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Miss Hilda Bagnall remembers


Strictly speaking, our oldest resident actually lives in the parish of Harston, but this knowledge came as a very unwelcome surprise to Miss Hilda Bagnall after she moved into her present home some years ago!

Born at Cintra Lodge in Church Street, over 90 years ago, Miss Bagnall was the third generation of her family to live in Little Shelford. Her grandfather was a Fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge, when he bought Kirby Lodge in High Street and began a school there. One of his pupils fell in love with his daughter and Hilda was the first of their four children. Miss Bagnall shared a love of music and drama with her mother of whom she speaks with warmth and admiration. Plays were entered for the Cambridge Festival, with some success, including the winning of the Shakespeare Cup. On one occasion, a local village comedy play was written by the late Miss Norah Powell and produced by Miss Bagnall, bringing acclaim for players and playwright. Both Miss Bagnall and her mother were invited to join one of Jack Hulbert’s productions with the Footlights to raise money for the new Hospital.

The Bagnall family occupied various houses in the village at different times and eventually built the Red House in Newton Road where they lived for many years. The move to The Old Enclosure, was, to quote Miss Bagnall herself, “quite recent”. The house was designed by Kenneth Dalgleish and was originally thatched. One day on her return home, she went to her room to remove her hat and fire burst down through the ceiling. The house needed almost total re-building and a new roof was finished in the present brown tiles. Fire has played an important part in the history of many of the old buildings is Little Shelford it seems.

In her childhood, Miss Bagnall recalls that the Village Feast caused great excitement. Stalls crowded Church Street selling things like toy watches, made of tin, which delighted the children, though there was no question, more than eighty years ago, of children going to such an event alone. However, if someone would take them, they could enjoy rides on little model ponies and the “steam horse”, which was in reality powered by a real pony! With gypsy caravans and coconut shies, it must have been a colourful scene.

Miss Bagnall has vivid memories of the dire warnings that children received to keep them away from the Rope Walk, which then extended from Hauxton Road to the Rectory, for fear that they would get twisted up in the ropes being made there. A bustling Church Street was often full of railway vans delivering to this major industry, or collecting the finished ropes for dispatch at the station.

During the 1914-18 War, Miss Bagnall and her sister travelled to Whittlesford every day to cook for sixty men, and later, she was made Quarter Master at Great Shelford Hospital – an experience with its own rich fund of stories!

After the war, Little Shelford Village held a meeting to decide on a fitting War Memorial and plans for a Village Hall were made. Mrs Ward, an aunt of Mr E.B.S. Powell, purchased a large hut at Whittlesford and Messrs. Fordham, Litchfield and Bagnall got it moved into a piece of land in Church Street given by Mr Clay, who also built part of the present structure in memory of his son, lost in the War.

The new Hall, which was later to become the present cricket pavilion was the scene of entertainments and dances with ‘Bagnall’s Band’ in attendance, to raise money for the new Hospital.

The dramatic flair is still evident as Miss Bagnall recounts her earlier days, supplying the relevant accounts with ease. Lively and alert, she is well informed about current events and we hope that the Parish Council’s request for changes in the parish boundary will be granted, so that Miss ‘Hilly’ Bagnall, who has never been in doubt were her affections and loyalties lie, may be officially restored to her beloved with Little Shelford.

Hilda Bagnall also featured in a publication in 2021 by Suzanne Ridley on the Whittlesford Red Cross Hospital.

The original Little Shelford village hall was called the Victory Hall when it was installed in 1925. It was originally the Recreation Room from Whittlesford hospital. It later became the cricket pavilion on the Wale Recreation Ground.

The book title is ‘Whittlesford: Caring for the Wounded’ and it is published through the Whittlesford Society or from


P20 - The Cambridge Independent Press of 31st December 1915 gave an account of the first Christmas commemorated at Whittlesford hospital.

