Development of Healthcare in North Warwickshire
Prior to the foundation of Hospitals those in the population who could afford to pay chose to have a Doctor attend them in their own homes. Those who couldn’t afford assistance usually had to apply for charity. Much assistance was given by the Monks before the dissolution of the Monasteries. The Elizabethan poor laws introduced parochial relief for the sick and needy, being replaced by the Poor Law Unions of the 19th century.
Almshouses were provided through charitable bequests, such as Bedworth’s Nicholas Chamberlaine Almshouses, re erected in 1840, which in 1924 could accommodate 20 aged men and 20 aged women.
Voluntary Hospitals were introduced as charitable hospitals usually built by funds raised by local people or out of great benevolence. No such hospital existed in Nuneaton, and those who were able had to travel to either Birmingham General Hospital opened in 1779 or the Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital founded in 1838.
These hospitals were governed by a Committee and admission was by a letter of recommendation or subscription. This practice was later ceased and financial status was ascertained by the Doctor during the admission process. Those who could afford to pay something toward their treatment did so.
Subscription schemes for Workers commenced to assist Hospital finances, but as the cost of Medical care increased a number of charity events were held to help the struggling hospitals. Gala Days, Charity Balls and Concerts to raise money were held in addition to the Saturday and Sunday Hospital movements.
A large number of prospective patients, however, were excluded from treatment within the Voluntary hospitals, including Vagabonds, Tramps, Incurable patients, Pregnant Women, Mentally sick (classified as Insane), Patients with Infectious Diseases, and those with Chronic Conditions.
A number of small Cottage Hospitals were founded in rural areas to prevent local people having to travel far. The first of which was at Cranleigh in Surrey founded in 1859. The Cottage Hospital in Nuneaton was erected on Manor Court Avenue in 1893 at a cost of £3,000 from plans designed by Mr. F.J.Yates, architect of Birmingham on a site given by R. Stanley and J. Tomkinson esqrs. It was subsequently enlarged in 1899, 1920 and 1923 and by 1924 could accommodate 53 patients.
In the larger Towns and Cities, Specialist Hospitals were founded to fill the gap formed by the Voluntary Hospital omissions. Eye Hospitals, Ear, Nose and Throat Hospitals, Cripples Hospitals, Hospitals for Women and Lying In (now called Maternity). An example of this type of Hospital is the Warwickshire Orthopaedic Hospital for Children. St Gerard’s located on the Coventry Road in Coleshill.
The Poor Law Infirmaries filled the greatest void for the poor, the destitute, the sick and the aged. The large Union Workhouses had originally been opened following the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, to provide "relief" for those in poverty. It soon became clear that a large percentage of that poverty was caused by illness and disability.
All the Parishes considered within the boundary of North Warwickshire along with all the other Parishes within the Country, were divided into their respective Poor Law Unions.
The Parishes of Ansley, Atherstone, Baddesley Ensor, Baxterley, Bentley, Grendon, Mancetter, Merevale, Polesworth, Hartshill and Warton comprised part of the Atherstone Poor Law Union which was declared 16 March 1836. The stone built Workhouse was situated in Long Street, Atherstone and could accommodate 120 inmates.
Curdworth, Wishaw and Water Orton formed part of the Aston Poor Law Union which was declared 12 October 1836. The Aston Board of Guardians initially took over the Parish Workhouse located opposite The Green in Erdington, now the site of Erdington Library. A new large Union House was erected 1869 from designs by Yeoville Thomason, architect of Birmingham.
The Parishes of Coleshill, Fillongley, Little Packington, Great Packington, Shustoke, Over Whitacre, Lea Marston, Maxstoke, Nether Whitacre and Corley partly comprised the Meriden Poor Law Union which was declared 14 March 1836. The brick built Workhouse situated in Meriden was able to accommodate 120 inmates.
The Parishes of Austrey, Kingsbury, Middleton, Newton Regis, Seckington and Shuttington were part of the Tamworth Poor Law Union which was declared 8 March 1836. The Workhouse for this Union was erected 1856 on the Wigginton Road in Tamworth.
