Archive 2016

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A case of chimney sweep’s cancer at Dorset County Hospital


A chimney sweep in the 1850s

Scrotal cancer was the first malignant disease to be identified as connected with a specific occupation. In 1775 London surgeon Percivall Pott described the occurrence of scrotal cancer in chimney sweeps:

It is a disease which always makes its first attack on, and its first appearance in, the inferior part of the scrotum; where it produces a superficial, painful, ragged, ill-looking sore, with hard and rising edges. … In no great length of time, it pervades the skin, dartos, and membranes of the scrotum, and seizes the testicle, which it inlarges [sic], hardens, and renders truly and thoroughly distempered; from whence it makes its way up the spermatic process into the abdomen.

Once the disease was in the abdomen it would prove fatal. The condition usually began with hyperkeratotic lesions on the scrotum, which the sweeps called “soot warts”. These warts might also appear elsewhere on the body. They were thought to be caused by the irritation from soot particles. Sweeps were primarily exposed to soot during their apprenticeships as climbing boys. The cancer could appear many years later, even after a man had given up sweeping chimneys. The true cause was, in fact, the presence of carcinogens in soot, rather than simple irritation, but this was not discovered until 1922.

In May 1842, just a year after Dorset County Hospital was opened, Charles White, an illiterate chimney sweep from Wareham, was admitted with scrotal cancer. White was born in London, the son of a sailor, and had come to Dorset in the early 1830s, from Newport on the Isle of Wight. He was in his mid-thirties and sometimes used the name Harris – he had served at least five prison sentences for theft, trespass, breach of the peace and poaching. He was married, relatively short (just over 4 foot 11 inches), with brown hair and grey eyes. White had a sallow complexion and was “very much pock-marked on the nose”, having had small pox. He was recommended for hospital treatment by Robert Williams junior, son of the banker who had donated the land upon which the hospital was built.

Watercolour drawing of a case of chimney sweep's cancer, 1848. © St. Bartholomew's Hospital Archives & Museum/Wellcome Images

Drawing of a case of chimney sweep’s cancer, 1848
© St. Bartholomew’s Hospital Archives/Wellcome Images

White may have tried to treat the soot wart himself. It was not uncommon for chimney sweeps to “pare” the warts with a knife or other kind of blade. One patient in the 1860s was reported to have pinched the wart with a split stick and cut it off with a razor. “He remarked that it was not very painful. He resumed work the following day.”

Surgical treatment consisted of cutting away all of the diseased flesh. This was a simple process for the surgeon but, before the introduction of anaesthetics in the late 1840s, it was terrifying and painful for the patient. Not surprisingly patients frequently delayed seeking medical help. White’s cancer was removed after his admission to Dorset County Hospital and he was discharged, cured, just over a month later, on 30 June 1842.

In 1855 Charles White’s cancer returned. White was now in his forties and it would be 2½ years before he received hospital treatment again. The previous year he had been prosecuted for vagrancy and for leaving his family chargeable to the parish. In September 1855 he was sentenced to six weeks’ hard labour in Dorchester gaol for assaulting his wife. It is surprising, given his criminal record, that he managed to secure hospital treatment again.

For his second hospital admission in August 1857 White, and another patient, were sponsored by the Wareham Poor Law Union. The letter from the house surgeon confirmed that they “will be admitted into the Hospital on Thursday next if found eligible on examination and that the Patients should be at the Hospital by eleven o’clock in the forenoon and provided with decent clothing and proper changes of linen &c.” The Wareham Poor Law guardians instructed the relieving officer “to see that they are thus provided before they go and supply them with what is necessary.” On examining White, Mr. Tapp, the surgeon at the hospital, thought him otherwise healthy.

White’s second hospital experience would have been very different to his first. Since his previous operation, the use of anaesthetics had become commonplace during surgery, making it far less painful. The hospital had expanded considerably since his first stay – the number of in-patients had more than doubled. The operation to excise the cancer was again deemed a success and White was discharged home a month later, apparently cured. But the disease was still there – he died of cancer a year later, having haemorrhaged.

Charles White’s story is one of a number of Patient Case Studies on this site based on anonymised reports of operations submitted by the hospital’s surgeons to the Medical Times and Gazette in the 1850s. For more information on chimney sweeps’ cancer see John R. Brown and John L. Thornton’s article “Percivall Pott (1714-1788) and chimney sweepers’ cancer of the scrotum” published in the British Journal of Industrial Medicine (1957, 14(1): 68–70) and H. A. Waldron’s article, “A brief history of scrotal cancer” in the same journal (1983, 40: 390-401). The illustration of an 1850s chimney sweep comes from Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor, published in 1851.

Posted 25 December 2016

slaverySlavery and Dorset County Hospital

Slavery was abolished throughout most of the British Empire by the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833. The Act granted £20 million to slave owners – many of them resident in Britain – to compensate for their loss of property. The capital injected into the British economy by the compensation scheme was invested in a range of enterprises. There were few corners of early nineteenth-century society untouched by slavery money, so it is inevitable that some found its way into the coffers of medical charities, including Dorset County Hospital.

It is estimated that from 1640 until the passing of the Slave Trade Act in 1807, Britain transported 3.1 million enslaved Africans (of whom 2.7 million arrived) to its colonies in the Caribbean, north and south America and to other countries. The 1807 Act prohibited the trafficking of enslaved people but it did not outlaw slave ownership. Slaves continued to be the property of their masters, whose “stock” was replenished through childbirth. The 1833 Act, with its compensation scheme for slave owners, replaced slavery with a system of apprenticeship, tying the newly freed men and women into another form of unfree labour for fixed terms.

A University College London project entitled Legacies of British Slave-ownership has been investigating the effects of the compensation pay-outs to slave-owners resident in Britain, particularly looking at how the money found its way into all manner of cultural, commercial and social enterprises, and how in some cases it bolstered the wealth of future generations. The UCL researchers found that:

in addition to the many absentee planters, bankers and financiers directly concerned with the business of sugar and slavery, there were many other types of claimant: clergymen, for example, or the widows and single women, some of whom had been left property in the enslaved in trust. Slave ownership was spread across the British Isles, by no means confined to the old slaving ports, and included men and women of varied ages, ranging from the aristocracy and gentry to sections of the middle classes.

Drax Engraving & Subscription

J. S. W. S. Erle-Drax (from The Book of Sports, British and Foreign, 1843) and details of his hospital subscription, 1843 
© Dorset History Centre

The UCL team has created a searchable database which reveals that there were twenty individuals living in Dorset associated with compensation claims. This is a relatively low number compared to, say, Somerset (117) and Hampshire (114). A small number of these Dorset recipients of slave-ownership compensation were financial backers of Dorset County Hospital, which was founded just four years after the compensation pay-outs in 1836.

They include John S. W. S. Erle-Drax, of Charlborough, who received £4,293 in compensation for 189 slaves living on the Drax Hall estate in Barbados, inherited from his father-in-law. Drax regularly paid an annual subscription of five guineas to Dorset County Hospital. The Rev. William Butler of Frampton (“a divine of the port wine school” with “an inordinate love of sport”) was a one guinea subscriber to the hospital and had received a share of £2,606 in compensation for 147 slaves on the island of Nevis. Lord Rivers, a vice-patron of Dorset County Hospital who paid a £10 subscription, was awarded nearly £9,500 compensation for just under 550 slaves working his two estates in Jamaica. As well as these direct recipients of compensation, some later subscribers to the hospital would have inherited their wealth from parents who had been slave-owners. This appears to be the case for Lieut.-Col. John Michel of Dewlish House, Dorchester, a subscriber to the hospital from 1851 onwards, whose late father’s estate included the £2,652 compensation for 134 slaves in Jamaica, received just eight years before his death.

Dorset County Hospital was not the only medical institution to receive money from previous slave-owners. For instance, George Lawrence, a gentleman of Cowesfield in Wiltshire (who received £5,076 compensation for 263 slaves) paid subscriptions to Salisbury Infirmary and the Earl of Northesk (£3,529 for 200 slaves) subscribed to Hampshire County Hospital. Drax and Lord Rivers, as well as supporting Dorset County Hospital, were also subscribers to Salisbury Infirmary. Some former slave-owners left charitable legacies to hospitals and asylums – one left money to more than ten hospitals in London and Surrey. The UCL database also reveals that more than seventy surgeons and physicians were involved in compensation claims.

Slave Register, 1826, showing the names and ages of children born into slavery on the Drax family estate in Barbados (The National Archives, T71/535, folio 153)

Slave Register, 1826, showing the names and ages of children born into slavery on the Drax family estate in Barbados
© The National Archives

The number of Dorset County Hospital subscribers who opposed slavery was far greater than those who received compensation. While slavery may have ended across the British Empire, it continued in other countries, and so did the anti-slavery campaigns. On 15 September 1840 the inaugural meeting of the East Dorset branch of the “Society for the Extinction of the Slave Trade and the Civilisation of Africa” took place at Blandford. A similar meeting, to establish a West Dorset branch, was held at Dorchester on 12 October, followed by a another meeting at Weymouth. Many of those driving the formation of the Dorset branches – including John Floyer and Robert Williams – were also instrumental in establishing the hospital.

John Floyer (1811-87)

John Floyer (1811-87), a trustee of the hospital who opposed slavery
© Dorset County Museum

The Society had been established in London in June 1839 and the county of Dorset led the way in setting up local branches. In 1841 the Society backed the Niger Expedition, designed to make treaties with native peoples, introduce Christianity and promote trade. The Expedition was a disaster with 41 out of its 301 members dying of fever. In the face of severe public criticism, open meetings were held at Weymouth, Dorchester and Blandford in October 1842, to rally support for the Society. Speakers included the Rev. C. W. Bingham and the Rev. Henry Moule, both vice-patrons of the hospital.  But it was to no avail and the anti-slavery Society dissolved in January 1843. Its last annual report lists its supporters from Dorset: over 40 per cent of them were subscribers to Dorset County Hospital.

In 1846 John Floyer and other wealthy men involved in the hospital used the threat of encouraging the slave trade to argue against repeal of the Corn Laws. From their protectionist stance they argued that opening Britain to free trade would give economies with slave labour access to the British market. Of course, free trade was also a threat to Dorset’s farming economy and the source of their wealth as landowners and farmers.

