Wolverhampton Dispensary, the City's first hospital, opened its doors on Tuesday 10th July, 1821 at number 46 Queen Street. It was established to cater for the medical and surgical needs of the poor who could not afford to pay for the service themselves.

Mr. John Freed Proud, a well-known Wolverhampton surgeon from North Street was instrumental in fund raising for the setting up of the institution. On 5th January, 1820 a letter from him was published in the Wolverhampton Chronicle mentioning the great sickness amongst the poor owing to hard times.

The following year an announcement appeared in the Wolverhampton Chronicle on April 4th:

Wolverhampton Dispensary

Endeavours are making to establish a Dispensary in this town, and a meeting of the inhabitants of the town and neighbourhood who are disposed to support it, is appointed to be held at the Public Offices on Monday next. The advantage of such an institution to a populous district like this, must be obvious to everyone, and we trust the benevolent design will be speedily carried into effect.

Intended Dispensary at Wolverhampton

THE SUBSCRIBERS and those Ladies and Gentlemen who are disposed to support this Institution are requested to meet at the PUBLIC OFFICE on MONDAY APRIL 9th, at Eleven, to take into Consideration the Measures most likely to promote the Design.

The meeting was duly held and well attended, with Sir John Wrottesley, Bart. in the chair. It was decided that it would be highly desirable to establish such an institution in Wolverhampton and to form a provisional committee for the purpose of collecting subscriptions. Members for the County, and Noblemen and Gentlemen in any way connected with the district were asked to support the fund. 

Further meetings were held in which plans and rules for the Dispensary were drawn up and an advertisement was placed for a resident surgeon and an apothecary. By the middle of May the fund amounted to £483.4s.9d and at a meeting of the subscribers at the Swan Hotel it was decided that the Right Hon. Lord Dudley and Ward would be requested to accept the office of President of the Institution and the following gentlemen should be Vice Presidents:

E.J. Littlejohn
Sir John Fenton Boughey, Bart.
Sir John Wrottesley, Bart.
Francis Holyoake, Esq.
James Hordern, Esq.
Richard Fryer, Esq.

Sir John Wrottesley, Bart. and Francis Holyoake, Esq. were requested to act as treasurers, Dr. Dehane and Dr. Mannix were to be physicians and Mr. Fowke and Mr. Proud, surgeons. Mr. E.H. Coleman was asked to be house surgeon. The choice of Lord Dudley and Ward as President was appropriate because he had contributed large sums of money to the erection of the building and played a considerable part in its affairs.

A house was acquired in Queen Street, one of the most important streets in the town and fitted out with six beds for inpatients and made ready for use.

The Dispensary in 1821.

From its opening in 1821 the Dispensary proved to be very popular with 1852 patients treated in the first year. Patients were required to produce a ticket of recommendation, which was paid for by contribution or obtained from a contributor to the Dispensary. Patients also had to pay a fee for extras such as trusses, for which 1s was charged for a single truss or 2s for a double truss. The patient's spiritual welfare was also considered by the house visitors who were appointed each month by the Board of Management and two bibles were made available for the purpose.
The Board met weekly and apart from overseeing the day to day running of the institution they considered the suitability of patients for admittance and gave permission for patients to be discharged. The running costs for the first year amounted to £350 and although admissions fell over the next seven years the annual running costs increased to £492.10s.8d.

Within three years of opening a larger building was required. A committee consisting of Sir John Wrottesley, Bart.; Rev. W. Leigh; Rev. E. Burton; Mr. Jesson; and Mr. Pearson looked into the matter and at the end of 1824 they recommended that a new dispensary should be erected and completed within a matter of months at an estimated cost of £1,600. Subscriptions for the new building were collected from local nobility and gentry, mainly as a result of the numerous charity balls that were held in the Queen Street Library and News Room. A total of £964 was collected and the building was extended to add a further 14 beds. The new facility opened in July 1826. There is some uncertainty about the architect, who is believed on stylistic grounds to have been William Hollins from Birmingham.

