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Page last updated at 11:27 GMT, Wednesday, 2 September 2009 12:27 UK
Historic maternity home

By Tim Dale
BBC York & North Yorkshire

Hazelwood Castle, Tadcaster
Hazelwood Castle provided a safe-haven for expectant mothers

As Britain marks the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War, a luxury hotel in North Yorkshire is remembering its own wartime role.

Hazelwood Castle, near Tadcaster, was requisitioned like many great mansions at the outbreak of war in 1939. The historic building was converted into a maternity hospital by the Ministry of Health.

Given the stunning setting, it was a popular place for expectant mothers and many girls born at Hazelwood were named Hazel in the castle's honour.

It's fascinating to hear the varied stories from people whose lives all began at the Castle.
Mark Booth, Hazelwood Castle

Many of the women who gave birth in the castle were from the local area and many of the 'Hazelwood babies' continue to live nearby.

Annie Hebden, now lives at Copmanthorpe in York. Her father, Pilot Officer Frederick Birks, flew Spitfires and Halifax Bombers during the war and was tragically killed in action at the age of 23, less than a year after Annie's birth.

John Udakis and his sisters Eileen Johnson and Joan Dixon were also all born at Hazlewood Castle and have lived within 10 miles of their birth place ever since. The siblings' mother, Bessie, worked there for many years as a cook and cleaner, a job they say she loved.

The family's connection with the Castle doesn't end there; John's wife, Jane and Joan's husband, John were both born at Hazlewood Castle too.


Wartime babies meet at birthplace

To remember the castle's wartime role the hotel decided to mark the 70th anniversary of the maternity unit with a special garden party for all the babies in September 2009.

Appeals were made in newspapers for people born at the castle to get in touch and more than 500 of the babies returned for the event.

Hazlewood Castle's General manager, Mark Booth, said:

"We have been staggered by the positive response to the event and are amazed that some guests have travelled from the other side of the world."

"Having said that, not many people have a castle listed on their birth certificate so we definitely think this is worth celebrating."

The castle continued as a maternity unit after the war, finally closing in 1953. During those years around 5,000 babies were born there.

In 1950s the property became a private home again and remained one until 1972, when it was sold to a group of Carmelite friars and turned into a retreat and pilgrimage centre.

In 1997 it was converted into a luxury country house hotel but for the 'Hazelwood babies' and their families the castle is fondly remembered for its wartime role.

War babies meet at castle party
02 Sep 09 |  North Yorkshire




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