Sources: Entries from the Legacies of British Slave-ownership [website accessed 09/04/2016]; The National Archives, Slave Register, Barbados, 1826, T71/535, folio 153; Sherborne Mercury, 19 October 1840, page 1; Dorset County Chronicle, 10 September 1840, page 1 and 29 October 1840, page 4; Society for the Extinction of the Slave Trade and for the Civilization of Africa, Report of the Committee, 1842, appendix, pages cxxvii-viii, and The Friend of Africa, December 1842, number 26, page 187; Dorset History Centre, Dorset County Hospital annual reports, 1841, 1843  and 1851, NG/HH/DO(C)/10M/36; Hampshire Record Office, State of the Hampshire County Hospital at Winchester, 1851, 5M63/199; Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, The auditors’ report on the state of the Salisbury Infirmary, 1850-51, J8/110/1
The National Archives image (ref. T71/535, folio 153) is reproduced under licence.

Posted 18 October 2016

Rabbit bones and Bessy’s knee: how research influenced surgery at Dorset County Hospital

Bessy Balch, after her treatment in 1860

Bessy Balch, after her surgery in 1860

Elizabeth Balch, known as Bessy, was born in 1851, the daughter of William Balch, a brickmaker in Minterne Magna, a parish of just under 400 people midway between Dorchester and Sherborne. The local landowner was Edward St. Vincent Digby, who became Baron Digby in 1856. It was through Digby and his wife Lady Theresa that Bessy gained access to treatment at Dorset County Hospital. Both were subscribers to the hospital and Lady Digby’s father, the Earl of Ilchester, was its patron.

Bessy was “of scrofulous diathesis”, meaning that she had a predisposition to glandular swelling. Sometime in 1858, when she was seven years old, her knee became diseased and in October that year she was accepted as an out-patient at Dorset County Hospital with the help of Lady Digby.  After several months of visits to the hospital she was admitted as an in-patient, in January 1859. We do not know the details of the treatment she received but she was little benefitted by it, and returned home in March.

Edward St Vincent Digby, Lord Digby

9th Baron Digby
© National Portrait Gallery

In October 1859 Bessy fell and hurt her knee. She kept to her bed for many months. “The joint was then about twice its normal size, the [ends] of femur and tibia very much enlarged, and the other parts of the leg much atrophied. The leg formed with the thigh an angle of about 45o”. Inability to move the knee, and a desire to have a straight leg, prompted her re-admission to the hospital in May 1860, this time on Lord Digby’s recommendation. She was to stay for many months, with her ticket twice renewed by Lady Digby.

Over the first twelve days of her admission the surgeon, William Denning Tapp, fully considered her case. He had recently read Albrecht Wagner’s work, On the process of repair after resection and extirpation of bones, which had been translated from German and published by the New Sydenham Society just the year before. (Tapp was, in fact, the local representative of the New Sydenham Society.) In his work Wagner reported on experiments on rabbits, demonstrating the process of repair with new bone being deposited from the epiphysis. The epiphysis is the end of a long bone which, during the period of growth, is separated by a plate of cartilage from the shaft of the bone. The edge of this plate nearest the shaft becomes progressively converted into bone, while the other edge develops new cartilage. In this way, the bone lengthens. It was apparent that preserving the epiphysis was of great importance when excising the joints of young, growing patients.

Wagner’s illustration of the humerus of a rabbit, showing bone growth

Wagner’s illustrations of a rabbit’s humerus, showing bone growth

The operation on Bessy’s knee took place on 15 May 1860. The knee cap was found to be healthy but the ends of the femur and tibia were enlarged and soft. The cartilages were ulcerated and the connective tissue in the joint had changed to a firm, fleshy mass. This was carefully dissected away, and an inch-thick slice was sawn from the femur and a thin slice was cut from the exposed surface of the tibia. The knee cap was left intact.

The gelatinous state of the connective tissue made the operation more difficult and it took longer than expected. When it was completed Bessy’s leg was extended and bandaged firmly in a splint; it was 1½ inches shorter than the other. After thirteen weeks Bessy’s leg was found to be quite firm, and she was able to walk with the aid of crutches. By 13 September, when she was discharged, she no longer needed a stick or crutch, and walked with only a slight limp. During the operation Tapp, influenced by Warner’s experiments, had been careful not to remove the whole of the tibia epiphysis so as to encourage bone growth. It worked: six months later, Bessy’s two limbs were nearly of equal length.

Although Bessy spent time in Cerne workhouse when she was aged twenty, she does seem to have thrived. In 1879 she married Herbert Lovell, a shoemaker from Lyme Regis, and by 1881 the couple had started a family.

The story of Bessy Balch is just one of over fifty Patient Case Studies on this site based on anonymised clinical reports submitted by the hospital’s honorary medical officers to the medical press.
Image credits: Edward St Vincent Digby, 9th Baron Digby, by George B. Black, lithograph, 1860, NPG D35184 © National Portrait Gallery, London. The sketch of Bessy comes from the Medical Times and Gazette, 1860, vol. 2, p. 456. Wagner’s illustrations come from his work On the process of repair after resection and extirpation of bones, page 189.

Posted 7 September 2016

Second batch of patient case studies published

Seventeen new patient case studies, mainly from the 1850s, has now been published on this site, bringing the total currently available to over fifty. Many of these individual stories are based on anonymised reports sent by the hospital’s surgeons to the Medical Times and Gazette, supplemented with newspaper reports, census returns, burial entries, and Poor Law records.

Medical Times article 2

Anonymised surgical reports from Dorset County Hospital and other institutions
across the country, published in the Medical Times & Gazette
(Click on the image for a readable version)

The new batch of case studies includes one of the earliest uses of chloroform at the hospital (Eliza Satchell), details of a field worker whose foot was torn off in a threshing machine accident (Sarah Miller) and a suicide (James Lester). In one case (Hester Talbot Gover) we have the results of the patient’s post mortem.

In the 1850s, household servants were only admitted to the hospital as in-patient if their employer paid 7s. a week. One patient case study (Lydia Alner) reveals that her employer nominated her for treatment and then, after three weeks, sacked her as she lay dying in her hospital bed.

Surgery required skill, dexterity, ingenuity, perseverance – and not a little brute force, as illustrated in a case of dislocation. The patient (George Toms) was bled and chloroformed and then:

[he] was laid on the sound side, and the pulleys applied, extension being made in a direction backwards and downwards; this was kept up for more than an hour, frequent attempts being made in the meantime to lift the bone over the pubes … by means of a towel placed round the upper part of the thigh, but without success.  Palletta’s plan of abducting the thigh, and then suddenly violently bending it towards the belly, was tried; also, that of bringing the patient to the edge of the table, and pushing the knee suddenly and forcibly backwards, at the same time adducting the limb as strongly as possible, but without apparent effect.

Not everyone was happy with their treatment, one patient (Thomas Critchell) complained that the surgeon had incorrectly diagnosed his dislocated leg. Another (Anna Dare) refused to have further morphia injections to treat pains in her face and neck. A young labourer (James Hibbs) with a tumour on his leg refused amputation and decided “to go home and try poulticing”. When that failed he had to endure two operations: “considerable difficulty was experienced in sawing through the bone, owing to its intense hardness”.

Some case studies provide information on what happened to patients after they were discharged. A deaf woman (Thirza Pope) was treated for breast cancer and afterwards went into the workhouse, where she was to die six months later. A seventy-year-old poor man (John Mogg) “lying on a bed of serious illness” at home was robbed following his discharge from the hospital.

Work is continuing on a further batch of individual stories to add details to the entries in the hospital’s historic admissions registers.

Posted 30 August 2016

Benjamin Ferrey, hospital architect, died on this day, in 1880

Benjamin Ferrey

Benjamin Ferrey
© RIBA Library Photographs Collection

Benjamin Ferrey, the architect who designed the original Dorset County Hospital building, was born in 1810 in Christchurch, which was then part of Hampshire. He was the youngest son of another Benjamin Ferrey, a draper who became Mayor of Christchurch. As a child young Benjamin displayed a talent for drawing and a love of old buildings. He was educated at Wimborne Grammar School, and afterwards studied under Augustus Charles Pugin (both families were of French Protestant descent). In his early twenties he toured continental Europe, and then studied further in the office of William Wilkins, where he worked on drawings of the new National Gallery building. In 1834 he started his own architectural practice in Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury, on a site now occupied by the British Museum.

Ferrey mostly worked in the Gothic Revival style. His early work included the design of the new seaside resort of Bournemouth, and among other Dorset commissions were All Saints’, High East Street, Dorchester (1843–45), Dorchester town hall (1847–48), and Holy Trinity, in High West Street (1875–76). Ferrey was honorary architect to the Diocese of Bath and Wells from 1841, responsible for much of the restoration work on Wells Cathedral. He was twice vice-president of the Royal Institute of British Architects and in 1870 was awarded a Royal Gold Medal.

Dorset History Centre (NG/HH/DO(C)/6/1)

Ferrey’s drawing of Dorset County Hospital, 1840
© Dorset History Centre

In June 1839 Dorset County Hospital’s building committee launched a competition for architectural plans for the new hospital. Ferrey did not in fact win the competition – that honour went to Henry Malpas, an architect and builder from Frome, but in the end his design was not used. Ferrey proposed a more economical arrangement which allowed the existing houses on the site to be adapted for the use of the hospital’s resident staff, connecting them by a covered passage to the first wing of the hospital to be built. It is likely that Ferrey’s acquaintance with Robert Williams, the hospital trustee who donated the land upon which the hospital was to be built, swayed the matter. In 1838 Ferrey had designed a new stable block in the Gothic style for Williams’ estate at Bridehead in Littlebredy, and later he would extend Williams’ house and rebuild the village church and various estate cottages. In that same year, during the rebuilding of Compton Valence church near Dorchester, Ferrey also met Arthur Acland, Williams’ son-in-law, who was to chair the hospital management committee for its first seven years of operation.

The hospital before the Bankes wing was built in the 1850s

The hospital, two-thirds built, in the 1850s
© Dorset County Museum

Ferrey’s vision for Dorset County Hospital was a symmetrical E-shaped structure, cleverly designed so that the central building and the two wings either side could be constructed when sufficient money was raised. It would take nearly twenty years for the design to be realised. The building of the first wing – the north wing – was completed in March 1841 and in May that year the hospital received its first in-patients. In 1845 nearly the whole of the central part of the building – consisting of more wards, plus new quarters for the resident staff – was completed. The final section, the south wing (the Bankes wing) was built in 1859. When the building was finally completed, it resembled an Elizabethan stately home: architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner called it, rather disapprovingly, “a Loseley in Portland stone”.

