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House to Hospital

1857

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Following the death of Thomas Alderson Cooke in 1854 his Priestgate Mansion was bought by the 3rd Earl Fitzwilliam in 1856. He gifted it to the city to be used as the city’s first hospital, the Peterborough Infirmary. It was ready to be used as a hospital by 1857, accepting both male and female patients. The infirmary was run by a charitable trust who relied on donations. The house remained Peterborough's Infirmary until 1928.  





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Alfred Caleb Taylor and the First X Ray Machine...

1896

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Alfred Caleb Taylor was born in Newark-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire in 1861 and came to Peterborough aged ten. He worked at the Peterborough Infirmary on Priestgate from 1880 as a dispenser. He also served as Secretary of the Infirmary from 1889 until his retirement in 1926. Mr Taylor had a keen interest in photography and chaired the Peterborough Photographic Society. This carried over into an interest in X-rays being an early advocate of X-ray technology. In 1896 he designed and built his own equipment under the stairs in the infirmary. This device, the first X-ray machine in the United Kingdom outside London, was powered by accumulators. They were recharged at a local flour mill as there was no public electricity supply at that time. When an electricity supply was available in Peterborough, Mr Harry Cox, from London, was consulted regarding a larger installation. Many people made donations towards the new x-ray apparatus; Mr Andrew Carnegie, Peterborough’s first Freeman kindly donated £125 towards the installation.  As with the photography of the time the images produced by the X-ray machines were positives rather than negatives.

Radiography

As the science of radiography was so new, the danger of exposure to X-rays was unknown.  Taylor worked with the x-rays so often, that it badly affected his health.  He contracted radiation poisoning resulting in the loss of four fingers, three on the left hand and one on the right. Despite this he never expressed any regrets and said, “I have only done my duty, and if I have sacrificed bits of my fingers so that I am not able to tie up my shoes laces, I feel I have been compensated, for I have loved the x-ray work and its excitements. For all the trouble I had at the beginning I have been more than compensated by your appreciation, and although I have lost bits of fingers, I would still do the same if I had my life to come again.” Alfred Caleb Taylor died on the 6th of July 1927, a pioneer and martyr.  





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Victorian Operating Theatre

1897

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The first purpose-built operating theatre was opened in 1897. It was built as an extension to Peterborough Infirmary. It provided state of the art care for the people of Peterborough, incorporating the most up to date medical ideas. These ideas included the use of anaesthesia and keeping the theatre meticulously clean.  So many things we take for granted in the twenty-first century were new ideas to the Victorians. However, these new ideas still save lives now. It was originally lit by gas lighting and had a glass roof to maximise light. The funds to build the operating theatre came from two Peterborough women who chose to remain anonymous, they went by the name 'Heliotrope'. The Victorian operating theatre is open to visitors to Peterborough Museum. It still contains many of its original features including the glazed white tiles. Replicas of the tools used in the past are also on show. A small case details some of the people who worked in the operating theatre.





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The Black Death

1349

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The Black Death (or the Great Pestilence as it was known then) hit Peterborough. This is a terrible disease carried by the fleas on black rats, though at the time it was thought to have been caused by bad air. Approximately a third of the townspeople and 32 of the 64 monks at the monastery perished in a matter of weeks, and many of those who died were buried in mass burial pits to the west of the town, in the burial ground of the leper hospital of St Leonard. A higher proportion of monks died perhaps because they were helping tend to the sick. The plague returned to Peterborough on many occasions causing a great deal of death and suffering until the last outbreak in 1665.





Peterborough Infirmary Fire

1884

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At midday on 9th May 1884 there was a disastrous fire at Peterborough Infirmary in Priestgate. The infirmary contained 100 patients who were hauled outside onto the grass to safety, along with as much medical equipment as could be saved. Some of the first newspaper reports suggested that patients were still inside the building when the roof collapsed, but these rumours were unfounded and everybody was accounted for; the patients were driven away in cabs or moved to a building supplied by the Dean and Chapter.  The fire was caused by an overheated flue and caused £5,000 worth of damage. The lack of accessible water to extinguish the fire and deficiencies of the Fire Brigade led to the formation of the Peterborough Volunteer Fire Brigade.





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Stories From Skeletons

200-400AD

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We have a fascinating insight into Roman lives in what is now Ferry Meadows thanks to the Coney Meadow Cemetery, which was in use around 200-400AD. Over 40 skeletons were discovered of men, women and also children from Roman Peterborough. Archaeologists discovered that the people who were buried here had tough lives, through analysis of the skeletons.  These skeletons give us an understanding of death and disease in Roman Britain. They discovered a family with arm abnormalities and children with ear infections. They also found women with new-born babies, who may have died from complication associated with birth. Recently 3 of the skeletons were subjected to DNA analysis. Scientists were able to date the skeletons to the mid to late Roman period. One of the skeletons, know as 'skeleton 24' was identified as a woman. She had a bone bracelet and bone comb with her when she died, which were both dated to the fourth or early fifth centuries. DNA analysis revealed that she was alive somewhere between 240AD and 390AD. Combined with the bone objects, this reinforces the likelihood that the woman was alive in the late fourth century. There were also fragments of cheap, rough pottery close to the burials on Coney Meadow Cemetery. The lack of expensive pottery suggests these were everyday Romans and not the elite and therefore better representative of other Romans.





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St Leonard’s Leper Hospital Established

1125

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Founded before 1125,  St Leonard's Hospital was a leper (or lazar) house supported through almsgiving by Peterborough Abbey. Leprosy was particularly prevalent at this time though such houses also provided for other categories of ill and destitute people. St Leonard’s became known as “The Spital”. [Spital was a Middle English term used to describe a hospital or its endowed land.] It was still in existence in the 16th century and is assumed to have closed at the time of the dissolution of the monastery. It was probably located close to the northern end of Peterborough railway station with its own cemetery to the west. It gave its name to St Leonard’s Street which was the section of Bourges Boulevard which now runs past the station. Associated with the hospital was a healing spring or well which was still documented in the mid 17th century.    





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The National Health Service is Born

1948

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On the 5th of July 1948, Health Secretary Aneurin Bevan launched the National Health Service (NHS) at Park Hospital in Manchester. Its ethos was to provide health services for all, free at the point of delivery.  For the first time, hospitals, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, opticians and dentists  were brought together, nationally,  in one organisation.





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Peterborough Memorial Hospital Opens

1928

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The Memorial Hospital was opened by Field Marshal Sir William Robertson in 1928, as a memorial to those of the city and the 6th Northamptonshire Regiment who died in the First World War, it replaced the Peterborough Infirmary; the building that had housed the infirmary becoming  Peterborough Museum. When the Memorial Hospital opened it had six wards in three blocks: separate male and female surgical and medical wards, an accident ward and a children's ward. It had 150 beds, two operating theatres, a radiology department, a small casualty department, and outpatients, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy departments. A separate hospital at Fengate was used to treat infectious diseases. The Memorial hospital was transferred to the newly formed National Health Service in 1948.





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Opening of Peterborough District Hospital.

1968

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After the Second World war the Memorial Hospital was no longer big enough to deal with Peterborough's health needs and in 1968 it closed and Peterborough District Hospital opened, incorporating the Memorial Hospital as the Memorial Wing. Peterborough District Hospital had 357 beds, five operating theatres, an accident and emergency department, outpatients clinics, as well as radiology and pathology services, an  intensive care unit  and surgical and medical specialist units. In 1988 Edith Cavell Hospital in Bretton was opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, it was built to complement the services provided by Peterborough District Hospital. Peterborough District Hospital closed in 2010.





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