Swinney Notebook

Sometimes the passing of a few decades can transform the most mundane of objects into fascinating pieces of social history, shedding new light on the period in which they were created. 

This notebook, along with a package of other family documents, was kindly donated to Scarborough Museums by the relatives of Scarborough man William Swinney. The collection is a fascinating insight into the life of an extraordinary local gentleman. 

William was born on 28 April 1910. He was the son of Beatrice and John Hodgson Swinney, who had been a special constable in World War I – he was a tailor who owned a gentleman’s and boys’ outfitter on Aberdeen Walk, Swinney Bros.

Son William followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a special constable in World War II – other documents include his medical grading record, which suggests that health issues may have made him unsuitable for posting overseas.

Our photograph shows William’s national registration identity card, his armband bearing the words ‘special constable’, and a Scarborough Borough Police notebook. And here’s where the real fascination starts – a detailed account of tiny incidents overnight at Scarborough Hospital, where William was on relief duty from 7.30pm on Monday January 20th 1941 through until 8am on Tuesday 21st.

At 19.45, William records that the room next to the labour ward had ‘light showing from bottom’. At 19.50, he spotted that the female surgical kitchen cupboard door had been left open, the sluice room curtain was very badly drawn, and on the Ann Wright Ward, a kitchen cupboard door had been left open.

An hour later, William was inspecting Graham Ward, and noticed a ‘steril (sic) room curtain badly drawn’, with a ‘3” gap showing, also window left open with light showing in passage between steril room and sluice room’.

By 21.00, he was checking the Maternity Duty Room (‘The curtain (black) not drawn properly’) and 15 minutes after that, the Haldane Duty Room (‘Curtain – gap left down left hand side’).

“Other lights which were bad – Doctors Flats, Windows of Kitchen looking on to goods yard. Reported these lights to Sister Haliday and the various ward sisters.”

It seems odd to us now that a special constable would be spending time recording in such forensic detail something as trivial as a badly drawn curtain. But this, remember, was 1941, and the country was in the grip of blackouts, terrified of German night air bombing attacks – so not so trivial after all.

The Swinney papers are now part of the collection at Scarborough Museums and Galleries, and we would like to thank William’s surviving relatives for donating them.