Lewes Hospital for Infectious Diseases – Early Days

At a meeting of the directors of Lewes Dispensary and the Urban and Rural Sanitary Committee at Dispensary House (now the Nat West Bank corner of High St and Friars Walk) on Monday, November 20th 1876 it was proposed that a new hospital should be erected to be called the Lewes and District Sanitary Hospital, under a board of dispensary directors.

Land on the Neville Road, owned by Mr. Baxter, was obtained and a list of rules made up. The local authority would pay the freehold for the land required.

It would always be open for infectious diseases but ‘the hospital would not be available for pauper patients’.  The Dispensary Directors would in the first place furnish it but any replacements would be obtained by public subscription.  The Directors were to fix rates for patients but in any special circumstances might increase or decrease such fees.  They should decide ways and means of obtaining donations, but in the event of a serious outbreak of disease the board would exercise its right to obtain money from the local rates.

At later meetings it was agreed to go ahead with the hospital and the excavation and building of the roadway.  Fifteen tons of flint for the roads was required and the cost of the labour to build this would be £5. Among other items required was a shed to house the hospital carriage (ambulance) …. Also the carriage itself. The cost of the carriage amounted to £10 3s. 6d. and the shed was £29 10s.  Because of the persistent bad weather the contractor Mr. Harman was unable to proceed with the work.

Lewes Dramatic Society offered to furnish one ward containing facilities for six patients, including hot and cold water.  The cost of building the hospital, two buildings plus a mortuary, was £1980 16s.9d.  The hospital contained 16 beds.  It was suggested that a husband and wife be found to run the hospital at a wage of £1 a week plus lighting and fire. Mr. and Mrs. Morley agreed to act as nurses at the wage agreed. Mr. Baxter’s legal fees were £62.

At a committee meeting on May 1st 1877, the chairman reported that the hospital was now completed.  A tablet would be erected in one of the wards thanking the Lewes Dramatic Society for its generous donation.  At this meeting, Mr. Bartlett, clerk to the three governing bodies, was paid a remuneration of £25.  Mr. Rutley, the architect, and members of the hospital committee looked over the hospital to straighten out a few minor problems, which included the non-working of the pump.  The flint road was rather bumpy and it was suggested that Coombe Rock should be used to put the road straight.

Mr. William Morley was paid £13 for the previous 13 weeks work and it was reported that it was Mr. Morley, the hospital keeper’s duty to remove patients to and from the hospital.  If necessary the Inspector of Nuisances would make arrangements with the keeper when notified of a disease.

By September, as no fever cases were at the hospital, the committee suggested that a considerable reduction in Morley’s wages should be made.  It was suggested that a standard wage of £30 a year be paid to him and extra sums be paid when the hospital had patients.  The wage of 10s. 6d. should include heating and lighting and the maintenance of grounds and shrubs. He was satisfied with the arrangement but applied for an oil lamp to replace the candle. He felt it safer.

Later in the year the hospital had two patients, a girl Akehurst who stayed four weeks at a cost of £1 1s. and a lad Hopper who stayed two weeks at a cost of 10s. 6d.  A sweep and a washerwoman were also paid this time at a cost of 5s each.  Friends and relatives of the two inmates paid the bill for their time at the hospital. Mrs. Morley was paid 16s. for the two patients.  A payment of £100 was paid into the committee’s account by the three governing bodies for the hospital’s upkeep.  They were Lewes Urban Authority, Cliff Urban Authority and the Rural Sanitary Committee.

In April 1878 the committee was informed that there were no fever patients at the hospital.  Those recently in the wards had been discharged as cured. In respect of this Morley’s wages were reduced to £6 10s. for the previous three months. Hospital expenses from March to June amounted to £51 16s. for ward items including wages. The Medical officer stated that he was happy about the apparent healthy state of the Town and if any fever patients be referred to the hospital ‘it will be found in an efficient working order’.

Early next spring it was requested that the hospital walls be oiled, presumably as a rain protective. This was done at a cost of £8 9s.  Also the convalescent ward needed attention.  At a special meeting on June 7th 1879 William Duplock,  chairman, explained that Scarlatina (scarlet fever ) had broken out at Ardingly College and the governors had decided to send all their pupils home, including the two sons of Mr. G. Nightingale of St. Annes and a son of Mr. George Harman, also of St. Annes.  It was agreed to accept the three boys in the convalescent ward for a time, as long as the necessary fees were paid.  It was agreed that the hospital ambulance could be used to bring these first reported cases to the hospital.

