Walsall, like the other Black Country towns grew rapidly in the 19th century, as the region evolved into a vast industrial area that relied heavily on the thousands of people that came here looking for work. In the first half of the century the population more than doubled, then doubled again by 1875.

Houses were in short supply, so the poorer members of society lived in overcrowded conditions, often with several families sharing a small house. The essential requirements for healthy town life were not in place, and had not previously been considered. The water supply was inadequate, and more often than not impure. Open sewers were commonplace, toilets were rudimentary, and washing facilities were not available. Proper drainage did not exist and so dirty water would run into stagnant pools. Many people were unhealthy and died at a comparatively early age.

Having said all that, the general health of the town was considered to be good when compared with other areas, but lung disease was common, as were measles, typhoid, and scarlet fever. There were outbreaks of cholera in 1832 and 1849, and smallpox in 1868, 1869, and again in 1871 and 1872. There were also many industrial accidents in the factories and mines, which could be very serious, needing rapid attention and a lot of care.

In the late 1850s people from Walsall were sent as patients to Birmingham Hospital. In 1859 the hospital’s secretary sent a letter to the town asking the people of Walsall to send more money. It points out the discrepancy between the amount of money sent and the cost of treating patients. When Samuel Welsh, a Scottish journalist and editor of the local newspaper, the Walsall Free Press and South Staffordshire Advertiser saw the letter, he realised the importance of establishing a hospital in the town, and advocated the establishment of a cottage hospital along the lines of the one at Middlesbrough, the first of its kind. It had been established in 1861, in two small cottages where nursing was carried out by members of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan Order, from Coatham, near Middlesbrough. Samuel had previously worked in Middlesbrough and greatly admired the work of the sisters.

At the time, many people acknowledged the urgent need for a hospital in Walsall and so Samuel Welsh started a hospital campaign. In 1862 and 1863 Samuel Cox was Mayor of Walsall. On 14th June, 1863 he called a meeting to discuss the possibility of opening a cottage hospital in the town. A committee was appointed to look into the matter, which was ably assisted by the Rev. J. Postlethwaite of Middlesbrough.

Premises were soon acquired in Bridge Street, and the Cottage Hospital opened on Thursday 8th October, 1863. Initially there were eight beds, but the number was soon increased to twelve. The Walsall Free Press and South Staffordshire Advertiser reported the opening as follows:

The Walsall Free Press and South Staffordshire Advertiser.  8th October, 1863.

The buildings, which are situated, as most of our townspeople are aware, in Bridge Street, are central, and admirably adapted for the purpose; the external appearance being neat without being imposing, while the internal construction is such as to render them exceedingly suitable for an hospital, there being ample accommodation for twenty beds. The rooms are lofty and well ventilated, and the houses which until their privacy was destroyed by the erection of a factory on the opposite side of the street, had been the dwellings of parties moving in the better circles of society, are in excellent repair. One of the houses is devoted exclusively to hospital purposes and the other, which may be considered the domestic portion, is set apart as the residence of the sisters and domestics. On the basement floor are the kitchens, cellars, etc.

On the ground floor are the outpatients' room, surgery, private reception room, and convalescent females' dining room. On the second floor, on the hospital side of the building, are the male wards, in one of which are two beds, in the other three, the linen closet, etc. On the upper storey are the female wards. The other portion of the house contains the private sitting room and dormitories of the sisters and domestics. It is worthy of notice that the iron bedsteads, some of the beds and mattresses and a large quantity of the bed linen, and other articles of furniture, as also all the gas fittings, are gifts from the different tradesmen of the town. The arrangement of the wards is really neat and cheerful.

At present there are five beds for male and three for female patients; but the hospital, as we have stated, being capable of accommodating 20 inpatients, the number of beds will be increased as funds accumulate, and applications for admission increase. The necessary preliminaries for opening having been completed, the institution was thrown open for public inspection on Monday and Tuesday. On the former of these days it is estimated that upwards of 4,000 persons passed through the different wards, and on Tuesday, notwithstanding the unfavourable state of the weather, fully that number of visitors were admitted, and hundreds went away each day unable to gain admittance. Among the visitors on Tuesday were Lord and Lady Hatherton.

While his lordship was inspecting the wards a poor man named James Houston was brought in, who had his leg fractured at one of Mr. Bagnall's pits, at the Birchills. Owing to the arrangements made for opening the hospital this day for public inspection, it was impossible to admit the poor fellow, who was removed to his lodgings, where he was attended by Dr. Wyllie, the medical officer to the hospital, and one of the sisters, and today he will be removed to the hospital. It is calculated that during the three days it was open it was inspected by 10,000 visitors. It is worthy of remark that the conduct of the visitors - many of whom shed tears of gratitude and thankfulness for the establishment of such an institution in the town - was most exemplary, and affords another proof that even the humblest classes are susceptible to impressions of kindness and generosity.

