Built in 1862 as a drill hall and armoury for the XI Wiltshire Volunteer Rifle Corps, the cottage hospital building in Swindon’s railway village began life designed for a completely different purpose.
However, by the end of the 1860s the pressing need in the railway community was for a hospital. The armoury was selected as being suitable for conversion and new premises was built for the Rifle Corps in the GWR Park.
Accidents in the GWR Works were an everyday occurrence. A gravestone in St. Mark’s churchyard records the death of 19 year old Frederick James Tucker ‘killed by burst boiler at Swindon works’ on June 18, 1855.
A decade later and safety precautions had improved little. Robert Hanks, 71, a fitter at the works, was crushed to death when a truck he was working under collapsed on top of him.
Locomotive Carriage and Wagon Superintendent Joseph Armstrong proposed that the GWR Company pay for the conversion of the armoury property and that additional costs be met through member’s subscriptions and fund raising . Sir Daniel Gooch donated £1,000, a sum matched by the men.
The hospital opened in December 1871 with one four bedded ward, an operating room and a room for post mortems. The cottage on the west side of the hospital became a dispensary with accommodation above for the dispenser. The 1881 census records Mary A. Jennings, the Matron, living at 44 Taunton Street and John Tod, the dispenser living at number 45.
In the Medical Fund Society’s half yearly report ending December 1883 the resignation of the resident nurse Miss Luxton was announced ‘upon her marriage’ along with the appointment of a Miss Whittaker as her successor.
The report to the Medical Fund Committee made by Drs. Swinhoe, Howse and Bromley on January 12, 1886 recorded a total of thirty patients admitted during the previous 12 months. Whilst six had died, twenty had been discharged with one remaining under treatment but ‘doing well.’
Details of the men’s accidents give an indication of the dangerous conditions in which they worked. George Turnbull, 33, a chargehand, suffered a compound fracture of the skull and died three days later.
By 1894 the incidents dealt with in the hospital were many and varied, with numerous eye injuries, referred to London hospitals, alongside tonsillectomies and circumcisions.
However, the majority of cases were still workplace accidents, sometimes treating the onlookers rather than the victim. On October 3, 1894 ‘3 glasses of Brandy for men & one porter’ were given to those who had witnessed the death of 75 year old William Clark Prizys ‘killed at work.’
Kelly’s Directory of 1898 description of the hospital indicates that the property had been enlarged and then has an ‘accident ward with 4 beds, convalescent ward containing 8 beds, an operating theatre and an additional ward added in 1898 containing 6 beds.’
In 1927 an extension was built on the site of formal gardens to the front of the hospital, increasing the number of beds to 42 and incorporating an X ray department and blood donor clinic.
The hospital was absorbed into the NHS in 1948 and eventually closed in 1960 shortly after the first phase of the Princess Margaret Hospital opened on Okus Road.
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