Bedworth was one of twelve Parishes within the Foleshill Poor Law Union which was declared 28 June 1836. The Workhouse, near Foleshill Hall, Old Leicester Road, was built in 1859 and could accommodate 248 inmates.
Nuneaton Poor Law Union was declared on 22 March 1836 and comprised the Parishes of Arley, Astley, Attleborough, Bulkington, Caldecote, Chilvers Coton, Nuneaton and Weddington. The Chilvers Coton Workhouse erected in 1800, situated on a hill and built of stone was taken over for use by the Board of Guardians following the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834.
Changes in social opinions and values led to the requirements of separate accommodation for those young, ill or disabled. The addition of an 80 bedded Infirmary at Nuneaton Workhouse was made in 1905 at a cost of £12,000.
A Children’s Home was built during 1912 to accommodate Children away from the Nuneaton Workhouse surroundings, located in Henry Street it cost £1,470. Children’s Homes were also provided by the Meriden Guardians and Cottage Homes were provided by the Aston Poor Law Union for the Children in their care.
Infectious Disease cases were sometimes admitted to separate blocks within Workhouses or often separate hospitals were provided by the Local Authority under the control of the Medical Officer of Health. Sanatoriums were operated on the basis of separation. There were a number of such Hospitals within the boundaries of North Warwickshire, including Atherstone rural District Isolation Hospital for Infectious Diseases located in Grendon, and Nuneaton Isolation Hospital on Mancetter Road and at Bramcote, which later became Bramcote Hospital.
The Warwickshire and Coventry Joint Committee for Tuberculosis maintained a number of Dispensary’s including those at 35, Coton Road Nuneaton and 5 Market Street Atherstone. In addition to the Dispensary’s the Committee ran the King Edward VII Memorial Sanatorium at Hertford Hill near Warwick, officially opened 1924 and able to accommodate 225 patients.
The mentally ill were treated as paupers, vagabonds or criminals (often being sentenced to Gaols or Reformatories) prior to any legislation, but the County Asylums Act 1808 allowed for the erection of County Asylums which became compulsory in 1845. Although there were a small number of privately maintained Asylums, there began a large increase in the number of County Asylums. The Warwickshire County Mental Hospital was opened 1852 at Hatton and consisted of 377 acres. The Hospital itself was able to accommodate 1,400 Patients.
The Midland Counties Institution, for the education and training of feeble minded patients was situated on Grove Road, about a mile to the south of the village of Knowle, and The Royal Midland Counties Home for incurables was established 1874 in Leamington Spa at the cost of £20,000.
A Medical Officer of Health for the County of Warwick was appointed in 1900 to supervise the County Council Health Services including Health Visitors, Orthopaedic Clinics, Maternity Homes, Infant Welfare Centres and Ante Natal Services.
From the Local Government Act 1930 many Poor Law Infirmaries became large Municipal Hospital’s providing healthcare for the general public. Aston Workhouse developed into Highcroft Hospital, George Eliot Hospital developed in this way from the Nuneaton Workhouse Infirmary and St Editha’s Hospital developed from the Tamworth Poor Law Infirmary.
The introduction of the National Health Service in 1948 brought free healthcare to the population. Specialist Hospitals were gradually integrated into the large general hospitals to provide specialist departments. Medical and surgical advances introduced new treatments that saw the end of any need for Infectious Disease Hospitals, many of which were modernized to provide a different type of medicine and others demolished. Bramcote Hospital for instance is now maintained by North Warwickshire Primary Care Trust.
Mental Health Care changed significantly with the introduction of "Care in the Community" and the large County Asylum buildings are rapidly being replaced by small short term units. Central Hospital at Hatton was closed during this rapid change in the 1990’s and the listed buildings converted to provide residential accommodation.
Hospitals are now redefining their provision and locating all resources onto one large site. Large new General Hospitals provide modern facilities and treatments, and the decaying architecture of the Poor Law, Voluntary and Subscription Hospital era is rapidly disappearing