In 1845 Mr. George Briscoe, a local businessman, fell from a chair at his home when cleaning a painting. Whilst lying in bed with a broken leg he pondered the plight of those less fortunate than he, who could not afford medical treatment. Along with his friend Henry Rogers he resolved to do something to help. Each donated £500 to the fund for the building of a new hospital.

Mr. George Briscoe.

Mr. Henry Rogers.

The original Dispensary in Queen Street.

When the South Staffordshire General Hospital and Dispensary opened its doors on 1st January 1849, it replaced the small dispensary situated in Queen Street. The foundation stone had been laid in 1846 on land purchased from the Duke of Cleveland, in Cleveland Road. The total cost was £18,898 with £122 1s 6d spent on surgical equipment. The three storey building was designed by Wolverhampton architect Edward Banks in the Italian and Roman Doric style. The hospital had 80 beds, each paid for by a subscription of 7 guineas.
The first president of the hospital was The Second Duke of Cleveland, until 1867 when the Earl of Lichfield was elected for two years. In 1869 the Earl of Dartmouth was invited to become president, establishing almost 70 years of family association with the hospital until the Earl of Harrowby became President in 1937. The staff consisted of a matron, 1 physician, 1 consulting surgeon, 3 surgeons, 1 house surgeon and a secretary. The house surgeon, Mr. Edward Hayling Coleman, had, in 1847, carried out the third ever operation using anaesthesia, in England. He was later to become an Honorary Surgeon in October 1852, his grandson, of the same name, became Honorary Physician at the hospital and his great grandson a medical registrar there. 1852 was also the year Dr. William Millington was appointed Honorary Physician. He was to be associated with the hospital for 59 years, both as Honorary and Honorary Consulting Physician. During his office he was instrumental along with Dr. C. R. Smith and Mr. Richard Holt Briscoe, son of George Briscoe, in founding the Wolverhampton and Midland Counties Eye Infirmary. For many years his portrait hung on the walls of the Royal Hospital.
During the first year of operation, 408 in-patients and 2,853 out-patients were treated. A ticket of recommendation was required before a patient would be treated or receive medicines. These were obtained by subscription of 5s 6d per ticket which the subscriber could use himself or give to a deserving person. Many influential people in the town subscribed and gave the tickets to their employees or in the case of church officials, to members of the congregation.

The  South Staffordshire Hospital in 1849.

Patients too destitute to pay for medicines or treatment and were unable to obtain one from a subscriber, could still be admitted and treated provided the approval from the Board of Management was obtained that the patient was a deserving cause. The ticket system was a constant source of controversy between doctors, subscribers and management, throughout the history of the hospital. In November 1852 the words "Not to be used for begging purposes" were added to the tickets, which remained in force until 1948.

The hospital in the early 1920s.

Until 1854 the hospital brewed its own beer and ale, when quotation for ale at 1s 2d per gallon and beer at 8d per gallon were accepted. The resident medical staff, nurses and servants were given a daily allowance of ale for luncheon, dinner and supper. Ale was also provided for consumption by the patients. 
Over the years the consumption and costs of ale, beer, sherry, port and brandy increased so much that numerous requests to reduce the expenditure were repeatedly made by the Board of Management.

Due to the exertions of several benevolent individuals, Rule 62 which excluded the treatment in the hospital of children under six years of age, was rescinded and a children’s ward established in 1862. The following year the Lodge was erected and the hospital gates moved from the centre to nearer the corners of the hospital grounds.

In 1867 the Mayor, Sir John Morris, was asked by the Board of Management to convey to the proper authorities an application to Her Majesty Queen Victoria to become a Patron of the Hospital. Unfortunately the Queen felt unable to comply with the request.

A motor ambulance with patient, in the 1920s.