The connection with Dorset County Hospital continued for the rest of Ferrey’s life. In 1862 a new chapel was added to the hospital, based on his original designs, and in 1877 (nearly 40 years after the project had first started) he was still being consulted by the hospital, this time over the building of an annexe to the north wing. He was also an annual subscriber to the hospital.

Ferrey died, aged 70, on 22 August 1880 at 5 Inverness Terrace, London. Today, his original hospital building still stands as a private apartment block in Somerleigh Road, off Princes Street, called Benjamin Ferrey House.

Images reproduced with the kind permission of the RIBA Library Photographs Collection, Dorset History Centre and Dorset County Museum.

Posted 22 August 2016

Salisbury Infirmary ephemeraLottery funding opens up Salisbury Infirmary’s historic records

Salisbury District Hospital has begun a two-year project to catalogue and preserve a wealth of historic objects and records relating to its predecessor, Salisbury Infirmary, and the history of healthcare in the Salisbury region from 1700 to the present day. The project is being coordinated by ArtCare, the hospital’s arts charity, and is funded by a grant of £40,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Part of the funding will enable ArtCare to train volunteers to digitise the hospital’s photographic collection consisting of approximately 50,000 images. Eventually many of the images will be available on a website and will form part of a touring exhibition and a permanent display at the hospital. The project will also catalogue the hospital’s vast collection of ephemera, three-dimensional objects, nursing memorabilia, artworks, books and ledgers – some of the handwritten volumes date back to the eighteenth century.

Salisbury Infirmary

Sketch of the original infirmary

Salisbury Infirmary opened in 1767. Its early records include surgeons’ notebooks, subscription lists and doctors’ day books, as well as letters from Florence Nightingale about nurse training – the infirmary was close to the Nightingale family home at Embley and Sidney Herbert, Nightingale’s close ally, was a governor of the infirmary. As well as the material at the district hospital, there is already a significant archive at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre (click here for a list of their holdings).

Few of Salisbury Infirmary’s historic records have been published: the Find My Past website has admissions and discharges for 1761-1832 and the Wiltshire Family History Society has produced a booklet on Salisbury cholera victims in 1849, based on the infirmary’s notebooks. A microfilm of the infirmary’s baptism register 1847-1945 can be borrowed from local Family History Centres.

Many Dorset people were treated at Salisbury – not only before we had our own county hospital but also well into the twentieth century. In 1851 more than twenty subscribers to Dorset County Hospital were also subscribers to Salisbury’s infirmary, giving them the right to nominate patients for treatment at either hospital. The names of Dorset patients listed in the “Secretary’s Register of in-patients and out-patients admitted and discharged” for the period 1852-58 are currently being transcribed and will be published on this website when complete – watch this space!

Once the ArtCare team has fully assessed the historic material in its care, it is likely there will be spin-off projects (funding permitting) to preserve the material and make it more widely available. You can find out more about the current project by visiting their website, which also has contact details if you would like to become involved.

Posted 19 June 2016

B0004834 SEM of red blood corpusclesDorset County Hospital set up its own blood transfusion service in 1935

The concept of a country-wide service collecting and storing blood is a familiar one to us – our national Blood Transfusion Service this year celebrates its 70th birthday. Before it was established hospitals such as Dorset County Hospital relied on the relatives of patients to provide blood (if there was a match) or on ad hoc appeals to the public for volunteers. There were also some local blood donor schemes across the country – the first was set up in London by the British Red Cross in 1921 – whereby donors registered with clinics to provide blood when needed.

Initially human blood donation was direct from donor to patient. The first indirect transfusions took place in 1914 when it was established that sodium citrate could be used to prevent coagulation. During World War One the army medical services had established blood storage facilities, however it would not be until 1937 that the UK would have its first civilian “blood bank” in Ipswich.

A few years before, in November 1934, Mrs. Audrey White, aged 37, wife of a local dairyman, was rushed to Dorset County Hospital, gravely ill. The house surgeon informed her anxious husband that only a blood transfusion would save her. Desperate to find a donor, Mr. White sent twenty telegrams to relatives in Wells and Ilchester, Bexhill-on-Sea, Evershot and Eggerton and messages were sent to the Mrs. White’s brother in Surrey. Meanwhile an urgent public appeal was made for volunteers and forty people, including friends and neighbours, offered to help. Inevitably it took time to test the forty volunteers: Mrs. White had a rare blood group and only two were found suitable. A volunteer from Dorchester was selected for the transfusion but, sadly, Mrs. White died, leaving her bereaved husband with six young children, the youngest just two months old.

During the following year Dorset County Hospital had to make two more urgent appeals for blood. There was a panel of regular volunteers in Dorset, run by the British Red Cross, but the hospital’s management committee felt they needed their own volunteers, all suitably tested beforehand, who could be called on in emergencies. As part of its recruitment drive, the hospital tried to reassure potential volunteers: “Donors would never be called upon to act more than twice a year and at the time of their services will suffer no inconvenience, or incapacity afterwards”. Even with this assurance, the initial response was poor – only three people volunteered in the first week. After another appeal, a further nine volunteers came forward. From this small group, the hospital could begin to secure emergency blood supplies.

A notice calling for blood donors, published two days before war was declared in 1939

A notice calling for blood donors, published two days
before war was declared in 1939

The Second World War greatly increased the need for blood donations and boosted the willingness of volunteers to donate – giving blood changed from an act of altruism to assist a named individual to a “national service”. Mass collection only became viable with the use of refrigeration to store blood and prolong its shelf-life. During one collection exercise in 1940 the Army Blood Transfusion Service took blood from 3,000 volunteers across Dorset. Donor recruitment campaigns continued in Dorset throughout the war, enrolling nearly 8,000 new volunteers in 1942.

The national blood service we know today is a legacy of that war-time effort. As part of the new service, established in 1946, the British Red Cross took over the local voluntary panels in the south-west region and Dorset was tasked with recruiting 1,500 donors to supply its own hospitals. Today around 16,500 people a year donate blood in Dorset, either at the permanent blood donor centre in Poole, or at one of the many community-based blood donor sessions held across the county.

Today is World Blood Donor Day. If you would like to give blood, please visit the NHS Blood and Transplant website.

Image credits: Scanning electron micrograph of red blood corpuscles, computer-coloured © David Gregory & Debbie Marhsall, Wellcome Images, 2003. The Western Gazette, 1 September 1939, page 9 © Local World Limited/Trinity Mirror. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD and reproduced with the kind permission of the British Newspaper Archives.

Posted 14 June 2016

BATH HOSPITALThe mineral water hospital at Bath:
an alternative for Dorset patients

In May 1742, nearly one hundred years before Dorset County Hospital was founded, Bath Hospital opened its doors to patients from across the United Kingdom, including many from Dorset.

Bath Hospital was established by an Act of Parliament to provide access to treatment in the thermal waters of Bath for the “Sick Poor from Britain and Ireland”. There was a very specific motive for establishing the hospital. Bath had become a magnet for vagrants who begged from wealthy visitors, often citing ill-health and the need to access the waters as their reason for requiring financial assistance. By founding a charity hospital which ensured only the poorest with a genuine medical need were admitted, it was hoped that “undeserving” beggars would be deterred. The Act stated that once discharged patients were to be transported 30 miles from Bath in the direction of their home parish. The penalty for subsequently loitering or begging within five miles of the town was up to three months’ hard labour.


Richard “Beau” Nash (1674-1761)

Bath Hospital was financed by subscriptions and donations – one of its most prominent early fundraisers was Beau Nash who, arguably, had a vested interest in ridding fashionable Bath of its beggars. But unlike many other charity hospitals, including Dorset County Hospital later, patients did not require a subscriber’s recommendation. All they needed was a medical statement, confirmation from their parish that they were poor and could not pay for treatment, and someone to deposit “caution money” with the hospital’s registrar. This covered the cost of sending them home (or burying them if they died) and the cost of providing clothing if it was needed. The depositor would get their money back if no costs were incurred. By 1850 the caution money was £3 for patients from England and £5 for those from Scotland or Ireland.

The hospital specialised in rheumatology, but it also treated other diseases, including gout, paralysis and “leprosy”, the term then used for skin diseases such as psoriasis, impetigo, and scabies. Some of the paralysis cases would have been due to lead poisoning. There was lead in paint, drinking vessels and even in west country cider (inadvertently introduced when it was made).

Bath Hospital Discharged Patients Aug 1840

Bath Chronicle, 13 August 1840, showing details of
three Dorset patients discharged from Bath Hospital
(Click on the image for a readable version)

From the 1820s to mid-1850s, the Bath Chronicle published lists of patients discharged from the Bath Hospital who had “derived great benefit from the use of the Bath waters”.  It is unlikely that these lists were comprehensive – not least because patients who were not “cured” or “much better” were excluded – but many Dorset patients are named. The details of 217 of them have been extracted from the lists published during the period 1835 to 1854. The lists were published every month during 1835-38 and 1840-43, but in the remaining years they appeared more sporadically, with no lists published at all in 1849.

Some of the Dorset patients, like Matilda Cherrett of Corfe Mullen, received treatment at the Bath Hospital more than once.  Others were treated at the Bath Hospital and at Dorset County Hospital. Such is the case of Ambrose Wellman, a labourer from Woodsford, about four miles east of Dorchester, who was admitted to Dorset County Hospital for general paralysis in October 1851. After two months it was realised that there was nothing the hospital could do for him and he was discharged “in status quo”. In January the next year he travelled nearly 60 miles to Bath and was admitted to the mineral water hospital. After three months’ treatment he returned home again, this time “relieved”. Wellman was admitted to Dorset County Hospital on two further occasions (once for a sprained ankle and once for a broken leg following a fall) but by 1881 he was a “cripple”. He was living with two younger siblings who were, remarkably, also both described as “cripples”.


Medical form (1885), warning against begging
(Click on the image for a readable version)

The admissions paperwork produced in the 1880s shows that 140 years after the original Act of Parliament there was still anxiety about beggars – the words “Should this Paper be used for Begging, an Imposition may be suspected” are printed across the medical form, shown on the right (click on the image for a readable version).

