Of the folklore associated with the 5 Victorian hospitals developed in Wolverhampton, namely The General (opened in 1849, later The Royal), the Eye Infirmary (opened in 1881), the Isolation Hospital (opened in 1884), the Surgical Dispensary for Women (opened in 1886), the Queen Victoria Nursing Institute (opened in 1895) and the Women’s and Children’s Convalescent Home (opened in 1873); none have created more parental concern than for a child to be taken to the Isolation Hospital that treated ‘fevers’.

The incidence of these diseases had been of enormous proportions throughout the Victorian period, initially both cholera and smallpox had caused high death rates in both Wolverhampton and Bilston. With the resultant improvements in both water supply and sewage disposal, cholera had considerably dissipated by the early 1880s but increases with the zymotic diseases was markedly evident.

The foundation stone. Courtesy of Neil Fox.

Dr. Henry Malet, the then Medical Officer of Health and Honorary Consultant Physician at the General Hospital, pressed the local authority to provide a facility for the isolation and treatment of patients with such conditions. Duty was done and the first such hospital facility built and supported by Wolverhampton Borough Council was enacted in 1883 with the laying of the foundation stone. The hospital opened its doors on the Holly Hall estate in Pond Lane on the then edge of town on the 6th February 1884.
The immediate admission of some 35 patients with smallpox, of whom 4 died was conclusive evidence of the hospital’s necessity. Additionally it was recorded that in the third quarter of 1884, 106 deaths from Infantile Diarrhoea occurred with the resultant concerns. With some improved pick up in vaccination by 1885, smallpox had receded only to be overtaken by the next cyclical disease of Scarlatina (Scarlet Fever).
During this year some 264 patients were admitted of whom 40 died, some 15% compared with a death rate in the previous decade of 57%. By 1892 the hospital facilities had been considerably enhanced with two pavilions, which with the wooden annexe of two wards, plus administrative buildings, nurses accommodation and laundry, plus disinfecting facilities offered good local care.

An aerial view of the hospital. Courtesy of Neil Fox.

In 1894 a recurrence of Smallpox flared with 67 new cases, in addition Diphtheria, Measles and Typhoid continued to present pressing problems. It is interesting to read in the History of St. Stephen’s School, Springfields that complete closure of the school was necessary due to the numbers of children with measles. The number of related deaths from Tuberculosis in Wolverhampton peaked at this period to 150, but fell back at the turn of the century to the low 100s.

Throughout this period electric light was installed and a further isolation hospital was opened at Moxley in 1923. The Schick test was introduced resulting in immunisation for all children in 1928 but the beneficial uptake and reduction in the disease was not evident until the 1940s.

Another view of the hospital. Courtesy of Neil Fox.

In 1928 a further cubicled ward of ten beds was opened and after patient numbers increased the hospital a training school for the Infected Diseases Nursing Certificate by the GNC. Whilst the war years saw a marked reduction in the incidence of most infectious diseases, both poliomyelitis and tuberculosis continued to cause concern, the later condition requiring many weeks of treatment and bed rest. The available 66 beds at Parkfields were insufficient and many local patients were sent to Prestwood, Kinver and elsewhere.
For those patients treated at Pond Lane, daily papers, library books and snooker and darts facilities improved the lot of the in-house sick as did the Christmas visit by the local pantomime cast.

The cubicled ward of 10 beds that was opened in 1928. Courtesy of Neil Fox.

The redoubtable figure of Matron Knox Thomas and her group of senior sisters, most of whom spent the whole of their working lives at the hospital reigned supreme. With the introduction of the NHS in 1948 an infectious diseases block was opened at New Cross, which had laboratory facilities and residential doctors and a Chest Department. The ward and appropriate facilities were thus seen as reducing the Parkfields operations. Added to these factors the widespread immunisation polices adopted by Health Authorities to curtail the Zymotic disease meant that the day of the fever hospital was drawing to a close.

A reprieve against closure in 1976 lasted for two years and a plan to create a day centre for mentally handicapped patients came to nothing and finally in 1984 the hospital closed thus ending 100 years of service to the community. The grounds of Parkfields Hospital now compose a housing development. It is interesting to note that as we entered the 21st century the evidence of H.I.V., Hepatitis and Tuberculosis have become dangerous realities.

In 1950 a single case of Smallpox recurred in Bilston and a similar scare arose in Wolverhampton, but medical controls were adequate and both cases came to nothing. Parkfields was also known as ‘The Borough Hospital’ throughout its life.

Roy Stallard  T.D.

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