‘Christmas at the hospital was greatly enjoyed. It began on Christmas Eve with the decoration of the School, which was lent as cookhouse, and banqueting and games room, and admirably served all purposes. In the evening a carol party of nurses and patients went round the village and were well rewarded. On Christmas Day the first excitement was the present for every man, and for all the nurses on duty, which was the kind thought and gift of the Misses Jefferson. Dinner was at 1.30pm, nurses and patients sitting down together at a long table which (literally) began to give way under the burden placed on it, and required extra supports in consequence. The great turkeys at either end were the gifts of Dr Dixon [of The Grove, Whittlesford] and Miss Short [of The Grove, Stapleford] respectively, and the second course included an enormous pudding stuffed with treasures, the gift of Lady Marjory Binney [of Pampisford Hall]. The crackers were contributed by Mrs and the Misses Bagnall, who also provided an enormous Christmas tree, to be lit up and stripped after dark. The evening was filled with games, the most popular being “Blind Man’s Buff”, and concluded with a supper, which finally interned all the remaining turkeys and sausages. But there still remained a last act, which in many ways was the best of all. For the men conspired to spend their carol money, meant to provide them with smokes, in a gift to their Commandant and Quartermaster. It required a good deal of plotting to carry out their plan with the necessary secrecy, for the eyes of authority are very wide open. The British Army, however, is not easily beaten, and on the Tuesday after Christmas the Commandant was surprised with the gift of a handsome silver hairbrush, and the Quartermaster with a case of silver teaspoons, to remind them always that their patients at Christmas, 1915, heartily appreciated their unweary labour and kindness.’


P23 The 1916 Red Cross Report gave a brief account of the work of Whittlesford hospital during its first year. The Commandant had dreaded the onset of winter 1915 because the nursing staff were drawn from seven local villages (Whittlesford, Babraham, Sawston, Abington, Pampisford, Shelford and Grantchester), but she could state proudly that bad weather had not prevented anyone from turning up for duty each time, with those nurses resident in the village taking on the early morning and evening duties. Miss Hilda Bagnall and her sister Miss May Bagnall (serving on general duty) had travelled from Great Shelford every day to cook for the patients. During the first year of operation (ending 25th March 1916) the hospital had admitted a total of 230 patients for rest, recuperation and therapy.


P25 Autumn had arrived, and a cricket match of great local interest and entertainment took place in the village on 29th September 1916, when the patients of Orient House took up the challenge of a match against the Orient House nurses. The nurses’ team was captained by Lieutenant Ivan Falkner of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, brother of Nurse Mercy Falkner and recently invalided home from frontline fighting. A Sawston man and a bank clerk by trade, Ivan had spent three years in the Officer Training Corps (Junior Division) in England followed by nearly two years in the 105th Fusiliers and the Canadian Mounted Rifles, having enlisted at Saskatchewan, Canada, in February 1915. As the team of patients had scored recent victories over both the orderlies and Linton V.A.D. wounded they offered to bowl underarm and bat left-handed against the nurses (whose bulky skirts and uniforms must have been their own team’s impediment). Although the patients still won by some margin, the performance of the nurses’ team was praised highly by their opponents. Lieutenant Ivan Falkner and his sister Nurse Mercy Falkner made it a real family tradition as their father John Falkner (schoolmaster of Sawston) was a celebrated cricketer from the Sawston Church Institute team and a member of the Whittlesford orderlies’ team.

Nurses – Lieu Ivan Falkner (team captain - not a patient), Nurse Hilda Bagnall (Shelford), Mrs Hilda Bagnall (Snr), Miss Olive Briggs, Nurse Cox, Miss Mercy Falkner, Miss Iris Hedding, Miss Sylvia Hedding, Nurse Hannah Nutter, Miss Shrubbs

Patients – Q.M.S. Davies (R.A.), Pte Hulme, Pte Jennings, Pte Kilner, Sapper Lawry, L-Cpl Luff, Pte Mitchell, Pte Munro, Pte Roberts, Pte Taylor, L-Cpl Towell, Pte Tricker


P32 Another influx of transferred patients brought yet more talented performers arriving from the 1st Eastern General Hospital. Another well-supported fundraising concert was held in the Schoolroom on 16th February 1917, raising an impressive sum of £5 for hospital funds from a packed audience. A further concert was held at the Institute on 16th March, given by the nurses and patients and raising yet more funds.

