The History of Frenchay Hospital


The Sixties was a decade of much promised improvements, very few of which came to fruition. I remember there had been plans for a large Obstetric block, about where the Day Hospital is now - it was never built (see below for how it was supposed to fit into the scheme of things). I also remember many hours sitting as the medical representative on the Project Team. This team was concerned with the building programme for the hospital. On it sat the Deputy Regional Medical Officer, Regional architects, engineers, planners as well as representatives of the Hospital Management Committee. Not all our schemes came to naught, but the major ones nearly ; always had to be abandoned. One great scheme, in the late sixties or early seventies, replaced the earlier one involving the Obstetric Unit. This new scheme revolved around the concept of the 'Harness Hospital'. This proposed the construction of new hospitals around a basic 'harness' of service facilities such as heating, water and electricity; extensions and additions could then be plugged into the harness as and when the need arose. This was a national scheme and Frenchay was chosen as one of the four pilot sites around the country. A working weekend took place at the Regional Hospital Board's complex north of Bristol involving national, regional and local people. I was one of the 'lucky' ones chosen to participate; teams worked late into the night to produce ideas. The result? - nothing! The whole concept of 'Harness Hospitals' was abandoned. Nevertheless, things had happened at the hospital, one of which was funded by local donation. Vera Wilson's account reads:

In 1960 the South Western Regional Hospital Board released funds to renovate one of the verandah-type wards, formerly used as part of the children's sanatorium, and subsequently Ward 29 was converted into a 22-bedded Adult Burns Unit with adjacent dressing station. This unit was ready to receive its first patients in October, 1961.

Another milestone in Frenchay's history occurred when the group of voluntary workers known as 'The Friends of the Hospitals' were divided into two separate organisations, one to be called 'The Friends of Frenchay Hospital', the other, 'Friends of Cossham Hospital'. The first Chairman of' The Friends of Frenchay' was Mr Bert Tann, Manager of the Bristol Rovers Football Club. The Honorary Secretary was Mr John Gummow.

During the year 1960-1961 members of the Nurses' Social Club decided to raise money for an open-air swimming pool, as both an attraction and an amenity for hospital staff. When the fund had reached 2,800, the Management Committee, who had been impressed by the success of the venture, decided to support and take over the scheme, and, although the cost of constructing the pool escalated from 4,400 to 7,200, the additional funds were found. The main contractors, Messrs. Wm. Cowlin and Son Limited, commenced on site in May,1962.

The swimming pool was 60ft. by 30ft., with a depth of 3ft. 6ins. at the shallow end increasing to 6ft. 6ins. at the other. It was constructed of reinforced concrete and surrounded by a paved terrace. It had a capacity of 54,000 gallons and its rate of water-change was six-hourly. The Lord Mayor of Bristol, Alderman L.K. Stevenson, J.P., declared the pool open on 25th April, 1963.

In the same year the future development of Frenchay Hospital was under serious consideration by the South Western Regional Hospital Board. There had been several previous discussions about the rebuilding of Frenchay, but this time it seemed certain to be included in the Government Ten Year Plan.

The short-term programme covered the years 1963-1968 and the long term programme was dependent upon the availability of capital funds.

The programme of development was as follows:

Phase I: New temporary administration block; new Thoracic Theatres; temporary Accident and Emergency Department.
Phase II: Consultant Obstetric Unit (32 beds); residential accommodation for the staff of the Obstetric Unit.
Phase III: First 240-bed Tower Ward Blocks - replacing 200 beds in hutted accommodation on the southern corridor.
Phase IV: Replacement of X-ray Department;second 240-bed Tower Ward Block.
Phase V: New Accident Centre, Out-patients' Department, Dental Department, Medical Record and Physiotherapy/Occupational Therapy Unit.
Phases VI, VII, VIII: Replacement of remaining departments.

It was clearly stated at that time that Phases I and II were firmly programmed, and consequently both a Project Committee and a Project Team were set up to ensure the closest liaison between the South Western Regional Hospital Board and the Hospital Management Committee.

