In the mid eighteen forties, in essence prior to Nightingale, a group of Victorian philanthropic businessmen in Wolverhampton were determined that the town was worthy of a hospital as an alternative to a six bedded dispensary.

Duty was done and a total of some £18,000 was raised which purchased land from the Duke of Cleveland, and a fine portico fronted hospital with 84 beds was built with the residual £14,000 plus.

A late 1920s view of the hospital.

The hospital opened its doors in January Ist 1849 to "patients who are such unable to pay for medicine and advice and are destitute of funds to make provision for them". It was run by a non-stipend Board of Governors and was totally reliant for its complete running costs on charity. 
By the turn of the century, the hospital was recognised for training doctors and nurses and had established a pathological laboratory (albeit in a shed), a steam laundry, medical library, hospital chaplaincy, electricity and a new kitchen. By the year 1912 the hospital had developed a 53 bed nurses home, a new wing of beds dedicated to King Edward VII, its own motorised ambulance provided by Wolverhampton Police Force, an electric lift and a new laboratory.
During the First World War, much use of its facilities was made for the war wounded from France. Lady doctors were used for the first time, and many of the staff themselves gave war service. In the ten years immediately after the Great War the hospital added many new departments and wards, including operating theatres and VD clinics. The hospital was visited by the Prince of Wales and granted its Royal Charter. By 1928 it became known as the Royal Hospital, losing one of its former names of Wolverhampton and Staffordshire Hospital.
A postcard from a series printed in the 1920s to raise funds for the hospital. Courtesy of Neil Fox.
During the nineteen thirties, the Royal Hospital acquired the reputation of being one of the best provincial non-teaching hospitals in the country. This was largely due to the work of three men - J.H. Sheldon, R. Milnes Walker and S.C. Dyke.

Sheldon came to Wolverhampton from Kings College Hospital after the first world war and was a pioneer of the 'brains drain' from the teaching hospitals to the provinces which began to raise the standards from largely G.P. part time hospital staff to consultant- led institutions. He gained national recognition in 1986 when he published a monograph on haemochromatosis based on his own observations - a work still referred to in the literature. His clinical reputation was enhanced by a classic account of an outbreak of trichomaniasis during the second world war. Soon after the war he produced his important report on the medicine of old age. He used to say that one of the most valuable services for the elderly was the marketing by Woolworths Stores of simple convex lens spectacles. At that time nothing in the store cost more than 6d (2.1/2p), so that many elderly people were able to read again. This work was an important factor in the formation of the new speciality of geriatric medicine, and for some years Sheldon became a leading authority on the subject.

Another postcard from the series printed in the 1920s to raise funds for the hospital. Courtesy of Neil Fox.
Milnes Walker acquired a considerable reputation as a surgeon and attracted patients from a wide area. He had a large family and became so busy that his home life was severely affected. Shortly after the war, his talents won him the post of Professor of Surgery at Bristol, so sadly, Wolverhampton lost him.
Dyke also came to Wolverhampton from a London teaching hospital in the early 30's. He was an excellent histologist and had the quality of admitting when he did not know. He developed an interest in diabetes and was one of the first to use insulin. As late as the early sixties he used to demonstrate a patient still in good health who was said to be the fourth subject in the country to have been given insulin. His diabetic clinic was huge and he used to sit at a desk raised on a small platform while the patients filed past him, as there was still little space for waiting in the laboratory; it was a familiar sight to see a queue of people with raised umbrellas outside the laboratory door. He was involved in the trials of the antibiotic "M & B 693" before the discovery of penicillin. He had something of a flair for showmanship and formed the European Association of Pathology.

With such well known figures in a provincial hospital, it is hardly surprising that bright young men were attracted as residents, and when the bombardment of London began in 1940 and the city's medical schools were moved out of danger, the Middlesex Hospital sent students to the Royal Hospital. Some of these, delighted at their experiences, returned after qualification as residents and later settled in the town as consultants and G.Ps.

In the late thirties a complete new wing of five floors containing 120 beds and a fine swimming pool was added. By the forties the hospital had developed into an excellent general hospital encompassing all the necessary medical specialities and facilities, including cancer treatments. During the Second World War it again received many war wounded. In 1948 it was handed over to the NHS with its books in the black and having been developed and run for 100 years on the charity and zeal of Wolverhampton's businessmen and worthy citizens.

The hospital building as it is today.

During the fifties, in addition to its excellent male and female Nurse Training School of some distinction, it established both Physiotherapy and Radiography Schools of similar note. Its quality of care and training of staff became legion throughout the UK with increasing numbers of overseas medical, nursing and physiotherapy students arriving. In the early fifties a Nurses League, Hospital Friends and Nurses Christian Movement was established. Considerable improvements to patient services were seen, and a new kitchen was built.

The hospital buildings in 2003.

Throughout the sixties and seventies a new theatre suite and I.T.U. facility, plus a coronary care unit were established; however talk had begun to move the hospital’s facilities to the out of town New Cross Hospital site of some 60 acres, albeit a former workhouse.
This decision was finally enacted, and the Royal Hospital closed on Tuesday 24th June 1997 after more than 148 years of care and dedication to the citizens of Wolverhampton, thus ending a centre of excellence in the epicentre of Wolverhampton Millennium City.

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