In addition to the information about Dorset patients on this site, Bath Record Office has a searchable database of mid-eighteenth century Bath Hospital patients on their website. This reveals 68 patients from Dorset parishes during the period 1751 to 1759. Dorset patients continued to make use of the hospital, and in the 1880s even a member of staff at Dorset County Hospital became a patient: in May 1888 nurse Ann Bartlett had a relapse of rheumatism and was relieved of her night duties and assigned to a ward. In September the house surgeon reported that she would not be able to resume her work as a night nurse and she was given a month’s notice to leave, but not without first arranging for her to be admitted to Bath Hospital for treatment.

Today the hospital is known as the Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases, and it continues to cater for patients from this county and from across the United Kingdom.

Image credits: The woodcut of Bath Hospital and the medical form come from the hospital’s annual report for 1885 (in my private collection). Image of Richard “Beau” Nash © Michael Maggs, from Bath Under Beau Nash, by Lewis Melville (London, 1907). Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, Thursday, 13 August 1840. Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive (

Posted 26 May 2016

BOOKLET COVER FINAL TILTED2‘Dorset County Hospital: 175 years of rural healthcare 1840-2015’ now available online

The booklet published last year to mark the hospital’s 175th anniversary is now available to read online (opens in a new window). At over 60 pages with more than 50 illustrations, the booklet represents many months of research and tells the story of the hospital’s patients, benefactors, staff and buildings.

Access to the online version is free of charge. You can check if any of your ancestors get a mention by downloading this free name index.

The booklet was just one part of the hospital’s anniversary celebrations, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Other activities included an exhibition, an oral history project, a concert of music and readings, and the creation of the Treves Trail, a health and heritage walk around the streets of Dorchester. You can read more about these on the 175th Anniversary page..

Posted 24 May 2016

The birth of professional nursing at Dorset County Hospital

Susan Wood

Susan Wood (1803-99)
© Dorset History Centre

To the Victorians hospital matrons were domestic managers, not senior nurses. Nurses had no formal training and it was doctors who directed their work. Even after Florence Nightingale’s nurse education reforms the “thoroughly trained nurse” was the head nurse on the ward, not the matron, and they still worked under the doctors’ direction.

The first matron at Dorset County Hospital was Miss Susan Wood. She held the post from 1841 to 1847, after which she worked as housekeeper to an aged clergyman. Her successor was Susan Dancy – usually known as “Mrs. Dancy” although she was unmarried – who was the longest serving of the hospital’s Victorian matrons. She held the post from 1847 until she retired, aged 71, in 1869 with a “purse” of £75. Towards the end of her career nursing had begun to change.


“The nurse – old style”
The Graphic, 29 December 1879

Florence Nightingale opened the world’s first professional nurse training school at St. Thomas’ Hospital, London, in July 1860. The school provided one year of training and, once trained, the nurses were sent to hospitals and workhouse infirmaries to raise the standard of nursing. In 1863 Dorset County Hospital’s management committee took the first step in developing professional nursing at the hospital by agreeing to “avail [themselves] of the recent improvements in the principles of nursing, introduced under the auspices of the eminently practical and benevolent Miss Nightingale”. They applied to the Nightingale Fund for a nurse to take charge of the male wards. The Fund sent them Jane Squires.


Information sent to Nightingale Fund applicants, 1860s
London Metropolitan Archives, H01/ST/NC/18/5/30

Jane was born in 1832, to a Nonconformist family in the lace-making trade in Nottingham. At the age of 29, she gave up her job as a lace mender and moved to London to start her training at St. Thomas’ on 31 July 1861 as part of the second intake of probationers at the school. (The duties of a probationer can be seen in the list on the right.) At the start of her training Jane struggled with a few of the skills – initially she was judged as imperfect at “keeping the ward fresh” and “the best method of friction to the body and the extremities” but she quickly mastered these. She was weakest at cooking for the sick and towards the end of her probation she was still only moderately competent, but her tutors thought she was “Very intelligent, Active & industrious – [she] will make an exceedingly good hospital nurse”. After she completed her probation Jane transferred to St. Thomas’ Hospital where she worked on the female surgical ward.

A year later, on 8 July 1863, Jane was appointed the first Nightingale-trained nurse to work at Dorset County Hospital, having been highly recommended to the management committee by the Nightingale Fund. She took charge of the male wards and managed a subordinate nurse, “a respectable woman, not under 30 years of age”, who was specifically recruited to “learn the duties and fill the situation of nurse … under the instruction of the Trained Head Nurse”.

Jane soon impressed the committee: “Her whole demeanour hitherto has fully justified the cost of the arrangement”, which was £20 per annum. Jane was joined by another Nightingale-trained nurse, Cornish woman Betty Lillycrapp, who had previously nursed at Northampton General Hospital. Betty left to get married in 1865. Jane stayed until 1866 when she married a valet, 12 years her junior, at Dorchester Congregational Church.

The trained nurses who went on to become matrons expected to have authority over the nursing, not just the domestic department. Sometimes styled “lady superintendents” to distinguish them from matron-housekeepers, they often came from a higher social class and posed a threat to the doctors’ authority. The British Medical Journal complained: “There is a growing tendency everywhere on the part of ‘lady-superintendents’ to develop an exaggerated view of their own importance, and to organise ‘a system’ by which the medical officers are powerless to direct the nursing”.

Disputes had arisen at Guy’s Hospital and other hospitals when the new matrons began to encroach upon the doctors’ authority. When in 1882 the management committee at Dorset County Hospital decided to appoint one of the new-style matrons a dispute began which was to throw the hospital into turmoil for six years.

The committee’s first step was to force the then matron, Thedora Feek, to resign. They replaced her with Louisa Strange, who had been lady superintendent of a hospital in Chelsea. Louisa stayed until 1884, but did not push through the changes the committee wanted. She told the chaplain: “You will never keep a matron here unless, like me, she entirely succumbs to the doctors. I knew there would be a disturbance if I attempted to interfere with the nursing, and I have not done so”.

In May 1884 the next matron, Katherine Twining, presented proposals for reform to the management committee who expressed “their entire confidence in her management”, but physician Dr. Lush, one of the surgeons and the house surgeon resisted. Lush was careful not to refuse to have the matron accompany him during ward rounds (a point blank refusal may have led to his dismissal). He simply stated that it was not his wish to have the matron accompany him, and he made his wishes very clear by his demeanour when the matron was brave enough to do so.


Nurses in the men’s ward at Dorset County Hospital, late 1880s
© Dorset County Museum

In February 1886 Twining resigned, saying that “she could not remain in the face of the treatment she received in going around the wards from Dr. Lush and the house-surgeon”. Even with the support of the management committee “her great fear was getting her name in the medical papers, and therefore she did not dare to come into conflict with the doctors”. She was persuaded to withdraw her resignation but Lush was still a problem – in March 1886 he refused to assist in an operation in the matron’s presence. Twining handed in her resignation again in November 1886 and would not withdraw it. The next matron was Miss Grace Sackett. She arrived on 31 March 1887, took one look at hospital’s set-up and promptly resigned on 7 April.

The hospital’s managers needed to resolve this. On 14 April 1887 they agreed that “The Committee consider that [the Matron] should have free access to the wards at all times, and especially that she should be entitled to accompany the medical officers when nurses are in attendance”. Next, they appointed a sub-committee “to meet the medical staff in a friendly conference to try to secure a more harmonious working of the hospital”. The sub-committee thought they had succeeded: “there seemed to be a perfect agreement [on] the matron’s rights to supervise the nursing at all times” only for Lush to demur once again. By now the dispute was affecting the hospital’s ability to recruit a matron. One candidate refused the post when offered, another withdrew her application.

Mary Ann Nicolay (1850-1939)

Mary Ann Nicolay (1850-1939)
© State Library of Western Australia

In December 1887 the committee appointed Miss Mary Ann Nicolay as matron. She had been trained by the Nightingale Fund and had lately been matron of Newport Infirmary. The house surgeon had written to Nicolay before her arrival, warning her not to interfere. When the letter came to light he was sacked.

In March 1888 the committee directly asked each medical officer to comply with the resolution of 14 April 1887. Two of the surgeons cordially agreed. The third, William Ernest Good, flatly refused. It was alleged he had told Nicolay that if she entered the operating room he would ask her to leave, adding “he had every wish to treat her as a lady as long as she kept her proper position, but if she came to the operating room she must expect to be insulted by him”. Lush accepted the minute of 14 April 1887 as a by-law “but failed to give any definite promise as to his treatment of the Matron”. In April 1888 Miss Nicolay resigned. It was the last straw for the committee. They voted overwhelmingly to ask Lush and Good for their resignations. Both men refused, so a special governors’ meeting was called to settle the matter.

At the meeting in May 1888 Lush and Good reluctantly agreed they would be bound by the governors’ decision. Finally, after five hours of debate, the governors resolved “That the matron be entitled to accompany the Medical Officers when nurses are in attendance and that with this interpretation it is necessary the matron should be a trained nurse”. Lush had lost the fight by 63 votes to 26, but even then he wanted the last word: in the minute book recording the decision he wrote “I protest against the correctness of the above minutes”.

In June 1888 the committee appointed Miss Henrietta Lawrence from West Kent Hospital as matron. Nursing campaigner Mrs. Bedford Fenwick commented: “She must have a good deal of courage, for I fear the opponents of all reform are many, and endowed with astonishing ignorance and vulgarity”. While there continued to be minor skirmishes on the subject, the crisis had passed. Another milestone in the development of professional nursing at the hospital had been achieved.

Posted 12 May 2016

PATIENTS IN OUT-PATIENTSMore out-patient records published today

Nearly 300 entries from the out-patients admissions register for 1859 have been added to the site today, bringing the total number of historic patient records to over 8,500. The registers are held by the Dorset History Centre.

The out-patients in 1859 included Harriet Marsh, a 29-year-old needlewoman from Folke, near Sherborne, who had been struggling with a diseased knee joint since the age of five. The joint was partially anchylosed, in a bent position. After several attempts at treatment, her leg was amputated in 1855 but her troubles did not end there. The wound did not heal well, and she was repeatedly treated for ulceration of the stump. In 1858 a second amputation was performed, but three months later the wound still had not healed. By 1859 she had been admitted as an in-patient or an out-patient on more than ten occasions. One in-patient stay lasted eight months. Harriet’s story will be published shortly as one of a new series of patient case histories based on reports of operations at Dorset County Hospital which, until now, have hidden the patients’ identities.

