Mary McMASTER (1914–2004)

Physiotherapist, founder of St Luke’s Hospital and McMaster House

Latimer Road, Headington

Mary McMaster
Mary McMaster and The Bishop of
Oxford at the official opening of
McMaster House on 11 June 1985

Mary was born in Chatham to Major Lionel Neville, Royal Engineers, and his wife Agnes. Her father was killed in WWI and the family moved to Alvescot. After attending finishing schools in Paris and Florence, Mary was presented at court. She was a devout Anglican and had a strong sense that a special calling awaited her. She trained as a physiotherapist and spent ten years working with Professor Gathorne Girdlestone at the Wingfield Morris Orthopaedic Hospital (now the Nuffield). In 1952 she experienced a visionary moment inspiring her to found a Christian convalescent home where healing would be combined with faith and prayer.

Without money but with faith that she could achieve her goal, she approached Kenneth Riches, the Bishop of Dorchester, who helped her set up a supporting council. In 1955 St Luke’s Charity was created. At this point she had raised £1000 of the £28,000 estimated to acquire and equip a hospital for up to 25 patients. In 1956 she was able to take a short remaining lease (due to expire in 2003) on 20 Linton Road from St John’s for £5,575. She rallied financial resources and other voluntary practical support from many quarters. Mary was unpaid warden, chief physiotherapist, and assiduous fund raiser. A core of devoted nurses lived in and the daily routine began with prayers at 8.30 am. Many of those treated were out-patients but some were short-term residents and a few needed longer care and rehabilitation. St Luke’s began to be in much demand by patients in and beyond Oxford. The Oxford Regional Hospitals Board agreed to maintain six and later ten beds there.

McMaster House

In 1970 she sought to buy the freehold of 20 Linton Road but was unsuccessful as St John’s had agreed to give it as part of the new site for Wolfson College. She began prospecting at once for a new location and found the Latimer Road site in Headington. Now able to use her own money (inherited on her mother’s death) to secure the site, she had to launch an appeal for the massive building work now needed. The plan was to provide three graduated stages of care, beginning with sheltered housing. Outline planning permission was granted in 1971 and the Luke’s Housing Society Charity was set up. After long years of frustrating delays occasioned by insufficient capital and planning complications, a major loan was secured and by 1982 the building work on St Luke’s Hospital was completed. Over the years Mary had raised over £2 million. She was awarded the OBE in 1982. The sheltered housing at McMaster House was opened in 1984.

In 1963 she had married Ian McMaster, historian, teacher, and former diplomat. He was a great support and a genial presence at St Luke’s. He had died in 1978. Mary gave up the wardenship in 1981 but continued to be closely involved and moved to live nearby. St Luke’s Hospital Trust and St Luke’s Housing Society Ltd operate as separate charities and are a greatly valued care asset in the city.

Source: The Vision, the Quest and the Goal (1988) by Mary McMaster

The plaque was unveiled at McMaster House on 27 July 2022 by Sir Hugo Brunner, former president of the hospital and founding chairman of Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board. The speakers were Malcolm Fearn, Chairman of St Luke’s Housing Society, and Luke Ponsonby, Chair of St Luke’s Hospital Trust. Revd Leon Catallo of All Saints Church gave a prayer of blessing. Among others attending were the Lord Mayor (Cllr James Fry), the Chairman of the County Council (Cllr Susanna Pressel), the Matron of St Luke’s Hospital (Mrs Vendula Waine), and residents of McMaster House.

Photograph taken at the ceremony:

Speeches made at the ceremony:


Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board


Visionary Founder

St Luke’s Home 1956
St Luke’s Hospital 1982
McMaster House 1984

St Luke's Housing Society Ltd

© Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board


Email: oxfordshireblueplaques@gmail.com