Did someone call the midwife?
Having a baby at home is so very different to a hospital birth as you can imagine.
Two of my children were born in England before I emigrated and they were both born at home. At the birth of my second son, I was attended by a young Australian midwife from Sydney. Whilst we were waiting for the birth we chatted about life in Australia and I guess that’s where thoughts of emigration entered my head.
My neighbour, Keith, suddenly arrived as we all sat around. He was dressed up in a nurse’s overall that had been left at their house from a district nurse’s visit to them. On his forehead he had donned a miner’s headlamp and he carried a box of tools in one hand and a wrench in the other! “Did someone call the midwife?” he asked as he walked into my sitting room! Much laughter ensued as you can imagine. You just don’t get that in a hospital!
This week my brother and I drove up to the Historic Chatham Docks for the tour that I had booked months ago at home! One of my favourite TV programmes, ‘Call the Midwife,’ was about to spring into life. The series started at around the time my brother was born and continued through the years to the sixties when I had my first two children! You can understand why the programme was a walk down memory lane for me!
The strange thing is that we both lived close to the dockyard when we lived in the Medway district. We never thought anything of the dockyard – it was simply the dockyards and that it might have historical value never entered our heads at all.
Now the Dockyard has become a remarkable tourist spot and certainly worthwhile to visit. Much of the filming of Call the Midwife is done there and it has been used in other programmes as well. It is also home to a couple of old ships and numerous associated displays just as one would imagine. One section housed some brilliant models of old ships. How they manage the rigging on some of them is beyond me – amazing patience would be required!
So, we arrived in plenty of time to have a cuppa before starting our look around. We then went to look over the HMS Cavalier – a destroyer, commissioned in 1944 – one of the last ones of its kind left. Up and down a few narrow stairs- all good exercise. This vessel has been used many times in the TV series. It is amazing how they can mask and add things to make it look very different.
Starting the Tour
Then it was time to start our tour and our guide arrived dressed the part in a midwife’s uniform. We were given some good background information into the Dockyard and how it came to be used in the series. We were advised that the Nuns’ home, Nonnatus House, wasn’t actually at the Dockyard – it is located elsewhere.
We started at the Commissioner’s House which is a lovely building and we actually finished our tour in the garden at the back. The tour guide had a great picture book which showed many stills from each episodes of the series which she showed at each relevant point to refresh everyone’s memories. Quite a few die-hard fans were attending I might add!
We moved on to a row of buildings which were used as the tenement houses in the main street. Unfortunately, there were several modern cars in the way and no washing hanging from lines! But I managed to get a couple of shots to keep me happy! Several other corners, steps and underground places were to follow – and we all recognised them with the aid of her picture book. The buildings are not actually empty. There have been refurbished inside and are rented out as offices. Part of the buildings are also used by the nearby University. When the area is needed for filming cars are banned!
They go to a lot of trouble to change things. Washing is strung across the street with sheets slapping in the breeze. Doors are added where required and one building, which is used as the police station, remains painted blue because they got fed up with having to repaint it back into the brown that matched all the other doors!
Then we moved inside on the buildings for a trip down memory lane… Part of it was set up as the sitting room and dining table as used in Nonnatus House by the midwives and nuns. Egg sandwiches and trifle sat proudly on the table – two things I still love! And there was an old television which made us all comment how far we have come in the world of entertainment!!!
Inside the House
Part of the clinical set for the House was there with lots of 50s and 60s medical equipment on display, including some posters of having a baby! Beyond that was one of the bikes used by the midwives, complete with a delivery bag on the back. Next to this was a lovely old pram which reminded me so much of the coach built pram I had for my two boys when I lived in England. There were several costumes used in the series and some small displays of a record player, toys, dinner set and radios from the era. They even had a little transistor radio – jogging memories of mine and the excitement I felt when I got it for Christmas! There were plenty of oohs and aahs from us all as we reminisced about days gone by.
As we walked back to the Commissioner’s garden to end our tour, we were shown more of the streets with some of their false front doors. Honestly, you would never have known they weren’t original. The set builders do a remarkable job. Our tour guide explained that many of the places were specially built sets and weren’t real at all. It is kind of disappointing that so much is make believe – but, then, isn’t this true of most TV programmes and films? It so skilfully done that we often forget we aren’t watching the real thing!
We finished our tour in the garden where several parts had been used in various scenes. Our tour guide told us we would all enjoy saying I’ve seen that – or that was at Chatham – when we continued to watch the programme! So true! We now have to patiently wait for the Christmas Special and the new series in 2019! I guess it is repeats for the die-hard fans.
It was a really good tour which we all enjoyed.
There is nothing quite like having your memory jogged about the times that you had to Call the Midwife!