If you find a name of interest in the admissions records on this site, please make contact and I will look up the full entry for you. In return you will be asked to consider a small donation to the hospital’s charity or the Dorset Archives Trust, but there is no obligation. Many of those who received out-patient treatment were also in-patients at some stage, so it is advisable to search for an ancestor across the whole site. To do this, use the Advanced Search facility, which opens in a new window.

Posted 11 May 2016

DETAIL Opening of New Marylebone Infirmary by PoW The Graphic - Saturday 09 July 1881 p7Victorian admissions records reveal the patients behind anonymised clinical reports

This website now has a series of patient case studies relating to individuals treated by Dorset County Hospital during the mid-Victorian period. There are currently 36 case studies on the site with another 40 or so in the pipeline. More than half of the case studies have been constructed using the admissions registers to identify patients referred to in a series of anonymised clinical reports published in the medical press in the 1850s.

Sadly, no Victorian case notes or other clinical records have survived among the hospital’s archive, but we do have admissions registers from 1847 onwards. These were administrative rather than clinical accounts, with no details of what treatment patients received or their medical histories. However, in the 1850s, the hospital’s surgeons began submitting brief descriptions of operations to the Medical Times and Gazette. These short reports – along with similar reports from other provincial hospitals – were sorted into the various surgical procedures (“Amputation”, “Lithotomy”, etc.) and periodically printed under the heading “Statistical Reports of the Principle Operations”. These were mostly anonymised with only a few clues as to the patient’s identity, but – because we now have a sizeable database of entries from the admissions registers – we are able to put names to these patients and link the clinical reports to the relevant admissions records, to reconstruct patient case histories.

The reports submitted to the Medical Times by the hospital’s surgeons varied in length – here are two examples, the first from 1855 and the second from 1859:

A boy, aged 5, in poor health, under the care of Mr. Tapp, in the Dorset Hospital. A long oval stone, weighing five drachms and a-half, was removed by the usual operation. The symptoms had been severe. Recovered.

The Dorset County Hospital : Mr. Curme.–A woman, aged 20, was admitted September 15, 1859, with a swelling below the left knee, which proved to be cancerous, and infiltrated the head of the tibia. It was of three months’ duration. The swelling was very puffy, and seemed to consist of blood and gelatinous matter. The knee was bent at a right angle. The swelling increased rapidly, and she was apparently sinking. Amputation in the middle third of the thigh. The muscles were found very flabby and infiltrated. The circular operation was performed, as the parts about the knee were infiltrated with the cancerous matter. On examination of the knee-joint after amputation, it was free from disease, as anticipated ; but immediately below the joint was a cavity with ten ounces of sanguineo-purulent fluid. The head of the tibia was the seat of malignant deposit, and three times its natural size. Her health speedily improved, and she was discharged cured on December 8.

By using data from the admissions registers we can now determine that the boy was 5½-year-old Robert Randel, a farmer’s son from Piddletrenthide, who remained in hospital for ten weeks from mid-August 1855 for calculus versicae. The woman was Eliza Harris, who had been a domestic servant but was out of work, relying on the Wimborne Poor Law Union, who sponsored her hospital stay.


Most of the case studies link admission records with the surgeons’ reports
of operations, plus other data, such as burial records

To create the case histories, the surgeons’ reports and admissions records have been supplemented with information from other sources including census returns, newspapers and burial registers. Where a patient was injured in an accident, the newspaper account of the incident has also been included, to give a fuller picture of events before and after the patient was rushed into hospital (see, for instance, the case history for Edward Brown). In addition to the surgeons’ reports, a small number of medical cases have been identified, based on articles written by Dr. Charles Cowdell, the hospital’s physician, for The Lancet and the British Medical Journal.

Some of these case studies add to our understanding of how patients lived with their conditions. For instance, 12-year-old Daniel Moore of Yetminster was admitted as an in-patient on 20 March 1851 for paralysis – he was still in hospital during the 1851 census on 30 March, but he was found to be incurable, and was discharged on 24 April. Ten years later, the 1861 census confirms that he did not recover from his condition: he was described as “invalided, crippled”. His obituary notice, published over forty years after his hospital stay, tells us how he had adapted to his disability. The notice – referring to Moore as the “well-known crippled tailor” – explains that he “had lost the entire use of his nether limbs, and propelled himself about to his many patrons in a little wicker coach”.

While these individual case histories will be of interest to family historians researching particular ancestors, they also give us broader insights into the lives and treatments of the hospital’s Victorian patients. It is notable, for example, that a number of patients had endured their medical condition for many years before securing treatment. In future the case studies will help to illustrate various aspects of the hospital’s mid-nineteenth century history.

Posted 28 April 2016

Over 8,200 historic patient records now online

Today a further 1,676 records for out-patients admitted to Dorset County Hospital during the 1850s have been published, bringing the total admissions records on this site to over 8,200. The aim this year is to publish lists of all in-patients and out-patients up to 1861, covering the hospital’s first twenty years.

The admissions registers begin in 1847 and are held at the Dorset History Centre. Since January this year out-patient admissions for 1853 and the years 1856-58 have been published (1847-52 and 1861 were already uploaded). This growing mass of data allows us to begin to identify patterns of hospital use across families, occupational groups and communities.

The record-keeping during 1856-58 seems to have been particularly poor, with evidence of a large number of out-patients being recorded retrospectively. The patients were meant to be assigned a unique sequential number, but large blocks of numbers were skipped (or were used later) and numbers were often repeated. The house surgeon over this period was William George Bacot, and he is likely to be the culprit for this haphazard record-keeping. He later became a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons!

If you find a name of interest, please make contact and I will look up the full entry for you. In return you will be asked to consider a small donation to the hospital’s charity or the Dorset Archives Trust, but there is no obligation. Many of those who received out-patient treatment were also in-patients at some stage, so it is advisable to search for an ancestor across the whole site. To do this, use the Advanced Search facility, which opens in a new window.

Posted 13 April 2016

Anniversary concert 4Dorset County Hospital’s 175th anniversary: listen online to the celebratory concert

You can now listen online to the concert on 31 March 2016 to mark the end of the celebrations of Dorset County Hospital’s 175th anniversary. The recording is courtesy of Ridgeway Radio, the hospital’s radio station for patients and staff.

The performance, led by Tim Laycock and the Ridgeway Singers, featured traditional music, readings and a new song based on the history of the hospital published last year. The event took place in Dorset County Museum’s splendid Victorian gallery.

Anniversary concert 3The event concluded with the launch of the “Treves Trail”, a walk around Dorchester illuminating the history of healthcare during the last 175 years, developed by Dorset History Centre in partnership with local youth groups.

The history booklet, Dorset County Hospital: 175 Years of Rural Healthcare, upon which the celebrations and the heritage trail were based, is still available to purchase.

You can read more about the hospital’s 175th anniversary activities here.


Posted 6 April 2016

The Dorchester Dispensary – a precursor to Dorset County Hospital

The Graphic 27 December 1879 (detail)

Patients queuing at a Victorian dispensary

Dorset County Hospital was not the first medical institution its supporters had set up, but the earlier effort was not nearly as successful.

In May 1836 advertisements began to appear in the local newspapers proposing the establishment of the Dorchester Dispensary to “enable the Independent and Laborious Poor to obtain proper Medicines without throwing themselves on the Parish”. Subscription lists were left at the town’s banks and libraries to gauge the level of public support for the venture. On 30 May a public meeting was held at the county hall, chaired by banker Robert Williams, who was to become a trustee of Dorset County Hospital and donated the land upon which it would eventually be built.

At the meeting a committee was elected to undertake the establishment of the dispensary. This included two physicians and three surgeons, all of whom would, in due course, become honorary medical officers of the hospital. Also on the committee was the vicar of Holy Trinity, Dorchester, who would become the hospital’s first chaplain.

The Dorchester Dispensary opened on 15 August 1836 and in its first ten months treated over three hundred patients. John Acland, in his history of Dorset County Hospital (page 4), states that the dispensary was located in Back West Street – the same street in which the hospital would eventually be sited. We know that the dispenser’s salary was among the costs of the institution, but we do not know the dispenser’s name. A Mr. Style – presumably druggist Thomas Style of High East Street – was on the committee appointed in 1836, so the dispenser may have been in his employ.

Dorset County Chronicle, 29 December 1836

Dorset County Chronicle, 29 December 1836
Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduced with the kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive (

The dispensary served the people of Dorchester and villages within a five mile radius. Access to most treatment was via a ticket from a subscriber, which cost 5s. Poor people not in receipt of poor relief could also be vaccinated against small pox free of charge. In December 1836 the managers of the dispensary agreed to issue trusses to patients with a ticket, but the patient had to pay “One Shilling for a Single Truss, and Two Shillings for a Double Truss” and that “on application for a second Truss, before it be given the old one shall be brought by the Patient and left at the Dispensary”. When work for the poor often meant hard physical labour on the farms and in the fields, cases of hernia, requiring a truss, were extremely common.

Even before opening day, hopes had already been expressed that the dispensary would lead to the creation of a hospital. In June 1836 the Dorset County Chronicle declared “we trust that the committee will find [the Dispensary] so greatly supported as to enable them to propose an Institution of a somewhat more extensive character than a mere Dispensary”. Concluding its first annual report, the dispensary’s management committee explicitly recommended “the foundation of an Infirmary, containing beds, which would admit in-patients, as well as out-patients” because Dorset was, as the Chronicle observed, “almost the only – if not really the only – county town in the Kingdom, which does not boast of an Hospital, of a greater or less extent”.

However support for the dispensary was not as extensive as the Chronicle had hoped. By February 1838 it was running out of money: a special meeting of subscribers heard that “without the aid of additional funds, there is not a sufficient balance in the hands of the Treasurer to warrant the Committee in carrying on the Institution beyond the present time”. Steps were taken to reduce costs, so that by 1839 the drugs bill was £61 instead of £103, but still the dispensary ran a deficit.

So, why did the hospital succeed where the dispensary had not? One reason is that the dispensary had a limited catchment area, and would only ever appeal to supporters in and around Dorchester. When the hospital opened it is probably true to say that, in practice, its out-patient facilities (which provided many of the same services as the dispensary) also favoured patients living in Dorchester and the immediate vicinity, but the hospital did serve the wider county and, therefore, it could call on the whole county for financial support. Also, fund-raising for the new hospital had begun in August 1838 and it seems likely that this drew financial backing away from the dispensary even before the hospital was there to replace it. When the hospital was on the eve of opening, the dispensary finally became redundant and closed on 31 March 1841.

