A Short History of the Dorset County Hospital

B&W ovalIn 1902, Capt. John E. Acland, then chairman of the Committee of Management of Dorset County Hospital, published a brief history of the institution covering its first sixty years.  

His father, Arthur Henry Dyke Acland, had been one of the founders, and the first chairman of the Committee of Management from 1841 until 1848.  Capt. Acland was also the grandson of banker Robert Williams, who was a major benefactor and one of the first trustees.

Below is a full transcript of the booklet produced in 1902.  



A Short History of the Dorset County Hospital



Chairman of the Committee of Management.

A.D. 1902

Dorchester: Henry Ling,

Printer & Stationer


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The Dorset County Hospital.

A board affixed to the wall of the Committee Room bears the following dedication:-






“Christo in Pauperibus”


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We read in the history of Dorchester that a Hospital existed as early as the year 1616 ; it was situated in South Street, at that part now called South Terrace.  But it was not what we mean now-a-days by a Hospital.  It was an Institution, supported by charitable persons as “a working house for 50 poor children to be employed in labour, in some lawful trade, mystery, or manual occupation, under a discreet man, and sober woman ; who were also to instruct the children in the grounds of religion, and carefully to give due correction to all those that might deserve it.”*

*Hutchins’ History of Dorset


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With this “Hospital” however we have nothing to do here.

At some later period a Dispensary was founded in Dorchester, in Back West Street, presumably for giving out-door relief only, and medicine to the sick of the town, and no doubt the poor benefitted  greatly by this institution ; but the Managers in course of time found that they were much cramped in their work, and were anxious to extend their operations.   They therefore called a public meeting in July, 1837, to start an Infirmary capable of dealing with both In-Patients and Out-Patients.  But the County was not prepared for this step, and the project entirely failed for that year.  The good seed had however been sown, and it soon sprang up and bore fruit.

On August 21st, 1838, another public meeting was held in Dorchester, with Mr. Robert WILLIAMS, of Bridehead, in the chair, at which it was decided that “it is expedient to establish in Dorchester a County Infirmary.”


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Dr. JACKSON and the Rev. J. TEMPLAR were appointed provisional Secretaries, and a strong committee was selected to promote the scheme.

Their work was so successful that within six months sufficient financial support had been obtained to justify the hold of another public meeting.  A petition to Lord DIGBY, Lord Lieutenant of the County, was circulated and signed by a large number of the prominent residents, begging him to call the meeting, which was duly held on March 12th, 1839, Mr. John FLOYER presiding, at which it was resolved to establish in Dorchester, “a Medical Institution with the title


It is right to mention here, that this favourable result was very greatly facilitated by the generosity of Mr. Robert WILLIAMS, who besides subscribing liberally to the building fund


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gave a freehold property valued at £1,500, situated in “Back West Street” (now Princes Street) which was admirably adapted for the purpose.  It consisted of the Timber Yard of Messrs. CURME & MONDAY, with one or two houses facing the street.  Thus from its earliest conception, down to the present day, the Hospital has never been without the generous and open-handed support of the Bridehead family.

Throughout the remainder of this year, 1839, the work was developed with constant energy.  Public advertisements were issued for a suitable design, which resulted in the premium being awarded to Mr. MALPAS, of Frome.  But his plans were not finally utilised, as Mr. FERREY of London, suggested a more economical arrangement, by means of which the houses already referred to as standing on the chosen site were to be adapted for the use of the House Surgeon, Matron and Nurses, and to be connected by a covered passage with that portion of the new


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building which the funds permitted to be taken in hand, viz. : the present North Wing.  Some few patients were also enabled to be taken into the old houses.

In the month of February, 1840, the contract for the North Wing was signed with Messrs. G. W. Slade, for the sum of £1,188, which portion of the present building was completed in March, 1841.  We can well imagine how anxiously the promoters of this great County Charity watched the rising of the walls, and the development of all their plans ; making use of the period of suspense in preparing rules, selecting officers, and working out the necessary organization for the reception and welfare of the patients.

Up to this time nearly £3,000 had been given for the Building Fund, and on 16th March, 1841, another public meeting was held, at which the provisional Committees and Secretaries presented their final reports, earning the well-deserved thanks and congratulations of the representatives of the County.


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At this meeting, Rules were passed, the Committee of Management and Officers elected, and the Institution put on the necessary footing for commencement of work.

