The Victorian era saw the development of several hospitals in Wolverhampton. On the succession of Victoria to the throne in 1837, Wolverhampton only had a six-bedded Public Dispensary in Queen Street, whilst limited in scope and provision it was one of the first such units in the country to use ether, in the early 1840s.

The first real in-house provision of medical care in Wolverhampton lay in the opening of a public dispensary in Queen Street in 1821. The house is to be found on the eastern side of the Street. On this evidence it would appear the first use of the property was for medical provision for the Wolverhampton poor. Funded and supported by charity, its first year budget being some 300 plus pounds. A ten-bedded unit was established with local doctors giving freely of their services in an honorary capacity. The treatments of the period, i.e. blistering, cupping, scarifying and much poultice use was pre-eminent; the surgery and reduction of fractures was of a rudimentary nature and much use of laudanum was seen.

By 1825 the dispensary was considerably enlarged and refurbished to contain 20 beds. Some relief of ear, nose and throat and eye conditions was offered separately by a medical practitioner in Piper’s Row.

With the demands on the dispensary becoming greater from the burgeoning growth of the town it was perhaps fortunate that prominent local businessman George Briscoe was treated there in the early 1840s, as on the basis of this care he determined to raise funds to establish The South Staffordshire General Hospital (later to become ‘The Royal’) in Cleveland Road in 1849.

Additionally Briscoe went on to found the Eye Infirmary, originally in St. Mark’s Road in 1881 and Chapel Ash in 1886.

Another milestone in the life of the public dispensary was the use of ether as an anaesthetic in 1847 by local prominent medical practitioner Dr. E.H. Coleman, said to be the third such use of the product in England.

In 1848 the process of transferring services and facilities to the new Cleveland Road Hospital began. It then became evident that local philanthropists John Lees and Marson converted the premises for use as an Orphan Asylum prior to the new building in the Goldthorn Hill area of Penn Road.

The Staffordshire Infirmary in Cleveland Road opened in1849 and provided 83 beds for “patients who are unable to pay for medicine and are destitute of funds to make provision for them”. In the later development of this hospital it was renamed The Royal Hospital in 1928.

St. Catherine's Convalescent Home.

1871 saw the provision of St. Catherine’s convalescent home in Penn, for women and children. In 1875 it was acquired by the governors of the South Staffordshire Infirmary thanks to the generosity of the local Sparrow family. In 1881 due to a large increase in ophthalmic diseases and injuries, an eye infirmary was opened in St. Mark’s Road. This later moved to the large Chapel Ash site and opened its full facilities in 1888.

Smallpox and other ‘fevers’ were rife in the West Midlands and thanks to the insistence of Dr. Henry Malet, Medical Officer of Health in Wolverhampton and also Honorary Physician in the town, an isolation hospital was provided in the grounds of Holly Hall, Parkfields. It was the first hospital funded by the local authority and initially provided 35 beds.

Hospital Governors were much concerned at the increasing levels of women’s diseases and charitable money was raised to open the Wolverhampton Dispensary For Women in Cleveland Road. This unit was re-established in St. Mark’s Road in 1888 when the new eye infirmary opened its doors. 1898 saw the provision of land by Mr. J. L. Gibbons M.P. of Sedgley, in the West Park area and the Women’s Hospital opened in 1904 providing maternity and gynaecology facilities.

During both the Victorian and Edwardian periods it was necessary to provide private facilities for the attraction of medical staff to urban areas. These factors saw the opening of The Queen Victoria Nursing Institute in Bath Road, Wolverhampton. It had 43 beds for private work only. Prior to 1895 use had been made of two houses in adjacent Clifton Road, Chapel Ash.

Between 1821 and 1895 five hospitals had been provided for the citizens of Wolverhampton, plus one convalescent home. Of these units, five had been provided and run on a charitable basis. These facilities in medical terms, placed Wolverhampton at the forefront of conurbations in the UK, for the care of its patients.

Roy Stallard. TD.

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