THE NHS celebrated its 70th birthday recently, but what of our own Small Hospital?
In the 19th Century, with the growth in the needle industries Redditch was a hub of manufacturing, yet the town didn’t have a hospital.
In 1892, Edwin Smallwood, a needle manufacturer, died on July 15, leaving in his will £5,000 for the construction of a Cottage Hospital in Redditch.
Soon after the executors of his will met and, with an additional donation of £15,000 from Edwin’s brother William the plan gelled to build the hospital here in Redditch, to be ‘forever called “The Smallwood Hospital” and to be for the benefit of the inhabitants of Redditch and its neighbourhood’.
By 1893 work had started on the Church Green West site and it was opened in 1895 – to much rejoicing – and featured an eight bed ward, children’s ward, operating theatre, nurses’ station, outpatients department, store rooms and servants quarters.
This being pre-NHS days the hospital had an ‘endowment’ of £10,000, interest from which, it was estimated, would bring in about £400 a year to run it.
This wasn’t enough to run it and various fund raising ventures were organised for the hospital, including flower shows and a hospital Saturday fund, where in exchange for paying a penny from their wage packets workers could be treated for free.
There were cycle parades, plays, fundraising football matches, an angling competition and the annual Redditch Carnival.
By 1948 and the dawn of the NHS it was becoming increasingly clear that Smallwood, dependent on local doctors and visiting consultants for its services and with only 32 beds and a Casualty Department was struggling to meet demand.
The nearest maternity services were in at Evesham, inaccessible by public transport, Bromsgrove and Worcester.
All Saints General Hospital at Bromsgrove had been built as a prefabricated Second World War Hospital and its buildings had a limited future and pressure was building for the town to have its own district general hospital.
When the then Prime Minister Jim Callaghan visited the town in 1976 he was met with banners inscribed with ‘Redditch is Dying for a Hospital’.
Five years later the first sod was cut at the Woodrow site and construction of the Alexandra Hospital, in a modular ‘H’ style so it could be easily expanded, began.
With thanks to: Derek Coombes of Redditch Local History Society
The Health of Redditch by Angela Webster.