The names of those most closely connected with the Hospital, in this first year of active life may well be recorded here: –





Hon. Chaplain :   THE REV. G. WOOD, Rector of Holy Trinity.

Consulting Physician :   DR. COOPER.      Physician :   DR. JACKSON.

Consulting Surgeon :   MR. C. ARDEN.

Surgeons :   MR. W. D. TAPP, and MR. G. CURME.

House Apothecary :   MR. J. GOOD.      Matron :   MISS WOOD.

Chairman of the Committee :   MR. ARTHUR H. D. ACLAND.


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Committee of Management :


Hon. Secretaries :   JOSEPH STONE.   WILLIAM BRIDGE.

The opening of the Hospital was fixed for the 6th May, 1841, without any special ceremony.  No patients came up for admission on that day, “but several Out-patients received advice and medicine.  The week following, three In-patients were admitted, and the week after that, six more.  From that time the numbers increased steadily, and for the first four months maintained an average of 14 In-patients, and during the last four


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months the full average of 20,”* for which the Wards were equipped.  It was in fact very soon apparent that the Hospital had been greatly needed.  “It gained more and more the confidence of the poor and of the public, and its benefits were sought after beyond the limits to which they could be extended.”  Applications for admission had continually to be refused, as neither the funds for maintenance, nor the accommodation were sufficient to meet the demands.

These were very critical times in the life of the Hospital.  It had been started to provide for the wants of the whole County, and it was necessary for the promoters of the scheme to prove that this object could be achieved.  Heavy calls had already been made on the generosity of the people of Dorset, and yet the Annual Income was barely sufficient for the support of the

*From first Annual Report, dated January 1842.


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Institution on a somewhat limited footing.  Further efforts were also imperative to raise money for extending the Building, and we find that among other sources from which funds were obtained, a County Bazaar held at Kingston House in September, 1841, realized the splendid sum of £1,130.  In March, 1843, accommodation was found for 30 patients, and in the following year, an extension of the permanent building was taken in hand, which was especially necessary owing to the large number of accidents caused by the making of the “Southampton and Dorchester Railway” (the L. & S. W. R.) which were sent here for treatment.

In November, 1845, nearly the whole of the central portion of the building (as it exists now) was completed, the Earl of Shaftesbury having given “a considerable strip of land, and house upon it, immediately in front of the Hospital, which was peculiarly valuable both to the appearance and comfort of the


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arrangements.”*  The contract for this part of the work was given to Mr. GODDARD, of Bridport, under the direction of Mr. FERREY, the Architect ; it consisted of the addition of five more wards for patients and for the housing of all the establishment, so that the old cottages, previously used, were no longer necessary.  The cost of this addition was about £3,500.

It may be mentioned here that in the year 1846, Mr. ACLAND, the Chairman of the Committee, made and presented to the Hospital an interesting form of Sun Dial, viz., a recumbent cross, the time being shewn by the shadows cast by the head and arms.  It was placed originally near the S.W. corner of the building, as it existed at that time, but now stands on the plot of grass by the front door, and presents a picturesque object to those entering the grounds.

*Annual Report for 1844.


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No further building was taken in hand for many years, and indeed it is doubtful if the Governors, or the Committee, would have felt justified in even proposing the great additional improvement which marks the completion of the Hospital as we now see it, had not two most generous friends come forward to supply the necessary funds.  In the year 1856 “a munificent bequest of £500 from the Rt. Hon. George BANKES, M.P., was announced, with a notification from Mrs. BANKES that she would contribute a similar account, provided the entire sum, £1,000, should be appropriated to the completion of the South Wing, to be called in memory of her beloved and universally respected husband, the Bankes Wing.”*

The contract was given to Mr. WELLSPRING, of Dorchester, the building being completed in 1859, and set apart to provide “Convalescent Wards.”  They have proved most beneficial to the

*Annual Report for 1856.


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patients, giving them change of air, and change of scene.  It is always a pleasant sight in visiting these wards to note the first returning signs of health, and happiness, in those who perhaps have been for many weeks confined to their beds.  On any emergency, or when the necessary painting and cleaning is being carried out in other parts of the Hospital, these large and airy convalescent wards can be utilized to accommodate twenty or thirty patients.  This part of the building, which was indeed contemplated in the original design, cost about £1,600, making a total of about £6,300 spent on the fabric.

