Northampton is one of the oldest towns in the country and, in 1138, was one of the first towns to establish a hospital – St John’s. The sick, poor and needy had always been given food and shelter in the monasteries but, when these were abolished by Henry VIII in about 1535, there was no provision for the sick. There were then comparatively few hospitals in the country until the 18th century.
In 1743 Dr James Stonhouse came to Northampton and, through his efforts, a subscription list was opened to provide an infirmary for the benefit of the local community. The infirmary opened on 29th March 1744 and during its first five months the infirmary treated 103 inpatients, who occupied 30 beds, and saw 79 outpatients.
The first annual report, published in September 1744, states that ‘HERE ARE NOW ADMITTED THE POOR, SICK, LAME …. AND NO MONEY GIFT OR REWARD is taken of them or their friends on any account whatever.
The hospital moved to its present site in 1793, and from there the hospital has grown in line with the local population, and we have continued to uphold the NHS principles of providing care that is free at the point of delivery.
1743 -1793 The first infirmary
A house in George Row, Northampton, opposite All-Saints Church was the original Infirmary, on a lease of £30 a year. It had 30 beds and opened in March 1744. The first patient admitted was a 13-year-old girl, Thomasin Grace. Her diagnosis was "Scald Head" and this is now thought to have been chronic ringworm. Matron Esther White earned £13 per annum and had threenurses working with her; their only skills were of a domestic nature.
The Infirmary in George Row
Patients were admitted on Wednesdays and Saturdays, with the exception of emergencies. This was to coincide with market days so the patients could be brought in by cart from the surrounding villages. Local philanthropists would finance the patient’s admission by "Hospital Letters of Recommendation". In addition to this the sum of 15 shillings was paid as "caution money". This was to cover the cost of the patient's burial, should a cure not be achieved. The rules of the Infirmary were rigid, and many medical and mental conditions were not admitted. The patient, on discharge, had to give thanks to the committee - and if the patient did not comply he/she would not be re-admitted.
By 1746 there was already a waiting list. £750 was raised in 1750 to increase the capacity to 60 beds, and in 1782 the house next door was purchased to again increase the number of beds. In 1790 Dr William Kerr (Physician) started a campaign for a new hospital to be built. The location of the George Row infirmary was unsatisfactory. The combination of the noise of the church bells, passing traffic and the town gaol next door was not considered suitable for the patients. A total of £5,000 was raised initially in subscriptions to build a new hospital on the edge of town.
1793-1900 The new infirmary
Land was purchased in Northampton Fields, and the Infirmary was built with 114 beds at a cost of £15,000, with one wing designated as a Lunatic Asylum. A road was built at the cost of £40 from St. Giles Church to the new hospital.
The hospital as built in 1793, from a painting by W F Wells
In 1835 the beds were increased due to a rise in accidents involving workers who were constructing the London to Birmingham Express Railway. The first anaesthetic was given (by a medical student) in 1847. This was only three months after the historic first anaesthetic administered inBoston, Massachusetts. More land was purchased in 1860 to protect the hospital from the encroaching town development. The proud boast in 1896 was that the new operating theatre would have electric light.
1900-1918 The hospital developments and World War 1
A new wing was built (Crockett Block) which had isolation wards and a small theatre for septic cases. Other changes were a new laundry; central heating and lifts were converted from hand-operated to electrically operated. At the outbreak of WWI wooden pavilions were built to accommodate the war casualties, and the Board Room was converted into a recreation room for their use.
All the male doctors were enlisted to serve in the RAMC, and female resident doctors filled their posts for the duration of the war. In 1914 the Hospital Week Committee raised £3,000 for the purchase of radium for the hospital.
1918-1948 Era of shoe barons and other philanthropists
1918 - George Hawkins - £3,000 to build a new Pathology Laboratory
1921 onwards - Sir James Crockett - innumerable extensions and improvements to the hospital.
1929 - Mrs J G Sears - £3,000 for the purchase of radium
1930s - Mr and Mrs J Barrett - £20,000 to build a Maternity Wing, which opened in 1935. Many further donations were given through their lifetimes.
1914-1925 —Councilor James Gribble JP started the Allied War Fund raising £40,000. The fund continued under a different name deducting regular weekly subscriptions from the local workforce. After the NHS came in the fund took another turn and became the Hospital Guild. There were many other benefactors too numerous to mention in this short history.
1948-1970s NHS and further developments
With the introduction of the National Health Service in 1948 the system of "Hospital Letters" and subscriptions ended. The various hospital committees recorded that this change of regime went smoothly. Extra land was purchased in the 1960s and in 1979 Phase 1 was opened, followed by Phase 2 in 1982. Again the hospital benefited from a generous benefactor, Sir Cyril Cripps. The Cripps Foundation funded a Post-Graduate Medical Centre in 1967, followed by the Cripps Social Centre in 1974. In the 1970s many changes took place in management and nursing structures.
1980s to the present day
The Manfield Orthopaedic Hospital, Creaton Hospital, and St Edmunds Hospital (Care of the Elderly) closed down, and these services were relocated in new departments at Northampton General Hospital.
In the present day NGH still occupies the site purchased in 1793, which has grown over the intervening years. The hospital now has more than 600 beds on a 40 acre site, employs 4,000 members of staff and has an annual turnover of £236 million.
Historical Archive open to visitors
A small team of volunteers now works on protecting the collection. A project in progress is identifying the original library from a catalogue dated 1818. This will be displayed separately within the archive. Visitors are welcomed on Wednesday mornings, or for larger groups arrangements can be made for evening visits. The archive is financed entirely by donations.
Telephone: 01604 544868 (Wednesday mornings 8.30am - 1.30 pm)