Workhouse stalwarts who deserve greater recognition for their role in Hemel Hempstead’s history

Mary Trowell's medical equipment; she was an accomplished nurse and a 'caring Matron of the Union Poorhouse (later St Paul's Hospital) in Hemel Hempstead
Mary Trowell's medical equipment; she was an accomplished nurse and a 'caring Matron of the Union Poorhouse (later St Paul's Hospital) in Hemel Hempstead

Edwin Trowell could be described as a most unusual ‘local man’, as he was actually born in Derby in 1869, the son of a railway worker.

He was first employed by Royal Crown Derby, at just 13 years of age, and it was not long before he was hand-painting the delicate porcelain for which the factory is so famous.

At the age of 15 came his big opportunity.

The local Liberal party decided to make a presentation to the then Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. William. E. Gladstone, of a valuable 40-piece dessert service.

Edwin was asked to go to the manager’s office, where he was asked: “Could you manage the work on your own?” Edwin’s response was a categorical and confident “Yes!”

However, it was some ten years later that the life of Edwin Trowell took a very different track, when he left Derby and moved into the field of medicine.

He joined Rainhill Asylum, where he sat the exam for the Certificate of the Medical and Psychological Association of England and Ireland, which he duly passed on November 7, 1894.

It could well be said that part of his reward was the hand of the head hurse of the hospital, Mary Margaret Tebay, whom he married in 1895.

In 1902 Edwin and Mary arrived at the Hemel Hempstead Union Workhouse – later St Paul’s Hospital – to take up the positions of master and matron.

One achievement stands out. Edwin stated he had effected a considerable saving in gas consumption due to attention to burners and other usage.

The reduction during the Christmas quarter of 1905, in comparison with the similar quarter in 1904, was 37,800 cubic feet!

Clearly, here were two people dedicated to their chosen careers, and with clear and attainable targets.

They gave 20 years of outstanding service to the workhouse, which was commented on in a framed accolade, presented to them on their retirement in 1923.

The Trowells had already made plans for their retirement to the Isle of Man, which became the focal point for most of Edwin’s watercolour paintings.

Sadly, Mary passed away in 1944 at the grand age of 84 years, and was buried in the Heath Lane Cemetery in Boxmoor.

As time went on, Edwin met Ethel Margaret Bushrod, the daughter of a retired army officer, and they married on June 1, 1946 – he was then 75 years old, and she just 47.

Edwin died in Bournemouth in 1959. It is fitting that he was brought back to Hemel Hempstead and interred in the same grave as his first love,Mary Margaret.

Edwin was a long-serving and dedicated Freemason and celebrated 50 years at the King Henry VIII Lodge in Hemel Hempstead.

It is the ambition of any Mason to be elected Master of his Lodge, and this he achieved on three occasions, in 1914, 1917, and 1918.

He was also elected Provincial (Hertfordshire) Grand Senior Deacon.

This is an intriguing tale of a remarkable couple who came to Hemel Hempstead and demonstrated great tact, diplomacy and compassion, as well as showing remarkable business acumen.

Both Edwin and Mary should be adopted as ‘Hemel Hempsteadians’. Their tireless contribution at the local Union Workhouse has never been fully recognised, nor indeed have the names of Edwin and Mary Trowell. Perhaps a future street name might be appropriate?

Roy Wood, honorary secretary, Hemel Hempstead Local History & Museum Society.