As 2020 is the bicentenary of Florence Nightingale’s birth and with our thoughts and support very much with the fantastic work of the NHS at this moment in time, it seemed appropriate to make our first post a look back at the early years of Northampton Infirmary. 

Northampton Infirmary – the Early Years 

Shortly after coming to Northampton in Spring 1743, Dr James Stonhouse, along with Dr Philip Doddridge of Castle Hill Meeting House campaigned in the Northampton Mercury for the establishment of a hospital for the sick and poor.

On 21 July 1743, a subscription list was opened. The last paragraph included the statement ‘ whereas many sick persons languish, deprived even of the necessities of life and… often die miserably for want of accommodation and proper medicines..’   ‘We whose names are underwritten… do subscribe the following sums to be paid by yearly… for the procuring, furnishing and defraying the necessary expense of an Infirmary at Northampton for the benefit of the poor sick who shall be recommended by any of the subscribers or benefactors….’   Further meetings were held with many of the prominent gentry and landowners present.  They hoped to ‘prevent from time to time many miserable objects falling into the rapacious hands of ignorant quacks and imposters’. 

A large house was taken in George Row, Northampton at a rent of £30 per annum and the Northampton Infirmary was opened on 29 March 1744.

The First Annual Report in September 1744 shows the staff consisted on Dr Charles Kimberley, physician extraordinary, Dr Samuel Mayne and Dr James Stonhouse, physicians and Mr Charles Lyon and Mr Edward Litchfield, surgeons, Mr Aaron Locock, apothecary and Mrs Esther White, matron. 

The role of the matron was defined as: ‘To take care of all the household goods and fees, to weigh and measure all the provisions and necessaries brought into the House, to keep a daily account thereof, to be given the weekly board every Saturday. She is to oversee the patients and servants, to take care that the wards, chambers, beds, cloaths, linen and C within the Hospital be kept neat and clean, and to these ends all the patients and servants are to be submissive and obedient to her’.  

Admittance was by recommendation from a subscriber and the more you subscribed, the more patients you could recommend.  All recommendations were to be delivered by 11 o’clock every Saturday morning and were then approved by the Hospital Governors.

From the period 29 March 1744 to 1 September 1744 a total of 103 patients were admitted of whom 36 were discharged cured, 2 relieved, 4 were incurable, 5 excluded for misbehaviour, 15 made out-patients, 5 dead and 36 remained in hospital. Outpatients treated: 79.

Amongst the cures were: Fevers, fractures, quinsies, scall’d head, rheumatisms, leprosies, sinuous ulcers and dropsy. Two amputation (each of an arm) were performed with the desired success.

By 1751 the Annual Report noted that ‘within the 8 years of opening they had cured 1167 sick and lame persons and rendered them back as useful members of the community.  And also 185 persons were admitted upon sudden accidents without any recommendations’.

The first patient to be admitted was Thomasin Grace aged 13 from Stoke Bruerne, reported as having ‘ a scald on the head’.  She was discharged cured on 7 July.

All of the heating was by coal fires in the rooms, lighting was by candle light and there was no sewage disposal as we know it. The excreta was passed into chambers which were emptied into a tub in the corner of the ward and this was emptied by the night-man.  After Dr Stonhouse complained of the lack of ventilation and it was ordered ‘that they be ventilated three times a day’.  The stink of the ward complete with the excreta must have been almost unbearable.  

In 1782 the Governors purchased the house adjoining the hospital and were able to enlarge the charity by the additional of several beds.

By 1789 plans were afoot to erect a new hospital in a ‘more convenient situation’ and this was opened in 1793 on what is now the corner of Cheyne Walk and Billing Road but was at that time outside the ‘town walls’ and a new road was built to it from St Giles.  This building is still in use as part of the now, much larger and expanded Northampton General Hospital.  The cost of the building was £10,000 The hospital continued to be funded by voluntary subscriptions from individuals and by parishes until the formation of the National Health service in 1948.

Further Research:

A History of Northampton General Hospital 1743-1948 by Francis Fisher Waddy (1974). Copies held at Northamptonshire Record Office (NRO) and Northamptonshire Libraries

Annual Reports 1743 onwards at NRO (some gaps)

Admissions Registers 1743-1870, 1888-1895, 1901 onwards (NRO).  Those for 1774-1846 can be searched online on FindMyPast.

Other records are deposited at NRO – please see the online catalogue.  There may be some access restrictions on items under 100 years old.