Obituary: Edith Cotterill

Edith Cotterill was born in a cellar during a Zeppelin raid on Tipton gasworks in 1916. Later she spent 25 years as a district nurse in Tipton, at the heart of the Black Country which industry made "black by day, red by night" so that Queen Victoria would only go through it with the blinds of the train window drawn. Cotterill loved it and on retirement was the author of a best-selling book about her experiences as a Black Country nursing sister, Nurse on Call.

Educated at Wolverhampton Girls' High School, Edith Humphries decided to become a nurse. "I did it to get away from home, and to escape the vicar who wanted me to become a missionary." At Margate Hospital when war broke out in 1939 she met her future husband, Harry Cotterill, a patient rescued from a minesweeper. He too - and other crew brought in - came from the Black Country and Edith was called on to act as an interpreter. "They're supposed to be British but they can't speak a word of English," a fellow nurse said.

After a wartime marriage and the birth of two daughters Edith Cotterill returned to nursing as a district nurse in Tipton, where her chief petty officer husband had become ambulance station officer. The death of her teenage daughter Judith stimulated Cotterill to take up writing. She was encouraged to write articles and poems by Harold Parsons, editor of the Black Countryman, the magazine of the Black Country Society. In 1973 the society published her slim volume Black Country Nurse at Large. It sold 9,000 copies locally and attracted the attention of a literary agent, who persuaded her to write an enlarged, Anglicised version, Nurse on Call. Published in 1986, it became a best-seller. Women's Own featured it. "Soddin besom yo'm bin writin abowt me," a patient chided Cotterill. "Burra I wull say this for yer, Nus, yo' gorra good noddle on ye."

Readers loved Nurse on Call because it took them into the other world of nursing which is beyond hospitals. The nurse who works on the district (the term now is in the community) meets the patient on the patient's own territory, whereas the patient in a hospital is on the nurse's own ground. It makes a difference to the relationship. And Cotterill's beat was not along country lanes but streets of tenements. She transmuted real stories of bed bugs, impacted faeces and banknotes sodden because the patient had them in bed for safe-keeping. They were told with humour tinged with sadness, and highly readable.

An animal lover - on leaving school she showed at Cruft's the first puppy to win the championship - Edith Cotterill donated the bulk of her royalties to animal charities. She never wrote the sequel to Nurse on Call which her publisher wanted but up to her death was writing pieces and poems for the Black Country Society - such as "A Plea from a District Nurse":

Please be kind to district nurses,

Don't belabour us with curses.

Even though we may look tough,

We are built of tender stuff.

Laurence Dopson

Edith Humphries, district nurse and writer: born Tipton, Staffordshire 24 January 1916; married 1940 Harry Cotterill (died 1982; one daughter, and one daughter deceased); died Machynlleth, Powys 1 February 1997.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea