A hospital serving town and country

Herald The Past'W Wallace Skinnery Bridge Wansbeck House
Herald The Past'W Wallace Skinnery Bridge Wansbeck House

IN 1897, an experiment was carried out with the permission of the Morpeth Home of Rest at High Church, whereby a temporary hospital was set up at the home to see if there was a demand for such an establishment.

The experiment was carried out from December 1 to April 1, showing, with the number of cases admitted and their results, that there was clearly a need for a cottage hospital in Morpeth.

Of the 18 patients admitted from Newcastle, Ashington, Longhirst, Stannington, Nunnykirk, North Seaton, Newbiggin and Fenrother, 11 were cured.

The illnesses included ulcerated eyes and stomach, dropsy, poisoned finger and hand, deafness, tonsil removal, rheumatic fever, anaemia, gastritis, chest effusion, cyst removal and gangrene.

The total expenditure for the experiment was £57 7s 11d, and with receipts from the patients of £20 7s 6d, a deficit of £37 0s 5d was incurred.

With this experiment in mind, and with the support of the Committee of the Dispensary, who had been discussing the formation of a cottage hospital since 1892, the Morpeth District County Nursing Association set about the task of setting up a cottage hospital.

Under the auspices of the Morpeth Cottage Hospital and District Nursing Association the new cottage hospital was opened on Friday, November 25, 1898, by Mr A E Burdon, High Sheriff of the County.

The house used was rented, and known as Abbey View, situated in a quiet, retired spot in Bullers Green, with open views in three directions.

There were two wards, one for males and one for females, with two beds in each and two children’s cots. The kitchens were in the basement, the nurses’ sitting room and surgery on the ground floor, and their bedrooms above.

Monies for the hospital had come from subscriptions and donations, and a lot of the furniture had been given by people of the town.

The house had been named the Victoria Cottage Hospital and Nurses Home and in its first five months the nurses had made 1,113 visits and there had been on average 2.34 patients a day in the hospital. The patients coming from both the country and the town, which was what had been hoped for.

Over the following years it became obvious that larger premises were required and by 1909 the committee had bought Wansbeck House at the bottom of Dogger Bank, adapted the building, and opened the second Victoria Cottage Hospital in Morpeth.

No report of the opening ceremony or description of the new hospital has been found, but when this building came up for sale in 1932 it was described as follows:

‘The accommodation comprises – On the ground floor: sitting room, dining room, kitchen, scullery; on the first floor: three large rooms, bathroom and w.c.; on the second floor: five rooms; in the rear a yard, with laundry, etc and approaches from side and rear entrances.’

Out of interest, the building went to auction and the bidding went to £520, but the property was withdrawn with no higher bids.

The medical report for 1930 indicated that there were only eight beds available at Wansbeck House and during the year 122 surgical cases, 17 medical, 30 accident and 11 dental cases were treated.

The premises were too small.

Income for the same year through subscriptions, patient payments and special contributions was £329 0s 8d, which included a one-off payment ‘In memory of’ of £100.

From about 1925 it had been obvious that a new larger cottage hospital was needed and a committee was set up to realise this. An A5 handbill was produced putting forward the case for the new hospital proclaiming two of the main problems being:

1. ‘The road traffic on the main road — private cars, commercial trucks and huge motor buses of all types — has grown to enormous proportions and with this, the number of accidents involving injury to life and limb amongst the visitors and strangers passing through, has grievously increased.’

2. ‘The present building is old and in poor repair and is badly lighted. There are not sufficient beds. The wards are on the first floor and the staircase is most difficult for stretcher cases. There are no side rooms for cases requiring special nursing and treatment. Cases have often to be sent on to Newcastle Infirmary – already overcrowded – but could be treated here if the equipment was up-to-date.’

In addition, the population of Morpeth was expanding, putting more pressure on a limited number of beds.

After another round of fund-raising activities (see picture of winning ticket), and first looking at the old tannery site on Newgate Street, then the corner of the North Road and the Whalton Road, a site was finally chosen on the glebe land behind the rectory and opposite the golf club.

To a design by local architect C Franklin Murphy the new Morpeth Cottage Hospital was opened in 1932 by Mrs B Cookson at a cost of £4,777.

In 1938 a legacy of £3,000 was left to the hospital by John Oliver in memory of his parents Robert and Margaret Oliver, who owned Oliver’s Mill in Morpeth.

New plans were drawn up for the extensions and these were opened in 1939 by R Oliver, elder brother of John.

The hospital now boasted six beds in each of the male and female wards, two single and two double private wards, a cooking area, a matron’s bedroom and eight nurses’ bedrooms. The building was called the Morpeth Cottage Hospital incorporating the Robert and Margaret Oliver Memorial.

There is a stone in the wall at the front of the hospital to this effect. In 1948 the hospital came under the umbrella of the new National Health Service and has been extended considerably over the years.

After 81 years serving the people of Morpeth and district admirably, the Cottage Hospital, which seemed to fit in well to its surroundings and be part of the community, closed in 2013.

Thanks as always to the Mackay family for letting us view the Morpeth Herald copies, and William Wallace and Helen Feeney for pictures of Wansbeck House and the winning ticket.

Any information you may have on the cottage hospitals can be sent to morpethhistory@hotmail.co.uk