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Article by Judy and John Clipstone, 2005.

A History of St John Ambulance Brigade in Burton Latimer

Men of the St John Ambulance Brigade c1932 Women of the St John Ambulance Brigade c1934
Pictures from the early 1930's showing the men and women of the St John Ambulance Brigade.

The Order of St John dates back to the Crusaders in the 12th Century, making it one of the oldest Orders in the land.  Back in England they built hospices throughout the land, the nearest one to Burton Latimer was close to Rushton near Rothwell; to these people brought the sick to be treated.  The Association was formed in 1878. As early as 1872 the Ambulance service was established in mines and factories where accidents were frequent and no organisation was available to deal with them.  We have found records of the Ambulance Order holding classes in Burton Latimer in 1891. In the Kettering Leader and Observer for 1892 we found an Ambulance of the Order was running in Burton Latimer.  It had 50 members made up of Men and Women. Classes on Chemicals were also held  which had  40 members - these were held in the Assembly Rooms. At the time Burton Latimer had iron ore mines, a chalk pit and tanneries. Considering the size of the town we had quite a good cover.  On the 4th November 1892 the classes had raised £1/17/6d. With this money it was decided to buy a stretcher and first aid hamper, the stretcher to be kept at Mr James's factory (which was behind Kushboo restaurant in the High Street) for the use of the Parish under the supervision of any Ambulance Member.

The St John Ambulance Brigade was founded in 1897. The first public duty when members were seen on the streets was for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. In Burton  Latimer it started, according to London Headquarters Records, on 3rd May 1901.  In Crispen Hall (renamed Preston Hall and now Preston Court) in April 1901 the Division was reorganised.  It was mentioned in a report to London "that the members wished to thank Mr J James’s kindness in granting these special facilities. The Division is now in Full Uniform and there is every prospect of success for the Division".  The Nursing Division in 1903 had obtained comfortable accommodation for meetings in Parish Council Chambers and a grant was received by The County Council to help with costs. In 1906 the Ambulance Division took a litter down to Burton Latimer station to collect a patient discharged from Northampton General Hospital. The litter was given to Burton Latimer Church and stood at the back of the Church for many years.

More recently an Antique Shop Owner in Hastings contacted the Heritage Society and said he had a teapot in his shop with "Burton Latimer St John Ambulance" on it, dated 1908, and asked whether we could we give him any details about it but unfortunately we couldn’t find any record of it. The Division continued to hold First Aid Classes doing public duties and entering Competitions until 1920 and it restarted on 12th May 1926. The Nursing Division also was very busy running First Aid and Home Nursing Classes, entering competitions and doing public duties. No records were received at London after 1910. The Ambulance and the Nursing Division members would be on call 24 hours a day during this period treating their neighbours and friends who injured themselves and couldn’t afford a Doctor for minor injuries. The Nursing Division was also on call to help with bedridden patients sometimes on the advice of their doctor. People relied on the St John Ambulance for help especially before the days of the NHS. The Nursing Division also loaned out items for patients who needed special care. The Ambulance Division closed in May 1919 but I can’t find out whether the Nursing Division closed at the same time. In January 1925 I have a record that a meeting was held in the Council Chambers to try and  revive Burton Latimer Division.  I don’t think they were successful because in October 1925 another meeting was held in the Council Chambers proposing that a Division of the St. John Ambulance be established in the town.

Revd H T Edwards presiding over the dedication ceremony of the first ambulance in 1932
Dedication ceremony of the first ambulance in 1932,
presided over by by the Reverend H T Edwards.

No records of the Division are available except for items printed in the press and the Parish Magazine but we know from photographs handed in to Burton Latimer Heritage Society they had a flourishing Ambulance Division, with a good many members turning out for Remembrance Parades, Gala Days and duties in the town.  They even had a Tug-of-War team and won the cup.  They had the first Ambulance dedicated in May 1932 (pictured above, and to see the actual programme of the ceremony, click here). They also held regular whist drives, dances and garden fetes for Divisional funds. They had no Headquarters so they met in various venues in the town - The Rectory, Fire Station, Mission Room and Lower Assembly Room at the Baptist Church (this was used when they ran Public First Aid Courses). In 1946 they bought the band room in Alexandra Street as a Headquarters and it remained the St John Headquarters until 2004 when the Division amalgamated with Finedon Division.  The Division had several Ambulances over the years that enabled them to do duties further afield, e.g. at Silverstone, Towcester Races and Gymkhanas, and also did duties for other Divisions when they were short of manpower due to other commitments. The Ambulance Division closed down in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s.