There appear to be no surviving records for the dispensary. The only information we have is from newspaper articles and advertisements, which are reproduced here.

Posted 14 March 2016

Treves Trail Launch InviteAn invitation to the final event to mark the hospital’s 175th anniversary celebrations

Everyone is invited to a free musical concert and the launch of the Treves Trail on Thursday, 31 March 2016 at the Dorset County Museum, to mark the end of Dorset County Hospital’s anniversary celebrations.

The concert will be given by Tim Laycock and the Ridgeway Singers, who will perform traditional and original music inspired by the hospital’s “175 years of rural healthcare” project which was launched last May.

The project has included a published history of the hospital and an accompanying exhibition, and oral history recording sessions to capture the reminiscences of patients and staff,  including the experiences of the first person to arrive at the hospital in an air ambulance and the recollections of the 17-year-old daughter of a surgeon helping her father during operations in 1945. It is hoped that in time these oral histories will be available online.

After the concert you are invited to follow the Treves Trail, a newly developed walk around Dorchester in the footsteps of Sir Frederick Treves (read about his connections with Dorset County Hospital here). The walk will illuminate the history of healthcare during the last 175 years, whilst promoting exercise and activity. The route will be available on smart phones and in paper form, and is suitable for all ages and walking abilities. This “health and heritage” trail for the town was created by a group of Heritage Lottery Fund Young Roots “graduates” from a previous Dorset Youth Association project, working with the Dorset History Centre.

The hour-long concert begins at 1pm. There is no need to book and admission is free (but donations are encouraged). Click here for a map showing the location of the museum.

Posted 3 March 2016

‘A chamber of hope’: the new operating room in 1903

Sir Frederick Treves. Wellcome Library

Sir Frederick Treves
Wellcome Library

On 23 February 1903 Sir Frederick Treves, surgeon to King Edward VII and a native of Dorchester, opened a new operating theatre at Dorset County Hospital.

Treves had been born in 1853 at Cornhill. His father, William Treves, an upholsterer, was a subscriber to the hospital. By the 1860s, the Treves family lived next door to George Curme, the hospital’s honorary surgeon. Treves’ brother, William Knight Treves, studied as a medical pupil under John Good, who had been the hospital’s first house apothecary. Frederick himself became an eminent surgeon in London (he is famous for befriending Joseph Merrick, the “Elephant Man”) and in March 1900 he was appointed surgeon extraordinary to Queen Victoria. After the queen’s death in 1901 Treves became one of several honorary serjeants surgeon to Edward VII and received a knighthood. The king also consented to remain patron of the hospital. The following year, in 1902, just days before the planned coronation, Treves performed a pioneering – and life-saving – appendix operation on the king, for which he was made a baronet.

When Captain John Acland, chairman of the management committee, welcomed Treves to the hospital in February 1903 he alluded to these royal connections. Acland thanked Treves for “coming, as it were, straight from the Royal presence to aid in a work that was for the good of his Majesty’s humblest subjects”.

The need for a new operating room had been identified in 1898, and in 1901 it was estimated that it would cost the relatively small sum of £500. That year the hospital’s surgeons performed just 80 operations.

The old operating room was located at the very top of the hospital building and patients had to be carried up and down several flights of stairs on a stretcher because there was no lift. There were complaints that the room was both badly ventilated and draughty. Gas lighting had been introduced in 1889 – initially the lamp had been put in the wrong place and had to be lowered and moved to the centre of the room, presumably to hang over the operating table. In June 1900 Treves had donated a new operating table – “the best he could find”, said to cost “not less than £40” – when he returned to Dorchester to receive the freedom of the borough.

On 1 January 1902 a sub-committee was appointed to look into creating a replacement operating theatre. It reported to the management committee just over a month later:

… it was agreed unanimously to recommend that a New Operating Room should be built at the back, or East side, of the Hospital near the centre of the main block of buildings, and adjoining the room now used as the Nurses’ Dining Room. It would be on the level of the first floor of the Hospital, and would be reached by passing through the present Dining Room, which would be given up altogether by the Nurses, and would be used as an Anaesthetic Room.

… it would stand on arches built over the back yard, and would be in a perfect position as regards light. Windows of any size could be placed in the North, East, and South walls, and there would be no risk of draughts, … nor direct communication with the staircase or corridor. A lift would communicate with the main corridors on the ground floor and first floor, and also with the Anaesthetic Room …

Ad for builders for new op theatre

Western Gazette, 21 March 1902
Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive (

In March 1902 architect Walter J. Fletcher advertised the tender for building the new operating facilities. Fletcher, who was the county surveyor, had a practice in Wimborne and had designed the cottage hospital at Swanage, which opened in 1895. In 1898 he was invited to become Surveyor of the Hospital “to superintend and pass all structural works, repairs to Buildings &c”.

Three tenders for constructing the operating room and the walls of the lift enclosure were opened on 2 April. The sub-committee accepted the lowest tender, from Mr. Charles Slade of South Street, Dorchester, for £1,249. Construction began on 8 May. During the building works, one of the female wards was converted into a temporary operating room. The sub-committee made a number of changes to the specification to bring the cost down, including abandoning the parquet flooring for the anaesthetic room and the new covered back entrance.

© Dorset County Museum

Design for the panel listing subscribers to the operating room fund
© Dorset County Museum

Not everything went smoothly. The piers supporting the new operating room were interfering with the position of the drains in the scullery so the sink had to be re-positioned and replaced. The need for other structural repairs came to light during the building, leading to unplanned expenditure of £42, but still the sub-committee had managed to bring Slade’s total bill down from £1,249 to £1,087.

With other costs – including the architect’s fee (£61) and the cost of hiring a Mr. Grey as clerk of works for 20 weeks (£42) – the new operating facilities and lift cost a total of £1,355. The project was entirely funded by public subscription which raised £1,351. The sum was topped up with interest on the money, leaving a small surplus which was used to commission a panel commemorating the subscribers, the design for which is in the Dorset County Museum (see right). The subscription list was headed by a number of peers associated with the hospital: Lord Eldon gave £500, Lord Ilchester £250, Lord Wimborne £100, and Lord Portman £50. Subscriptions also came from the families descended from the hospital’s founders and early supporters: Floyer, Acland, Williams and Bankes. Sir Frederick Treves donated five guineas.

At the opening ceremony in 1903 Treves reflected on how surgery had changed: “Twenty-five years ago that part of surgery which dealt with operations was more or less discredited” because it was “singularly unsuccessful”. Only a small number of operations were carried out – in the very largest surgical hospital there was only one operating theatre, occupied only one afternoon a week. Now, that same hospital had five operating theatres which, with ancillary rooms, extended over a quarter of a mile and were occupied practically every day. This was all due to the introduction by Lord Lister of antiseptic surgery, which had rendered operative treatment possible and safe, resulting in many thousands of lives being saved each year. Treves continued:

It had come about that the operating theatre, which was once the least attractive part of a hospital and the part that every one endeavoured very properly to avoid, had become a chamber of hope. All the hideous horrors of the old systems of the operating rooms had passed away … Operative surgery had spread all over the country, and now nearly every provincial hospital had its own operating theatre.

After his speech a short prayer of dedication was said by the Archdeacon of Dorset.

Waygood & Co. advertisement, 1902

Waygood & Co. advertisement, 1902

Sadly we have no pictures of the new facility but we have clues as to its appearance from the hospital’s committee minutes and annual reports. The operating room was 22ft. 6in. long by 14ft. 6in. wide, at the level of the first floor, standing on solid stone piers and arches, at the back of the hospital, as had been recommended by the sub-committee. The structure was built of Swanage stone to match the rest of the building. Inside it was

reached from the main corridor through an ante-room, to be used for the administration of anaesthetics. The floor is laid with Ebner’s Terrazo pavement, and the walls are lined with Keene’s cement covered with Ripolin enamel, thus avoiding all joints, which are an objectionable feature when tiles and mosaics are used.

The lift was installed by R. Waygood & Co. of London. Waygood’s was originally established in Dorset, at Beaminster, before relocating (the company later installed the lifts on the Titanic). The lift adjoined the anaesthetic room, and was large enough to take a patient lying on a couch. It was hand-powered, and could be worked either from above or below or from within the cage itself.

By 1905 cracks had begun to appear in the arches of the operating room. The surgeons still relied on gas lamps as electric lighting was not fitted until 1912. By 1923 the creaking of the rope attached to the hand-lift had become “very disconcerting” and it was finally replaced by an electrical lift in 1925.

Sources: The Times, 25 February 1903, page 14; Western Gazette, 22 February 1901, page 6; London Daily News, 24 February 1903, page 11; Dorset County Hospital’s management committee minutes 1894-1917 (NG/HH/DO(C)/1/2/8) and annual reports 1895-1909 (NG/HH/DO(C)/2/1/1), both held at the Dorset History Centre.

Posted 23 February 2016

Out-patient admissions records for 1852 now online

DCH 1859 Dorset County Museum

The hospital in the 1850s
© Dorset County Museum

Over 350 entries for out-patients admitted to Dorset County Hospital in 1852 have now been added to the site, as part of the ongoing work this year to publish the names of all patients up to 1861. The entries on the site are partial transcripts giving the patient’s name, age, occupation, parish and month of admission. For some entries other information – for instance, the nature of their disease – has been included. The original out-patient admissions records are held at Dorset History Centre and include the name of the hospital subscriber who sponsored each patient and the outcome of their treatment.

The new batch of entries brings some unusual forenames, including Shem, the nine-year-old son of Thomas Coombs, a sawyer living in Puddletown, who was admitted as an out-patient in March 1852. The family were fond of Old Testament names: one of Shem’s sisters was christened Mahatable. It appears Shem’s more prosaically-named brother John was also a patient in 1855.

Patient admissions 1852 (chart)In 1852 the hospital admitted almost equal numbers of out-patients and in-patients (356 and 347 respectively), however the gender profiles of the two groups were very different. Male patients were far more likely to be in-patients, whereas female patients formed the majority of out-patients. It is unclear whether this was due to the different nature of their medical conditions, or if men were more likely to receive intensive (and more expensive) in-patient care because they were deemed more economically important. Men formed the vast majority of in-patients admitted because of accidents (42 male accident victims in 1852 compared to just 3 females). This probably reflects the more hazardous nature of men’s work.

