North Staffs Royal Infirmary


Watch this space as I have now secured all the documentation regarding the official laying of the foundation stone by the Price of Wales on the 25th June 1866. Needs some work doing on it before I publish same.

If you have any memories of the old infirmary or comments regarding these pictures, please why not send them in for publication with the pictures. Sure many other viewers would be interested. Who knows, others may know you or share the same comments. Just go to the comments page – write and sent to me.

For those interested, this site is currently getting over 4000 hits a month from just about every country in the world. The response since it hoped has been incredible. Would value comments though.  RT

The old North Staffs Infirmary in Princes Road has been closed for a number of years. The building still stands all fenced off and no admittance. Currently the future is not known. However, in 2013 I was allowed access into the building and took a number of Photographs – I hope that you enjoy looking at these and for many bring back memories. Dr Richard Talbot

All photographs and text are © Richard Talbot 2013

The history of the North Staffs Royal infirmary

The origins of medical care in the Potteries dates far beyond the building of the previous North Staffordshire Royal infirmary. It originated from the concern of the high-morality amongst the poor of the populous parishes of the Potteries from epidemic fevers breaking out and spreading rapidly through the district and in particular the workhouses. In addition, it was the distress of the poor in procuring advice and medicines was severely felt.

In 1802, the situation became so critical that the inhabitants of the neighbourhood of a charitable disposition, encourage the establishment of a medical dispensary. Such an institution it was said “is will afford much heartfelt satisfaction from the reflection of it saving the lives and easing the suffering of many of God creatures”.

So, in the Swan Inn Hanley, on Wednesday 28th of July 1802 at 11 o’clock a meeting was held and presided over by Mr Walter Sneyd at which it was resolved that the idea of establishing a Dispensary and House of Recovery were adopted and a committee appointed. It is an interesting though that even in the middle of the Napoleonic wars, such local worthies, and still household names as Adams, Brindley, Davenport, Snead, Swinnerton, Wedgwood and Whieldon had the time and the heart to work towards the establishment of an infirmary.

The necessary funds were raised – a site purchased from Mr Josiah Wedgwood near to the junction of the Cauldon Canal and the great Junction Canal close to what later became as Bedford Street in Etruria. The House of Recovery opened on the first day of May 1804 with a resident apothecary and matron. However, the necessity of enlarging the premises without delay was soon recorded in order to afford the benefits of a general infirmary was acknowledged by the supporters of the new infirmary and a public appeal to that effect was made.

This ambitious project however was to remain in abeyance for a few years during which time the dispensary’s career was un-marked by any striking events until the end of 1814. During this time the total number of persons cured or relieved amounted to 12,960. Again, at the Swan in, on 18 November 1814, it was agreed that “the erection of another wing to the present building was all that was necessary in order to carry into effect the benevolent views of the district”. This proposal was approved at a later and larger meeting held on December 23 of the same year. The response to the appeal for voluntary contributions to this additional wing was quite substantial. After a few months it was decided for numerous reasons to abandon the first plan and to erect an entirely new building of several acres of land offered by Mr Wedgwood called ‘Wood Hills’, situated on the turnpike road leading from Etruria Wharf to Cobridge, close to what is now Clough Street and Mount Pleasant. The estimated cost of £4,400 was accepted and the plans of Mr Potter of Lichfield were adopted.

The foundation stone was laid on the 23rd of July 1860 by Sir John Heathcote, MP, the money being raised by a gift from Prince Regent, out of the revenues of the Duchy of Lancaster and a legacy of £1,000 bequested by Mr John Rogers of the Watlands. The expenses of the additions were principally defrayed by a fancy bazaar held at Newcastle which realised the sum of £940 and with the additional receipts of an oratorio held in the new parish church of Stoke (built in 1829) which yielded the sum of a further £800. Mr John Tomlinson of Cliffe Ville displayed great zeal in establishing an accumulating fund which was not to be touched until it amounted to £20,000.

Benefactors of 20 guineas and upwards and annual subscriptions of two guineas and upwards was constituted by the governors who were elected and the annual committee of management and the various officers. There were two honorary surgeons with a resident salary surgeon. Subscribers were entitled to recommendations according to the amount of their subscription.

