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The First Nursing Heroine in the Black Country


Extract taken from the Blackcountryman (2007.2)



"Absolutely disgraceful". "Should have their hands cut off”. Just two of many comments made by Walsall

people after the violation in September 2004, of a 19th century grave.

The grave was, and is, that of Dorothy Wyndlow Pattison (1832-78). Born at Hauxwell in Yorkshire on the

16th January, she was the youngest but one child of the Reverend Mark James Pattison, and sister of the

better-known Mark Pattison Junior, an English scholar. Between 1861-4 she was in charge of the village

school at Little Woolston in Buckinghamshire, joining the Sisterhood of the Good Samaritans in Coatham,

Middlesbrough, in Autumn 1864.

Prior to this, in Autumn 1863, the Walsall Cottage Hospital was opened under the superintendence of Sister Mary. Upon the decline in health of Sister Mary in 1864-5 Sister Dora, as she had become known, made her first visit to Walsall in order to assist. In 1865, Sister Dora was recalled to Middlesbrough, but in November returned to Walsall, intending to go back to Middlesbrough at Christmas. However, by then her worth to Walsall had become so apparent she was prevailed upon to stay, her name forever becoming synonymous with Walsall, her life's work for the next 13 years being to the people of Walsall, especially the poor.


In 1868 the first epidemic of smallpox broke out, followed by a further outbreak in 1872. Sister Dora undertook the post of head of the Smallpox Hospital in Stafford Street, and from February 1869 devoted herself solely to the care of the sufferers. For this sterling work the employees of the London and North-western Railways presented her with a pony and trap, which she used mainly for driving to see convalescents, and seldom for purely recreational purposes.


On Friday 15th October 1875 there occurred the tragic incident with which Sister Dora's name is forever associated, the explosion at Messrs Jones and Company's Birchills Ironworks in which, despite the skilled and devoted nursing given by Sister Dora, 13 men died.


Although not as nationally known as Florence Nightingale and Mary Secole, her work amongst the poor and deprived of a Midlands town ranks equally with these better known women, and indeed Sister Dora was the first woman other than those of Royal blood to have a statue erected in her honour. This was situated on The Bridge, and was unveiled by a Mr B Beebee on 11th October 1886.

In 1877 Sister Dora developed breast cancer. She decided against an operation and kept her disease a secret. She died on Christmas Eve 1878, aged 46. At her funeral on 28 December, the town of Walsall turned out to see her off to Queen Street Cemetery, borne by eighteen railwaymen, engine drivers, porters and guards, all in working uniform.


  • The former Walsall General Hospital was renamed Walsall General (Sister Dora) Hospital. It has now been largely demolished but Sister Dora's name is still perpetuated in the new hospitals. The provision for outpatients at Walsall Manor Hospital is named Sister Dora Outpatients Department. Behind the Manor Hospital is a Mental Health Hospital which has been dedicated to Sister Dora. 'Dorothy Pattison Hospital' cares for Mental Health patients.

  • In 1882, a stained glass window at St. Matthew's Church, Walsall, was dedicated to her.

  • An annual church service is held in her memory in at St. Paul's Church at the Crossing in Walsall.

  • Probably after employees' persuasion, the London & North Western Railway named one of its locomotives 'Sister Dora' 2-4-0 'Jumbo' number 2158 was chosen to carry the name. A working miniature version of this locomotive (to run on seven and a quarter inch gauge track) ran for a short time in the 1980s on the Walsall Steam Railway in Walsall Arboretum. 

  • A portrait of Sister Dora by George Phoenix has been preserved at Wolverhampton Art Gallery.

  • British Rail Class 31 diesel locomotive 31 430 (now in preservation) was named after her.  British Rail Class 37 diesel loco 37 116 (preserved, now reinstated) received the name from the Class 31.

  • Midland Metro named an AnsaldoBreda T-69 tram in her honour.

  • The main road through the village of Woolstone, Milton Keynes, where she ran the village school from 1861 to 1864, is called Pattison Lane.

  • Sister Dora Gardens in Caldmore and Dora Street in Pleck are named after her.

  • A building at Walsall Campus, University of Wolverhampton is named in honour of Sister Dora.

Walsall Sister Dora statue.jpg

In October 1886, a statue of Sister Dora by Francis John Williamson was unveiled in Walsall It is the UK's first public statue of a woman not of royal blood.