THE HISTORY OF THE MINERAL WATER HOSPITAL IN BATH

BATH INSTITUTIONS MILLENNIUM SERIES

THE HISTORY OF THE MINERAL WATER HOSPITAL IN BATH
Clive Quinnell, formerly Chief Executive, on 4 September 2000

 

The official name of the Hospital is the Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases, although it is frequently called the Royal Mineral Water Hospital, and familiarly, The Min. It was the first national hospital taking patients from all over the UK, and thus the foundation of the National Health Service.
The Hospital, which is the oldest in Bath, was founded by Act of Parliament and opened in May 1742. Funds were raised largely through the activity of Richard (Beau) Nash. He was Treasurer and opened a subscription list in 1737 which raised £2,300 (now about £175,000). His statue in the Pump Room shows him holding a plan of the `General Hospital'. Many well-known names appear on this list: Dr Oliver (the first Physician), Ralph Allen, John Wood the elder (the architect for the Hospital), Lord Palmerston, General Wade (MP for Bath at the time), William Hoare (artist) and Jeremiah Peirce (the first Surgeon). The foundation stone was laid in July 1738 by the Rt. Hon. William Pulteney. All the stone for the Hospital was given by Ralph Allen from his quarries on the outskirts of the city.
The object of this Hospital, which had first been proposed by Lady Elizabeth Hastings and Henry Hoare, the banker, in 1716, was to provide access to treatment in the thermal waters of Bath for the `Sick Poor from Britain and Ireland'. A secondary object was to deal with the problem of the `Beggars of Bath'. In the 18th century the fashionable watering-place of Bath attracted swarms of beggars and the Hospital was also intended to get those who were genuinely ill off the streets. Residents of Bath were not allowed to become patients, probably because they had a right of access to the hot springs which dated back to Queen Elizabeth I. This rule remained in force until 1835. In order to cover the cost of sending patients home when their treatment was finished, providing necessary clothing, or burying them if they died, a sum of money (caution money) had to be deposited with the Registrar on admission. Originally £l.50 if the patient was from England and £3 if from Scotland or Ireland; this later became £3 and £5 respectively for nearly 200 years. The money was provided by the patients themselves, or by Benefactors or Boards of Guardians. The burial ground is the small piece of ground opposite the Hospital outside the old City Wall. The first Matron, Mrs. Whitlock, was appointed in 1742 at a salary of £20 p.a. and her keep.
The original Hospital consisted of the basement, ground floor and first floor of the building at the corner of what is now Union Street (at that time a narrow lane called Cock Lane) and Upper Borough Walls; the top floor was added in 1793 at a cost of £900, the architect being Thomas Ba1dwin, then the City Architect. The West Block, which now includes the main entrance to the Hospital, was completed in 1861. A large piece of Roman pavement was uncovered when the foundations were being dug. This can be seen in its original position.
At first the patients were taken to and from the Corporation Baths for treatment. They wore brass badges (a number of which are still in existence at the Hospital) giving their ward and the number of their bed. These badges were a `ticket of admission' to the Corporation Baths. They were also to prevent patients entering public houses and coming back the worse for drink. The Inn Keepers were instructed not to serve patients and risked losing their licence if they did.
In 1830 an Act of Parliament empowered the Hospital Governors to construct baths on the premises, and to lay pipes for the conveyance of Mineral water from the King's Bath. It is possible to get from the Hospital to the Pump Room through the culvert in which the pipe runs, though it is a very tight squeeze in places. Hydrotherapy, using various modern techniques, remains an important part of the treatment programme today. There is also a Physiotherapy Department containing all the modern types of apparatus for treating Rheumatic Diseases and an Occupational Therapy Department.
The Hospital has always specialised in rheumatology, but has sometimes treated other diseases. The large picture in the main staircase (painted by William Hoare) shows Dr Oliver and Mr Pierce examining three patients suffering respectively from `paralysis, rheumatism and leprosy'. The leprosy is not what we mean by this term. During the 18th century and into Victorian times the term `leprosy or a leprous affliction' was used for scabby, scaly skin diseases, such as psoriasis, impetigo, or scabies. The `paralysis' was probably the result of lead poisoning, often from pewter drinking vessels. Two of the patients in this picture can be seen wearing the brass badges mentioned above. In the background of the picture is the plan of the Hospital, engraved in 1738. A copy is still in the possession of the Hospital. The registers of the diagnosis and duration of the stay of each patient, which was often very long (100-200 days), have been kept for the period 1742 - 1949 but, unfortunately, in 1940 the detailed medical records of the period from 1742 were declared `unwanted' and destroyed.
During five Wars _ the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, the Crimean War, the South African War and World Wars I and II _ the Hospital treated casualties. During the last War the Hospital was itself a casualty. In 1942 the wing which included the old Board Room received a direct hit. Although 200 people were sheltering in the basement next to the damaged wing there were no injuries. The Chapel was also badly damaged, but received `First Aid' repairs, and was used as an Occupational Therapy Department for some time afterwards. The Chapel had several stained glass windows appropriate to the Hospital. One in the nave illustrated the story of the Good Samaritan, while seven windows in the apse illustrated incidents in the Bible dealing with the power of water.
From its foundation the Hospital has been under Royal Patronage, and has had seven Royal Presidents, the first being Frederick, Prince of Wales, in 1745, and the last, Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent, until the 5th of June 1948, when the Hospital became part of the National Health Service. Several members of the Royal Family have visited the Hospital, including Queen Mary. In 1988, the Duchess of Gloucester visited as Patron of the 250th anniversary of the foundation of the Hospital. To mark this anniversary the Hospital was granted a full achievement of arms incorporating a large number of relevant `devices' - hot springs, bones, crowns (for the royal foundation), foxgloves and a bronze mortar, the original of which is still in the possession of the Hospital from 1742.

 

In 1962 the Hospital closed for an extensive modernisation programme including much interior reconstruction. It was officially reopened by Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent, on the 28th of October 1965. During the time the Hospital was closed, temporary accommodation was provided on the Combe Park site for 50 patients to enable treatment to continue.
As part of the rebuilding scheme the Chapel was restored, though in simpler style than before, and has been fitted with projection equipment and a curtain to shut off the apse which enables it to be used as a Lecture Hall when required. By the generosity of various donors, seven stained glass windows were replaced in the apse. They illustrate the same incidents in the Bible as the original ones, but are new designs, by J. Farrar Bell, as there was no record of the original designs. In 1996, it was decided to uncover the original Victorian stone carving in the altar apse and this has added greatly to the appearance of this room, which is still used a chapel.
A Clinical Research Unit was constructed during the modernisation programme by making a third floor over part of the West Block of the Hospital. This was named the Princess Marina Clinical Wing when she reopened the Hospital in 1965. A considerable number of papers concerning various aspects of research are produced annually. Clinical research facilities are now housed in the Bath Arthritis Research Centre, across the road from the Hospital, and the wing became offices.
The Hospital has continued as an important centre for the treatment of Rheumatic Diseases and in 1974 was designated a Demonstration Centre for Rehabilitation by the Department of Health and Social Security.
In 1981, a new unit was opened, The Bath Head Injury Neuro-Rehabilitation Unit. This has proved a considerable success and is now one of the finest examples of its type in the UK, treating patients from all over the British Isles and abroad.
The Hospital became a NHS Trust in April 1991.

Donald Lovell

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