Sister Mary Ward

We visited the Canal Museum at Stoke Bruerne recently to buy our 2011 IWA Calender. As I mentioned in an earlier post its narrow format is ideal for boating.
As we were leaving the museum my eye was drawn to a piece of nice sign writing at the rear of the museum and then to a grave headstone nearby. We had to examine it. It was the headstone from the grave of the famous nurse to the boat people, Sister Mary Ward. She lived nearby in what is now the Spice of Bruerne restaurant.

Relocated Headstone

Sister Mary Ward - Nurse

The interpretation board alongside says it all:

The red brick house before you is the family home of Sister Mary Ward, nurse to the boat people on the Grand Union Canal. After training and nursing on the Continent in the First War, she returned here in the 1930s and established a surgery in the house to provide nursing care for the boating families. Much of her work she funded herself, until eventually she received payment from the Canal Company. As well as providing medical care, she helped in many other social and practical ways, and was held in great esteem by the boating community She retired in 1962. The value of her service was officially recognised when she was awarded the British Empire Medal. The headstone was threatened with destruction when the site of her resting place changed ownership and function. The new owners of the property, realising the significance, offered it to the museum. It was agreed, with relatives' consent, that it could be accepted "as a place of safety", being an alternative to its uncertain future.

Here stands in acknowledgement of a lady who devoted her life and service to the people of the Waterways, and who was respected by all those who knew her.

Sister Mary - Nurse and, above all, Boaters' Friend

I presume the Baptist Chapel in Roade, where the headstone originally stood, has been converted to another use. It's good to see that such an important memorial is being preserved for future generations. More details on Sister Mary's life are available on a web page generated by local schools and of course Wikipedia.

She appeared on an early This is Your Life. I wonder if, like the recently screen Hattie Jacques episiode, the footage exists somewhere. A photo from the episode, which was filmed in 1958, appears in David Blagrove's excellent Waterways of Northamptonshire book. David identifies, and gives a biopic, of all the assembled guests who include Leslie Morton from Willow Wren and various boating families.