Nursing care was provided by members of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan Order, the first being Sister Mary Jacques, known simply as Sister Mary. She initially supervised the setting-up of the hospital and the purchase of equipment, then nursed there for fifteen months, until she fell ill with scarlet fever and returned to Coatham to convalesce.

Her replacement, Sister Dorothy Wyndlow Pattison, known as Sister Dora, arrived at the hospital on 8th January, 1865 and stayed for two months, but returned to Walsall in November. Thanks to her outstanding devotion to duty she will never be forgotten.

Read about Sister Dora

Although the number of beds in the Cottage Hospital had been increased to twelve, the building was too small to cope with the demand, and so the Hospital Committee looked around for larger premises. They acquired a 1¾ acre site off Bradford Street called 'The Mount' for £2,000, and spent a further £1,500 enlarging and adapting the existing former private school into a hospital with four wards, thirty beds, and an outpatients department. The new Cottage Hospital opened on 12th April, 1868.

In July 1872 the Epidemic Hospital opened in Hospital Street off Green Lane. It was built at a cost of £2,000 but soon gained a terrible reputation. Sufferers preferred to take their chances at home rather than enter the hospital.

By the end of 1875 the Cottage Hospital had become infected with erysipelas, which meant that patient's wounds would be infected. Contemporary medicine offered no solution, the only option was to close the hospital. The hospital committee had been considering the possibility of building a new hospital for several years and collecting money for the purpose. While the new hospital was under construction a temporary hospital was established in a house in Bridgeman Place, owned by the London & North Western Railway. Bridgeman Place was off Bridgeman Street, opposite Station Street. The foundation stone for the new hospital was laid on 2nd April, 1877.

Sister Dora's statue on The Bridge. From an old postcard.

The temporary hospital stood close to the railway and so patients were continually disturbed by passing trains. The hospital only had ten beds on four floors and so there was little space, and not even enough room to manoeuvre a stretcher between floors. Patients (alive or dead) had to be carried, usually by Sister Dora. Because of the lack of space many people had to be treated as outpatients. In 1877 over 15,000 people were treated in this way, usually by Sister Dora herself. The house was far from suitable for use as a hospital. In 1878 it became infected with typhoid fever and had to be closed.

The New Cottage Hospital

The new Cottage Hospital was officially opened 4th November, 1878 by the Mayor William Bayliss. The hospital cost over  £5,000 to build and had 7 wards with 42 beds. In the first year there were 407 inpatients, around half of whom were suffering from industrial injuries. The hospital quickly gained a high reputation both at home and abroad. Visitors came from many countries to see the hospital and view its facilities. In 1894 it became the Walsall & District Hospital

During March 1895 a severe gale battered the town, completely destroying one of the wards, and damaging another so badly that it had to be demolished. Although the buildings were occupied at the time, no one was hurt. The hospital had been suffering from a shortage of beds, and so two new larger wards were built, and officially opened on 16th July, 1896 by the Earl of Dartmouth.

At the opening ceremony the nephew of the late Henry Boys presented a cheque for £3,000 to the hospital. £2,000 was a donation to one of the wards, which became known as Henry Boys Ward, the other £1,000 paid for surgical appliances.

The hospital entrance and the Nurses' Home. From an old postcard.

From the 1899 Walsall Red Book.

From the 1934 Walsall Red Book.

From the 1934 Walsall Red Book.

By the end of the century the number of resident nurses had increased from six to fourteen. The hospital could only accommodate six of them and so plans were made for an enlarged nursing home, which would be paid for by a fund set up in 1900 by the Mayor W. J. Pearman-Smith. The fund managed to raise £4,412. It was augmented by a three day bazaar in the Town Hall, opened on each day by a different celebrity. They were the Duchess of Sutherland, the Countess of Warwick, and Lady Forster. The bazaar raised £2,283.

The new Nurses Home had been built at a cost of £6,536, and opened on 30th October, 1902.

From an old postcard.

In the following year an outpatient department opened, and the operating theatre was refurbished, and now included a sceptic theatre. In the early years of the twentieth century, x-ray machines were in their infancy, and mainly confined to teaching hospitals. In 1904 the hospital became one of the first general hospitals to acquire its own x-ray machine. By this time the hospital was annually treating around 800 inpatients, 4,000 outpatients, and 2,500 casualties.

The hospital continued to grow over the next few years with a new dispensary, an enlarged x-ray room, and the building of Thorpe and Farrington wards, each with twelve beds.