The building was opened on 22 April 1819. The front was ornamented with portico or colonnade entrance in a central recess of the building, approached by double flight of steps and over the entrance was inscribed “the North Staffordshire Infirmary, erected and supported by voluntary contributions”. The rest of the building was entirely plain coated with Roman cement which gave it a uniform appearance. There was accommodation provided for 100 patients and separate wards for fever cases. The number of inpatients recorded in 1843 was nearly 700 and outpatients 2500.

The Infirmary soon became unable to cater for all the needs of the increasing population of the potteries towns, and at a meeting of governors held on 19 December 1844, presided over by the Duke of Sutherland, it was discussed that the present building should be extended. Also, the committee was instructed to enquire whether it may not, instead of laying out large sums of money be advisable to look for a new site which was free from mining operations and other disadvantages. Furthermore, it was disclosed that the committee had failed in obtaining from the Duchy of Lancaster any guarantee to secure the present building from mining operations, or a sum of money to aid removing it. In view of this and other factors, the governors decided it was advisable to refrain from any present expense and to postpone the consideration of a way forward to a more favourable opportunity.

By the 1851, finances had righted themselves and the erection of a new ward had commenced. This was completed in 1855 at a cost of £1,300 which included hot water heating apparatus. The whole of this money was collected by Mr Charles Keeling of the White House, Newcastle. In a report presented three years after this addition it was recorded that “the building was cracking in various directions”. In view of this special meeting of the governors was called to receive a report of a special committee when it was considered as to what steps be necessary to carry out any recommendations. In fact, their recommendations were the erection of a more suitable building on a healthier site as the new iron work of Earl Granville (later Shelton Iron and steel) nearby made the site totally unfavourable for the recovery of patients.

Again, no action was taken on this report and the situation only worsened until July 1861 when the general committee received yet a further report from Messrs Ward and Sons confirming that the whole building was damaged by mining operations, the walls fractured and the floors un-level. In view of the serious position that the committee found itself in they finally agreed to present the facts and recommendations at the following annual general meeting which was held in November of the same year.

The following points were presented to this meeting discussion.

The removal of the infirmary to a healthier site as the atmosphere surrounding the hospital could not fail to interfere with the recovery of patients.

The offer by Mr W Yates a £5,000 towards the erection of a new building subject to the payment of £250 per annum for life, such sum to be forthcoming after 24 June next as the work is commenced. The committee made the following calculations of resources towards removing to a new site which was estimated at £20,000 including the purchase of the site but the funds fell short by £5,000.

At this meeting it was resolved that immediate steps be taken for the removal to a more suitable site and a committee was appointed to investigate the possibilities. And so, the idea, which was conceived many years before looked as though it was at last going to come into fruition, but not so as it appears another three years passed during which time the appeal for funds continued and reached £15,000 by the end of 1861.

Finally, a meeting was held on January 16, 1862 at which Mr Heathcote presided. It was reported that out of eleven sites only two were considered suitable. The Mount estate at Hartshill and Kingsfield at Basford. As the majority were in favour of the Mount the committee recommended that it should be accepted at a future meeting to be held in the following March. Mr Frederick Bishop, the owner of the Mount, offered to donate £500 if the site was adopted. However, things were not as simple as this, but we read that at various meetings arguments – very heated at times – continued about the suitability of each site, in fact, at a special meeting held on 16 January 1863 which lasted for several hours, the chairman and others resigned in protest. Arguments continued over the ultimate choice of the site at Hartshill rather than the one Kingsfield. The largest objection, then and for years, was to the isolation of the infirmary so far from the home of the potteries, methods of transport being what they were this time, distance was much stronger argument than they are now.

Other meetings were held in 1864 with no final resolution until 10th of December when finally, the Mount site was adopted. The total cost of the hospital which included £3,000 for the purchase of the land was £33,464. Seen in perspective, it was certainly an inspired choice when one considers development over the years and the projected development of the hospital centre. Florence Nightingale, who had become a national figure following her work in the Crimean War ten years previous and now an acknowledged expert on hospital design, was consulted on her advice for the new infirmary. As a result, it was built on the Pavilion principle. It was stated at the time that the proposed hospital of North Staffordshire was the earliest non-military hospital to be built on this principle.

