The fascinating history of nine Norfolk hospitals

The Great Hospital, Norwich. Picture: Sonya Duncan

The Great Hospital, Norwich. Picture: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Sonya Duncan

As the nation unites in gratitude for our NHS, and celebrates the courage, skill and dedication of its staff, we dip into Norfolk hospital history

The James Paget Hospital in Gorleston is named in honour of one of the world’s most gifted doctors, surgeons and scientists - born in Great Yarmouth in 1814. James Paget identified and developed treatments for several conditions which were then named after him, including a bone disease, a form of breast cancer, a recurring abscess and a deep vein thrombosis. He also first identified carpal tunnel syndrome and is remembered as the founder of the scientific study of the causes and effects of diseases. He pioneered the use of the microscope to study tumours, was surgeon to Queen Victoria, a friend of Charles Darwin and supported women becoming doctors. He opened Great Yarmouth Hospital in 1886 and, almost 100 years later, the new hospital in Gorleston was named after him.

More than 770 years ago a Bishop of Norwich set up a home for old people in need, on land between the Cathedral and the river. Today his Great Hospital is still home to some of Norwich’s most senior citizens, as well as being one of the most fascinating historic sites in the country. Its buildings span nine centuries of architecture, its archives are so important they have Unesco status, it has the smallest medieval cloisters in England, and the only remaining swan pit in Britain - designed so swans brought here for fattening would not be able to get up enough speed on the water to fly away.

Today the Great Hospital is a charitable care home and sheltered housing community. Its residents live in pretty almshouses and modern apartments but the medieval dining hall is still used and one of the old wards, in which elderly women lived, high above the altar of the church into the late 20th century, has been preserved. Its tiny makeshift bedrooms and sitting rooms are built up against the tracery of the church windows. The church, renowned for its ceiling painted with 252 eagles in honour of the visit of the Queen of England in 1383, was partitioned to create men’s and women’s wards at either end, many centuries ago. The central area is still a working parish church

World famous 19th century singer Jenny Lind, known as the Swedish nightingale, performed several concerts in Norwich. One of her arrivals to sing in the city was marked peals of church bells. She donated profits from her concerts to charity and the money raised in Norwich funded a new children’s hospital, which opened in Pottergate in 1854. The Jenny Lind Children’s Hospital was only the second dedicated hospital for children in the country (the first was Great Ormond Street.) Today’s Jenny Lind Children’s Hospital is part of the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

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At one point Jenny Lind was managed by PT Barnum and her story is part of the 2017 film The Greatest Showman. Norwich is not the only place to continue to honour her (in the name of city park as well as the hospital) There is a chapel in Worcester, a hotel in Hastings, a district in Glasgow, street names across the United States and even a soup made with chicken, cheese, sage, eggs and cream.

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn is named after Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, who became a patient there herself in 1998 when she broke her hip at Sandringham. The current Queen opened the Arthur Levin Day Surgery Centre in 1999 and the Macmillian Cancer Unit in 2002 – and was also a patient herself in 2003, for a scan of her knee.

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Lazar House on Sprowston Road, Norwich, contains the remains of a hospital for people suffering from leprosy, founded more than 900 years ago by the first bishop of Norwich.

North Walsham Hospital was built in honour of the 99 men from the town, and 80 from surrounding villages, who gave their lives in the First World War. The little hospital was built with two single private wards and two three-bedded public wards, plus an operating theatre. By the 1930s there was a children’s ward with three cots. In 2011 the old cottage hospital was closed but its war memorial stone was moved to the site of the new North Walsham and District War Memorial Hospital on Yarmouth Road.

Cromer Hospital began in 1866 as a pair of cottages on Louden Road, bought by a committee to be turned into, literally, a cottage hospital. The cottages later became the Cottage pub, while the hospital moved to Old Mill Road in the 1930s. It was rebuilt thanks to a £12 million legacy from Cromer woman Sagle Bernstein, in thanks for the care her sister, Muriel Thoms, had received at the hospital. Parts of the hospital are named after the sisters.

The Julian Hospital on Bowthorpe Road, Norwich, was originally an isolation hospital, built in the 1890s to care for patients with infectious diseases. A tuberculosis block was added in 1925. Opposite was the Norwich Workhouse – now part of Norwich Community Hospital.

England’s first purpose-built sanatorium to treat people with tuberculosis in the open air was opened at Gimingham, near Mundesley, in 1899. A mile from the sea, all the rooms for patients faced south with verandas and views across countryside. Mundesley Hospital was founded by Frederick Burton-Fanning a doctor at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, who had been inspired by fresh-air treatment for tuberculosis in Switzerland. He chose Mundesley for its dry climate, fresh air and sunshine. There were wooden huts on wheels which could be turned away from the wind so that patients could spend all day, and sometimes nights too, in the fresh air. Dr Burton-Fanning also created Mundesley’s golf course to help his patients take gentle exercise. One was six times open golf champion Harry Vardon, who helped design the course and achieved the only hole in one of his career at what is now the sixth hole. Mundesley Hospital is now a mental health clinic called The Southern Hill Hospital.

More: Try this fun Norwich history picture quiz

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