During the First World War military service caused a severe shortage of medical staff, which resulted in the temporary closure of the eye, ear, nose and throat services. The military authorities asked the hospital to give priority to men with minor ailments that prevented them from doing military service. The staff also trained members of the British Red Cross Society in nursing, in case they were needed for the war effort.

The Thorpe and Farrington wards soon filled with injured soldiers from the front, mainly members of the South Staffordshire Regiment. In 1915 there over 1,000 inpatients for the first time.

The cost of treating patients had risen by fifty percent by 1918 which resulted in the hospital falling into serious debt. The Mayor S. M. Slater appealed for funds to help the hospital and raised £10,767 which easily cleared the debt. Also in 1918 the hospital became Walsall General Hospital. Patient numbers continued to rise. In 1923 there were 1746 inpatients, and 54,000 outpatients. A new Casualty Department opened in 1929.

View photographs of the General Hospital

Expansion continued with the opening of the Mason Ward in 1925, funded by £10,000 left to the hospital in the will of the late Dr. William Mason, honorary physician to the hospital. The hospital continued to struggle financially and so in 1937 a pay-bed wing was built. Further additions included a new operating theatre, and an orthopaedic and x-ray department, which opened in 1939.

In July 1948 the National Health Service took control of medical care in the country, and all of Walsall’s hospitals were run by the Walsall Hospital Management Committee which held its first meeting on 21st June, 1948.

Many locals felt that Sister Dora should be honoured by changing the hospital’s name to the Sister Dora Hospital. The hospital management felt the existing name was more appropriate, however in 1954 a compromise was reached, and the hospital became the Walsall General (Sister Dora) Hospital.

In the 1960s alterations and improvements were made to the casualty and physiotherapy departments, and in October 1973 the hospital came under the control of Walsall Area Health Authority.

The government had decided to introduce fourteen regional health authorities, including the one at Walsall, which also controlled Aldridge and Brownhills.

In the 1980s money was again in short supply and so the Area Health Authority decided to centralise health care at the Manor Hospital. As a result, the General Hospital closed on 4th December, 1989. It had been hoped to save the buildings for use as a hospital for the care of mental health patients, but the site was thought to be unsuitable. The buildings were demolished in 1995.

The Manor Hospital

The Manor Hospital was built around the old Central Union Workhouse that was built in Pleck Road in 1838, and the workhouse infirmary, which opened in 1896. In 1899 Dr. George M. Fox became Medical Officer to the workhouse, and in 1902 a second identical infirmary with four wards was built alongside the existing building. The eight wards had a total of 200 beds and catered for patients who were admitted under the conditions of the Poor Law. There were wards for men, wards for women, wards for children, and an operating theatre.

View photographs of the
Manor Hospital

By 1926 there were thirty three nurses working in the infirmary, which had a nurses’ home that had been built to house twelve. At the time sixteen nurses were living in overcrowded conditions in the home, and seventeen were living in small cottages on the site. To overcome the problem a new nurses’ home with 50 single bedrooms was built behind the infirmary, along with a house for the full-time resident Medical Officer. It later became the Manor Hospital’s Occupational Health Department.

Poor Law Infirmaries were run by a Board of Guardians until the late 1920s. In 1927 the government decided that they would come under the control of local authorities. One of the last acts of the Board of Guardians before Walsall Council took charge was to rename the infirmary and the workhouse. At the end of 1928 the infirmary became The Manor Hospital, and the workhouse became Beacon Lodge.

The Manor Hospital was the largest hospital in the town with 300 beds compared with 100 at the General Hospital, 43 at Pelsall Hall Sanatorium, 34 at Goscote, 12 at Sneyd Lane, and 11 at Bloxwich Hall. The hospital was now an ordinary municipal establishment, paid-for by the ratepayers, and only accepting patients who lived in the borough. Expansion continued in the 1930s with the conversion of the old nurses’ home into the hospital entrance with receiving wards, improved x-ray facilities, and a new maternity unit.

During the Second World War the patients were moved into Beacon Lodge so that the hospital could cater solely for wartime casualties. After the formation of the National Health Service in 1948, Walsall Hospital Management Committee changed the name of Beacon Lodge to St. John's Hospital which was subsequently developed as the hospital’s geriatric unit.

In the 1950s some of the old wards were modernised, and facilities for the patients were improved. Refurbishments continued in the 1960s with the conversion of the old recreational hall into the Joseph Leckie Ward, improvements to the Casualty and Physiotherapy departments, the building of a new operating theatre and x-ray department, and a new laundry and boiler house. The new Geriatric Block opened in 1973, and the new west wing was opened by Princess Diana on 26th June, 1991. Another significant event took place in April of that year when The Manor Hospital and Goscote Hospital became Walsall Hospitals NHS Trust which employed over 2,000 full time staff.

