A woman who has worked in the health service for 37 years has spoken about her time volunteering at a smallpox isolation hospital in Ainsworth.

Freda Hardie, who was born at Bealey’s Maternity home in Radcliffe in 1936, said that when she was growing up she "knew what real poverty" was like and has spent her life since helping others.

The 87-year-old, who lives in Radcliffe, said her families financial struggles were the main reason she volunteered at Ainsworth Isolation Hospital.

The Bolton News: Ainsworth Hospital, 1970Ainsworth Hospital, 1970 (Image: Archive)

Freda said: “I remember seeing the advert for people to volunteer at a smallpox hospital and although it was voluntary, you could get £50 in your wage packet at the end of the year.

“That was a lot of money for us so I signed up”.

As she was working closely with infectious diseases, Frida had to wear a type of "trexler outfit" to protect both her and other patients from disease.

She said: “We were covered from head to foot and had had our own oxygen supply, so it wasn’t too hot when wearing it or anything like that.  

The Bolton News: The Coach House, former Ainsworth Nursing Home and Isolation Hospital

“On top of that, because I worked with infectious diseases, I have had to have a flu jab every year since I was 18 – so when they ask me if I want one now I say no thank you, think I have had enough.”

Although Freda did not stay at the smallpox hospital for long, she said she remembers several cases where the expertise her and other volunteers had come in handy.

One example was when a lorry driver was admitted by his GP with erythema nodosum - painful, red, rounded lumps that typically appear on the shins.

She said: “When it came to diseases, more often than not, we knew a lot more than the GPs because that was our area of expertise.

The Bolton News: Freda Hardie

“I looked at the patient and knew straight away it wasn’t that.

“He was long distance lorry driver, so I checked what he had been carrying - sheep skins.

“I knew then it was tick bites and I remember him telling me how glad he was that I had been there.”

The hospital, which was founded in 1906, treated smallpox victims, and between 1913 and 1921 the home was also used for tuberculosis patients.

Later, as vaccination programmes eliminated smallpox, the hospital was gradually used less and less.

The Bolton News: Ainsworth Nursing Home in Knowsley Road, Ainsworth

The hospital closed in 1982 and subsequently became a nursing home which then closed in 2018.

Since then, plans have been submitted and rejected to demolish the building in place for homes.

Freda said: “At the time we were always told you could not use that land again because of all the smallpox and that nothing else would ever be built there.

“When we were there, everything would have to be burnt that had been in contact with someone with smallpox.”

The Bolton News: The Coach House, former Ainsworth Nursing Home and Isolation Hospital

Freda’s time there was brief and at around 21-years-old, she became a fully qualified nurse for the Bury area's health authority and worked in the health service for 37 years.

She said: “I have had an interesting life and helped many people.

“Although I can’t walk well, and I am now half blind, I just get on with it.

“I am still keeping my mind active by reading, doing crosswords, speaking to friends and have helped out with the hospice for many years too.”

Freda has dedicated more than 20 years of her time to Bury Hospice in a couple of different roles.

The first of these roles was on the reception desk welcoming in visitors and taking phone calls, and the second at the warehouse in Radcliffe sorting through donated goods which are then sent across to our shops to generate much needed income.

Even during Covid-19 lockdowns, when Freda was unable to venture out, she could not be stopped from helping.

Each week, she said, "lads from the warehouse" would gather boxes of jewellery, quarantined them for the appropriate amount of time, and drop them off for Freda to sort through from the comfort and safety of her own home.

She is now housebound but continues to help sorting jewellery for the hospice charity shops from her own home.

Freda added: “I have everything you could want, a supportive family, some amazing grandchildren, lovely neighbours and a nice comfortable home.

“I am very happy and I have led a very interesting life."