Midwife ‘Aunty Joan’ who delivered 40,000 babies dies

A former Burnley midwife who delivered thousands of babies in a long career and was known as “Aunty Joan” has died aged 95.
Joan FentonJoan Fenton
Joan Fenton

Miss Joan Fenton died peacefully after a short illness on November 30th in Meadow Lodge Home, Padiham.

Even as a young girl Sister Fenton knew she wanted to be a nurse.

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She started training aged 15 and when she retired from the Edith Watson Maternity Unit in 1980 she was Midwifery Nursing Officer for Burnley District and had worked in hospitals in Wigan, Manchester, York and Chester.

In Burnley she worked first at Bank Hall Maternity Hospital on Colne Road and then helped to set up the Edith Watson Unit.

At Bank Hall she was responsible for the care and safe delivery of thousands of babies. She always put her patient first and dedicated her life to caring for others.

When asked how many babies she had delivered over her 45-year career, she estimated around 40,000 and said she had loved “every minute of it”. She taught others and told her pupils: “Try to remember that even with the most modern and sophisticated equipment, there’s a patient at the end of it. If you are not careful you may spend too much time watching the machine and not the mother.”

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Her knowledge and expertise guided many an anxious midwife onto the right path and many of her patients kept in touch with her. One mother was a member of the Roberts Bros Circus Family and whenever the circus was in town, she received free tickets.

In 1968 when Bank Hall transferred “up the road” and became Edith Watson Maternity Unit, Miss Fenton was promoted to Nursing Officer in charge of the Labour Ward and spent the next 12 years until her retirement in 1980 in a role she loved, guiding mums, midwives, students and doctors, always there to give them help and encouragement.

Twice she met HRH Prince Charles. She was presented to him in 1968 when he came to officially open the Edith Watson Unit. They had a lovely chat about her days on the community in Manchester. He asked if she had to ride a bicycle as a midwife in the community, and she replied, “No not in Manchester, we couldn’t as the wheels would get stuck in the tram lines!” Then in 1980 she attended the Queen Mum’s 80th birthday service at St Paul’s Cathedral.

With her friend Elsie Bamber, she attended All Saints with St John the Baptist Church, Habergham, where they were actively involved and honorary members of the Mothers’ Union.

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A funeral service took place last Thursday and was conducted by Fr Charlie Hill at All Saints, followed by a committal at Burnley Crematorium. Donations in Miss Fenton’s memory can be made to The Parkinson’s Disease Society. She leaves many, many friends and those who were privileged to call her “Aunty Joan”.

This remarkable woman will be missed by all whose lives she touched.