The work was scarcely finished, when the foundations were laid for another, the last important addition to the Hospital.  Up to the year 1848, a room had been fitted up for use as a Chapel, but in that year, when Mr. ACLAND, the first Chairman of the Committee, left Dorchester, he gave to the Hospital a small Chapel, construced in wood, which had been added to his own


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house in the town.  It was erected at the Hospital, outside “the first landing, at the top of the first flight of stone stairs.  The door opened from the landing, directly into the Chapel, which was supported on stone pillars, and thus made a sort of open portico over the back door.”*  It answered its purpose very well in the early days of the Institution, but when it was practically completed by the erection of the South, or “Bankes Wing,” Mr. Robert WILLIAMS came forward with the generosity quite hereditary in his name, and at his own cost provided the handsome permanent Chapel, which we know so well.

It was built as a Memorial to his brother-in-law, Mr. ACLAND, who had died a few years before.  It is necessary to mention here in explanation of the brass inscription which runs along the front of the gallery, that, after leaving Dorchester, Mr. ACLAND assumed

*Letter from Dr. BACOT, formerly House Surgeon.


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the surname of Troyte.  The work was carried out by Mr. WELLSPRING, from designs by the original architect of the Hospital, Mr. FERREY, the Chapel being dedicated on the 9th April, 1862, by the Bishop of the Diocese.  Reference should also be made to the handsome Brass Tablet on the north wall of the Chapel in memory of Mr. Herbert WILLIAMS, whose loss in 1878 was keenly felt, the Committee expressing “their sense of the many valuable services constantly rendered to the Charity by their late Treasurer.  From the time when it was first projected he had given his best assistance to it, and had shewn his active interest in its well being, both by word and deed.”*  Another Brass on the South Wall is in memory of the Rev. C. W. BINGHAM, who died on December 1st, 1881, having been Chairman of the Committee of Management for 33 years.

*Annual Report for 1878.


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The latest addition to the Chapel has been a very handsome painted East Window, given in the year 1899 by Col. WILLIAMS, M.P. and his two sisters, in memory of their father and brother.  The window is the work of Messr LAVERS & WESTLAKE, of London ; the centre light depicts our Lord’s love and care for His people, under the similitude of the “Good Shepherd”; the side lights are intended to draw attention to two great Christian virtues especially necessary for inmates of a hospital, viz. : Faith and Thankfulness ; while at the head of window in seen an Angel bearing a scroll with the blessed message to those who work for the poor and afflicted – ” Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren ye have done it unto Me.”

The spiritual as well as the bodily wants of the patients have from the very first occupied the attention of those responsible for the management of the Institution.  During the first year to two the duties of Chaplain were undertaken by the Rector of Holy


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Trinity without remuneration, the patients and resident officials being his parishioners.  But as soon as the Hospital was established on a firm footing, the Rector was specially licensed by the Bishop of the Diocese, as Chaplain, and he appointed a Curate to reside in the Hospital, his stipend being paid from a special fund raised for the purpose.  In the year 1855 the Rev. G. E. MOULE was elected by the Committee, as the first Chaplain, independent of the Rector of the parish, he and his successors being provided with rooms in the building ; but in the year 1888 different arrangements were made, and the Chaplain from that time onward has lived in his own house in the town.

About the same date, the privilege accorded to the Incumbents of the Dorchester parishes of being ex-officio members of the Committee of Management, was abrogated, after remaining in force for over 40 years.


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Reference has already been made incidentally to the number of beds provided for In-Patients, but it will be of interest to deal rather more fully with this matter now.  Before the Hospital was built, the sick poor of the County looked for relief mainly to the Infirmary at Salisbury ; but the distance was so great that they could only get there at the cost of much aggravation of their troubles, and in many cases it must have been difficult to obtain the money for such a long journey.  It is no matter of surprise, therefore, that when once our Dorset Hospital was started, admission to it was eagerly sought for, and notwithstanding the additions made to the building, the beds were always full, and often it happened that patients had to be kept waiting for admission until others were relieved and discharged.

In the year 1841, the year the Hospital was opened, 20 beds were provided, and were almost immediately occupied.  Two years later accommodation was provided for 30 patients, and


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in 1851 a further increase was made of 10 more beds.  But still the Committee were unable to meet the demands made for admission, and we find by the Annual Reports that the weekly average of In-Patients under treatment rose still further, until in 1862 it stood at 51, and in 1870 the highest average seems to have been reached, when the number was 58.

