A history of Cromer Hospital

The history of Cromer Hospital by Mary Northway, Chairman of the Cromer Community Hospital League of Friends.

In 2013, Cromer and District Hospital celebrated its 147th birthday, having attained 147 years of continuous progress begun in the peculiarly British spirit of voluntary service, and continued undisturbed during the first 18 years of the NHS.

In 1866 a committee, whose members names are still part of Norfolk life, purchased two cottages on Louden Road, now known as “west cottage”. The original members under the chairmanship of the Rev. F Fitch, were Lady Suffield, Lady Buxton, Mrs Gurney Barclay, Mrs Ketton, Mrs Cooper, Mrs Mott, Mrs Upcher, Mrs Hoare and Mrs Gurney. Miss Colman acted as Secretary and Manager.

The first Matron, Mrs Stokes, was at that time, to be considered thoroughly equipped for her post after 3 months training in the London hospital. We must applaud the Lady when we learn that ‘at a salary commencing at £20 per annum’, out of which she paid for her own food and for which she did the hospital’s washing. She gave efficient service for 20 years. The medical records are an ample testimony to her competence.

In relation to this appointment, it is interesting to note a committee minute of 1873 to the effect that ‘as the Matron daughter has never received any salary, but has made herself most useful to the Institution, the committee wish to present her with £5 on the occasion of her marriage’.

Six beds sufficed during the early years, but a special bed was added in 1874 for the use of accident cases. What do you think would have been the main causes of accidents in those years, bearing in mind no traffic as we know it?

Thanks to the generosity of a Mr Collison, in 1888 a new hospital was built in Louden Road, giving accommodation for 12 patients, extended by a further eight beds in 1904. These early buildings stand today, the first cottages as a simple dwelling house.

A friend was living in the cottage, and a few years ago invited me to tea one afternoon to ‘west cottage’; we sat in the garden room, which she told me used to be the morgue – as I recall, cupboard doors high in the wall, were where the bodies came through from upstairs. I think there must have been a chute as the stairs are very narrow.

The 1888 building is now the Conservation offices, and the Cottage Public House, The glazed tiles on the walls of a first floor room in this building still mark it as the original operating theatre. This building remained the hospital for 44 years.

In 1928 the Old Mill Road hospital was conceived at a public meeting, leading to the election of a committee, which first met in 1929. On 7th March 1930 Messrs Edward Boadman and son were appointed as architects and on 16th October 1930 the Rt. Hon the Lady Battersea laid the foundation stone of the building, which was erected by H. Bullen and son of Cromer.

Lady Constance Battersea of Overstrand, whose very large portrait of a chalk drawing by Frederick Sandys donated the final £1,000 to build it. This picture used to hang in the entrance hall of the old hospital.

Cromer & District Hospital was opened on 20th July 1932 by the Dowager Lady Suffield.

At the time the plans show that the building comprised an operating theatre, x ray department, a male, female and children’s wards, and five private rooms. Looking at the plan, it was definitely Matron controlled with Matron’s office, Matron’s store and a room known as the servant’s hall.

Two of the medical staff at this time are names many older people in Cromer still recall, Dr Fawkes, and Dr Vaughan, a GP by day and a Surgeon by night, as well as fitting in home visits.

I can remember having a hernia operation in 1947, I was seven years old. The operation was performed by Dr Vaughan. Dr Barclay was the anaesthetist. In those days ether was squirted onto a gauze mask held over one’s nose. I was told to count slowly – I reached 18. I spent 10 days in the children’s ward – parents visited three times a week. How very different now that a hernia repair is a day procedure operation under local anaesthetic.

The original building did not have an outpatient department, minor injury facility or the Allies unit, these were added as the services expanded. The second floor was used partly as nurses bedrooms, small, with room for a single bed, little built-in wardrobe and a chest of drawers.

With the start of the NHS in 1948, the original management committee continued to run the hospital on behalf of the NHS, until the newly constituted Cromer Area Hospital Management committee took on the task.

In December 1949, comprehensive consultant medical staff were appointed and a full range of outpatient clinics became available.

A pathology lab was established and in 1954, a new outpatient building for clinics, was opened together with a physiotherapy department. An extension of five single wounds was added to the women’s wing in 1962.

A dermatology unit, offering the latest high-tech treatment for skin cancer, was opened in 2001.

When in July 2000 it was announced that the Bernstein legacy had been left to the hospital, the then Chairman of the Friends, Mrs Betty Westrup, said it could help with the rebuilding plan, taking the pressure off the Friends, who spent a whole year raising £37,000 for equipment and amenities. This it certainly did not do, as now the public saw less need to support the Friends now that the hospital ‘had all that money’.

Today the Friends work hard to raise a few thousand pounds each year and the legacies which were regularly left, have all but disappeared.

Kate Powell was Matron from 1991-2000 during which time the range of services expanded to include more day procedures – cataract removal, endoscopy explorations and more outpatient clinics.

How times have changed – the first annual report shows that the year’s income was £314.15 (or 75p) and a balance of £80 was carried forward. Included in the expenditure was £68 for furniture – so the full expenditure for the year was £234.75.

It was obvious how essential a new hospital was, as during 2008-09 42,394 patients were treated, increasing in activity to well over 100,000 in recent years. Patient’s needs and expectations have change, with an increase in day procedures and clinics, overnight stays are no longer essential.

With the University hospital in Norwich, Cromer  serves the community by undertaking day case surgery, increasing outpatient services including same day diagnosis and cataract removals. The dialysis unit provides treatment for about 50 patients weekly. More x-ray services are now available, also a soundproof audiology unit.

The £12 million Sagle Bernstein legacy and the £1.4 million Phyllis Cox legacy have both been used to fund the new Cromer Hospital. Construction work on the new hospital began on 1 September 2010 and work was completed on the new building in March 2012 with the new car park opening in July 2012 after the old building was demolished.

The Minor Injuries Unit on the ground floor has been named after Mrs Bernstein and the Procedure Unit on the first floor of the new hospital has been named after her sister Muriel Thoms. The Audiology Unit on the first floor has been named after Phyllis Cox.

The old Davison and Barclay ward areas of the current hospital have been retained and refurbished for use as a permanent renal dialysis unit with room for expansion. The first phase of construction work started in September 2010 and completed in autumn 2012.

The tender for the new Cromer and District Hospital was won in October 2007 by Mansell, a major operating company within Balfour Beatty plc. On 23rd July 2010, the Board of Directors of the trust approved the business case for the new hospital at a cost of £14.9 million.

You can see pictures on the North Norfolk News website of the old chimney and boilerhouse being demolished by the nibbler.