St John Nursing Sisters - 1928
St John Nursing Sisters - 1928

The first Nursing Sisters group to be formed in Burton Latimer.

Lil Judd (later Capps) is standing extreme left, Mrs John Harpur (Superintendent) is in the centre next to Mrs Summerfield and Ada Cook, extreme right.
St John Ambulance Nurses - c1934
St John Ambulance Nurses - c1934

Back Row (Left to Right): Lil Buswell, Lucy Tailby, Betty Spanton, ? , Florrie Gale, Mary Ashby, Vera Herbert, ? , Mrs Alice Stephenson (later Agutter)

Seated: Mrs Payne, Ada Cook, Mrs John Harpur, Margaret Whitney, Mrs Topsy Summerfield.

The Nursing Division was revived in 1930 and meetings were held at The Hall, the home of Mrs.Harpur who helped to start the Division. No records are available but they helped the Ambulance Division with duties in the town and played a part in fund raising. They did a lot of competition work and were very successful in winning a lot of cups and shields (photographs in the Burton Latimer Heritage Society). The Nursing Division continued  after the Ambulance Division closed, continuing to do duties in the town in addition to Wicksteed Park and McKinley Theatre. It also ran courses in First Aid and Home Nursing. We had Ambulance Cadet and Nursing Cadet Divisions but no records are found of when they started and when they closed. In 1976 the Division was made into a Quadruple Division after a very successful First Aid course when they recruited several new members and a successful Cadet section after an appeal to schools. It was the first Quadruple Division in the county, and among the first in the country. We held public First Aid Courses for people working in industry in the town, and also Home Nursing Courses for people who worked in nursing homes.

Batty Cup Winners - c1939 Tug o'War Winners - Burton Gala 1940
St John Ambulance Brigade Batty Cup Winners - c1939

Mr William Batty (centre) with the cup named after him,
awarded annually for proficiency.
On the left is Sid Langley and, right, Jack Northern.
Tug o'War Winners - Burton Gala 1940

Standing are: Bert Desborough, Reg Loak, Alan
Richardson and Horace Savage.
Seated are: Fred Jones, Jack Warner and Sid Langley

On the Division side they did courses and entered competitions in Ambulance Handling, Casualty Make-up, First Aid and Home Nursing and won quite a few. We were in the Northern Area and there was good social side to St John. They held Dances, Quizzes and Cadet Discos regularly and the members and cadets all took part. The Cadets took part in Northamptonshire Adventure St John and they did camping, walking, rock climbing and night hikes.  These were very popular. Richard Page was the first cadet to obtain the Grand Prior award, quickly followed by others.  Richard also was chosen by London to take part in a Guard of Honour at the Albert Hall in London for a fund raising concert by Frank Sinatra. Wendy Lilley was one of three cadets to represent the County at a tea party at Buckingham Palace hosted by Princess Anne. Everyone took part in duties that included Santa Pod, Silverstone, gymkhanas, Wicksteed Park, football matches, McKinlay Theatre and The Castle Theatre and duties in the town and Kettering.  It was a very busy time. The Cadets took part at the Children’s Party at Hyde Park in 1987. They demonstrated their abilities in First Aid as part of the Northern Area of St John in Northamptonshire. It was attended by The Queen, Duke of Edinburgh, Princess Anne and The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester. On this day The Badger Section was launched  for the 7-10 year olds and we soon had a large group in Burton Latimer.  In the 1990’s numbers in the Adult section started to fall mainly due to retirement and work commitments but the Cadet and Badger numbers remained good. In 2005 it was decided to close our Division and what members remained went to Finedon.

A sad day for Burton Latimer.

The St John Ambulance Headquarters 1946-2004
The St John Ambulance Hall in Alexandra Street.
This building served as
the Headquarters from 1946 until 2004.


To see more photographs associated with this article, please click here.


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