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

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The Frank James Hospital

The story of this hospital is well known in East Cowes, Cowes and the Island generally, and an account of the tragic death of Frank James in 1890 has been given recently by Helga Foxcroft. For the information that I have about the hospital I am particularly indebted to Mrs. Elizabeth (Heather) Gray, the last Administrator of the hospital who tells me that her Great Uncle was one of the first; also to other members of the staff still serving in the hospital.

Frank Linsly James was the son of a wealthy Liverpool merchant; he kept a yacht, the Lancashire Witch, at Cowes; the guilded weather-vane atop the roof of the hospital is a representation of this yacht.

The Frank James Memorial Home was built in his memory by his two brothers, Arthur and William, on land given for the purpose, as a home for aged and disabled seamen and their wives and mainly composed of a series of single and double cabins; and so it remained for about six years. An inscription in stone above the entrance read:

'Ye who in these walls do meet,
Pray you find a safe retreat,
tho' ye fought with wind and tide,
here in Port may ye abide.
Till that day your voyage be,
whither is nor storm nor sea.'

Then in 1899 there was need for a convalescent home for soldiers from the South African War; the residents were given pensions and found accommodation elsewhere, and the home taken over for this purpose. After about three years this need faded out, and it was then suggested to the brothers by Princess Beatrice that it would be of value as a local hospital.

The brothers offered to endow it, provided that after a trial of two years they were satisfied with the management and maintenance of the hospital; meanwhile they made an allowance of £300 a year for it.

Picture of The opening of the Frank James Hospital by Princess Beatrice June 25th, 1903
The opening of the Frank James Hospital by Princess Beatrice June 25th, 1903.
Courtesy: of Beken of Cowes & Mrs E. Gray

So on June 25th 1903 the Frank James Hospital was opened by Princess Beatrice, Governor of the Island. Her signature appears in the Visitors' Book and is followed immediately by those of Arthur and William James. Regrettably this book is no longer to be seen in the hospital.

Satisfied with its performance after two years, Arthur and William James endowed it with £10,000; a trust was set up of five members including John Arthur James and E.G. Carnt Esq., and was supplemented by the sum of £766 handed over by the Trustees of the Cowes Cottage Hospital Scheme, the sum rounded up to £800 by Mr. E.G. Carnt. The land and building were handed over to the Trust on January 8th 1906. Thereafter the Frank James was very much a hospital supported by the local population and most especially for many years, so long as it existed, by the firm and employees of J.S. White, who made very many contributions and gifts.

In 1909 they gave funds for the installation of X-ray apparatus and also furniture and fittings to make a small four bedded childrens' ward. Princess Beatrice remained President of the hospital and among many other local names those of Mr. Mundell who collected funds, and of Mr. W. Ball, the Treasurer who gave advice on structural alterations, and Mr. E.G. Carnt and his brother W.G. Carnt of Manchester Royal Infirmary who gave advice about the X-ray installation, may be mentioned.

The year's income of the hospital reported upon at the annual meeting of 1910 was £1,790-5s-7d; £300 of this was given by the employees of J.S. White for the above X-ray installation and childrens' ward, and tribute was paid to Lee Densham Esq. who opened the ground of Norris Castle to the public at the Naval review the previous year, the admission charges giving the hospital £61.

Expenditure for that year was £1,692; the cost of the X-ray installation and childrens' ward had amounted to £334-15s-3d; £200 had been put in the emergency fund; nursing salaries were £183, and other salaries amounted in all to £85-15s-7d including the gardener; dressings, drugs and appliances cost £3-12s-10d; ale and stout, wine, spirits and minerals £28-8s-5d; provisions in all £370-18s-4d; fuel and light £122-9s-7d.

154 patients had been admitted that year and 156 discharged. The average stay was just under 21 days which indicates that the bed occupancy must have been just about 11, presumably the total number of beds was somewhat more than this, - perhaps 14 or 15. 37 patients were classified as medical, 107 as surgical, and 11 as dental; 99 came in on their doctor's recommendation, 25 as a result of accidents; 18 were emergency admissions; 14 were paying patients; and 9 had Typhoid Fever. 5 patients died; 130 were discharged, cured, and 16 relieved; 5 left at their own request, and 9 remained in hospital. 96 came from Cowes, 39 from East Cowes, 19 from Whippingham, Osborne, Gurnard and Northwood, and 4 from yachts and 7 from elsewhere.

An operating theatre was provided in 1912; Dr Mayo, a practitioner in Cowes did the first operation.

In 1938 a large addition was built at the south end of the hospital providing a 12 bedded ward for men with an annexe which served, at times anyhow, as a day/smoking room. This was opened by Sir Godfrey Baring and was known as the George V Memorial Wing.

The local practitioners of East Cowes and Cowes provided the medical staff and had the right to admit and treat their patients there; they worked a rota so that one was always available on call. There was no official out-patient department, but local minor casualties would go there as an alternative to the doctor's surgery and would be dealt with, - as happened in other such local hospitals; in those days the population in the neighbourhood of a hospital' always expected it to provide a service for casualties.

As the different special departments became operative at the County Hospital and elsewhere, - E.N.T., Ophthalmic, Orthopaedic, Pathology, etc., consultants dealing in these matters would visit the hospital when their advice was sought.

Right up to 1948 the hospital was dependent to a degree upon local contributions; in 1910 annual subscriptions had yielded £140; workshop collections £367, congregational collections £36, entertainments £29, in all nearly one third of the total income; paying patients had yielded £217 and interest on shares, the endowment, £343; it is not surprising that Cowes was unwilling to join in the contributory scheme which the Royal County Hospital set up in 1936, - it had its own in place.

Picture of Frank James Hospital with some of its staff
The Frank James Hospital with some of its staff. Courtesy: of Mrs E. Gray

Anyone going into the Frank James is soon aware of its association with the community, and with East Cowes most particularly.