If you find a name of interest, please make contact and I will look up the full entry for you. In return you will be asked to consider a small donation to the hospital’s charity or the Dorset Archives Trust, but there is no obligation. Many of those who received out-patient treatment were also in-patients at some stage, so it is advisable to search for an ancestor across the whole site. To do this, use the Advanced Search facility, which opens in a new window.

Posted 2 February 2016

‘A very serious sensation’: leprosy in late Victorian Dorset

Edinburgh Evening News, 9 September 1896 Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Edinburgh Evening News, 9 September 1896

On 8 September 1896, at a routine meeting of the Weymouth Rural District Council, Dr. John Williams Pridham, the local medical officer of health, informed the council that he had discovered a case of leprosy in Upwey. The following day the discovery was reported in newspapers across the country, from Edinburgh to South Wales. Some of the early press coverage was inaccurate: the boy was around 11 years old, the press said, and he had been born in India. Neither was true.

In fact, by this time, the young patient had already been admitted to Dorset County Hospital. He was under the care of Dr. William Vawdrey Lush, who had a private practice in Weymouth and was the hospital’s consultant physician. Lush sought the management committee’s permission to admit the boy on 3 September and special arrangements were made to keep him in a separate ward when he was received a few days later.

Tom Symonds © BMJ Publishing Group Ltd

Tom Symonds
© BMJ Publishing Group Ltd

The patient was Thomas George Symonds, an intelligent 8-year-old who was a “fairly well-grown boy, moderately developed and had fair hair and brown eyes”. Lush described his condition:

The skin was very dry and cold to the touch. The face had a peculiar reddish brown pigmented appearance; the skin over the whole of the face was hypertrophied, nose very much thickened, the lips large. The ears projected and were markedly infiltrated, the lobe being enlarged but soft … The hands and feet alike were affected … the pigmentation was not so marked as in the face. The abdomen was prominent, but there was no marked dullness or glandular enlargement.

Tom was beginning to lose feeling over his whole body: he could tell “very fairly well” where he was being touched but could not sense the nature of the instrument touching him, so that “a pin caused the same sensation as a test tube”. His skin was in some places hard, in others doughy.  Where it was exposed to friction from clothes, it tended to break down and ulcerate: “These abrasions were very obstinate in healing.”  He was listless and incapable of any sustained mental or bodily exertions.

The condition was diagnosed as lepra leontina, in which, Pridham had explained to the council, “the head assumed the appearance of a lion’s head”. Pridham considered it “a most marvellous and astounding kind of development”. The condition was incurable. While the notion of leprosy was not unfamiliar to the late Victorians through Bible stories and, more directly, its prevalence across the British Empire, it was rare in England.

Tom had been born in Singapore, of English parents. His father, William Symonds, was a warder in the colony’s prison, where even the prison governor had contracted leprosy. The family had returned to England eighteen months earlier, Tom being apparently healthy. His symptoms had first begun to appear six months before his admission. No other family members – including a brother with whom he shared a bed – had fallen ill.  His father had already returned to his duties in Singapore, leaving Tom and his siblings (including a new born baby) with his mother Sarah.

In Dorset County Hospital Tom was treated with chaulmoogra oil in milk three times a day and a lotion of gurjun oil rubbed all over his body twice a day, both traditional plant-based treatments for leprosy. On 1 October the hospital’s management committee received a progress report: Tom had derived no benefit from the treatment and the committee decided that his ticket should not be renewed.

Tom’s imminent return to the family home caused consternation in Upwey. The local authorities were at a loss what to do with him as there were no specialist leper hospitals in the country. During a near-hysterical council meeting on 6 October the suggestion that he be isolated in a cottage “with some old lady to attend upon him” was rejected as too expensive. It was even suggested that Tom be sent to either “one of the leper hospitals in Norway, where there are hundreds of cases” or to “a leper island in the South Pacific”. The clerk calmly reminded the meeting that they did not have the power to transport people! One councillor – who had joked about the boy’s condition during the discussions – said he hoped Tom would not return to Upwey because “a very serious sensation would be caused in the village”. He predicted that “if the boy were allowed to go back to Upwey serious friction would be bound to ensue”.

Dr. William Vawdrey Lush © Dorset County Museum

Dr. William Vawdrey Lush
© Dorset County Museum

On 20 October Tom was discharged. By this time, his “anaesthesia was very marked, commencing in the feet, and extending upwards as far as the knees, the hands being slightly affected”. Luckily more level-headed opinions had begun to prevail. The rector of Upwey, Frederick Broke Howell, wrote to Lush and Pridham putting specific questions to them about the degree to which leprosy was contagious, and the extent to which isolation was necessary for Tom and his siblings, and then he ensured the replies were published in the local press to allay public fears. As well as consulting the Royal College of Physicians for the latest scientific advice, Lush, a devout man, turned to the Bible, recalling that “Gehazi though afflicted with leprosy continued in the service of his master Elisha”. The medical gentlemen agreed that leprosy was not contagious through normal contact, Pridham declaring “I am of opinion that the fear existing in the public mind is quite uncalled for”. One of the Rev. Howell’s motivations for seeking advice was that he managed the local school. Pridham advised that Tom would

be confined to the house and premises in which he resides. He will not attend school, but I know of no reason why his sister and brother should not. In view, however, of the strong feeling existing on the subject in Upwey, you may think it wise to defer to it, and refuse to receive them.

Tom was named in the published correspondence. This is perhaps surprising, but the concept of patient confidentiality is relatively modern. (And even now there are exceptions – think of the nurse who contracted ebola whose name has been widely reported in the media.) In 1897 the British Medical Journal referred to Tom only by his initials, but published a photograph from which he would have been recognisable.  Perhaps the fact that Upwey had fewer than eight hundred inhabitants meant that any attempt at anonymity was already futile.

Tom lived the rest of his life with his family in the small village. In April 1897 Lush visited him at home and found a marked change “the most prominent symptoms being the anaesthesia, which was almost total”. Three weeks previously Tom had taken hold of a red hot iron, and apparently felt nothing.

Tom died in 1904, aged just 16.

Sources: Western Gazette, 11 September 1896, page 6, 9 October 1896, page 2, and 30 October 1896, page 7; Dorset County Hospital management committee minutes, Dorset History Centre, NG/HH/DO(C)/1/2/8, pages 156 and 159; British Medical Journal, 3 July 1897, pages 16-17; GRO death index, 1904.

Posted 31 January 2016

FACHRS journal cover‘Family & Community History’ special issue on children’s healthcare and welfare

The latest issue of Family & Community History has arrived (October’s – where has it been?!). It’s the journal of the Family and Community Historical Research Society, whose aim is to promote research in family and community history, with an emphasis on local micro-studies and collaborative research.

The latest journal has articles of interest to those studying the history of children’s health and welfare, including (each link will take you to the relevant abstract):

There are other articles, plus news and book reviews. You can view selected free content online, and also sign up for free table of contents alerts.

Posted 15 January 2016

Beer but not cricket: junior doctors at Dorset County Hospital

Illustrated London News, 13 July 1895

Consulting the doctor
Illustrated London News, 13 July 1895

With junior doctors in the news, we look at their Victorian forerunners

When Dorset County Hospital opened in 1841 the most junior doctor was the house apothecary or house surgeon (the title changed formally to the latter in 1863) who – as the name suggests – was required to reside in the hospital. The house surgeon was usually a young man, newly qualified. The first to hold the post was John Good, aged 24 when elected in 1841, having qualified at Apothecaries Hall just the year before. One of his successors, William James Bennett, was appointed within a month of being admitted to the Royal College of Surgeons in April 1867.

The house surgeons were elected by meetings of the governors after the management committee had vetted their applications. Candidates had to be unmarried, and members of the Royal College of Surgeons of London, Edinburgh, or Dublin, and Licentiates of the Apothecaries’ Company. In 1883 the appointment of the house surgeon became the sole responsibility of the management committee. As well as his clinical role, until 1888, the house surgeon acted as Secretary, taking minutes at meetings of the governors and the management committee, for which he was paid extra. He was supplied with beer until 1895 when it was replaced by soda water. Beer was back in 1899 – at the house surgeon’s request – along with cider or lemonade.

The hospital’s bye-laws in 1850 prohibited the house surgeon from practising “out of the House” and required him to attend Divine Service whenever it was performed, except if his presence on the wards was absolutely necessary. In 1875 a candidate for the post of house surgeon withdrew his application because he was a Roman Catholic and therefore unable to comply with the hospital’s rules on religious attendance. The house surgeon was not allowed to be absent from the hospital without telling the matron where he could be found, and then he could only be absent for three hours without special permission. House surgeon Daniel William Phillips was forced to resign in 1861 because he neglected a patient while staying out late contrary to the rules (he was in the habit of taking the porter on hunting excursions).

Later amendments to the rules required the house surgeon to visit the wards daily at 9 a.m. and again at 7 p.m., and to stay on the premises until 1 p.m. each day. If the house surgeon wanted to take leave he had to apply for permission to the weekly management committee and find a substitute, who was usually a medical student. Even then the committee might not sanction the leave: in 1892 they ruled that “it was not consistent with the requirements of the Hospital that the House Surgeon receive leave of absence for cricketing purposes”. The house surgeon was required to dine at a “common table” with the resident chaplain and matron. In 1875, house surgeon Henry Barton Smith quit because he was “expected to have four tête-à-tête meals with a young matron, the last meal at eight or nine p.m.; tea being laid in the matron’s own private sitting-room”.


Dorset County Chronicle, 19 September 1867
Reproduced by kind permission of

In the 1860s three of the hospital’s house surgeons died young. Joseph Hocking, aged 26, succumbed to Bright’s disease in 1862, just five months after being elected. One of his successors, Alfred Ensor, aged 25, dropped dead suddenly in April 1867. He had a heart condition. Just five months later, the next house surgeon, William James Bennett, died of tuberculosis, aged 22. It is unlikely that these deaths were a direct result of their work at the hospital, but certainly doctoring was dangerous for doctors. In 1887 Alfred Emson, the hospital’s consultant surgeon, pricked his finger during a cancer operation and blood poisoning set in, hastening his death. In 1902 house surgeon Ashley West Talbot died of typhoid fever contracted while working at the hospital.

The hospital was a training ground for the house surgeons, who tended to stay only a short period before finding a place in private practice or a larger institution. By 1859 they had to sign an undertaking to remain in post at least three years, but in practice their average tenure was just two (in the hospital’s first 50 years, there were 25 house surgeons).

