Our Health Heroes: Dr Alfred Henry Williams

Volunteer Howard Greenwood reflect on his research for the ‘Our Health Heroes’ exhibition:

“When the project started, we looked for items in the Headstone Collections associated with The Cottage Hospital and Medicine. One item we discovered was a typed eight-page document with handwritten amendments. It was the personal recollections of one Alfred Williams, who had been a Doctor in Harrow at the start of the 20th Century.

Image of a white man with a thin head of hair, wearing a blazer with a white shirt and a bow tie.
Dr Alfred Henry Williams


It described how he had found himself on to the Board of the Hospital and had then agitated to have a new Hospital built. It is quite blunt about the short comings of the building on Lower Road and gives a graphic description of the steps he took to get approval for a new Hospital building. He then describes the activity necessary to raise the funds to purchase the land and complete the construction. He also mentions some of the people involved with the running of the Hospital and those who made significant donations. He makes clear that he argued for the purchase of a larger site than was initially required and the retention of the extra land for potential future expansion. This subsequently proved to be a significant contribution to the Hospital’s continued success. The handwritten additions also say that he offered suggestions to the architects in relation to the layout of the 1906 Hospital.

The document then goes on to describe his subsequent experience, during the First World War. He became the Commandant and Medical Officer in charge of a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) Hospital located in an area called “the Butts” at the top of Roxeth Hill. This would have been taking in wounded soldiers being returned from France. The VAD Hospital’s proximity to the Cottage Hospital and his personal connection to it, made it possible for some of the soldiers he was treating to convalesce at the Cottage Hospital, to the benefit of all concerned.

Image of a document showing recollections of Dr Alfred Williams
Recollections of Dr Alfred Williams


Although not on display within the exhibition, this document was used to create an audio exhibit at the Museum, using some of Dr Williams’s recollections to provide a commentary in his own words. You can list to it here: Our Health Heroes – Dr Alfred Henry Williams – YouTube

Further investigation uncovered the fact that Alfred had been born in New Zealand in 1865. By the time of the 1901 census, he was settled in Harrow, at a house one suspects he had named “Rotorua”, with his wife, son and servants. We also managed to track down a descendant of his, who was able to share with us the photograph shown here.”

Our Health Heroes exhibition project was kindly funded by The Royal Society. This post celebrates ‘Explore Your Archives Week 2022’.

From Our Volunteers