History of a cottage hospital

vbhouse_insideOur acupuncture college has a very interesting history and has actually been a medical establishment for more than 100 years.

It all began with Dr. John Henry Rogers, who was a local GP in East Grinstead in the 1850s and 60s. The 1861 census shows him aged 47, unmarried and living with his mother, whose birthplace is shown as Oporto in Portugal, and a servant in Green Hedges Avenue.

He had a reputation for helping those people who could not afford to pay, either for his consultation or the medicine.  For many years he ran the free dispensary in the High Street. The need for a general dispensary was identified at a public meeting in August 1858.

Dr Rogers proffered his services to the charity at its inaugural meeting. He attended the dispensary twice a week until his death. His dedication to good causes had long been established as he had been appointed Deputy Warden at Sackville College five years earlier.

Acupuncture College with a history

The cottage hospital movement was then in its infancy. It was started in Cranbrook in Surrey, in 1859, by the vicar, the Rev. Sapter, who donated a cottage for the purpose. The doctor who ran it, Albert Napper, had, as his first patient, a man whose leg he had to amputate. The second hospital opened at Fowey in Cornwall and the third in Bourton on the Water. This provided the catalyst for East Grinstead’s hospital.

The Rev Charles Crawfurd, was a curate in Bourton on the Water during the period that their hospital was being opened. He took an active interest in the project. When he returned to East Court he doubtless extolled the virtues of having such a facility. Dr. Rogers, with his background in helping the poor and sick, would have been very receptive to the idea.

Rogers decided that he would open a cottage hospital in East Grinstead. He used a cottage he owned across the road from his house in Green Hedges Avenue, It was the fifth such hospital in the country. He furnished it using money from his own pocket. The expenses of £167.9s.0d (£167.45 equivalent today of £441,700), covered the cost of the seven beds and all the equipment he needed. It seems that one of the beds was for the resident nurse. Mary Batchelor, the nurse, as she is given as the only resident of the hospital in 1871. Presumably there were no patients admitted on that particular night.

The opening of the hospital

The hospital opened its doors in early October 1863. The first patient admitted was a woman from Turners Hill with an encysted tumour on her head. No mention is made of anaesthesia, which was then not in general use by all doctors. James Young Simpson had discovered the anaesthetic properties of chloroform only sixteen years earlier. The next patient recorded in Dr.Rogers’ case book is a girl with an ingrowing toenail.  He  wrote in detail in his case book, which is on display in the museum:

“ I brought her gradually under giving ½ drachm every five minutes. She gave a slight shriek when I divided the nail, but manifested no further evidence of sensibility.”

I think it can be inferred from this that the first patient also had the benefit of chloroform.

Over the next eleven years he treated over 300 patients. In his case book he records in meticulous detail the treatment of all of them. In cases where the diet was important, he itemises this too. Beef tea, thickened with arrowroot, and toast were prescribed for one patient with a stomach complaint, for example.

He was a keen botanist and took great pride in his own garden and greenhouse. He also cultivated the garden behind the hospital and filled it with colourful flowers. The pleasant outlook his patients had must have aided their recovery. It is strikingly similar to Archibald McIndoe’s insistence on having cheerful paint and curtains into Ward 3, where his “Guinea Pigs” were, eighty years later.

Green Hedges House - acupuncture college

The original structure of the college

What became of the hospital?

In 1874 he said;

“In this district there are very many wealthy residents and landed proprietors but scarcely any volunteered to help me. … At length after having experienced for some years the meanness of the wealthy and too often the in gratitude of the poor, I closed the hospital.”

However, he auctioned the furniture and other contents of the hospital and invested the money for any future ventures of that kind.

It was to be a further thirteen years when a serious accident to Lord Henry Neville’s groom drew attention to the necessity of re-opening a hospital. This time the wealthier members of the community did raise the money needed. There had been £200 left in the funds when Dr. Rogers left. The investment now stood at over £300. This provided some of the capital for the new venture. So Rogers had left a legacy to this town which continues to the present day at the Queen Victoria Hospital.

The Sackville Dole

Rogers had been appointed Warden of Sackville College in 1871. He had started a distribution of gifts to the elderly, donated by friends and neighbour’s. All met in the College Hall and had a pleasant meeting. It became known as the “Sackville Dole”. Any money received was spent on a weekly allowance of meat. He formed a “Neale Memorial Library” and planted a “17th Century Garden” in the grounds of the College, thus persuing his botanical interests. He died suddenly on October 18th 1879 and was buried in the churchyard of St. Swithun’s Church a week later. His obituary in the church magazine for November of that year reads;

“… long will he be known, and much missed as a man of general culture and artistic taste.”

The East Grinstead Museum is curating a temporary exhibition celebrating the 150th anniversary of the opening of the first hospital in the town. Called “A Cottage Hospital Grows Up”, it runs from October 2nd until February 9th 2014.

This article is re-produced with kind permission of the East Grinstead Museum and Dorothy Hatswell