Lewes Hospital for Infectious Diseases – The 1930s, and closure

Lewes Hospital for Infectious Diseases > The 1930s, and closure

The Nurse / Matron and Caretakers wages were increased by £15. to £125 from August 1st 1929. At the first meeting in 1930 the Chairman reported that the hospital staff had expressed their appreciation for the arrangements made for the happiness and comfort of the children at the hospital on Christmas Day and thanked those that had sent seasonable gifts. The Medical Officer reported on the cases of Scarlet Fever and Diphtheria dealt with at the hospital during the previous October and November and reported that the outbreak had now subsided, there being only three patients still receiving treatment. Thanks were recorded to the Matron for her highly satisfactory work in the weeks prior to Christmas. She was granted a further £5 plus an extra week’s leave when convenient. Early this year both the Matron Mrs. Cowlam and the Ward Maid were ill and further domestic help was authorised.

Twenty-one cases of Scarlet Fever 

An outbreak of scarlet fever was reported on May 3rd which continued until May 28. 33 notifications were received and 21 of these were admitted. A maximum of 22 were at the hospital at this period but by July 17th only three cases remained.

Miss. R. Penticost was engaged as a Ward Maid on July 26th at a salary of £36.  She had been engaged temporarily. The Matron had arranged for a holiday from August 10th and a replacement for her would remain on duty for the period of her absence. At the October meeting the Chairman reported that it was found necessary to recall the Matron and Caretaker from holiday as their replacement had been taken ill.  They agreed to return and to take their holiday at a later date.

The chairs in the hospital were stated to be in an unrepairable condition and it was agreed that although some could be repaired others would need to be replaced and the committee decided that new ones would be procured in the near future.  Other minor repairs would be left in the hands of Councillor Pennington. Councillor Miss Kate Fowler-Tutt was appointed chairman for the ensuing Municipal Year.  Councillor J.T.F.Carter, J.P. (Mayor) would attend meetings for the present year (1931).

The Medical Officer of Health reported on his visits to the hospital in the last quarter and at the present time, the hospital had no patients. However at the next meeting he stated that three cases of Diphtheria had been admitted during the last period and that a night nurse had been engaged from February 21st to March 8th and another nurse on April 21st, who was still engaged there.

The following tradesmen were appointed for the supply of goods to the hospital for the year beginning June 25th 1931. 

W.R. Lovesey Grocery
A.J. Reed Milk
Coppard & Likeman Fish
A.Appleby Meat
H.Pinyoun Bread

The salary of the Nurse/Matron and Caretaker was to be increased by £15 to £140 a year, plus rooms, board, coal, light and uniforms from May 1st. The Caretaker presented a list of cleaning materials required at the hospital and the committee agreed these. In July the Medical Officer reported on his visit and said that as well as three cases of Diphtheria, 14 cases of Scarlet Fever had been admitted, although one had since left as cured. By October all the fever patients had left and no new patients admitted.

The Chairman and Councillor Newling said several trees in the grounds which overhang the roadway leading to the hospital needed attention and it was agreed that Councillor Kenward and the Borough Surveyor look into the matter and have any necessary work carried out.  Also the entrance path to the hospital would need improving and this would also be looked into.

The Borough Accountant presented a draft estimate of expenditure for the year ending March 31st 1933 which totalled £828, £99 more than the previous year. At this meeting following a report by the hospital keeper it was resolved that the present contract for the supply of fish to the hospital was cancelled and that Mr. F. Bastable of Western Road be appointed for fish supply until June 24th 1933.

The Surveyor reported on instructions from the Chairman that he had examined the boiler range in the hospital keeper’s quarters and found it beyond repair. Tenders for the supply and fixing of an ‘Ideal Cookheat’ range were obtained and that of Messrs. Arter and Brook for this item costing £12 3s. 6d. was accepted. The Town Clerk had received a letter from Seaford UDC asking if the committee would be prepared to accept cases from Seaford for a period of three years and enquired charges, etc.  He replied to the council but nothing more was heard. Should the matter re-appear a special meeting may be held.

Early in 1934 the Chairman reported an accident at the hospital which occurred on January 20th when a dresser in the Matron’s quarters fell and considerably injured her.  Consequently she would not be able to carry out her duties for some time. They recorded their sympathy and their hopes for a speedy recovery.  Because of her incapacity should any cases of Diphtheria be reported, arrangements would be made, if possible, for patients to enter the Chailey Isolation Hospital. The present Ward Maid sent a letter of resignation because of ill health which was accepted with regret and authority was given to engage another ward maid at a wage of £36 per year, plus board etc.