By 1869 overcrowding in the hospital had become a serious problem. A meeting of the town representatives was determined to extend and remodel the patient accommodation. This resulted in the opening in 1872 of a new wing for in-patients and a new out-patient block. The cost of these improvements was £13,597 exclusive of the costs to Mrs. R. Sheraton for furnishing Men's Accident Ward; Mr. Joseph Cooper, Men's Surgical Ward, and the Infections Ward by the late Mr. W. H. Rogers and furnished by his daughters. In 1872 The Sanitary Committee of Wolverhampton Corporation had suggested a permanent ward for infectious cases. In response, a fever ward was established, opening it’s doors on 1st January 1873. This was a separate building with no access from the main hospital. This ward was later to become Deanesly Ward and access to the main corridor was installed. The Town Council in 1882 fitted out the basement on condition they could send non-pauper small pox cases. To prevent spread of infection the doors of the fever ward were kept locked or secured by chains. 1873 also saw official recognition of the hospital by the Royal College of Surgeons, who gave it their approval as a teaching hospital.

A men's surgical ward in the 1920s.

Through the munificence of the late Mr. Edward Pugh, a former member of the Board who donated £1000, the Bell Medical Library was opened in 1877. From a bequest of the late Dr. Peter Bell, a further £1000 was donated to the establishment of a medical library, the interest on which was to be used for the purchase medical books for the use of the medical staff of the hospital. It was later opened to all medical men of the district in 1897 by Mr. Vincent Jackson. 
A separate building, it was later demolished to make room for the new Out-Patients department, and many of the old books were sold. In response to the discovery that one patient had been in hospital for 130 weeks an eight week book was introduced in 1896, and no patient was to remain in the hospital without the Board’s consent for longer than this time.
After almost fifty years of use the operating theatre was renovated at a cost of £287 to bring it in line with current acceptability for the antiseptic treatment of wounds. Mr. Vincent Jackson carried out the supervision of this work, and it was due to his endeavours that the refurbished theatre was reopened on 23rd June 1896 by Sir Christopher Heath, late President of the Royal College of Surgeons, England. Mr. Jackson had been mayor in the Queen’s jubilee year of 1887, the first member of the medical profession to attain that honour. He worked tirelessly throughout his career to improve the facilities of the hospital. By this time the total cost of renovation and remodelling amounted to just over £40,000, including the original cost of building the hospital.

Young nurses in the 1920s.

As the hospital moved into the 20th century many of the modern facilities were introduced. Electricity replaced gas lighting, and in 1900, the operating theatre was lit by electricity. Over fifty years of use had required remodelling of the kitchens and larders. A lift was installed in 1907. The early part of the century also saw the X-ray and electrotherapeutical department expand under the leadership of Dr. Codd.

Matron's Office, in the 1920s.

With the expansion of the hospital the need for a nurses home became imperative. In 1883 two nearby houses had been purchased by Mr. J. E. Briscoe for the use of the nursing staff. Land was purchased in Portland and Sutherland Place and the foundation stone for a new nurses home was laid by the Chairman, A. C. Twentyman on 1st October 1907. The home, costing £8,000, was formally opened by Lady Dartmouth on 12th June 1908.
After the ceremony a large crowd was admitted to the home for a short time. When the public viewing was over it was discovered that 53 tablets of soap had disappeared from the 53 bedrooms, presumably as souvenirs!
The death in 1910 of the king, Edward VII, prompted the mayor Dr. John Grout to suggest a new wing to the hospital as a memorial and a fund was begun to raise the necessary finance. The fund raised £5,566 12s 1d of the £7,316 0s 3d needed to build and equip the wing. The memorial, in the form of a two storey wing was opened on 13th November 1912. Queen Alexandra graciously gave her permission to call the two wards Edward and Alexandra Wards.

The King Edward VII Memorial Wing in 1923.

The opening ceremony was performed by the Earl of Dartmouth, as Provincial Grand Master. Due to considerable public opposition to the Masonic ceremony no word of the event appeared in the annual report.

Later that year the death of Sister Annie MacLaren led to another ward being named in memorium. Sister MacLaren had for many years been in charge of Ward 1, Men’s Accident. It was felt fitting to name the ward in her memory and place her portrait over the entrance of the ward to which she gave so many years of her nursing career. This year also saw the introduction of a motor ambulance, presented to the hospital by the Wolverhampton Police Force after a public appeal to raise £500.