The formalities for the laying of the foundation stone were left to the Duke of Sutherland, patron of the infirmary appeal to to ask the Heir apparent, the Prince of Wales, and plans were made for a ceremony were the of the occasion. So, at last after many years the beginning was insight and a new era in hospital care in the potteries began at last. The laying of the foundation stone was held on Monday, 25 June 1866 and the following press report found in the Staffordshire Advertiser reads as follows:

The occasion on Monday, 25 June promoted great interest in the local population in every town of the potteries, a holiday being kept, church bells rang, and banners were placed on the whole route the Royal party were to use on its way from Trentham Hall.

The party left the Duke of Sutherland’s estate at 12:15 PM and proceeded by the Newcastle led Potteries Troop of Yeomanry Cavalry. They travelled to the village of Trent Vale under several arches erected then to Stoke, where preparations went on all through the night for such an occasion. From Stoke, the procession continued up Hartshill bank with thousands of children were assembled on the hills on the left of the road, where the houses stand now would not have been built at this time.

On arriving at the infirmary, the Prince of Wales ascended the platform with the Duke of Sutherland, the Bishop of Lichfield, The P.G.M of Staffordshire and several others and after the opening speech by the Duke of Sutherland, the Prince of Wales made a short speech and deposited in a cavity to glass bottles hermetically sealed, one which contained coins of the realm, and the other copies of newspapers of the day and document that states the persons present at the ceremony. Over the cavity was placed an engraved brass plate which read

“The North Staffordshire infirmary. The foundation of this building was laid by his Royal Highness Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, K.G.G.C.B., Assisted by W.K. Harvey, P.G.M. Staffordshire. A brass plate was placed over these and inscribed:

On 25 June 1866 being the 30th year of the reign of her most gracious Majesty Queen Victoria.

Architects – George Bent Nicholls, and Charles Lynam.

Builder – Alfred Barlow. Clerk of works – G. M. Bates.

The Duke then handed to his Royal Highness, a massive trowel with an inscription upon it. Taking the trowel, the Prince spread mortar over the corner stone which was then lowered to its final resting place. After the presentation of purses which excited widespread interest and numbered 159 and all and amounted to £1,400 collected from the working class, the national anthem was played, and the party made their way to the marquee for lunch and which was a grand affair. After speeches the Royal party, to a huge applause, returned to their carriages and set off and drive to Newcastle which equalled the reception and splendour that they received in Stoke.

A description of the new hospital written over hundred and 50 years ago may appear at times amusing to the reader.

The land purchase for the new infirmary consist of 10 acres and is part of the Mount estate, lying to the west of the new road from Penkhull to Hartshill now known as Princes road. The site of the building is an elevated one, with a substratum of red sandstone. The principal front will have a Western aspect, and extensive views over the surrounding country will be obtained from almost every portion of the building. One striking peculiarity of the site, namely, the difference of level in its surface which has been carefully studied in the arrangement of the plan. The high-level has been taken for that of the principal ground floor and the lower level for a sub-ground floor, so that the northern half of the building will have one story below that of the southern half. In the lower level will be dispensary, laboratory pharmaceutical stores, house doors coal stores and ward for exceptional cases comprising of six beds, in addition there will be bedrooms for nurses and servants, pantries, servant’s hall and kitchen and scullery both of which are of the height of two stories, and beneath them are the ale and beer sellers.

The floorboards of the wards will be of oak and the walls finished in Keenes cement. The windows will, for the most part be sashes placed in the side and end walls of the wards, and hung in two parts, both of them made to open and glazed with strong plate glass. The wash houses, laundry, workrooms, engine and boiler house, water tower and mortuary buildings also form another detached block in the rear of the principal buildings, and the porter’s lodge with the necessary stabling will be placed near to the new road from Penkhull to Hartshill. The wards will be warmed by open fireplaces, the large wards having double and in the centre of the rooms. Fresh air will be admitted into them by the windows and by external openings provided for the purpose. A well, will be sunk for the general supply of water, which will be raised by an engine at to a high-level tank.

The soft water from the roof will be collected and conveyed to the baths, lavatories, wash house. Boilers are provided for the service of the engine, cooking apparatus and the supply of hot water throughout the house.

Following the laying of the foundation stone many more activities were organised over the next few years and one such event was a grand bazaar, which was the forerunner of many such events, all of them supported by people of all classes throughout the Potteries. At this first bazaar the local newspaper reported “there was an exhibition of electric illuminations which were wholly new to the district”. The exhibitor was Oliver Lodge then aged 16 years later to become Sir Oliver Lodge inventor of the radio and spark plug.

