place in the NHS's history. ".

The time capsule
It turned out to be difficult to open the time capsule.

Peter Meehan, a conservator at Cardiff University, undertook the laborious task of carefully opening the capsule, but it turned out to be a little trickier than expected.

"What we found was that the pot's lead was really tightly bound. The pot was wedged in very tightly when they sealed it because there was no top on it, he added.

The contents of the capsule were thus revealed for the first time in 120 years.

There were early Victorian coins and some newly minted 1903 Edward VII coins inside.

The Tredegar Argus, Western Mail, South Wales Daily News, and Merthyr Express editions were among the four tightly rolled-up newspapers that were also inside.

Fortunately, the newspapers were in good shape, and with some assistance from a professional paper conservator, the articles' tiny print could finally be read.

The coins date back to Victorian times
The coins were produced during the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

The items will eventually be on display in the new health center's lobby, it is hoped.

The chairman of the Tredegar Local History Society, a group of volunteers who run the town museum, Philip Prosser, said, "We're so thrilled that this has come back to us - it's another jewel in our crown.".

I was born in 1939, and I had a club foot from birth. For treatment, my parents had to drive me to Bristol. But because my father paid into the Medical Aid Society, everything was free.

Tredegar had a brilliant plan, so everything was implanted in Bevan's mind. ".

Children from elementary schools who are studying the history of the NHS are among those who visit the museum to see the time capsule.

Local pupils are learning about the town's part in NHS history
The history of the NHS is being taught to the students in Tredegar.

The newspapers and coins captivated Roxy-Mae from St. Joseph's RC Primary School.

The writing was very small back then. The writing on newspapers is now very large, and there are pictures everywhere," the woman claimed.

The coins, too. Back then, you could buy a lot of things with a penny. You can no longer purchase anything for a single penny. ".

The NHS has also experienced the effects of inflation, economic pressures, and rising demand.

It could be argued that due to advances in medicine, rising survival rates, and sharp increases in healthcare costs, the population's needs have outgrown its capacity to meet them.

The children are also acutely aware of the significant staffing issues the NHS is currently experiencing.

Buddy from Deighton Primary School said, "I believe it needs more doctors and nurses.".

"My mother is a nurse, and she says that more staff is needed because it is so busy. She occasionally has to stay at work until 8 or 9. ".

Leo from Glanhowy primary added, "They also need more staff in reception.".

"When my father hurt his arm, we went to the doctor to have it examined, but there was no one at the front desk. After waiting for five minutes, reception instructed us to go upstairs. ".

However, every child recognizes the importance of the NHS, which is accessible to everyone regardless of ability to pay and is in large part rooted in their own community.

Olivia from Georgetown Primary said, "It's really important because you know there's a cost of living crisis now and it would be literally unaffordable if you had to pay for it.

The final word came from St. Joseph's Samuel.

"Knowing that the founder of the NHS was born here, in this very town, makes me feel absolutely amazing and warm inside.

. "

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