16th February 1917 - Programme and performers –

Ragtime Sextette - song ‘Are you from Dixie?’

Nurse Dora Fuller - song ‘When you come home’

Pte Coulthard - song ‘The long, long trail’ with violin and piano accompaniment

Bombardier F Kilby - monologue ‘The 11.69 Express’

Cpl LA Buck - violin solo ‘Chanson Trieste’

Nurse Hilda Bagnall - song ‘Friend o’ mine’

Pte Timpson - song ‘The Rag Picker’

Pte Chaplin and Pte Harris - duet ‘My home in Kentucky’ with violin and piano accompaniment

Quartermaster Catherine Arnold and Nurse Margery Thornton - duologue ‘Cheerful and musical’

Ragtime Sextette - chorus ‘All aboard for Dixie’

Commandant Olive Briggs - song ‘Sweet be your dreams’

Cpl LA Buck - song ‘Shipmates o’ mine’

Pte Bond - comic monologue

Nurse Annie Clarke - song

Nurse Annie Clarke, Nurse Dora Fuller, Pte Bond and Cpl LA Buck - quartet ‘Sweet and low’

Bombardier F Kilby - song ‘Until’

Pte Timpson - song ‘Back home in Tennessee’

Pte Pook, Pte Bond, Pte Coulthard and Pte Harris - singing quartet ‘Uncle Tom Cobleigh’ accompanied by Bombardier F Kilby on piano and Pte EC Taylor on violin


P34 4th July 1917 - a cricket match was played in Whittlesford (won by Whittlesford wounded, playing left-handed) -

Whittlesford V.A.D. wounded – Sapper Cairns, Gunner Gover, Gunner Hardie, Pte Hopwell, Gunner Morris, Pte O’Hara, Sapper Pearson, L-Cpl Pond, Pte Puttock, Sapper Reid, Cpl Young

Whittlesford V.A.D. staff – Nurse Lettice Adeane, Nurse Hilda Bagnall, Nurse May Bagnall, Nurse Barker, Miss Olive Briggs, Nurse Grace Butler, Nurse Grace King, Nurse Ethel Nunn, Nurse Hannah Nutter, Captain Rose, Nurse Margery Thornton

P35 Report from a cricket match held on 29th September 1916 -

‘Nurse Cox and Nurse Nutter opened the batting for the ladies, Miss Nutter having to retire early with three runs to her credit. This was considered a good stroke of business – certain patients hadn’t quite forgotten Miss Nutter’s volleys at tennis. The Commandant followed, quickly adding another three runs, when she had the misfortune to be run out. Nurse (Hilda) Bagnall, of whom much was expected, then took up the cudgels, and although she defended the bowling for some time, only saved her reputation by scoring one run … Miss Falkner seemed particularly happy at the wicket. She played a good game, and was quite the hope of the side … It was a good sporty game, and thoroughly enjoyed by all.’  [Cambridge Independent Press 6th October 1916]


P36 In August 1917 the nearby Red Cross hospital in Great Shelford relocated from ‘Mount Blow’ to ‘The Chestnuts’ in Tunwells Lane, recruiting Miss Hilda Bagnall of Shelford as their new Quartermaster - a job she fulfilled with great dedication until the hospital closed in 1919. Miss Bagnall had worked on general duty at Whittlesford from 1915, cooking for the men each day with her sister May, and had also been a stalwart of the Whittlesford nurses’ cricket team. Her long love of theatricals had made her a star performer in the many fundraising concerts and entertainments organised at Whittlesford. As Shelford Quartermaster she organised local walks and evening singalongs in the hospital Recreation Room. It was Miss Bagnall’s job to fetch the weekly allowance of 14lbs of butter from Cambridge, which meant a train ride from Shelford station to Cambridge, a trip by horse and cart to Sayles, and then a walk to ‘Maypole’ in Petty Cury. For this order ‘a grille was opened outside the shop on the pavement and a 14lb block of butter appeared ready for the return journey’ [Shelford Oral History Group, 2010: p 10]. It is quite possible that the Quartermaster of Whittlesford made similar shopping trips to supplement the regular donations of butter from farmers such as Mr Briggs of Babraham, the Dockerills of Sawston and the Fordhams of Pampisford.


