AN inspirational nurse and midwife who helped many of Ilkley’s residents come into the world been honoured with a blue plaque at the hospital where she trained.

Daphne Steele, who died in 2004, made history when, in 1964, she became the first black matron in Britain when she was appointed to work at the former St Winifred’s maternity home in Wells Road, Ilkley.

Now her son Robert, who grew up in Ilkley, has unveiled a blue plaque at St James’ Hospital, Balham, South London, where Daphne trained following her emigration from Guyana to the UK in 1951.

The tribute was organised by the charity the Nubian Jak Community Trust, which works to highlight the historic contribution of people in Britain, in partnership with the Association of Guyanese Nurses and Allied Professionals and the London and Quadrant Housing Association.

Daphne came to England from Guyana in the 1950s, as the British Government urged the residents of the former colonies to join its workforce. In 1955, her career took her to the United States to work at a New Jersey hospital. Five years later she returned to the UK and served as a nurse at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire before moving to Manchester as a deputy matron at a nursing home. When that closed Daphne was encouraged to apply for the position of matron in Ilkley.

News of Daphne’s appointment spread as far afield as the United States and her native Guyana. When St Winifred’s closed in 1971, Daphne trained as a health visitor at Leeds University. She took on her role with renewed vigour and quickly became an integral and enthusiastic part of the community.

Family and friends remember how Daphne would bend over backwards to help anyone who asked. Retirement did not stop Daphne leading an active life. She was a devout Methodist who was totally committed to worshipping and working at Christchurch, Ilkley. She was also involved with the volunteer organisation Soroptomist International, as well as serving as vice president for the Association of Guyanese Nurses and Allied Professionals (AGNAP). Her contribution to the local community was recognised by the Rotary Club and, in addition, she received an award from the government of Guyana in recognition of her services to nursing. Not only did this make the headlines, it also inspired many others at a time when people of other races, cultures and ethnicities were not always warmly welcomed in Britain.

Sadly, Daphne died suddenly in 2004. She is remembered fondly by all of her family and friends, and with affection by many former patients in Ilkley. She will also be recognised by future historians charting the history of the NHS.