Temple of Health – ‘the First NHS’: Celebrating NHS75 for the Temple of Peace’s 85th Anniversary

On 23 November 1938, Wales’ Temple of Peace & Health – WCIA’s home today – was opened by Minnie James of Merthyr Tydfil (who had lost 3 sons to WW1), representing war bereaved mothers of Wales and the world. The Temple was to be the nation’s memorial to the fallen and – as a ‘living memory’ to honour their loss – headquarters to movements that woudl lead Welsh efforts to build peace, health and international cooperation for future generations.

The Temple was gifted to the nation by David Davies of Llandinam alongside his sisters Gwendoline & Margaret Davies of Gregynog, who had all served in France in WW1 and were so horrified by their experience of war that – as with many of their generation – they dedicated much of their lives and fortunes to peace building. The task of designing a bricks and mortar ‘peace building’ had been entusted to then rising art deco architect Percy Thomas, whose work on the Temple earned him the prestigious RIBA Gold Medal for Architecture – of its time a truly world leading building, that remains iconic today.

At its opening the Temple became HQ to two organisations who had been leading efforts for human cooperation throughout the interwar era: in the ‘Peace Wing’, the Welsh League of Nations Union (WLNU) – whose campaigns for international cooperation have been extensively explored by WCIA peace heritage volunteers over recent years. The ‘Health’ wing housed the snappily titled King Edward VII Wales National Memorial Association for the Eradication of Tuberculosis (thankfully usually shortened to WNMA!), who heritage and history has been far less explored – until now.

On 23 November 2023, 85 years to the day after the grand opening ceremony of the Temple, WCIA are delighted to host a reception and book launch of ‘The First NHS’ by Emma Snow, with a panel of speakers who together with the audience will explore the largely forgotten history of the Temple’s – and Wales’ – ‘Health Heritage‘. This is particularly poignant, and a contribution towards the current programme of events marking the 75th Anniversary year of the NHS from 5th July 2023 – 2024.

The event will run from 7-9pm (with arrivals, drinks and refreshments from 6.30) in the Temple’s ‘Hall of Nations’. The panel of speakers will bring Emma Snow’s story of ‘The First NHS’ alive by representing voices from the past, through a series of monologues from 1910 to 1948; followed afterwards by their own personal and professional reflections, from being in similar or equivalent roles today. The event and their contributions will be recorded for heritage posterity and future reference. Speakers include:

The speakers panel will be followed by the oportunity for audience inputs and Q&A, followed by nibbles and networking and the opportunity to chat to panellists and authors individually.

This promises to be a memorable evening and very much a one-off occasion, and we’d be delighted to welcome Temple Friends, NHS health workers, friends, students and the purely curious to join us in celebrating the Temple’s 85th and NHS75 anniversaries over a glass of bubbly.

Newsreel Clip of 1936 Opening

Emma Snow’s Book ‘the First NHS’ – Press Release Info from Pen & Sword Publishers

View Pen & Sword Press Release

“A fascinating and personal story of the beginnings of the NHS, reminding us of its vital importance in the current climate of crises and loss of confidence.”

Dr Russ Hewson, NHS Consultant Intensivist and Anaesthetist

We all think the NHS was first dreamed up by Nye Bevan when he became minister of health in 1945. Yet experiments with the NHS and welfare state in fact started many years before. Inspired by a doctor who coined the phrase “national health service” in 1910, John Tomley and David Davies took steps to pilot the first ever national health service, focusing on TB in Wales, the WNMA. Through the findings of the WNMA’s work, as well as John’s work as a local health commissioner and UK leader of the largest health service providers, the friendly societies, John campaigned for effective treatment for TB, including prevention and a national health service.

John successfully led the campaign for the government’s Welsh TB Inquiry, which led directly to the Beveridge Report and the founding of the NHS and wider welfare state in 1948. His family then forgot about his work, due to the ravages of a genetic disease, so John’s story has never been told. Meanwhile the NHS, which John helped to found, also led to a cure for this disease for his great-great-granddaughter.

The moral of this surprising tale? If John can do it, any of us can. We have what John described as the “golden keys’ in our hands. By understanding the crucial information John gave us from his life’s work, the importance of fighting all the Beveridge Report’s Five Giants at once, we can tackle the social determinants of health today, and change people’s lives for our generation and future generations.

“Emma Snow has a lifelong interest in, and knowledge of, the history of the NHS, through its precursors and early gestation in Wales. The key involvement of John Tomley too long has been neglected. This fascinating and detailed narrative provides a new and accurate perspective of the greatest of all the United Kingdom’s contributions to social policy and public benefit.”

Lord Carlile of Berriew CBE, KC – Former MP for Montgomeryshire

About the Author

Emma Snow is chief executive of health and social care charity Community Opportunity, works in change management for an NHS acute trust, and is an independent member of Oxfam GB’s Audit & Risk Committee. Emma has two decades’ experience in the health and social care sector. She has been director of finance for national charities including the Refugee Council and Terrence Higgins Trust, as well as a trustee of charities including Anti-Slavery International and HDYO. Emma lives with her husband and daughter in the Cotswolds.

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