Britain's 'longest serving nurse' finally set to retire after 56 years on the wards

By Anna Edwards


Caring Jean Colclough began working as a nurse at the age of 18 in 1956

A familiar face: Caring Jean Colclough began working as a nurse at the age of 18 in 1956

Fifty-six years, hundreds of miles spent walking around the wards and always with a comforting smile for her patients.

This is Jean Colclough, believed to be the UK's longest serving nurse.

And, after years spent helping those around her, the kind-hearted nurse is finally set to retire.

Mrs Colclough, 74, began working as a nurse at the age of 18 in 1956, eight years after the NHS was founded.

Her career began the year of the Suez crisis and when Elvis Presley entered the US chart for the first time with Heartbreak Hotel.

But it was almost as over before it had even begun when she developed bronchiectasis, a condition where the airways of the lungs become abnormally widened, leading to a build-up of excess mucus.

Doctors were forced to remove one of her lungs in 1960 and she was told that they did not expect her to live past the age of 40.

Despite this traumatic step back, the nurse ploughed on and spent the years up until now helping others.

Her wages then were £260 a year and, although practises, uniforms and procedures have changed, her love for the job has never been diminished.


As she stood down from her role at Southend Hospital, she said: 'My retirement letter was the hardest I have ever had to write.

'I was on my own and just sat there and grizzled. I would happily stay on.

'Fifty-six years is a long time. Just stopping is not going to be easy.'

The nurse said she is already considering offering her extensive skills and experience as a bank nurse.


Rolling back the years: The outfit may have changed, Jean's smile and energy has remained the same


The dedicated healthcare professional, pictured here in 1956, is believed to be the UK's longest serving nurse

'I would certainly consider coming back on the bank. But first we have to move house,' she said.

Colleagues say Jean has 'twice the energy of those half her age' and she is only retiring because her pension entitlement would suffer if she stayed on.

Jean had originally wanted to train as a doctor but her parents could not afford the university fees.

She has no regrets, saying: 'I don't think I could have done better than I have done. It's been lovely - every ward I worked on was the best place I had ever been.'

In November 1982, Jean was promoted to night sister and estimates she walks hundreds of miles each year along the Essex hospital's corridors.

Hospital discharge co-ordinator Sandra Steeples paid tribute to her.

She said: 'Jean will be so greatly missed, and I wish I could clone her - and bottle her energy.'

A spokesman for the hospital said: 'We have heard of other nurses who have clocked up 50 years - but not 56.'

The NHS was founded in the aftermath of World War II by Clement Attlee's Labour government, as they sought to create 'cradle to grave' welfare-state.

Aneurin Bevan, the newly appointed Minister of Health, introduced the National Health Service, sweeping away the previous fragmented healthcare system made up of private, municipal and charity schemes.

Bevan decided a national system would prevent inequalities between different regions.

It was he who suggested that each UK resident would register with a specific General Practice (GP) who would be the first port of call into the NHS system, and would have access to all types of treatment without having to raise the money to pay for it.

In 1956 in Southend, the Speaking Clock was introduced to the town as the number of telephones reached 62,553.

It was also a sad year for rail enthusiasts, as the last scheduled steam train left Southend Victoria Station in December.



The comments below have been moderated in advance.

A true Angel!! I hope the Queen acknowledges this lady in her New years Honors list

Click to rate     Rating   109

I'll bet she never needed a degree to do her job either. Great example.

Click to rate     Rating   87

these are the sort of people who deserve to be knighted by the queen - not footballers and the like!!!!!!

Click to rate     Rating   134

Well done! you better go now before they make you work another 10 years!

Click to rate     Rating   56

If there is anyone who should be in the next honours list, it is this lady. If another banker/politician gets an honour, they should hang their heads in shame if they should ever read this story. Somehow I doubt it, as they have no shame.

Click to rate     Rating   87

I really hope you get your full pension with no hassle enjoy your retirement.

Click to rate     Rating   59

Wonderful and even back then when she started , that smile is genuine , refreshing and never changing . Thank you for the services you have given this country . No job is better than caring for one's life and sickness , people like her deserve better .You look at her and admire then look at some so called celebrities some which we shall not mention names as they don't deserve to mentioned in the same sentence as this lovely lady , and you can see people are different for real .

Click to rate     Rating   54

Incredible story! Well done, and good luck! You deserve an honour!

Click to rate     Rating   57

That's a true vocation. What a credit to the nursing profession.

Click to rate     Rating   65

What a pity we don´t have more nurses like her today. She deserves a medal. She could tell the NHS just where they are going wrong today. Happy retirement.

Click to rate     Rating   58

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