From The Archives: The old Paxton Park Maternity Home
- Credit: ST NEOTS MUSEUM
At the outbreak of war in autumn 1939, Dr Ernest Harrisson, the doctor who had delivered the St Neots quadruplets, was asked to help out at the new maternity hospital that was being set up at Paxton Park, in Little Paxton.
This grand Georgian mansion, built in the 1750s and then rebuilt in 1784 by Mr Pointer Standly, described in sale particulars of 1878 as ‘A Commodious Mansion’, had been requisitioned as a safe place for expectant mothers to give birth, away from the feared air raids on London.
By September 1939, 20 babies had been born at the hospital and up to 300 babies were expected to be delivered by Christmas Day 1939.
A newspaper article also revealed that the quads’ mother, Doris Miles, had given the outgrown cots and baby baths used by her babies to the new maternity hospital.
The quads were almost four years old at the outbreak of war in 1939, having been born on November 1935 at home in Ferrars Avenue, Eynesbury.
Their birth was an absolute sensation in depression era Britain and attracted world-wide interest. Medical knowledge about how to care for extremely premature babies had come on in leaps and bounds since the early 1900s, and the birth and survival of the Dionne quintuplets in Canada in 1934 and then the Johnson quadruplets in New Zealand in March 1935 had fascinated the general public.
The quads were all very small at birth: Michael 2lb 13oz, Ernest 3lb 5oz, Paul 3lb 7oz and Ann 3lb 12oz. However, the action plan implemented by Dr Harrisson within 24 hours of their birth probably saved their lives.
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He realised almost immediately that the babies could not be kept warm enough in the family home and that the constant stream of visitors would bring risk of infection.
He decided to move the four babies to his own home at The Shrubbery, and turn a spare room into a nursery, where they could receive the specialist care they needed from nurses from Great Ormond Street Hospital, London, who came to live at the house.
The babies featured in many Gaumont newsreel films which were shown at cinemas across Britain and several of these film clips are now on YouTube.
You can read more about the quads on the museum website www.stneots.museum.org.uk