The Matron of Frenchay Hospital, Miss E. M. Fenwick, who had been in post for twelve years, decided to retire early to allow the appointment of a new Matron, young enough to see there building programme through the stages of planning, room loading and commissioning.

In September, 1963, Miss V.L. F. Wilson, Deputy Matron of the Royal Infirmary, Sheffield, was appointed Matron and Head of the School of Nursing. The main objective of the post was to plan the nursing service for a 1200 bedded District General Hospital, and with this in mind, the Matron designate toured new hospitals in the British Isles, Ireland and Scandinavia, before taking up post.

The new temporary administration block was built in 1964, under the architectural supervision of Burrough and Hannam, and was ready for occupation by December of that year. The old administrative block was then demolished to make way for the new Thoracic Theatre complex.

It is interesting to note that in 1964 the hospital bed allocation was 544, the bed occupancy 95%, and the weekly cost, per in-patient, was 37 12s. 6d.

The proximity of the new Severn Bridge, and its busy linking motorways, made it necessary to plan an Accident Service at Frenchay Hospital.

One of the minor capital works carried out in 1966 was the amalgamation of the Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy Units in a building off the Front Ramp, thus releasing a former ward on the back ramp for reconversion into a female orthopaedic ward. The male orthopaedic beds were obtained when twenty male surgical beds were transferred to Cossham Hospital and the orthopaedic work transferred to Frenchay.

The new temporary Accident Centre ['temporary' only in the sense that it was planned for replacement in Phase V of the above scheme; in practice it became 'permanent'], built at a cost of 30,000, was completed in 1966 and came into use at 9.00 a.m. on 1st May, 1967, providing a 24-hour service for the treatment of all accident cases in the Frenchay/Cossham vicinity. The new Centre was sited conveniently near the Pharmacy, the Area Pathology Laboratories and the Central Sterile Supply Service.

A seven-bedded Intensive Care Unit had also been planned, equipped and staffed, its opening synchronising with the opening of the Accident Service. The staff of the I.C.U. consisted of fourteen trained nurses, a physiotherapist and a resident anaesthetist.

The Rt. Hon. Anthony Wedgwood Benn, P.C., M.A., M.P., the Minister of Technology, arrived late to the opening of the new Thoracic Theatres on Friday, 8th December, 1967, owing to an abnormally heavy and unexpected overnight snowfall, which played havoc with transport arrangements. In spite of such difficulties the official opening ceremony of the first phase of the anticipated new Frenchay Hospital was completed without a hitch.

The basic layout of the theatre suite was conventional, with circulation divided into sterile and non-sterile areas. The approach made from the main hospital corridor revealed a passageway into which the staff changing rooms and rest rooms opened. The sterile corridor was reached through a sterile lock and the adjoining suite contained two operating theatres, each with its own anaesthetic room. A well equipped, four-bedded recovery bay was also included in the lay out and was situated between the sterile corridor and the entrance corridor.

In 1968 the building was extended to include a Bronchoscopy Clinic and a Thoracic X-ray Department, which was linked by an open covered way to the Accident Centre. It was estimated that the entire theatre complex cost 81,000.

The residential block built to house the staff of promised Obstetric Unit was completed in 1968, and the Hospital Management Committee decided to name it 'Clark Hall' as a token of appreciation to Mr E. R. Clark, retiring Group Secretary, who had worked at Frenchay since 1945.

For many years Frenchay had been plagued with difficulties, mainly due to shortage of finance and the need to modernise the hospital. Accommodation for patients, doctors and nurses was substandard and it had been difficult to recruit and retain nursing staff. There was a marked change in the mid sixties. With the promise of continuing redevelopment into the seventies, it became easier to obtain staff for the wards and departments.