In 1833 the building was again extended at the rear to contain casualty wards due to the increased demand for beds for accident victims. £700 was raised for the extension which gave room for a further 16 beds. By 1838 the resident staff consisted of one Surgeon at £80 per annum, a Matron at £25 per annum, a Dispenser at £50 per annum and a number of servants at £8 each per annum. The number of patients continued to increase and during 1838 an extra 650 people were treated. This was mentioned at the 1839 A.G.M. and a request was made for a permanent nurse for the wards. It is not known if such a nurse was employed at the time, but in 1842 Mrs. Shinton was employed in the post at a salary of £4.4s per annum. 

The dispensary building today.

The house surgeon used to make house-calls on patients living with 1 mile of the Dispensary and also had to report to the committee every month to give the names of patients on the wards and their date of admission. This was to ensure that no patient remained there for longer than one month without the consent of the committee.

In 1842 the subscriptions failed to cover the running costs and the committee had to appeal for an increase "of a permanent character" in their subscriptions and donations. Balls were arranged to collect funds and the following year a collector was appointed on a commission basis to oversee fundraising.

The Duke of Cleveland became President in 1842 and during that year the Dispenser was given notice and his replacement had to ensure that drugs were only purchased when requested by the medical committee and dispensed when authorised by the house surgeon. One of his earliest tasks was to tender for the supply of good healthy leeches for a year and a contract for the leeches was accepted at 16s per 100.

Running costs continued to escalate and in 1843 Mr. Fowke suggested the closure of the casualty ward in order to save money. Wolverhampton's population was greatly increasing and diseases such as typhus fever and smallpox were prevalent in the slum areas. The average life expectancy in Wolverhampton was only 19years and 1 month, compared to 29years and 4 months in most of the country. It became apparent that the Dispensary couldn't cope with the demands of a growing town as large as Wolverhampton.

Later in 1843, Mr. Thorneycroft who ran the Shrubbery Ironworks donated £100 towards the establishment of a general hospital in Wolverhampton and at a special meeting of the dispensary committee on 10th November, 1844 it was decided that "in consequence of the sums lately bequeathed, the committee think the time favourable for the erection of a hospital in conjunction with the present dispensary".

George Briscoe.

Mr. Dudley Fereday and Mr. Edward Cooke agreed to become fundraisers for the new hospital for which large sums of money would be required. The fund was started by local businessman Mr. George Briscoe and his friend Mr. Henry Rogers. 

Mr. Briscoe fell from a chair and broke a leg whilst dusting a picture. While recuperating in bed his thoughts turned to less fortunate persons than himself, who being poor and suffering lacked the comforts that he enjoyed. On his recovery he started the fund with a donation of £500. The foundation stone for the new hospital, The South Staffordshire General Hospital, was laid in 1846 and by 1848 the sum of £18,000 had been raised. 

An important event took place on 1st January 1847. It was the first operation under a general anaesthetic in Wolverhampton and only the third in England. The operation was performed by Mr. Edward Hayling Coleman at a house in King Street. The details of the operation were published in a letter to the "Provincial Medical and Surgical Journal" that was written by Mr. George Edmunds, Mr. Coleman's partner. The patient, an 18 year old woman of a highly nervous disposition received an amputation of the thigh. The patient was induced to inhale ether and after a few minutes she sank into complete intoxication. Mr. Coleman skilfully performed the operation with the patient struggling with her arms and calling for her mother. After the operation she was not aware that her leg had been removed and said that "it was not off, for her foot was asleep" and asked for someone to rub it. She had no recollection of pain but thought that she could hear the saw cutting through the bone. Afterwards she recovered well and said that she dreamt throughout the operation.

In August 1848 the decision was taken to transfer the Dispensary to the new hospital, which opened its doors on 1st January 1849. The committee at the Dispensary met for the last time in November 1848 and the Dispensary closed on 31st December.

On the closure of the Dispensary the building was taken over by John Lees for use as an orphanage and school. It was so successful that in 1854 it moved to large new premises on Goldthorn Hill, where it still stands as the Royal School. The building was later a post office and today houses the Euro Bar.


A History of The Royal Hospital, by Neil Fox. Pub. by the Dept. of Medical Illustration & Graphic Design, New Cross Hospital, Wolverhampton.

Historic Buildings of Wolverhampton, by John S. Roper, M.A., Wolverhampton, 1957.

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