Headington history: People

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Mrs McMaster, née Mary Isabella Blewitt Neville (1914–2004)

Mary McMaster was the founder of St Luke's Hospital and McMaster House

Mary Isabella Blewitt Neville (Mrs McMaster) was born on 15 March 1914 at 5 Medway Villas, Gillingham, Kent. Her parents were Lionel John Neville Neville [sic] and Agnes Lilian Fyfe Blewitt, who were married at Kensington on 20 September 1910.

Mary's father was a career soldier who had served in the South African War. In the First World War he served as a Captain in the 5th Field Company of the Royal Engineers, but when Mary was only nine months old he died of wounds at the Casino Hospital in Boulogne on 17 December 1914 at the age of 36 (CWGC). His body (very unusually) was repatriated, and he was buried at Sloley, Norfolk in St Bartholomew's Church burial ground (grave details). His effects came to £84,266.

Following her father's death, Mary and her sister Elizabeth moved with their mother to Pendean House, West Lavington, Midhurst, Sussex. At the end of the war the family moved to Alvescot in Oxfordshire (where Mary was to remain for thirty years).

When she was 14, Mary was sent to the Godolphin School in Salisbury. She left school when she was 17 and spent two years at finishing schools, first in Paris and then in Florence. In 1938/9 she travelled around India with her sister.

When the Second World War broke out in 1939, Mary and her sister were already trained as Red Cross nurses, and were sent as VADs (Voluntary Aid Detachment nurses) to the Emergency Medical Services Department that had taken over Banbury Workhouse and looked after elderly evacuees from London. Mary was then transferred as a VAD to Tusmore Park, where she nursed convalescent soldiers.

In January 1941 she went to the Middlesex Hospital for a three-year training as a physiotherapist (spending one of the years at at Stoke Mandeville Hospital).

Mary came to Headington immediately after the end of the war, when she was appointed on to the physiotherapy staff at the Wingfield-Morris Orthopaedic Hospital, working under G. R. Girdlestone. She remained in this job for ten years until 1955.

In 1952 she had a vision that she should collect a band of people to work together for the glory of God, and the Community of St Luke was formed. She leased 20 Linton Road in July 1956, and this became St Luke's Home where she could nurse up to twenty patients.

Mary's mother Agnes Neville died at the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre in Headington on 19 August 1956 and was buried in Norfolk with Mary's father.

In late 1963 at Oxford, Mary Isabella Blewitt Neville (then aged 49) married Ian McMaster, a widower sixteen years her senior who lived at 21 Park Town. (For more on her husband, see his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.) In the engagement notice published in The Times of 26 November 1963, Mary was described as the Warden of St Luke's Home, Linton Road, Oxford

Ian McMaster's headstone

In 1971 Mrs McMaster purchased with her own money a freehold site in Latimer Road, Headington where she planned to build a nursing home with sheltered accommodation alongside.

Mary's husband Ian McMaster died at the former St Luke's Home in north Oxford on 2 February 1978. His funeral was at St Margaret's Church, and he was buried in Holywell Cemetery. His headstone (right) mentions that Mary was his second wife and had founded St Luke's Hospital.

In 1980 Mrs McMaster was living at 1 Brookside in Headington, close to her chosen hospital site, and by 1982 all Mrs McMaster's nursing home patients had been transferred to the newly completed St Luke's Hospital in Latimer Road. In that year she was awarded the OBE.

On 22 June 1984 the first tenants moved into McMaster House next door to St Luke's Hospital (below):

McMaster House

Mary McMaster died in Oxford at the age of 90 on 21 March 2004, and her funeral was at St Andrew's Church in Linton Road, Oxford. Her death notice in The Times stated that she was the founder of St Luke's Nursing Home and McMaster House. She appears to have been buried with her husband in Holywell Cemetery. (That death notice states that she was buried in St Cross churchyard, which was closed in 1848).

St Luke's Hospital

In 2019 St Luke's Hospital (above) was extended with an extra storey with twenty extra bedrooms on top and wrapping around the left-hand side of the old 1980s building, with a new reception area at ground level (16/01402/FUL). There is more information here from the architects about the extension and the living wall at the side.

© Stephanie Jenkins

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