A History of the Isle Of Wight Hospitals by E. F. Laidlaw

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The Military and Naval Hospitals

Two small military hospitals were, for a time at least, well known on the Island; and the one at Albany Barracks certainly played some part in the general life of the Island.

The barracks were built during the time of the Napoleonic wars, - around 1790A.D. William B. Cooke in "A New Picture of the Isle of Wight" in 1808 wrote 'Not far from the House of Industry stands the barracks... Near it is the hospital containing a number of convenient wards, and nothing is wanting for the recovery and comfort of its afflicted inhabitants'.

Map of the Military Hospital serving the Golden Hill Fort.
The Military Hospital serving the Golden Hill Fort. The first hospital was incorporated within the Fort. Courtesy: Ordnance Survey

The Ordnance Survey Map of 1862 shows a building about 90ft x 40ft, and that of 1940 shows the same building but with additional wings on either side, and some smaller associated buildings; these occupied ground to the south-west of the main barracks and parade ground, which is now covered by a complex of roads and houses on the north side of the Forest Road; the military cemetery lies on the opposite side of the road, but in the early days there was also a small burial ground to the north-west close to the forest; what is not shown on the map is the nearby spot 'with an erected gallows, the common place of execution' which Cooke mentions.

The hospital would presumably have served whatever component of the Army was occupying the barracks at the time and possibly patients from other barracks on the Island; there were a number of occasions over the years in which its history relates to that of the Island hospitals; before St. Mary's became a hospital with facilities for surgery, the surgeons at the Albany Barracks were called in to Parkhurst Prison Hospital when operative treatment was required for patients there.

Later towards the end of the Second World War when the two part-time Medical Officers to the Infirmary were in difficulties, Major Davies, as already mentioned, lent a hand and provided what medical care was needed at St. Mary's. Certainly also, after the heavy air-raid on Cowes in June 1942, a number of casualties were taken to the military hospital and treated there; and years later when orthopaedic beds were in short supply and waiting lists were lengthening, the Regional Board arranged with the authorities for a few beds to be available at the barracks hospital. The Albany Barracks were abandoned some time in the 1960s and the hospital must have gone with them giving place to the high security prison at Albany.

The hospital at Golden Hill Fort had a shorter life than that at Albany. Details of the building and the history of the fort are given by Cantwell & Sprack in Solent Papers 2, from which this brief account is largely taken. The fort was built between 1863 and 1870, as a part of the defences against anticipated hostile attacks from the Continent, - a hexagonal building of two storeys, accommodating 8 officers, 128 other ranks, and with a hospital of 14 beds, on the south aspect of the upper storey, - as is indicated now in explanatory notices for visitors. Cantwell comments that there was a wind pump on the roof above so that the hospital cannot have been a very restful refuge.

Towards the end of the century the fort took on the function of the Western District School of Gunnery; new buildings were put up to the north of the fort and a new hospital was built on the far side of the main road leading from Yarmouth to Colwell and Totland. (See Fig. 12)

In Shipwrecks of the Wight J.C. Medland gives an account of the collision on 25th April 1908 in the Solent of the cruiser H.M.S. Gladiator and the American Express Mail Liner, St. Paul; and mentions that several survivors from the wreck were rescued by soldiers from Fort Victoria and taken to the Golden Hill Fort Hospital and treated there.

In 1912 two of the three blocks comprising the hospital were taken over to be used as quarters and as an officers' mess for the Royal Garrison Artillery.

The Army left the Fort and the associated buildings in 1962 and part of the of Hospital became a Masonic Lodge.

Map of the site of the two small hospitals serving the Royal Naval College at Osborne.
The site of the two small hospitals serving the Royal Naval College at Osborne.
Courtesy: Ordnance Survey

After the Royal Naval College at Osborne was opened in 1903, two small hospitals were associated with it; both were placed on the opposite, west side of the road from East Cowes to Whippingham; the larger one, termed the Infectious Hospital was made up of four ward blocks plus buildings for administration, admission and discharge (really a gate lodge) and one for disinfection, presumably for clothes and bedding; the other hospital, called the Isolation Hospital was some way off, close to the river and just south of the cemetery and what is now a power station. It was much smaller than the other.

