Media Release

Then and now: How the life of a nurse in King’s Lynn has changed


Rules against relationships, opening doors for senior colleagues and working on the Septic Ward are some of the things which have changed over the years for junior nurses but one thing has not – providing tender loving care.

A manuscript which looks back on what life was like as a junior nurse at the old West Norfolk and King’s Lynn General Hospital has been found at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

The discovery of “Then and Now: 1928-1978” document, which was written by Roberta Spencer, comes as the modern hospital has launched the next stage of its recruitment strategy.

A recruitment event will be held at the hospital on Wednesday, September 14, from 4pm to 7pm to find around 70 nurses along with midwives, radiographers, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and dietitians.

Back in 1978 Roberta wrote: “Nurses have a greater say today than ever before in their destinies. But in spite of the advances in radiology, pharmacology, pathology and electronics, the role of the nurse remains unchanged. Tender loving care still applies. Ask any patient.”

The salary for a trainee nurse during the 1930s was £16 per annum, including full board and lodgings. She would also be responsible for turning the material provided by the hospital into a uniform. This would consist of a starched apron, cap, collars, cuffs with black stockings and a skirt no higher than 10 inches above the ground.

Junior nurses would be woken at 6.15am with a knock on the bedroom door by the night sister and a compulsory breakfast was served at 7am.  She would arrive on the ward at 7.30am and would remain until 8.30pm. But her day did not finish then as lectures would be held in the evenings.

Trainee nurses were given an evening and day off each week along with one pass to be out until 10pm. But if they were late for meal times, the punishment would be forfeiting that precious night off.

But trainee nurses were also expected to live by a set of demanding rules, which included instant dismissal for getting married. They would also be expected to walk behind and open doors for seniors. Meal times were also formal with registers being taken and nurses would stand when the matron entered.

Roberta wrote: “All this was training in manners, to give people respect.”

She trained during the Second World War and underwent oral exams. Roberta was chosen to represent the hospital at a lecture given by Sir Alexander Flemming, who discovered penicillin. This was a time when the septic wards were full and treatments were limited to hygiene, food, fluids and back rubs.

Roberta wrote: “I remember the first penicillin injections and how painful they were.  As the needle went in, it quivered as it hit the shaft of the femur, it was then withdrawn a little. This was painful for the poor patients and they dreaded our approach, every three hours, to give this wonder drug. But, of course, it was effective and gradually became apparent there would in the future be no need for septic wards.”

During the 1940s, junior nurses would also be expected to carry out duties which would fall out of today’s job description. These would include boiling the eggs brought in by patients’ families, cutting bread, portering at night and acting as a runner to carry messages between the wards.

Roberta wrote: “Doctors can prescribe better treatments, nurses can carry out these treatments with efficiency but if the nurses’ caring is not there, we as nurses are failing in carrying out the duties we have been trained to do.”

– For more information on attending the event on Wednesday, September 14, email: or telephone 01553 613591.

                                                          And Now….

 Life for junior nurses has changed dramatically as current Staff Nurse Charlotte Hill can attest.

Miss Hill, 33, started off as a Nursing Auxillary at the hospital but a desire to do more drove her onto the next level.

She completed three-year degree at Anglia Ruskin University and after qualifying in April last year returned to the QEH.

Miss Hill said: “My parents are nurses but when I was younger I wanted to be a primary school teacher.

“Nursing was in my background but I never thought any more about it. But after I had started work as a Nursing Auxillary, I realised I wanted to do more. “

Modern nurses after their degree complete a six-month preceptorship where they are trained how to take bloods, insert cannulars and use intravenous infusion lines.

Nurses continue to work long days with shifts running from 7am to 7:30pm or 7pm to 7:30am but while there is still a great respect for senior members of staff, junior nurses are not expected to open doors or stand when matron arrives.

Miss Hill said: “We work as part of a team and matrons are really approachable but can be strict when they need to be.”

Miss Hill and her colleagues are also no longer expected to make patients’ meals and infection control plays a greater role in modern hospitals. Starched aprons and caps have been swapped for the current uniforms plus flowers are not allowed on wards due to this.

But one thing has remained the same – ensuring patients receive the best possible care.

Miss Hill said: “I really enjoy nursing as I want to help people and make a difference.”


Roberta SpencerImages: True’s Yard Fisherfolk Museum have allowed us to use the pictures of the old hospital and its staff.

Also pictured is current nurse Charlotte Hill

Download pictures and press release here