In 1964 the Management Committee had accepted a recommendation by Vera Wilson that a 'Nurses' Journal' should be published. This came out annually and, in 1968, Mr Clark, mentioned above, wrote a summary of events. This summary complements that of Miss Wilson's; it also relates back to John Sage's 1951 articles.

On 5th July next the National Health Service will celebrate its 20th anniversary and under any circumstances it would be appropriate to assess what has been accomplished at Frenchay in that time. There are personal reasons which maybe thought to be valid for looking again at the achievements and the disappointments in the past twenty years in which Frenchay has been brought to life again after its wartime use by the American Armed Forces.

For the interested reader, my colleague, Mr John Sage, has written an admirable account of the plans for the redevelopment of Frenchay which were prepared with enthusiasm and optimism from 1945 onwards and the progress made up to 1951 (vide 'Hospital' Vol. 47, Nos. 7 and 8). The two or three pages which your Editor has been good enough to allow me in this edition would not suffice to close the gap of the past 15 years and the paragraphs which follow are but random thoughts.

In planning the rebuilding of Frenchay, the Management Committee and the Regional Hospital Board work together through the device of a Project Team and Committee. Its main achievement has been the production of a master plan for the new hospital of some 1,300 beds and this is ready waiting for the release of the necessary funds.

But it has also contrived to build the excellent suite of theatres for the Department of Thoracic Surgery which are now in use.

The new residential quarters recently opened are the outcome of the same committee's efforts. I am delighted that the Management Committee should have honoured me in giving my name to these, the first, it is hoped, of a series of halls of residence. In lighter vein, 'Tithe Hall' might have been suggested as the new accommodation is but one-tenth of the estimate - an intelligent guess - of the accommodation needed and put forward in 1948. Our Architect then prepared detailed plans of a modern 13-storey building for 300nursing staff, which coal mining experts associated with the new shallow drift mine at Stoke Gifford, quickly brought down to eight storeys because of possible subsidence and financial stringency then sunk without trace - other than those splendid drawings.

It is a salutary thought that the immediate target is modern accommodation for 300 residents. There are rooms and flats for 250 and most of this accommodation must be replaced in the near future as none was purpose-built.

Nurses Homes 91, 95 and 96 in 1945 were wartime gymnasia and dining rooms, cold stark areas of concrete floors, with heat, such as it was, provided by solitary coke stoves - some of the 178 fuelling points in the hospital which required attention from the portering staff at two-hourly intervals throughout the day and night; the Doctors' quarters and Homes 'A' and 'B' were but curtained cubicles with two beds in each of what are now single rooms, and had primitive open wardrobes.

The proximity of the coal mine and the report that the main seam ran directly underneath the hospital almost wrecked the building of the Neurosurgery Theatres, saved by the device of introducing a raft of pitch in the foundation work. These theatres, designed and constructed with the help of the Ministry of Works, were eventually completed and formally opened by Sir Geoffrey Jefferson in 1953, as the commemorative tablet in the theatres' entrance records.

They are a reminder of the debt owed to the Management Committee of the time who had the foresight to prepare in 1947 a schedule of the essential work required from the Ministry of Works to get the hospital started. The list was lengthy enough to keep that department busy long after the 5th July, 1948 and the improvements of wards and theatres and adaptations of buildings to provide residential quarters went on until 1961 when, as the swan song of the department, the Children's Sanatorium School building was converted into the Burns Theatre [later turned into the Laser Centre. Ed].

For the record, the only new buildings other than those already mentioned provided in the 20 years were:

Department of Pathology Extension 1956
Temporary Administrative Offices which were a necessity to clear the site for the new Thoracic Theatres 1965
Temporary Accident Centre 1966
and from funds raised by voluntary effort: The New Chapel 1958

Clearly, Frenchay has had to depend on adaptation and conversion. Only a few will remember that the present Out-Patient Department was originally a Sergeants' Mess [Officers' Mess in fact. Ed] adapted for its present purpose with the help of the Bristol Health Committee- an example of the close and happy associations which have always existed with other sections of the National Health Service (it served as a primitive, cheerless dining-room for non-residents until better accommodation was provided- a reminder of the selfless devotion of the pioneers): that the Orthopaedic Out-Patient Department was designed as the Gas Cleansing Centre for the American Forces and used successively as part of the Department of Pathology, Medical Records offices (until the Medical Records Department was able to move into the building which had been the Chapel) and as offices for the Consultant Medical Staff. Each building, almost without exception, has in earlier days been devoted to purposes other than that for which it is now used - changing function with the kaleidoscopic changes inevitable with a rapidly developing hospital and group.