In June the clerk reported that Elizabeth Pearce, a servant of Miss Sinton in Southover, was admitted as suffering from Scarlatina. Both boys were discharged at this time as cured.  In September Miss Sinton met the clerk to say she thought the sum of £3. 10s. for the maintenance of Elizabeth Pearce was excessive. The committee reviewed the matter and thought it fair.  Mary Ann Billinghurst was admitted on December 13th suffering from scarlet fever, but was discharged as cured on January 10th.  Her employer, Mrs. Figgs of the High Street, was sent a bill for £2 to cover her stay in hospital.

At a committee meeting on March 2nd 1881, Mr. Robert Crosskey as Chairman informed the committee that several cheques had been paid including 17s. 3d. fire insurance, 18s. for the hire of a horse for the ambulance. The sum of £1 6s. 3d. was paid by Mr. George Martin whose housekeeper, Sarah Rooke had been a patient, also Mr. Thomas Madgewick paid 18s. 9d. being the fee paid for the nursing of his servant girl Emily Waite. The trees that had to be replanted in the grounds cost the committee £14 6s. 3d. and the housekeeper remarked that they looked very well.

In May 1881 Mr. Crosskey had been re-elected Chairman for the following year and at this time he remarked that five cases had been admitted, all of whom had been discharged as cured. The hospital still maintained its state of efficiency and is at all times available for the purpose for which it had been built. An application was made to the committee by the Board of Governors for consent to erect a tent or building for pauper patients on the upper grounds of the hospital in case of an outbreak of smallpox in the area. It was decided that if circumstances arose it would call a meeting immediately to decide further action.

Three months after this meeting two cases of smallpox were reported in the St Annes area. The first instance of the disease was supposed to have been brought from Brighton and that Clara Coote had caught it from her brother, who had convalesced elsewhere and had been cured. The other person was Joseph Hamper.  Both were of a mild form and would be admitted to the hospital as necessary.  During this time Mr. Morley continued to receive his extra wages for patients he cared for.

In January 1882 the Mayor attended the meeting at which the hospital was incorporated into the Borough of Lewes. Two members of the Borough Council were to be appointed to the hospital committee. They were Mr. Richard Brown of Landport and Mr. William Medhurst of Ranscombe.  Mr William Crosskey as chairman of the late District Hospital Committee expressed his willingness to hand over all deeds etc, to the new committee and would assist in any way possible to effect a transfer.

On February 9th the clerk read a letter from the governor of HM Prison, Lewes, enquiring if they would receive a prisoner suffering from smallpox when he was released.  They replied that it was not possible to accommodate him under the conditions for which the hospital was built. In June the same year Mr. Morley applied for an increase from 10s. 6d. to £1 a week of basic salary. The committee turned down his request. It was agreed at this time that the wards, convalescent room and other rooms should be refurnished at a cost not exceeding £13.  Estimates of possible expenditure for the next six months had been put at £60.

Alderman Adams had been elected chairman on several occasions up to 1886 and as it was almost 10 years since William Morley and his wife had taken over running the hospital, it was now agreed that their combined wages should be fixed at 16s. a week all year round, with house coal and lights free. The charges for patients would remain as before.  Mr. Morley applied to the committee for a letterbox to be sited on the main road leading to the hospital for the collection and delivery of letters. This was agreed and a box was erected at a cost of £1 19s.7d. It was requested that Mr. Morley attend all the committee meetings from April 1888 but unfortunately, at the October meeting the chairman said that Mr. Morley had been too ill to attend his first meeting and later on in the year it was stated that Mr. Morley, the Hospital Keeper had died on November 9th.  Mrs. Morley agreed to carry on at the hospital until the vacancy was filled. Adverts were to be placed in the three Lewes newspapers for a man and wife to act as Caretaker and Nurse at the hospital on the same terms as the Morley’s (16s. per week).

Following Morley’s death the committee advertised the vacancy at 16s. per week plus a further sum depending on the number of patients.  Following several replies with testimonials, etc. it was requested that Dan Pollard and wife and Alfred Eade and wife attend the committee meeting on December 20th.  Mr. Eade was asked to produce the testimonials from Uckfield Board of Guardians and the Brighton Sanatorium where he had been employed.  All were interviewed at length and finally Dan Pollard and wife were offered the vacancy. They were to take up their duties from December 29th 1888, with a three-month notice either way.  Mrs. Morley, the previous Nurse was paid £2 15s. 6d. from the committee for sundry items left at the hospital. The Chairman thanked Mr. Phillips for his donation to the hospital of several pictures and periodicals.