January 2022

The Friends of Swindon Health Hydro
(est. 1892 as The Medical Fund Baths & Dispensary)
Newsletter No.4


Milton Road Baths Newsletter No 4
After what seems like an eternity, the project to restore and relaunch the Health Hydro is so very close.

The project has now appointed consultants. It’s their job to build up a programme of works to deal with the long overdue maintenance issues. And also to update the facilities and restore the key important historical features. They’ll also provide the outline of a business plan to sustain the building, enabling it to serve the town for another 130 years!

Make no mistake, we’re counting ourselves extremely fortunate to be within touching distance of such a sum of money – £6.5m – to spend on the building. The final stage of the business case for £5m of the funding must be submitted and approved in February. We’re indebted to SBC for pursuing this funding.

The question is how far will the money stretch?

Milton Road Baths Newsletter No 4- the large pool at Milton Rd baths
The large pool in Milton Road Baths

Go here for some fantastic photos of the health hydro by Elmar Rubio.

For more Health Hydro/Milton Road baths stuff go here: https://swindonian.me/category/artscultureheritage/the-health-hydro/

Time frame

The time frame for the project is very tight. March 2022 for agreeing the programme of work and then a mere two years to complete the bulk of the project – in order to comply with the rules for the grant funding.

We encourage you all to get involved in the community engagement events. It’s so important that we get this right. The next event will be in January. If you are unable to attend but would like to offer your comments, ideas, questions then please email them to:
Email: friendsofhealthhydro@gmail.com and we’ll forward them to the team working on the project.

It is our hope and expectation that a restored and relaunched Health Hydro will act as a catalyst for further investment and regeneration in the Railway Village Quarter, with a pedestrianised Emlyn Square at the heart of vibrant area containing successful cafes and pubs, and of course a fully restored Mechanics’ Institution.

Heritage Open Days 2021

We felt hugely encouraged by the number of visitors (almost 300) that visited the Health Hydro during the Heritage Open Days weekend in September. Those new to the building were taken aback by its size and by the quantity of original features still remaining. They also felt awe at its place in this town’s, and indeed this country’s, social history as pivotal in the gestation of the NHS. Those who knew the Hydro were keen to share their affection for it. Also their hope to see it restored to its former glory. Particularly high on everyone’s list is the reopening of the small learner pool. It’s currently bereft of water and has looked very sorry for itself for the past 6 years.

Seeking information

We are always keen to find out more information about the Health Hydro.

Are you a descendant of any of the MFS Committee below?
– Over the years the uses for the upstairs rooms have changed several times, can you help us fill in some of the blanks?

– Do you have any photographs that might unlock some secrets? Particularly the interior of the Faringdon Road entrance.

– We would love to relocate some of the original fixtures & fittings and furniture, do you know where any ended up? Eg the large table from the committee room or the beautiful glazed scree

Special feature article by Maggie Brunger – the granddaughter of George Brunger. George saved the Medical Fund Society from collapse beginning with a chance encounter in 1916.

In September 1916 the GWR Medical Fund Society in Swindon was on the verge of collapse. It was deeply in debt to the GWR, and to it’s bank. Doctors hadn’t been paid for months and the loss of weekly dues, caused by the wartime conscription of hundreds of workers, left it with much reduced income.

Many MFS Management Committee members were pressing to sell the assets, pay off debts and close it down. Thousands of workers and their dependents would lose the medical care that was vital to their security and well-being.

Stormy meetings between the Committee and the Members were held during a week in mid- September 1916.

George Brunger

At this time George Brunger was a 36 year-old Chargehand in the Works. Born and raised in Maidstone, he had left school aged 12, and worked with his father in the small family shop. Influenced by an army engineer uncle, he joined up and months later, aged 18, went off to fight in the Boer War. He loved South Africa and stayed on after the horrific war. There he honed his engineering skills. First in diamond and gold mines and later building bridges on the new South African Railway line.

A return to England

In 1905 he returned to England and found a job in the GWR Works. He married his sweetheart, Lilian and moved with her to Swindon on the evening of their Boxing Day wedding. By 1916 they lived with their four children and Lilian’s teenaged brother and sister and two conscripts billeted with them, in their house at 40 Kingshill.

George was a Shop Steward and a Union Rep. He’d been at a Union Conference in London during the week of the MFS crisis meetings. Walking home from Swindon Station on the evening of the third meeting he heard an uproar coming from inside the building housing the Baths. Turning in to see what was going on, an angry crowd confronted him, arguing about the potential ending of the MFS.

He spoke up, saying it couldn’t be right to dissolve the 70 year-old Society during war-time. Not while so many men were away fighting. It would leave their families unprotected. Further, that at the end of the war, the survivors would need health care more than ever.

A proposal

George proposed the election of a special committee charged with researching solutions, and reporting back to the Membership in two months. The proposal was adopted and a nine member committee, with the on-the-spot election of George as Chairman.

Management revision

During those two months, the Special Committee saw drastic revision of the outdated management of the Society. They renegotiated the loans with minimal increase in members’ dues for a finite period. Also they changed the pay structure for the doctors. They decreased the top salaries and responsibilities and doubled the pay of the Junior doctors – thereby attracting older more stable practitioners. They proposed raising money by auctioning assets that were no longer needed. Above all they consulted the British Medical Association and gained their support for the proposed changes.

In November 1916 the membership accepted the proposals. Dr. G. R. Swinhoe, the Chief Medical Officer, demanded arbitration from the BMA but rejected their approval of the new terms. He resigned but his two Assistant Medical Officers agreed to the new terms and pay scale.

A new fifteen-member MFS Management Committee was elected, with George as its Chair. This was a position he held until 1948 in the GWR MFS until the NHS subsumed it.

The GWR Medical Fund Society Committee

The GWR MFS Committee was an extraordinary group of men. For the next thirty years they successfully managed, and grew, the most comprehensive and progressive health service in the country. They all had days jobs ‘Inside’. Many also served on the Boards of community organisations, or as Swindon Town Councillors. George Brunger, together with Reuben George, formed the first Labour Party affiliate in Swindon.

A Councillor from 1919 to 1934, he gained an appointment as the first Swindon Council Housing Officer. In that role he was responsible for developing the first public housing estates in Swindon.

These men of the GWR MFS Committee accomplished exceptional voluntary service. They attended many meetings, fined themselves if they were late or missed any. And they published their progress and attendance in an Annual Report issued to every Member of the Society. Their service for the health and well-being of the people of Swindon is incalculable.

They deserve recognition and honour.

They were:

Medical fund society committee
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