A summarised history of
Worcester Royal Infirmary

1743 Isaac Maddox came to Worcester as Bishop of the Diocese from London where he had had connections with various hospitals. He at once realised that Worcester was in need of a hospital. Dr. John Wall (who later founded the Worcester Porcelain "Works) was at that time a Physician in the City.

These two (Maddox and Wall) are always regarded as being the founders of Worcester Infirmary although it is thought that Sir John Rushout (MP for Evesham) may also have been pushing the idea.

Public subscription was raised and a house on the East side of Silver Street (off Lowesmoor) was rented. This house is now a shop with a plaque over the door but the rear is in ruins.

11th January 1745/46 (Julian calendar) Infirmary opened in Silver Street. Supposed to accommodate 30 patients but seldom that number because of the lack of funds and the cold .and damp of the house. There was no running water in the building until 1755 and a cook was not appointed until 1749 at a salary of £3 per annum.


  • 4 Physicians - entirely honorary
  • 2 surgeons - entirely honorary
  • Matron at £6 per annum
  • Nurse and Night Nurse at £3.10 per annum
  • Maidservant at £3 per annum

Later the next door house was taken over raising the bed complement to 48 and in the first three years there were almost 1000 admissions. The Infirmary was popular but the accommodation hopelessly inadequate if the work was to survive and so in the middle of the 1760's it was decided to put up an entirely new building on the outskirts of the City. Advice was obtained from Edward Garlick of Bristol who had had experience in starting Bristol hospitals. A site was found on the South side of Castle Street (then known as Salt Lane). Garlick gave the £200 for its purchase and the new building was erected at a cost of £6085 and the patients were transferred from Silver Street on 17th September 1771.

Originally it was a two storey building with a basement and an attic and accommodated 48 beds. From time to time various small enlargements took place and in 1851 the Jenny Lind Chapel was built thus releasing a room on the second floor which at times had served as a chapel and at other times as an operating room. This room (above the present Board Room) then became a regular Operating Theatre and remained as such until the present theatre block was opened in 1932.

1865 saw a very big expansion by the raising of the roof thus converting the attics into proper wards and other rooms and raising the bed complement to 100 which was thought would be sufficient for all time.

There was no Out Patient Department and out-patients were seen in a room off the main hall upstairs - probably next to the present Board Room.

1874. The first Out-Patient department was built to fill the space (which had been used for coal and rubbish) between the north end of the building and Castle St. and at the same time the laundry and "The Cottage" were built, the. latter to act as an infection isolation unit. This original small O.P. department was enlarged upwards along Castle Street almost to Infirmary Walk in 1912 as the City's memorial on the death of King Edward VII. The X-ray Department (originally started in 1900 along the bottom corridor) was now housed in this extension closest to Infirmary Walk (where the Hearing Aid Dept. now works).

Since the original Out-Patient Dept. was opened in Castle Street in 1874 the Casualty Dept had been part of it and had been situated in various positions leading off the main O.P. waiting hall. Accommodation was always cramped, and with the increase in road accidents and other emergencies especially after World War II the situation got more and more intolerable so that eventually an entirely new Accident & Emergency Dept. was built partly on the lawn behind the Nurses' Home and with a separate entrance for patients and ambulances from Croft Road.

This new A & E Dept. was opened in June 1969 by Professor William Gissane of the Birmingham Accident Hospital. Twenty years later with the transference of the acute surgical and medical facilities to Ronkswood it was felt that the emergency reception should be nearer to the beds and so the entire Casualty work was closed down at Castle Street and transferred to new accommodation at Ronkswood in October 1992, pending the building of a new District General Hospital.

Nurses' Home. There was no Nurses' Home until the end of the 19th century and nurses just slept in small rooms wherever available and often attached to their Wards. Grove House at the corner of Infirmary Walk was bequeathed to the Infirmary and in 1892 was equipped as a Nurses' Home but proved unsatisfactory so it was sold and the money put towards the building of a proper Nurses' Home within the grounds of the Infirmary and was opened in 1897 (the present Mulberry House). This remained the Nurses' Home until the New Home was opened in 1932 and it then became the Domestics' Home and later after World War II when there were no living-in domestics it was converted into flats for married Resident Medical Staff.

1932. Visit of H.R.H. Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) to open the New Nurses' Home, the new Pathology Dept. and the new Operating Theatre and Orthopaedic Block. Until then from 1745 the name of the hospital had been "Worcester General Infirmary" but on his visit H.R.H. announced that his father, King George V, had given permission for the word "Royal" to be included in the name which then became "WORCESTER ROYAL INFIRMARY".