The hospital continues to expand and improve patient facilities. On Monday 13th September, 2010 the last section of a £170,000,000 building project opened to patients for the first time.

Goscote Hospital

Before the First World War the local Health Committee began looking at the possibility of opening an isolation hospital for infectious diseases such as diphtheria, scarlet fever, and typhoid. The opening of a suitable hospital was delayed by the war, and the terrible recession that followed. The world order had changed, Britain's foreign markets collapsed, mills, mines, works and shipyards were shut by the day, and unemployment rose to 11.3 percent. The country did not know which way to turn and began to move away from heavy industry, towards financial services. They were very difficult times, just like today. Money was in short supply and so in 1921 the government urged local authorities to make cuts and save money.

In 1920 Walsall Council had purchased Goscote Hall Farm and the surrounding land, which was ideal for an isolation hospital. The project was held-up until 1928 when building finally work began. The new hospital was built by William Kendrick & Sons at a cost of £17,995, and was officially opened on 1st April, 1930 by the Mayor of Walsall, E. H. Ingram. It consisted of two wards, each having eight beds, plus fourteen beds with side wards, a cubicled block with ten beds, and an administration building.

In 1933 a tuberculosis building opened with 22 beds, and two years later a new ward with 26 beds was added.

The new extensions at Goscote Isolation Hospital that officially opened on 24th April, 1936.

Goscote Isolation Hospital.

In 1949 it became Goscote Hospital, and plans were made build a general hospital on the site for the whole of Walsall. In 1964 the scheme came to an end when Harold Wilson’s government prohibited the sale of land for NHS purposes. Instead Goscote became an annex to the Manor Hospital.

Although there were 160 beds in the Manor Hospital dedicated to geriatric care, more were needed, and so two new geriatric wards were built at Goscote, called ‘Conway’ and ‘Warwick’ wards. They opened in 1975 and were situated on either side of a link corridor, each with twenty eight beds.

In 1976 the tuberculosis building was badly damaged in a storm, and had to be closed because it was too expensive to repair. Plans were made to extend the hospital and so in the 1980s great changes took place. In January 1984 Balmoral, Harlech, and Ludlow wards opened, together with an x-ray department. A new kitchen and staff dining room opened in 1987, and the rebuilt ‘Edinburgh’ ward for geriatric patients, and a new chapel, opened in 1988.

The hospital had six wards: Balmoral, Conway, Edinburgh, Harlech, Ludlow, and Windsor. It closed on 30th April 2006, and was transferred to the Manor Hospital.

Today the site is owned by Walsall Teaching Primary Care Trust and was redeveloped in 2011 to include a Dementia Care Unit, a Palliative Care Centre, and NHS offices.

Sneyd Lane Epidemic Hospital

The hospital opened in 1901 at Bloxwich as a replacement for the old Epidemic Hospital in Hospital Street. It was quite isolated, and stood in an area of woodland on a 40 acre site to the north of Sneyd Lane. There was a permanent building with 12 beds, and a number of ‘temporary’ corrugated steel wards, a little like Nissen huts.

The hospital only opened when necessary to care for illnesses such as smallpox and scarlet fever. It closed after the opening of Goscote Hospital in 1930.

Pelsall Hall Sanatorium

Before the First World War plans were made to open a sanatorium in Walsall for sufferers of tuberculosis. In 1917 Pelsall Hall, in Paradise Lane, Pelsall was purchased from the Charles family and converted into a sanatorium. It had thirty seven beds, seventeen for men, fourteen for women, and six for children. The sanatorium officially opened on 23rd October, 1918. Facilities were improved in 1924 when the old hall was converted into a dining and recreational area with a snooker table and a wireless. By the mid 1930s patients were being cared for at Goscote, and so patient numbers at Pelsall started to fall. The sanatorium closed in 1950 and the hall became Walsall Nurse Training School. It is now a home for the elderly.

Bloxwich Maternity and Child Welfare Hospital

In 1927 Walsall Council purchased a large Victorian house in High Street, Bloxwich called ‘The Manor House’. It had previously been owned by several generations of the Foster family. The house was purchased for the land at the front which was needed for a road widening scheme. On 20th July, 1929 the house officially opened as the Maternity and Child Welfare Hospital. It had two wards, each with four beds, one ward with two beds, an isolation ward, an operating theatre, a receiving ward, a nursery, and accommodation for the staff.

It now is a hospital for elderly people with mental health problems.

An advert from 1902.

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