Sudbury: Belle Vue House history revealed through wartime autograph book

The visitors book from the former Belle Vue Hospital which forms part of the Sudbury Ephemera Archiv

The visitors book from the former Belle Vue Hospital which forms part of the Sudbury Ephemera Archive. Penny Power (left) and Sue Tibbetts with the book outside Belle Vue House. - Credit: Archant

Since a group of keen amateur historians in Sudbury put out a plea for ‘ephemera’ to create an archive for the town a year ago, they have had some interesting finds.

These range from old posters, postcards and cinema tickets to menus and paper bags, which all tell a story about Sudbury’s social history and what life in the town was like for previous generations.

But now the members of the Sudbury Ephemera Archive (SEA) have just stumbled upon their most fascinating piece to date, which has also shed light on the former use of one of the town’s most prominent buildings.

They have been given an ‘autograph’ book signed by First World War veterans who were convalescing in Belle Vue House when it was a Red Cross hospital between 1914 and 1918.

SEA chaiman Sue Tibbetts said: “This book is by far the most precious item we have been handed, both because of its age, what it contains and what it tells us about the history of Belle Vue. The hospital archive in Bury didn’t even realise there was a Red Cross hospital in Sudbury.”

Local historian Valerie Herbert secured the book for the group, which had been kept by the family of Sudbury woman Janet Smith, who was a member of the Red Cross and a nurse at the Belle Vue hospital.

The group’s secretary Penny Powers has gone through the book and listed all of the names she can decipher along with their regiments.

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She said: “It gives us an insight into the conditions patients were recovering from when they returned from the war, such as frostbite, gunshot wounds and shellshock.

“There is an interesting entry from an ‘H Whiting’ who was in the army cycling corps as part of the Gas Pipe Cavalry – he was invalided home. The most stunning feature is the beautiful artwork and poetry.”

The book will be part of a First World War display in the town later this year.

Mrs Tibbetts added: “Most of what is written in the book is dedicated to a nurse Madge Sewell – we don’t know anything about her and would be fascinated to find out more. We would love to hear from anyone who has heard about this hospital or has stories about it.”

Call Sue on 07846 885909.

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