Mystery child star of Northampton General Hospital identified

A mystery girl who helped Northampton General Hospital raise funds by appearing in a film from her hospital bed has been identified.

Saturday, 28th May 2016, 6:00 am

The cine film was made in 1935 for NGH and a scene at the end where a girl is shown placing a coin into the hospital donation box had been perplexing archivists.

But the children of Sylvia MacDonald from Long Buckby have successfully proved the girl was their mum.

However the whole family knew little of their mother’s illness before spotting her in the film - only that she had been in various hospitals for four years - and the film revealed to them an insight into her life almost 30 years after she passed away.

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Sylvia’s daughter, Fiona Parks, said: “As a family we only knew that in her childhood she had been in hospital for about 4 years, so these records answered questions for us, but posed more that remain unanswered.

“She never discussed it with any of her children. They remember seeing photographs of her with callipers and crutches but never asked questions. She always walked with a slight limp.

“She spent time wearing callipers and her school friends used to have to help her up the school steps whilst she was wearing them and also when she later used crutches.

“By all accounts she was as fast as any other child when using crutches.”

Photographs showed her with callipers and using crutches, but Sylvia never spoke of these times.

Over the years, she no longer needed walking aids and all that remained was a slight limp.

It was suggested that the girl or her relatives could be traced to learn more of her story.

So an appeal was published by the Chronicle & Echo and two families came forward believing it was their mother.

After tracing medical records it has been established that the girl was Sylvena (known as Sylvia) MacDonald.

Her son Stuart, his wife and the extended Bruce family have provided a comprehensive medical and family history.

She was born on July 22, 1924, to Helena and Thadrous MacDonald in the area of Long Buckby, known as Salem.

In 1930 she was diagnosed with a psoas abscess on her left hip, aged six.

She was admitted to Knightley Ward at NGH and then later transferred to Manfield Orthopaedic Hospital.

The records then established that she had been admitted to John Greenwood Shipman Home in June, 1933, aged nine. This home was the convalescent home for Manfield Hospital and she was discharged from that home on 4 August 1934.

The fact she appears in the 1935 film, now aged 11, possibly indicated that she still needed some form of treatment.

As a teenager she had lots of friends and enjoyed dancing.

At the age of 14 she went to work at Cooks Shoe Factory in Long Buckby,

Sylvia married and had six children, four boys and two girls, over 13 years. She remained active and often took part in sponsored walks held locally, sometimes up to 10 miles.

In 1974 she was diagnosed with a brain tumour and was treated at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.

She made a reasonable recovery but could not return to work and died on May 1, 1978, aged 54.


Before the introduction of the NHS all the running costs of the hospital had to be raised by the local community, with some assistance from the

local authorities.

By 1935 the Hospital Week Committee decided to move forward and make a cine film of the various wards and departments.

The 40-minute silent film with captions, was produced by Messrs. Kodak Ltd and Mr WJ Bassett Lowke, a prominent local businessman acted as the director of the film. He was a talented photographer and had already produced a film on Northampton’s history.

The cost of the film and the apparatus to show it amounted to £145 in old money.

The first show was on January 30, 1935 and that year it was shown at 27 other locations.

A new car was needed in 1936 for the film transportation team and an Austin car was purchased from Grose Ltd. Northampton, at a cost of £292. By that time, the number of shows that year had risen to 59 locations.

In the 1937 annual report there were discussions about updating the film as there was a new Secretary/Superintendent, Major Disney (the source of the name ‘Disney Ward’) and Matron, Helen Bell. However, there is no record in later years of this happening.

It was thought the film had long since disappeared but then it was discovered that it is now owned by the Northamptonshire Film Trust, based at Wellingborough Museum.

If you are interested in viewing clips of this film go on to the NGH website:

The film is then listed as ITV Podcast – 1935 NGH Film