During the mid 1880s, a considerable amount of concern was expressed by the Governors and medical staff at the South Staffordshire General Hospital (later to become The Royal Hospital), on the increasing workload caused by women’s surgery.

Following two irate Governor’s meetings in 1886 it was decided to seek a new premises solely for Gynaecological Surgery. Such centres had already opened in London, Liverpool and Nottingham. An advert placed in the Wolverhampton Chronicle announced the opening of such a centre. It was called  The Surgical Dispensary for Women and was a short distance from the General Hospital in Cleveland Road. This is thought to be in the property now occupied by Franklin and Chambers Veterinary Practitioners, in St. George’s Parade.

What is thought to be the original location of  The Surgical Dispensary for Women.

Though small in size it soon established a reputation for gynaecological services in the town and was fortunate in its early years of obtaining the services of Lawson Tait, an international surgeon of repute. In the same year he had performed the first UK evacuation of an extra uterine pregnancy, in the fallopian tube, at the premises of Dr. Spackman at 194 Penn Road. Incidentally this Georgian property was a doctor’s surgery for 100 years and is now a centre for homeopathy and aromatherapy.
By 1888 demand at Cleveland Road had outgrown its size and a decision was taken to move the dispensary to the recently vacated premises of the Eye Infirmary in St. Mark’s Road. Higher workloads and staff ratios at the new premises meant that  some emergency surgery on women was still taking place at the General Hospital. For example 36 such operations took place at the General Hospital in 1901 compared with 216 at St. Mark’s Road. The total number of female attendances for that year were 3518.
By this time the Queen Victoria Nursing Institute had opened its doors and small numbers of women were being treated there on a private basis. By the turn of the century St. Mark’s Road had become too small for the volume of patients and a new hospital was needed.

Philanthropists in Wolverhampton were approached and subscription sought. This approach was successful and sufficient funds were raised for the purpose. A competition was held for the best design for the two storey unit, which was to be built on land donated by Mr. J. L. Gibbons of Sedgley. The land was opposite West Park on the corner of Connaught Road. The design of the new hospital was given to Mr. A. Eaton Painter whose two storey plan of 24 beds included a fire escape at each end of the building. Work started in 1902 and foundation stones were laid by Lady Wrottesley and Mrs. J. L. Gibbons in 1903. The unit was completed and occupied in 1904. The new hospital relied on charity for its running costs, as did the General Hospital and the Eye Infirmary.

The original Eye Infirmary of 1881 which became the Surgical Dispensary for Women in 1888.

A group of workmen outside the entrance to the new Women's hospital; possibly in 1903 during construction. Courtesy of Mrs. Mary Phillipson.
Proper facilities for maternity care in Wolverhampton were poor and most births occurred in people’s homes, unless there was a serious problem, which would be dealt with in the Women’s Hospital. By 1919 further land was purchased in Connaught Road and new O.P.D. facilities were provided. The house at number 1 Bath Road was also purchased and fitted out with 9 maternity beds.

There was still a great need for a maternity hospital and in 1920 Mr. George Mason bequeathed £20,000 for the purpose. This resulted in the building of a large unit with 21 beds and a smaller unit containing 9 beds on land adjacent to the original hospital. It was recorded that during all of these developments the generosity of Mr. N.B. Graham, owner of the Express & Star newspaper had been magnanimous.

In the early 1920s Mr. S.W. Maslen- Jones joined the staff. All women with gynaecological problems were no longer seen under any circumstances at the Royal Hospital. In 1931 Miss Jane Nage joined the staff and was replaced in 1972 by Mr. A.M. Smith of Oxford University and U.C.H.

In the post-war years a junior female member of the medical staff, Miss Margaret Reynolds was appointed. The hospital continued to grow with a new 17 bed extension and 3 new labour wards, plus 6 extra gynaecological beds. 

The Queen Victoria Nursing Institute in Bath Road.

The operating theatres were enlarged and a large house in Tettenhall Road, adjacent to the hospital provided a post-operative annexe with 18 beds. A unit of 17 special care baby cots was also built. The total number of beds in the hospital was now 122 and the hospital was recognised by the Central Midwives Board as a training centre for part 2 S.C.M.

In the immediate post-war period Mr. J.C. Newbold joined the staff, remaining until 1972. He proved to be an indefatigable figure in women’s services. Dr. H. Everley Jones, Consultant Paediatrician at the Royal, was appointed in charge of neonatal services and the Royal and Women’s hospitals combined fully in the provision of training for medical and nursing staff.

A further small maternity unit named The Beeches opened in Tettenhall Road. Progressively, work at the Women’s Hospital proliferated through the 1950s and 1960s and it was decided that provision for a new enlarged premises was necessary. The situation was eased by the use of maternity beds at New Cross Hospital. This was in line with Government edicts that all new births should take place in hospital, to reduce the high infant mortality rate, particularly evident in the West Midlands.

The New Cross Hospital site was eventually chosen and a new maternity unit opened there in 1971. It was opened by Princess Anne, and within three years, gynaecological services were transferred here from the West Park site.

West Park Hospital now became a centre for the care of geriatric patients, ending over 70 years of medical excellence for women, on the site.

Roy Stallard.  TD.

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