Lea Road Infant Welfare Centre

Wolverhampton Borough Council sanctioned several of these centres in the 1920s, including one on Lea Road, Penn Fields, which opened on 25th June 1928. It was designed to provide somewhere for expectant and new mothers to meet, learn about their baby’s health – and their own maternal health – and have their children fed, weighed and vaccinated. When the social investigator Tom Brennan visited in 1945 he found it the busiest Infant Welfare Centre in Wolverhampton, covering 2,000 children aged 0-4 in South-West Wolverhampton. Although the clinics were open to the public, mothers often had to be encouraged to visit by doctors, health visitors, or staff at the town’s Food Office.

The events of World War Two, the “People’s War,” convinced many people that the old way of life – poor wages, economic crisis, and social security dominated by the dreaded Means Test – was no longer acceptable. Clement Atlee’s Labour government was elected in a landslide in 1945 and at its heart was the promise of a National Health Service, free for everyone at the point of use. Centres like Lea Road remained part of local authority provision, although their funding was now provided centrally, and this gave them a new lease of life

Visitors to Lea Road in the 1950s and 1960s would have found a busy environment, overseen by staff and volunteers. The main hall was a waiting room, but doubled up as a venue for ante-natal and “mothercraft” classes, baby clothes sales, and as a social gathering for new mothers – always with a fresh cup of tea in hand. Worried new mums could receive advice on anything from birthing anaesthetics to family planning – though this was strictly for married women only. Babies were weighed and checked regularly, and vaccinated against a range of diseases. Outbreaks of measles, smallpox and polio still occurred from time to time, and diphtheria was a particular Black Country problem: at points during the 1950s, for example, Coseley was responsible for a third of all cases nationally! Most memorably, the centres also distributed welfare foods: vitamins, bottles of thick, sticky orange juice, tins of National Dried Milk, and the hated cod liver oil.

By the 1960s, Lea Road’s constituency MP was even Minister of Health. Enoch Powell was always controversial: he oversaw the withdrawal of thalidomide but refused a public inquiry; sanctioned the use of the pill on the NHS, but only for married women; and met an acute NHS staff shortage by enthusiastically supporting recruitment from Britain’s Commonwealth friends in South Asia and the Caribbean. It was noted in Parliament that “the Health Service would have collapsed if it had not been for the enormous influx from junior doctors from such countries as India and Pakistan.” Wolverhampton at this time was becoming home to many families from these areas and others, much-needed labour for booming local industry; they were also crucial for the continuation of the health service, providing doctors, nurses and midwives.

Lea Road eventually closed in the 1970s as services were transferred to more modern buildings. Black Country Living Museum is seeking memories of this Infant Welfare Centre in the 1940s to 1960s, to inform our recreation of it in BCLM: Forging Ahead. Upon completion in 2022, visitors will be able to step back in time and learn about the birth of the NHS and the lives of young children and mothers in the post-war period.

We are rebuilding this centre to tell the story of the birth of the NHS; the influx in junior doctors  from countries such as India and Pakistan during the 50s & 60s; the lives of young women and children in this period; and also to help in our understanding of public health in the present day.

The Museum’s recreation of the Infant Welfare Centre is made possible with support from the Wellcome Trust. 

The formation of the NHS will be a key story within Black Country Living Museum’s new 1940s-60s town, told via the ambitious recreation of Wolverhampton’s Lea Road Infant Welfare Centre.

Do you remember the Infant Welfare Centre on Lea Road, or a similar centre, between 1940s-1960s? We’re looking for memories and objects to help us with our ambitious recreation of this important Wolverhampton-based clinic.

Did you work or visit there? Did you visit Lea Road as a young mother? Can you still recall the taste of cod liver oil in the clinic? Do you remember the staff, or other visitors? Your memories don’t necessarily have to be  about Lea Road specifically.  We’re also interested in memories of other Infant Welfare Centres from the time.

If you have any information or objects you’d like to share to help in our recreation, please get in touch with our collections team.

  • Tel: 0121 557 9643
  • Email: [email protected] 
  • Post address: Collections Team, Black Country Living Museum, Tipton Road, Dudley, West Midlands DY1 4SQ