The Naval College was closed in 1921; the site of the Upper Hospital and possibly the buildings themselves became for a time the East Cowes Holiday Camp; later it became, and remains, associated with the industrial complex of Saunders Roe and its successors at East Cowes. The buildings which provided the four wards still exist and may be identified on the modern O.S. maps. One supposes that the larger hospital with several wards was available for epidemics of infectious diseases which were apparently not uncommon among the Naval cadets who numbered up to 600 at a time; and the smaller one, remote from the college was perhaps intended for Naval personnel possibly returning from stations overseas with communicable diseases.

It was said in the minutes of the Ventnor and Undercliff Hospital about 1925 that the Council was considering purchasing the Osborne Infectious Diseases Hospital; possibly this was the hospital under consideration, - clearly the idea was abandoned.

I am indebted to Mr. A. Freeman of the English Heritage Commission at Osborne for my information about these two small hospitals and for the map, Fig. 13)

Parkhurst Prison Hospital

The hospitals at Albany Barracks and Parkhurst Prison Hospital, besides their spatial propinquity have it in common that they provided for what may fairly be called a captive clientele exclusively male, and a population officially directed to the Island rather than one born there or coming there from choice.

Parkhurst Prison was initiated about 1840 as a training establishment for boys sentenced to transportation, generally to Australia or New Zealand. About 4,000 boys in all passed through Parkhurst, but after the practice of transportation ceased it became for a time a prison for women; but from 1869 it was exclusively a male prison. The hospital is a separate building within the prison confines; a four storey building with four wards and a number, about 40, of single cells or rooms; it also came to include a radiological department, an operating theatre and a physiotherapy department.

Before the days of the Health Service, the Medical Officers at the prison provided medical care for the prison staff and their families, visiting them at home if needed, and serving in fact as their General Practitioners; and a part of the hospital was set aside for the staff and their families who might need hospital care. In the early days, as mentioned, surgeons came from the adjacent Albany Hospital when needed, to operate upon the inmates of the Prison Hospital; this presumably came to an end when the barracks were closed or empty, and later local consultants were called in as required; Mr. Wilson Harlow during his years at Ryde undertook most of the surgery and was officially appointed as Surgeon to the Hospital, and was followed in this appointment by Mr. Gordon Walker; but other consultants, also visited especially Mr. Philip Grimaldi and Mr. Heckford who did ear, nose and throat work and ophthalmology there. When the other prisons in the neighbourhood, Camphill and Albany came into being, the Parkhurst Hospital served both these as well, so that it dealt with a total population of as many as 2,000; but in addition to its local function it served and continues to serve as a centre within the National Prison Service for psychiatry; prison inmates from all over the country have been brought to Parkhurst for psychiatric treatment and for some time regular sessions for electro-convulsion treatment was held, first at Whitecroft and later within the hospital itself until this form of treatment dropped out of favour. For a short time, about the turn of the century and because of overcrowding in Broadmoor Hospital, while Rampton was being built, a part of Parkhurst Prison was designated as an asylum for the criminally insane; but this was not considered a successful arrangement, in part because of lack of trained staff, and it was soon discontinued.

Another speciality of the Prison Hospital within the Prison Service was the treatment of respiratory disease and especially of Pulmonary Tuberculosis, and considerable numbers of patients from other prisons were moved there for such treatment in the 10 to 15 years after the introduction of the Health Service and before the need for treatment for Tuberculosis became less demanding.

During these years a solarium was constructed in order to provide the patients with abundant sunlight and daylight and when the flow of tuberculous patients ceased it was converted into the physiotherapy department.

Five Medical Officers were employed at the hospital, three attached especially to Parkhurst Prison itself and one each for Albany and Camphill, but all co-operating in the work of the hospital; also a number of local General Practitioners used to do some work there on a sessional basis. At all times patients sufficiently seriously ill to require it could be and were moved to hospitals within the region, mostly to the local hospitals on the Island.

All the hospital staff are of course employees of the Home Office as are the rest of the prison staff; the hospital workers are ranked as hospital officers, but a number of them, about one third of the total, having nursing qualifications, and in recent years an increasing number of female trained nurses are working there.

I am grateful to Dr David Cooper who gave me most of the information in this short account of the Prison Hospital.