In October the Ministry of Health sent a representative, Dr. Donaldson to inspect the hospital.   The Chairman and Dr. Dunstan accompanied Dr. Donaldson on his visit which proved satisfactory.  A letter from Chailey Rural District Council stated that their ambulance was in need of repair and if necessary would they be willing to loan theirs. It was agreed that they would do so.

By the end of February the Matron had not fully recovered from her accident and it was agreed that two weeks sick leave would be given to her. Arrangements were made for carrying out her duties until she recovered. Another Ward Maid was employed on a month’s trial at £30. a year.   Following her month’s trial she had been engaged permanently, also another Nurse to deal with Scarlet Fever cases was employed as Dr. Dunstan was ill. Less than six weeks after her appointment the Ward Maid resigned and steps were taken to engage another at a reduced wage of £18 a year. They also engaged a woman for two days a week at a wage of 5s. 6d. and also engaged her for two weeks while the Matron was on holiday at a rate of £1 a week.

The Clerk reported that the tradesman supplying groceries had informed him that he had transferred his business and would it be acceptable for the new owner to carry on the hospital contract. They regretted that they were unable to grant his request and the contract was terminated. Mr. Day of New Road would supply the hospital in future. Miss I. Hollands, who had completed a months trial as Ward Maid proved efficient and was taken on full time at a salary of £36 a year, plus £5 uniform allowance. However she resigned in October and Miss. K. Hare replaced her at £26 a year.

A case of Erysipelas from Lewes Victoria Hospital was admitted on the instructions of Dr.Vallence. This case would probably require additional nursing staff.

At the January 1936 meeting the treasurer reported that in view of possible changes in hospital services, to apportion the salary of the Matron and Caretaker, now fixed at £140.The wages would be fixed at £100 for the Matron and £40 for the Caretaker. This was agreed. Several children were admitted suffering from Diphtheria from Avenue House and it was agreed the upkeep of these children should be left in the hands of the Chairman, Mayor and Borough Treasurer.

At the October meeting the Clerk reported on receiving a letter from the County Council of a scheme approved by the Minister of Health regarding accommodation for the treatment of infectious diseases which would mean patients from Lewes, Seaford and Newhaven being accommodated at Newhaven. Cases of Smallpox would go to Brighton. A brief report would be prepared by the Town Clerk for consideration by the committee.

On April 20th 1939 the Town Clerk presented a Draft Order from the Minister of Health, which included the Borough of Lewes and the UDC’s of Seaford and Newhaven as a united district for hospital accommodation. The Ministry of Health asked for the council’s observations on the order which, if approved, would come into operation on October 1st 1939. No observations were made at that time.

The Draft Order was approved by the three authorities and the Hospital for Infectious Diseases in Lewes would be closed down. The Town Clerk informed the committee that the three authorities would hold a meeting to decide what steps to take. The Medical Officer referred to the number of children and adults evacuated from vulnerable areas to Lewes and requested further accommodation at the hospital. At present there were 27 beds, but if necessary it was possible to accommodate 35 patients. Authority was obtained for medical and other items to be purchased and this was left in the hands of the Chairman, Vice-chairman and Medical Officer of Health.

On October 16th 1939 the first meeting of the newly constituted Lewes, Newhaven and Seaford Joint Hospital Board was held at the Isolation Hospital, Lewes Road, Newhaven. Councillor Miss. K. Fowler-Tutt represented Lewes.  Any patients in the Lewes Hospital for Infectious Diseases were transferred and the hospital made empty. Mrs. Cowlam was Matron at the time of the closure.


Following a period when the Isolation Hospital remained empty it was refurbished by the Council and opened during the 1940’s as Nevill Place Flats. There were four flats, at number 1 lived Mr. Benjamin R. Gee, 1a Mr. and Mrs. Lionel Lee, number 2 Mr. Ernest Richardson. Number 3 was empty for a time.

St Mary’s Social Centre takes over 

In the late 1950’s when St Mary’s Social Centre were using the church hall in Highdown Road it was necessary to find alternative premises and the Council decided that Nevill Place Flats would be an ideal venue. However it was agreed that when alternative accommodation could be found for the present occupants members would renovate it and many fund-raising events were held to cover the cost of all the work involved. Finally in 1962 the building was completed and sections of the Social Centre moved into the buildings.

Over the years many alterations have been made from its original use as a hospital and today it is a fine building with many attractive features.

See also Alan Brown’s collection of newspaper cuttings and photos regarding the conversion of the Nevill Place Flats into a new home for the St Mary’s Social Centre.