The new infirmary was formally opened by the Duchess of Sutherland on December 16, 1689 and ever since that date no stone was left unturned to secure continual expansion of medical services to the people of North Staffordshire. In the 80s and 90s the basis of administration was broadened. Throughout the years the people of North Staffordshire continued to donate contributions to the hospital by the form of weekly deductions from their wages which raise many thousands of pounds. It was indeed a ‘people’s hospital’.

In the 80s, a new ward was built for the abdominal cases requiring special treatment and later formed the children’s ward and in 1890 the words “Eye Hospital” was added to the name of the infirmary.

The following is extracted from the Evening Sentinel on the occasion of the Centenary in December 1969:

In 1896, renovations costing £1000 were made to the operating theatres and shortly following was an extension to Ward 2 for tuberculosis patients. By 1899 an X-ray department had opened and in 1901 the infirmary started electrification, taking it supply from the mains of the potteries electric traction company known locally as the PMT.

To commemorate the Coronation of King Edward VII in 1902 the foundation stone of the nurse’s home was laid by Lord Dartmouth and the home was opened in 1904 by Sir Lovelace Stamer, Bishop of Shrewsbury, who was a former rector of the parish of Stoke upon Trent and president of the infirmary from 1888 to 1890.

In 1910, after an appeal for £35,000 towards extensions and modernisations, again the Sentinel organised a shilling fund. By the following year this had raised in excess of £34,000 and the foundation stone of the new outpatient department was laid. The same year, for the first time, the governors included representatives of the working classes onto the committee.

During the First World War, 175 beds were made available for war wounded, a hundred of them in temporary wooden huts adjacent to Princes Road. In 1916 the Harrison family of Maer Hall provided a recreation hut for the soldiers. This remained in use for more than 50 years. Extensions continued after the war and in 1919 the orthopaedic department was established at the Hartshill site.

The scale of success was added to the infirmary’s reputation for in June 1935 King George V approved the addition of the word ‘Royal’ to the infirmary’s name. The King then laid the foundation stone of the new medical block which was to house the X-ray and orthopaedic departments and the Matilda Burgess and Henry Johnson wards.

Over hundred thousand pounds was raised for these additional extensions and they were opened in 1927, together with an extension to the nurse’s home by Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester.

In the same year the operating theatre system was modernised. By 1933, the new surgery and casualty departments were opened. In 1937, the Duke of Kent open the new radiological department which is made possible by the magnificent donation by Mr G. H. Downing. The same year they began a further campaign to provide new medical wards, a new pathology department and a further extension to the nurse’s home. The medical wards were made possible by generous endowment from Mr Enoch and Mrs Cicely Haughton. These new buildings were opened on June 27, 1940, but a few days later a German aircraft jettisoned its bombs on the site as well as nearby residential houses. Fortunately, there were no casualties but the ophthalmic theatre and the nurse’s home extension with the connecting corridors between the medical wards and the main hospital were badly damaged.

During the war, the Royal infirmary carried on its ordinary work and also dealt with war casualties. After the war had finished it was recognised that Britain’s hospitals needed a vast programme of modernisation and rebuilding and all political parties recognise that there should be a national policy with finance raised from taxation rather than rely upon voluntary          contributions as it had done in the past. As a result of pressure from all quarters the National Health Service act 1946 set up regional hospital boards and on July 5, 1948, the Nationalisation Hospital Service took its first steps towards the promised brave new world.

Since then, that was no let-up in the continual expansion of services and medical treatments available to the ever-growing population of the Potteries. The skill and devotion since the hospital was first opened must be second to none, but this devotion of service and giving were both it must always be remembered being the cause and a consequence of the generosity received from the people of North Staffordshire towards its own hospital.

With the building of a large new regional hospital on the site of the former city general hospital in London road now called the Royal Stoke University Hospital the plan was to move all services to the one site. As a result of this move and huge capital investment the North Staffordshire Royal infirmary closed its door in 2012. Since this time the building has remained boarded up and fenced around until a final decision is made by those in authority exactly what to do next. I was privileged to be shown around the hospital a year later in 2013.

If readers of this short history of the Infirmary have memories or pictures they wish to share – please send them to me on the contact e.mail address for publication.