An aerial view of the hospital.

Developments in medicine, and the scientific discoveries in the pathology of disease led to the decision that the hospital should have a pathology department. Between 1889 and 1909 a small room in the fever block had served as a laboratory for Dr. Charles MacMunn. Although Honorary Physician he was also elected Honorary Pathological Officer. He carried out scientific work in spectroscopy, writing several books and papers on the subject.
His greatest achievement was the discovery of Cytochrome (which he called Myohaematin). Unfortunately his work was not accepted by the scientific community, until many years after his death. Sadly no memorial exists to this pioneer of medical spectroscopy. A purpose built and equipped laboratory was opened by Sir Clifford Allbutt in January 1914 and William Boyd appointed pathologist at £200 per ann. Eight months later he was appointed Professor of Pathology at the University of Winnipeg.

The House Governor's Office in the 1920s.

The outbreak of hostilities in 1914 saw many of the medical and nursing staff called upon for military duties. Drs. Dent, Stidston, Boyd, Armitage and Strange all served in France. Stidston and Armitage were awarded the DSO, the latter being the only member of the hospital staff to lose his life in the war. The Matron, Miss Hannath, received the Red Cross Award 1st Class, several of the sisters received the 2nd Class award and Sister Spence was awarded the Military Medal. The departing of staff for the front lead to a revolution in the hospital.

For the first time in its almost seventy year history lady doctors were employed.

Between the wars was a period of great change. New departments were created or refurbished and many new members of staff were appointed. This was due in part to the foresight of Edward Deanesly. He advocated that to attract the best medical staff they should be paid as full time hospital clinicians rather than having a private practice and a small honorarium for their work at the hospital. In this way clinicians such as J. H. Sheldon, S. C. Dyke, Maslen-Jones, R. Milnes-Walker and several others were attracted to Wolverhampton. A diabetic clinic, VD department, ENT department, and orthopaedics were established. A new out-patient and casualty department were built, radiotherapy was begun after a supply of Radium (240 milligrams) was purchased for £4,000 in 1929. The hospital was later recognised as the Regional Centre for Radium Therapy in 1936.

One of the most important dates in the history of the hospital was the visit on 13th June 1923 by HRH The Prince of Wales who presented the hospital Board and Medical Staff with a Royal Charter of Incorporation, establishing the hospital as a legally constituted body. That same year saw the General Nursing Council approve the hospital for nurse training. 

The hospital in the 1990's.

Five years later on 28th December 1928, HM King George V decreed that the Wolverhampton and Staffordshire General Hospital should henceforth be known as The Royal Hospital, Wolverhampton. The hospital applied for and was granted a coat of arms in July 1930.

‘Argent a cross gules on a chief sable three wolves heads erased or’

Sir Keith Joseph at the opening ceremony in 1972.

Construction of a new block of wards and operating theatres was begun in 1937. The wing was eventually built with four storeys after financial constraints had originally dictated a three storey building. The wing also incorporated a swimming pool. The 1960’s saw many of the wards renovated and an ITU ward opened by Sir Keith Joseph in 1972. Much of the reconstruction had been completed by this date and the last twenty years saw little in the way of development. Many of the specialities moved away to the New Cross Hospital and the wards closed. With the coming of the NHS in 1948 the hospital celebrated its centenary, as the one hundred and forty eighth anniversary approached the Royal Hospital closed in 1997.

A successful open day was held prior to closure and many former members of staff and patients were able to take one last memorable stroll around the corridors and wards. There were plenty of moist eyes that day! Broken windows, crumbling stonework and weeds growing through the roofing tiles are a sad monument to the institution where many eminent and respected members of the medical and nursing professions climbed the steps to enter via its columned portals. Where Matron would march along the corridors, and the rattle of her keys announced her presence on the ward.

The final use of the old Royal Hospital is still to be decided. Much of it has been rebuilt, and it is up for sale. Hopefully its future will soon become clear.

A Photographic Tour of the Hospital

Return to the Health Section