P58 V.A.D. Red Cross Member – General Duty (G.D.S)

V.A.D.s start to be listed as G.D.S. Members from May 1915 onwards. Miss Hilda Bagnall and Miss May Bagnall were on General Duty, and cooked for the men every day. Miss Margaret Stewart Roberts had done the housework at Great Shelford hospital before coming to Whittlesford for her service.

               Miss Hilda Bagnall, Miss May Bagnall, Mrs Louisa Fuller, Miss Margaret Stewart Roberts


P59 Length of duty – Collating all the details from the Red Cross cards on the length of service of the V.A.D.s shows that the hospital opened in March 1915 with 23 part-time V.A.D. nurses available to work. No specific women were identified as cooks or cleaners then, but by May 1915 three women (Miss Hilda Bagnall, Miss May Bagnall and Miss Margaret Stewart Roberts) had all been recruited from The Shelfords for cooking and housework duties.



V.A.D. Red Cross Members – General Duty (G.D.S) and Cooks


MISS HILDA MARY CONSTANCE BAGNALL [War Service at Whittlesford May 1915 to July 1917]




Hilda Mary Constance Bagnall was born and privately baptised in Little Shelford in 1885, the daughter of Hilda Mary and George Frederick Bagnall whose occupation at the time was described as a ‘gent’ living on his own means. Her sister May Emma Gertrude Blakiston Bagnall was born in 1887, with the family living at Cintra Lodge in Church Street, Little Shelford. The young Hilda Bagnall was fond of theatricals and singing, entering many local festivals. By 1911, their father George’s occupation was registered as ‘mushroom farmer’ and the family were living in Newton Road, Little Shelford, with siblings Frederick and John and a cook, house maid and two domestic nurses.


Hilda was an unmarried woman aged 30 when she began service as a Red Cross member in 1915, initially on ‘General Duty’. Her sister May was a single woman aged 28 who also began work on General Duty. Hilda and May travelled from Little Shelford to Whittlesford every day to cook for up to fifty men from May 1915 onwards. May worked for a year from May 1915 until May 1916, completing 1,664 part-time hours. In September 1916 Hilda took part in a cricket match between the patients and nurses from Orient House, making a good impression on those present with her sporting skills and enthusiasm. She also performed in a fundraising concert in the Schoolroom in February 1917, singing ‘Friend o’mine’. The sisters both played for the nurses’ team in a cricket match against the hospital wounded in July 1917. Hilda worked at Whittlesford until July 1917, completing 2,688 part-time hours.


In August 1917 Great Shelford Red Cross Auxiliary Hospital transferred location from ‘Mount Blow’ to ‘The Chestnuts’ in Tunwells Lane, providing 50 beds, and Hilda Bagnall was recruited to take on full-time Quartermaster duties. In the evenings she employed her theatrical background to lead music and singing in the recreation room. She remained there as Quartermaster until Shelford Hospital closed in May 1919. Her Red Cross card recorded that she ‘has done admirable work as Quartermaster and throughout’. The hospital had cared for a total of 2,881 patients in this time. Shelford Hospital closed with a ceremony during which the staff received gifts for their hard work. Miss Bagnall was presented with a silver watch before the evening’s entertainment commenced with dancing, whist and a musical recital attended by many former patients.


The 1939 Register records Hilda, May and brother Frederick Bagnall living at The Enclosure, Little Shelford, with their occupations all listed as ‘private means’. Frederick is noted to be part of the Cambridgeshire Special Constabulary. May died in 1966 at the age of 79, and Hilda died in 1980 in Hitchen, Hertfordshire, at the age of 95.

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