Staffordshire Archives & Heritage Update 1 October 2020

Staffordshire Archives and Heritage
Chris Copp working with the art collection in the museum store

Welcome to the Staffordshire Archives and Heritage Service Newsletter.

Read on to find out about the latest acquisition to the museum collections, nursing reform in Staffordshire during the 19th century and to meet  another member of the Archives and Heritage team. 

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From the Collections

Oil painting 'Shepherds in Arcady' by Mabel Layng

Shepherds in Arcady by Mabel Layng

New Acquisition for the Museum Art Collection

The Museum Service has just purchased an oil painting by Mabel Layng (1881-1937), the subject in a feature in this newsletter a few weeks ago. This was a rare opportunity to acquire a picture by an artist well represented in our collections. Painted in 1906 or 1907 when she was aged 25, a few years after she left Stafford, it is an early work by this artist and complements the later works we have by her in our collections.  It was painted while she was a student at London School of Art and was the result of her tutor, Frank Brangwyn setting her and two fellow students the task of creating a composition on the theme of ‘Shepherds in Arcady’. We are hoping to have the painting cleaned and conserved in the new year, ready for exhibition in the Staffordshire History Centre in a couple of years’ time.

The Learning Room

The Learning Room Header image - desks in a library setting

Join us in The Learning Room to discover a range of articles based on research and collections across the Archives and Heritage Service. You can sign up here  

When did nursing reform reach Staffordshire? 

Professor Alannah Tomkins, Keele University 

Nurses who worked before the 1850s are generally regarded by historians as ‘unreformed’: in other words, they were poorly-paid women who received no training, and were the target of a lot of criticism from doctors (for not following medical instructions) and from everyone else (for their alleged fondness for alcohol).  My earlier blog about alcohol and opium addiction puts this into some context – perhaps it wasn’t women’s fault if they did like a drink – but at the time nurses were regarded as unreliable, insanitary, and ignorant.

Then Florence Nightingale went to the Crimea to nurse soldiers in 1854, and her ways of working quickly attracted popular attention and outspoken approval.  The nation made a collection of money as a mark of esteem for her efforts at the army’s hospital in Scutari, raising the extraordinary sum of forty four thousand pounds.  The money was used to found a nurse training scheme at St Thomas’s Hospital in London, which took its first probationer nurses in 1860.  By 1900, 982 women had qualified via its one-year training programme.

The value of training women for the role of hospital or household nurse was rapidly appreciated, and schemes beyond St Thomas’s were set up in imitation both in London and the provinces.  In Liverpool William Rathbone, an admirer of Nightingale, asked for help in reforming the nurses of the city’s workhouse, but it took some time before all nurses were routinely trained before accepting work.

Image of nurses working during the Crimean War, courtesy of the Wellcome Trust

Staffordshire had its own famous ‘reformed’ nurse in Dorothy Pattison.  Known as ‘Sister Dora’, she initially applied to join Nightingale in the Crimea but was rejected as too inexperienced.  She later joined the Sisterhood of the Good Samaritans, and as a member of the Sisterhood worked at the cottage hospital in Walsall from 1865 until her relatively early death in 1878.  She was idolised locally, particularly among the male working-class railway workers who had benefitted from her care.  Her coffin was carried by railwaymen, and a steam engine was named after her.

Sister Dora (courtesy of Staffordshire Pasttrack)

Sister Dora, Anglican nun and nurse in Walsall, 1832-1878 (P81.080.0014)

Nurse Pattison was an exception to the rule in more ways than one.  It took much longer for all of Staffordshire’s institutions (hospitals, workhouse infirmaries, and asylums) to be staffed by trained professionals.

Sources: M. Lonsdale, Sister Dora: a biography (first edition 1880) - full-text available online at

Meet the Team

Chris Copp looking at the photograph collection in the museum stores

This week we meet Chris Copp, Senior Museums Officer, who has a bit of a thing for baking and (historic) ironing.

What does your role involve?

I manage the Museum Service team and I am responsible for the care of the County Museum collection and for making it accessible to the public.

When did you start working with the Archives and Heritage Service? 

1994 as Documentation Officer

What made you choose this career?

I’ve always loved history, but after completing my history degree I spent 5 or 6 years not really knowing what to do. I gradually realised I really wanted to have a history-related career and started volunteering at Forty Hall Museum in Enfield. That made me make my mind up to do a postgrad in Museum Studies at Leicester Uni. Best decision I ever made!

What is your favourite object or document or photograph from the collection?

Good grief, that’s an impossible question to answer - it usually depends on what I’m working on at the moment. The carriage collection is really special, the McCann photograph collection is full of treasures, as is our shoe industry collection, but as I’m working on the Asylums exhibition at the moment I’ll opt for the huge industrial iron used in the laundry at Cheddleton Asylum.

Electric iron used in the laundry at St Edwards Hospital, Cheddleton

Industrial electric iron from St Edwards, Cheddleton (2011.011.0002)

What is your most memorable moment about working for the Service?

There have been many over the years but to pick one I’ll go for the launch of our Mobile Museum.  Managing a vehicle and all the health and safety and logistical issues that go with it was well outside my comfort zone, and the anxiety of waiting for it to arrive for the first time in the Market Square in Stafford still stays with me today.

Away from work, do you have a hidden talent or special skill?

Not sure I have any really. I learnt to bake during lockdown and I’m a lapsed Morris dancer, and those who know me might have noticed that I’m a bit keen on cricket but might not know that I’m an ECB Level 2 coach – so let’s go for that.


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How did you get on with our Historic Garden Produce crossword? 
Find out in the solution below. 

Solution to Gardening Crossword

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