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Royal West Sussex Hospital

by Pat Saunders

Royal West Sussex Hospital, Circa 1930’s

By Pat Saunders, Volunteer at The Novium Museum

In 1784 Rev William Walker, rector of St Pancras and Rumboldswyke parishes, joined forces with Dr Thomas Sanden to found the Chichester Dispensary, mainly for outpatients in some cottages off the Broyle Road. By 1822 it had become apparent that with the city's increasing population a larger purpose-built medical institute was required. In 1826 the West Sussex, East Hampshire and Chichester General Infirmary and Dispensary, as it was known opened with 40 beds. Dr Forbes a doctor with a local practice was appointed as its first superintendent.

The first matron was a Mrs Rogers. She retired in 1857 after 30 years' service. It is believed the Wisteria, which grew on the façade of the hospital, was received by Mrs Rogers as a gift from China. It is believed to be the oldest in Britain and was given official protection in 1995. Mrs Rogers' two successors were in post for less than a year being dismissed for serious misconduct.

Dr Forbes had three Spartan rules (i) Patients in beds in the ward were not permitted to drink alcohol, especially not gin, (ii) Patients in bed in the ward were not permitted to smoke and (iii) Patients weren't allowed visitors not even on Christmas Day. Patients who were admitted had to agree that when discharged, whether fully recovered or not, they were to write a thank-you letter to the hospital and on the first Sunday afterwards attend Church and give thanks for the hospital.

Patients could be discharged when not fully recovered for bad behaviour for example a man who disguised himself as a woman to gain access to the women's ward.

Dr Forbes was interested in medical research and promoted Renee Laennec's listening device, the stethoscope.

By 1838 more space was required and so a wing was added with another 20 beds, a gift from Charles Dixon a local landowner. In 1840 Forbes had left the Infirmary on an appointment as physician to the Queen's household.

A Brewhouse was built in 1851, as beer was given to patients as it wa considered safer than water to drink. This was discontinued in 1872.

From the 1860s the Infirmary began to experience a revolution in surgical techniques. In 1967, to enable further developments the interior of the building was altered, giving more space between beds. An 'operations room' was provided in 1869 allowing Mr Skaife to perform what were then innovative surgeries. In 1879 a children's ward was opened. The following year ward kitchens were provided.

In the early 1900s the hospital was entirely remodelled and officially re-opened in 1913 by King George V who conferred the title 'Royal' on the hospital.

During the First World War, due to the hospitals proximity to Portsmouth it was expected that the war wounded from the battle fields in France would be received at the hospital; however the first contingency of 30 men arrived with very little prior notice. On 27th October 1914 the hospital secretary arranged a fleet of 21 cars to transport the soldiers from Chichester Railway station to the hospital. By 1915, 50 of the available 110 beds were occupied by wounded soldiers.

In the inter-war period fundraising for the hospital continued, which allowed small scale expansion of the hospitals facilities.

In 1940 200 additional beds were added to the Royal West Sussex Hospital in the form of five hutted wards built as part of the regional Emergency Bed Service. The huts were still in use as wards in the 1970s.

The Battle of Britain caused an influx of wounded servicemen. At this time the hospitals nurses were reinforced by the Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachment. During the Second World War nurses and convalescent servicemen were employed in haymaking in Oaklands Park across the road.

The hospital continued to be used into the early 1990s however, after experiencing financial crisis, the hospital closed in 1995 and the building was sold to property developer Croudance Homes for conversion in to flats, located in what is now called Forbes Place within the grounds of King George Gardens.