It was part of the house surgeon’s role to screen potential patients for admission: initially subscribers who wished to recommend someone for treatment had to send the house surgeon “an account of the case (drawn up if possible by a medical man)” and “wait for his reply as to its general admissability, and the likelihood of a vacancy”.

The medical experience and expertise was provided not by the house surgeon but by local physicians and surgeons in private practice, working at the hospital on a voluntary basis. They undertook the work for its prestige and for the opportunity to build their private practice through contact with wealthy hospital patrons. Hospital work enabled honorary medical officers to earn fees from teaching and it presented opportunities for research: the patients, as objects of charity, were obliged to submit to clinical experimentation (which was banned from workhouse infirmaries). Some of the men who had been house surgeons returned later in their careers to hold honorary medical positions. For instance, the first two house surgeons, John Good and Alfred Emson, who consecutively held the post from 1841 to 1845, both came back later. Good was honorary surgeon and then consultant surgeon from 1868 until his death in 1892. Likewise, Emson was honorary surgeon 1868-87 and consultant briefly in 1887 when he died.

The old system of newly-qualified house surgeons and experienced honorary medical officers continued right up until the creation of the NHS, with the only major change being the acceptance of women onto the medical staff. In 1919 the hospital appointed its first “Lady House Surgeon” Margaret Logan.

Posted 12 January 2016

THOMAS HARDYThomas Hardy, hospital supporter, died on this day in 1928

Poet and author Thomas Hardy was perhaps Dorset County Hospital’s  most famous supporter. He was a subscriber from at least 1895.

On 20 July 1921, in a rare public appearance, Hardy officially opened a fundraising fete for the hospital. He wrote the inscription “That swift sympathy that quicks the world” for the hospital’s wrought iron gates, donated in 1925 by Dorchester brewer Edwin Pope.

When Hardy’s widow Florence died in 1937 she left £800 in her will for the construction of a children’s sun balcony at the hospital.

Thomas Hardy died on 11 January 1928, aged 87.

A Wasted Illness

Through vaults of pain,
Enribbed and wrought with groins of ghastliness,
I passed, and garish spectres moved my brain
To dire distress.

And hammerings,
And quakes, and shoots, and stifling hotness, blent
With webby waxing things and waning things
As on I went.

“Where lies the end
To this foul way?” I asked with weakening breath.
Thereon ahead I saw a door extend –
The door to death …

Posted 11 January 2016

Over 2,500 historic out-patient records now online

Patients waiting for treatment Graphic 3 Aug 1907

Out-patients waiting for treatment
(Detail from The Graphic, 3 August 1907)

More out-patient admission records for Dorset County Hospital have been published on this site today, bringing the total to over 2,500.

The admission registers date from late 1847 and the current target is to publish all admissions up to 1861 (a total of 174 months). As of today, 92 months’ worth of out-patient records have been published, representing over half (52%) of the available records.

In-patient admissions for the period 1847-59 have already been published, yielding a further 3,700 records. These people were the working poor: labourers and other farm workers, out-of-work servants, carpenters, shoemakers and blacksmiths, and their wives and children.

The published records are partial transcripts and there is more information in the original registers, which are held by the Dorset History Centre. The transcripts usually have, as a minimum, the patient’s name, age, parish, and month and year of admission. In addition, all the in-patient transcripts give occupations, as do many of the out-patient transcripts. Some transcribed entries will also give the patient’s disease, and whether or not they died while being treated.

The original records provide other outcome information (e.g. ‘cured’, ‘relieved’, ‘absconded’ etc.), the date of discharge, and the name of the wealthy individual who recommended the patient for treatment. This last piece of information can hint at a relationship (for example, employer/worker or landlord/tenant) between the givers of this charity and those who were fortunate enough to receive it.

Posted 5 January 2016

Dorset County Hospital 100 years ago – what the papers said

One hundred years ago the country was still in the grip of war: 1916 saw defeat at Gallipoli, the introduction of conscription and the Battle of the Somme, where more than one million soldiers died. Dorset County Hospital was part of a well-organised chain of evacua­tion bringing injured men from the front line to the medical stations in the continental ports. They were then shipped to civilian hospitals on the British mainland before being transferred home. Inevitably, then, many of the patients in the hospital were wounded soldiers, and there was a military theme to much of that year’s press coverage.

Western Gazette, 3 March 1916

Western Gazette, 3 March 1916
(Image © Local World Limited. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

Over Christmas 1915 the servicemen and other patients recovering in the hospital had been entertained by the Countess of Ilchester and other ladies, who “afforded much pleasure for an hour with elocution and drama in the male ward”. Other entertainments included “an amusing sketch” and a troupe of pierrettes (Western Gazette, 7 January 1916, page 3). The beginning of the year saw the hospital’s matron, Miss MARLOW, appointed to the general committee of the Dorset Insurance Committee, which organised access to medical treatment as part of the National Insurance scheme (Western Gazette, 7 January 1916, page 5).

The annual governors’ meeting on 28 February heard that admissions during the previous year had included 528 service personnel and 13 German prisoners of war. Because of the war, the weekly average of in-patients had risen from 40 to 82. In an ordinary year the cost of food was around £700, but now sickly patients who ate little were vastly outnumbered by young servicemen with healthy appetites, and the hospital’s annual food bill had spiralled to over £2,000. Despite pressure on resources, the whole of the hospital building was being wired for electric light by Messrs. BROOKING at a cost of £131 8s. (Western Gazette, 3 March 1916, page 5).

In June the hospital’s horse-drawn ambulance was converted into a motor-ambulance by Messrs. M. H. TILLEY & Sons’ Motor Garage in Trinity Street. Funds for the conversion had been raised by Dr. W. B. COSENS, the hospital’s honorary surgeon who was also the medical officer of the local prisoner of war camp (Western Gazette, 2 June 1916, page 2). That month, on 27 June, Mr. E. C. PARSLOW was admitted to the hospital with a broken arm following a motor cycle accident.  He was Dorset County Council’s horticulture instructor – an important role when the county was trying to increase food production to help the war effort (Western Gazette, 30 June 1916, page 2).

The annual fundraising event for the hospital took place on 9 July, which was designated “Hospital Sunday” (Western Gazette, 14 July 1916, page 2), and the year ended with a further boost to the hospital’s coffers with a bequest of £1,000 from the late Edward George Montagu, the Earl of Sandwich (Western Mail, 4 December 1916, page 2).

Transporting wounded soldiers at the Front (Wellcome Library, London)

Transporting wounded soldiers at the Front in 1916
(Wellcome Library, London)

The local newspapers recorded the following deaths at the hospital during 1916:

  • 4 January, Ada Emily Elizabeth WILLS (aged 5) of 8 Shorts Lane, Mill Street, had sustained extensive burns from her ankles to her chest and on her arms, when she was left at home by her mother in a room with an unguarded fire. She died of shock shortly after being admitted. Her father was serving with the National Reserve at Bristol. At the inquest on 6 January, during which house surgeon Dr. P. WYNNE gave evidence, the coroner accused the girl’s mother, Mrs. Ada Agnes WILLS, and the neighbour who was meant to be looking after the girl, Mrs. Jemima WELLS, of “criminal carelessness”. A prosecution was mounted against the mother but was dismissed on the grounds that she had suffered enough (Western Gazette, 7 January 1916, page 5; 14 January 1916, page 2).
  • 12 February, Phyllis Marjorie TITE (aged 3½), the daughter of Lance-Corporal J. TITE, 3rd Dorset Regiment, died (Western Gazette, 18 February 1916, page 12).
  • 15 February, Elizabeth CLOYNE (aged 47) died. She was the wife of Mr. C. CLOYNE, late of Bath Street, Weymouth (Western Gazette, 25 February 1916, page 12).
  • 9 June, Emil DRYGALLA (aged 28), a German prisoner of war at the internment camp at Poundbury, died of acute appendicitis. He was buried on 12 June with full military honours: under armed escort, 120 German soldiers “looking well in their blue-grey uniforms and top boots, and marching with martial stride” accompanied the coffin from the hospital mortuary, through the streets of Dorchester, to Fordington St. George churchyard: “Their officer first delivered an extempore oration, followed by some prayers, and then a selected party of the Germans, with one of their number acting as conductor, sang a hymn. In the quietude of the morning the unaccompanied singing, resonant and harmonious, was very effective, and formed an impressive feature of the obsequies” (Western Gazette, 16 June 1916, page 2).
  • 5 November, Mrs. Louisa LAKE (aged 49), of Broadmayne, died having been admitted the previous day. She was suffering from acute appendicitis and was being driven to the hospital by her doctor (Thomas BEARD), when the car collided with an Army Service Corp motor lorry, and Mrs. LAKE was badly injured. She was treated by the house surgeon Dr. WYNNE and by honorary surgeon Capt. Burrough COSENS. The inquest took place at the hospital on 7 November (Western Gazette, 10 November 1916, page 2).
  • 22 December, Alec Francis GAWLER (aged 7) died. He was the second son of Mr. and Mrs. Harry GAWLER, of Turnworth, late of Piddletrentide (Western Gazette, 29 December 1916, page 8).

Posted 3 January 2016.

Looking back and looking ahead

BOOKLET COVER FINAL tiltedAs we start a New Year, a new page has been added to this site to record the project in 2015 designed to mark the hospital’s 175th anniversary. This work resulted in the publication of a commemorative booklet and an exhibition, as well as other activities undertaken by the various project partners. The booklet is still on sale (see here for details) and you can now download a free name index to see if any of your ancestors are mentioned. You can also download a copy of the exhibition which ran for four months at the hospital (this is a large file and may take time to download).

Going forward, the plan is to continue transcribing the hospital’s Victorian admission records. Currently there are over six thousand in-patient and out-patient admissions published on this website. Completing transcription for all years from 1847 (the earliest surviving register) to 1861 will increase the total number of patient records to well over ten thousand. The more admission records online, the easier it will be to determine patterns of hospital access for individual families.

© Dorset History Centre, NG/HH/DO(C)/5/2/1

© Dorset History Centre

Do remember, if you find mention of an ancestor among the hospital admission records, I am happy to look up the full entry for you. In return you will be asked to consider a small donation to the hospital’s charity or the Dorset Archives Trust, but there is no obligation. To search for an ancestor, use the Advanced Search facility (opens in a new window).


Posted 1 January 2016


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