The Man Behind the House
In 1860, in the town of Worksop, a remarkable boy was born.
He would live for one hundred and two years, become a doctor in Manchester, a surgeon in the Boer War, he’d fight David Lloyd George over medical insurance rights, set up the Volunteer Medical Staff CORPS, found the British Red Cross Society in East Lancashire and help draw out the Territorial Army as we know it today.
He’d also receive a tea cosy from Florence Nightingale.
His name was William Coates – later known as Colonel Sir William Coates – and he was the founder of Broughton House.
In the summer of 1916 hospitals across the North West were overflowing with casualties. Each day an average of 6 ambulance trains brought more of the wounded, the sick and the disabled.
People were placed in schools and, if they were big enough, even houses. It wasn’t enough.
Coates had been organising hospitals across the North West since the war began and saw there was a crisis at hand. He began the search for new medical accommodation.
The first he chose was an old merchant’s villa near central Manchester, large enough to accommodate 40 to 50 beds, near enough for relatives to visit. It was perfect.
There was just one problem: paying for it.
Raising money in a time when resources were being squeezed, Britain was borrowing from the U.S. and families were cutting down was a tall ask.
Luckily Coates didn’t have to do it alone. The Mayor of Manchester and the Earl of Derby had already formed a charity to drum up donations. Working with them, Coates wrote a letter to the press in September 1916 and helped launch an appeal.
In the first month £20,000 was raised with a further £75,000 by February 1917. It was enough to open not just one home, but five.
This incredible, unexpected generosity would be something Broughton House would come to rely on throughout its life.
With the money settled and the beds in place, the house could welcome in its first resident.
CHARLIE FOX – THE FIRST RESIDENT
After spending some time in the reserves at the seaside resort of Sheerness, Private Charles Fox was finally called up. He made the journey to France, then to Belgium, where he joined the 4th King’s Rifles in Ypres.
It was a strange, bouncy word for a British tongue. Most of his comrades pronounced it Wipers.
Ypres, Wipers, was a haggard-looking town now. Deemed a place of strategic importance, it had been continually bombarded and attacked, captured and recaptured – a process that had taken countless lives already.
And as Charlie joined the ranks, more was to follow. The Germans launched an offensive which was to go on for months. Perpetual gunfire, perpetual shelling, and a word that filled soldiers with an acute kind of terror: gas. This time, a new kind – chlorine gas. A foul smelling poison that drifted with the wind and turned into acid with whatever watery substance it met, whether that was lungs or eyes.
It was a particularly horrific introduction to war for Charlie and, as his comrades were being killed around him, he was caught by shellfire and his legs were shattered.
The field hospitals treated him as best they could but it was clear Charlie could not go back to Ypres.
He was ferried back across the channel and taken up to Salford, where a home for totally disabled soldiers had just been opened. This would be his new accommodation.
On May 1917, Charlie arrived at Broughton House. He was carried up to it in a stretcher, still wearing his combat overalls from the front. As they reached the entrance he lifted his head to take it all in: a large white house, trees, a lawn of verdant, unruined grass.
Charlie Fox spent the rest of his life in Broughton House. He watched as it expanded with new treatment huts, a workshop and a leisure space – always just about having enough to pay for it all thanks to the help of local donors.
He saw it briefly ban alcohol when family members would come in and get the residents drunk. Then, in a more wholesome light, he saw it build facilities for keeping chickens.
Finally he saw it play an integral part in another world war, not only to care for the wounded and keep them safe from air raids but to act as a station for carrier pigeons.
This was to be his last experience of the house. Charlie died in 1942.
In the same year, Colonel Sir William Coates stepped down as Chairman – his compassion and work ethic could not be held to one place. He continued to work as a GP in Manchester until he was 90.
A century after Coates first founded Broughton House, it has cared for over 8,000 veterans like Charlie Fox. Today, it is home to over 40, each with their own story to tell.