At this time the Hospital was equipped for 60 beds, but the wards were certainly crowded in an inconvenient, and probably an unhealthy, manner ; and in addition to this, the income was not sufficient to maintain such a large establishment.  Relief, however, came in a somewhat unexpected way.  We read in the Annual Report for 1876 that the Committee decided on “reducing the number of beds from 60 to 50, with the cordial concurrence of the Medical Staff ; for the establishment of several smaller Hospitals in various parts of the County, naturally


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lessened the demands for admission here,” and so no inconvenience was caused by the reduction.

Since those days, Cottage Hospitals have still further increased, and no doubt afford relief to very many who formerly would have come to the County Hospital.  In the Annual Report for the year 1900, it is stated that since the commencement, the total number of In-Patients had been 17,503, and of Out-patients 28,832.

In 1901, the numbers were, In-Patients 299, Out-Patients 961 ; the weekly average of In-Patients was 33, and there were 80 Surgical Operations.  Dental cases numbered 384, and the total of all cases dealt with amounted to 1912.

Before leaving this subject it will be interesting to quote a paragraph from the Annual Report of 1863.  “It has been deemed advisable to avail ourselves of the recent improvements


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in the principles of Nursing, introduced under the auspices of the eminently practical and benevolent Miss Nightingale.  A Nurse, highly recommended by the Council of the Nightingale Fund, has been procured from St. Thomas’ Hospital, and her whole demeanour has fully justified the cost of the arrangement.”  It is a matter of speculation for those whose curiosity may be aroused, to discover the principles of nursing before these “improvements were introduced.”  But we who live in these “latter days” may well be thankful for the marvellous progress made, not only in the skills of our Nurses and Medical Men, but in the discoveries and all the modern appliances now within reach of those whose lives are spent in the alleviation of pain and in the struggle with disease.

To make the account of the Hospital complete, mention must be made of some additions and improvements, small in themselves, but all helping towards comfort and usefulness.  In


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1868 the Porter’s Lodge was built, and has doubtless proved a great convenience to the public, as well as to the inmates of the Hospital.  About ten years later, an annex was constructed adjoining the North Wing, thereby improving in a marked manner the sanitary condition of the Hospital, and also providing accommodation for the Nurses in charge of the wards.  Coming to a more recent date, we may just refer to the fact that between the years 1893 and 1896 over £1,000 were spent in various necessary improvements, including the entire re-laying of the drains, the introduction of hot water pipes throughout the corridors and wards, the laying of wooden block flooring in the lower passages, re-building defective chimney stacks, and repairing roof, supplying new furniture to the Matron’s and Nurses’ rooms, and introducing electric bells to the wards.

In 1896 the Hospital for the first time secured the services of an Hon. Surgeon Dentist, the number of Dental cases attended


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to, many of them under anaesthetics, proving that this addition to the Medical staff is greatly appreciated.

In 1898 Mr. Charles HANSFORD, a Vice-Patron, and a staunch friend of the Hospital, provided at his own cost, a sheltered alcove adjoining the South Wing, which makes an ornamental boundary to the grounds in front, and proves a welcome shelter for the patients in hot weather.

In 1899, the accommodation for Out-Patients was greatly improved ; a new entrance was provided for their special use, and a re-arrangement of the rooms used as the Surgery, the Dispensary, and the Waiting Room was carried out.  In 1901, a complete system of Fire Hydrants was introduced, a special water main being laid from Princes Street, through the back yard, and up to the second floor of the building.


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Perhaps it may be allowable to refer here to one more improvement, which though not actually carried out as yet, has been quite recently placed within our reach, and which we may hope to see completed during the present year 1902.  It has been felt for some time that the position of the Operating Room at the very top of the building, was most unsatisfactory, as patients have to be carried up and down several flights of stairs, thereby rendering them liable to suffer some discomfort, with even a possibility of risk.  The Committee therefore issued an appeal to the Governors and friends of the Hospital to subscribe to a special fund for the erection of a new Operating Room, in a central position, and constructed in accordance with the most modern principles.  The response made to the appeal was most satisfactory, and indeed may be said to have exceeded their expectations.  It is only right to add that this result was due mainly to the splendid generosity of our President, the Earl of


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Eldon, and to the Earl of Ilchester, the latter identifying himself in a very marked manner with the scheme from its commencement.  If, in connection with the operating room, a lift can be provided, large enough to take a patient lying on a bed or couch, it will be of the greatest benefit, not only to those having to undergo operations, but for the conveyance of all very infirm patients, and will entirely supersede the present system of carrying up and down stairs.

