The Story of Lichfield and District Hospitals

I don't think anyone quite knew what kind of Christmas presentation we were to be given when members and friends assembled in December for a talk by Mary Hutchinson and Angela Reynolds from the Lichfield Hospitals History Group. In the event, the balance between historical information and lighter anecdotes from two people closely associated with the hospitals service in Lichfield truly filled the bill.

We started way in the past, in 1310 to be precise, when fresh piped water was first delivered to the citizens of Lichfield - a responsibility taken over by the Conduit Lands Trust in 1545 and only relinquished to the South Staffs Waterworks Company in the 1930s. The ready availability of fresh water, we were told, made Lichfield one of the healthier places to live in around the area. Lichfield was of course well blessed with learned (for the time) medical practicioners like Erasmus Darwin, William Withering (a Lunar Society colleague) and Sir John Floyer, although some of their remedies would not pass scrutiny today!

As early as 1766, a General Infirmary was built at Stafford and Lichfield Corporation subscribed to it, thus allowing a strict quota of in and out patients to receive help there. But as Lichfield grew in importance as a stopping place on coaching routes and with the arrival of the railway, the need for more locally based facilities became evident. So by the 1840s, three poor-houses were established, the Lichfield Union Workhouse, later St Mary's Hospital being one. In parallel, legislation had allowed for the provision of County Asylums for lunatics. St George's Hospital in Stafford was one of the first, in 1818, but by 1864 the Burntwood Asylum, later St Matthew's Hospital was built. Our speakers remembered it for its progressive approach to dealing with mental problems, one example of which was the existence of its own entertainment theatre, where nursing staff were expected to perform! Its caring approach contrasted strongly with standards in many other Asylums. It closed in the 1990s and was given over to housing.

We heard about Hammerwich Hospital, now sadly demolished, built in 1882 and funded by mineowners and mineworkers, before finishing with the story of Victoria Hospital, opened in 1933 and funded as all of these institutions were, by a combination of civic funds, charitable donations and individual contributions. It clearly was a happy place to work as evidenced by the filmed memories of former staff. In the meanwhile, St Michael's Hospital formally lost its role as a workhouse in 1940, to be given over principally to supporting sick elderly patients, until its eventual reincarnation as the new Samuel Johnson Hospital.

Our speakers brought a variety of historical items for our perusal: badges, nurses uniforms and a variety of medical aids to add further interest to what was a memorable Xmas meeting.

Roger Hockney
December 2008