The development of Frenchay was essential and complementary to the reorganisation of Cossham; the transfer of the Accident work has been but one of the many changes made over the past two decades in the wider interests of the patients in this area.

With hindsight twenty years later, it is suggested that it would been far better to have demolished the hospital entirely and rebuilt it in the years between. Only those involved in 1945 can, however, appreciate the immense difficulties of those times and there was no question that in the light of those conditions when both labour and materials were at a premium, the decision to 'mend and make do' was the only possible decision. Do you know that since 1948 nearly 150,000 in-patients and 25,000 out-patients have been treated at Frenchay? The disappointment is that the necessary capital funds for rebuilding the hospital will not be forthcoming until the next decade, although it is encouraging to know that new building will increase year by year over the next few years, with each new building as it comes fitting into its proper place in the final comprehensive scheme.

Truly the appearance of the hospital as a photograph taken a little later than 1945 shows, might have been depressing, but to those who came, charged with the challenge of getting it going again - for it was derelict, with unkempt grass areas and cold and uncharitable even in May of that year - it was an exciting prospect. It gave the same impression of wide open space and opportunity as when I first came to know it officially in1925 and it is hoped it will always retain that priceless asset.

In the years between, the browsing sheep with their lambs - they were so difficult to count, I remember, at the first stocktaking on a filthy day in March 1927 - the grazing cattle, the goats, the pigs, the geese, even the horses and the Christmas sled with the inimitable Charlie Thomas as Santa Claus, all are gone and are but happy memories.

Except for the poultry activities (have you tried counting 1,600 of them?) which post-war were redeveloped and produced 160,000 eggs each year and chickens for the table when rationing allowed but one egg per head per week - all these activities were gradually run down and this year will see the end of the productive fruit and vegetable gardens, no longer economic.

No longer can boats be hired at Frenchay for a row along the river; houses stand on what were open fields as the gap between town and country has closed. In compensation, public transport is as good as anywhere in Bristol and at last reaches the hospital. Up to the last world war, the electric tramcar had its terminus at the junction of Stapleton Road and Fishponds Road and although it was great joy to watch the blue sparks fly from the overhead wires as the trolley arm was reversed for the return journey, there was rather less pleasure in the thought of the long uphill walk ahead through Stapleton to Frenchay, stopping perhaps for a moment at the blacksmith's forge at the top of Broom Hill. Many years were to elapse before the City bus service was extended beyond Stapleton Church to Frenchay and to those dependent upon buses in 1945, the wait for the infrequent Country bus to and from the hospital added many hours to the working day, and yet this was always cheerfully accepted as part of the job.

It has taken all these years to restore something of its original grandeur to the Lime Tree Drive. Twenty years ago it had become the dumping ground for the many contractors excavating and building the hospital grounds. The carriage way has now been widened and resurfaced and the beauty of the Georgian House in the distance has been brought into full view. One gains an impression of space, vitality and movement, which yet is mixed with something indefinable of old-world charm and the unruffled calm derived perhaps from its rural history and setting.

Frenchay is a different and friendly hospital - or so it appears to the many patients to whom I have talked. They want it to remain so - as do we who have been or will be concerned with its future however much the design of it may change.

For Frenchay has shown over these years proof beyond any doubt that it is not the buildings which make a great hospital, it is the fibre of all those who work in and for it, and in this we have been more than fortunate.

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