The history of the Institution has now been traced, somewhat imperfectly, through the sixty years of its life ; and looking back to the time when it was founded, we may well admire the wisdom, the energy, the devotion, of those who first started it on its prosperous course.  It is indeed a matter of surprise that notwithstanding the many changes that have come over the social condition of the country, the Hospital is still effectively worked on the very same lines that were first laid down.


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We who have interested this long and well established charity, must be on our guard that we do not trust too much to the generosity of our predecessors.  The number of subscribers, is a proof that there is still a large amount of genuine interest taken in the Hospital, but the number is continually decreasing, and constant effort is necessary, by one and all, to maintain this heritage, to develope [sic] the work entrusted to us, and to emulate the example of those who have gone before.  We must maintain our proud position of being “THE” COUNTY HOSPITAL ; we must do our best to keep well in advance of all other similar institutions ; we must move with the times, and provide our Medical Staff with every modern improvement ; and let us make sure that those who follow us shall never have occasion to say that we neglected the great charge committed to our care.


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List of Presidents and Patrons.

Patrons :

THE EARL OF ILCHESTER (3rd Earl) 1841–1858.
THE EARL OF ILCHESTER (4th Earl) 1858–1866.


Presidents :

This office originated in the year 1866.

THE LORD DIGBY 1866–1889.



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List of Physicians and Surgeons.

Physicians :

DR. F. JACKSON 1841–1849.
DR. C. COWDELL 1849–1871.
DR. W. WILLIAMS 1871–1872.


Surgeons :

MR. TAPP 1841–1861.
MR. CURME 1841–1868.
MR. TUDOR 1861–1882.
MR. J. GOOD 1868–1882.
MR. EMSON 1868–1887.
MR. FISHER 1882–1899.
MR. W. E. GOOD 1882–
MR. GEORGE 1887–1895.
MR. COSENS 1895–


Dental Surgeon :

MR. C. S. PRIDEAUX 1896–



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List of Chairmen of the Committee and Vice-Chairmen.

Chairmen :

MR. ARTHUR H. D. ACLAND 1841–1848.
REV. C. W. BINGHAM 1849–1881.
MR. E. L. KINDERSLEY 1888–1895.


Vice-Chairmen :

REV. C. W. BINGHAM 1847–1848.
LIEUT. CRISWICK, R.N. 1849–1854.
MR. H. N. MIDDLETON 1855–1875.
MR. ALBERT BANKES 1876–1881.
REV. CANON NASH 1883–1886.



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ILCHESTER.–The 3rd Earl of ILCHESTER was Patron of the Hospital from 1841-1858, and was succeeded by his brother, the 4th Earl, 1859-1866.

BINGHAM.–The Rev. C. W. BINGHAM was Chairman of the Committee of Management from 1849-1881.

STRICKLAND.–Mr. STRICKLAND, a retired tradesman, in Dorchester, bequeathed £500 to the D.C.H. in 1842, when funds were much needed.

FLOYER.–Mr. John FLOYER was Chairman of the Public Meeting in 1839, which started the D.C.H.  He was Trustee from 1841 till his death in 1887.

BANKES.– (Men’s Convalescent Ward).  The whole of the South Wing was built in memory of the Rt. Hon. George BANKES, M.P. for County Dorset, of Corfe Castle and Kingston Lacy.


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PRINCE OF WALES.–H.R.H (now King Edward VII) became Patron of the D.C.H. in the year 1866.

WILLIAMS.–Everyone conversant with the history of the County Hospital, will approve of this name being given to one of the Wards.

ACLAND.–Mr. Arthur ACLAND was an earnest worker in founding the Hospital, and the first Chairman of the Committee, 1841-1848.

DIGBY.–The Earl DIGBY was Lord Lieutenant of the County when the establishment of the Hospital was in progress.  Lord DIGBY, his successor and relative, was President of the Hospital for 23 years, from 1866 to 1889.

VICTORIA.–This much loved name was given to the Women’s Convalescent Ward in the Jubilee Year, 1897.

There are two wards still un-named.