As a result of this new block being opened the old operating theatre above the Board Room became a ward for abnormal midwifery. The new Pathology Dept. at that time did not require all its space and so for some years what was not required became an E.N.T. Ward. (Until this time E.N.T. cases were admitted to the main wards wherever possible). The basement of the Pathology Dept. housed the Mortuary and a Coroner's room where inquests were held but during World War II this Coroner's room was turned into a small ward of 10 beds mainly for Service men (Battenhall Ward) and it never reverted to its intended use.

In 1943 on the death of Mr. Tom Bates (the younger) who had been senior surgeon it was decided to start a memorial fund to inaugurate a Children's Block but owing to the war this was not able to be completed and it opened after the war. When it opened the X-ray Dept was moved from the Out-Patient Dept to occupy its lower floor.

Origin of Ward Names at Worcester Royal Infirmary

Wheeley Lea - Charles Wheeley Lea, a member of the Lea family , of Lea & Perrins (Worcester Sauce) bequeathed £10,000 to the Hospital at the end of the 19th century but during his lifetime he and other members of the family had always been generous donors.

Ganderton - Charles Ganderton living in Pershore was engaged in the wool trade and in 1893 left a legacy of £7000 to the Infirmary and also £500 to found Pershore Cottage Hospital. Altogether he gave £21,000 to hospitals.

Bonaker - Rev. William Bonaker of Honeybourne near Evesham died in 1881 leaving £8762 for the purpose of instituting a Children's Ward in Worcester Infirmary This came into being in 1886 and up until that time children had just been nursed in cots down the middle of adult general awards. (After the opening of the new Bates Children's Wards the name "Bonaker" was transferred to one of the other general adult wards in Castle Street).

Maddox - Co-founder in 1745. Bishop of Worcester Diocese 1743-1759 when he died.

Garlick - Edward Garlick was a wealthy sugar merchant in Bristol who advised about the change from Silver Street" to Castle Street and gave £200 for the purchase of the site.

Rushout - Sir John Rushout M.P. (1685-1775) associated with Bishop Maddox and Dr. John Wall in founding the Silver Street Infirmary and was a financial benefactor.

Bates - One medical and one surgical children's ward as a memorial to Mr Tom Bates (the younger) Hon. Surgeon 1909-1943.

Bates Operating Theatre named after Mr Tom Bates (the elder) who was Honorary Surgeon to the Infirmary 1879-1910 and died in 1916.

Joseph Banks Pathology Dept - Joseph Banks an industrialist from the Black Country living in Hallow Park. Was Chairman of the Voluntary Hospital 1932-1937. Both he and Mrs Banks were financial benefactors.

Nuffield Orthopaedic Dept - named after Lord Nuffield (William Morris of Morris Motors and originally a Worcester boy). An enormous benefactor to all hospitals including Worcester Infirmary.

Ronkswood Hospital

Ronkswood Hospital was built on part of the original Tolladine Golf Course at the beginning of World War II under the Emergency Medical Services, as a temporary hutted hospital, later to be used by the Ministry of Pensions as a Pensions Hospital. It had a compliment of 600 beds in 14 wards, some wards having as many as 40 beds. It was opened in 1941 with its own staff (Medical, Surgical and Nursing) and during the war treated service casualties, civilian casualties from the Birmingham air raids and other cases, but a few years after the conclusion of the war its occupancy fell very low. Its intended use largely disappeared but it still had a full medical, surgical and nursing staff under the control of a Medical Superintendent. Bed numbers were reduced to 450 by 1951. It was then handed over from the Ministry of Pensions to the Ministry of Health.

As a National Health Hospital, Ronkswood came under the control of the Selly Oak Group in 1951 for the purpose of reducing the long list of patients waiting for treatment in Birmingham. This proposal was impractical due to the distances patients and their families needed to travel to Worcester, so in 1952 it was transferred to the South Worcestershire Group and became part of Worcester Royal Infirmary and extended greatly. The number of beds was subsequently reduced to 319.

In September 1952 a large Maternity Department of 49 beds utilising four of the existing wards and the addition of an ante-natal clinic and classroom was opened at Ronkswood Hospital by Dame Hilda Lloyd. This department catered for both normal and abnormal midwifery and later for General Practitioner midwifery in a separate unit. No further midwifery was done at Castle Street.

When the acute surgical and medical facilities were transferred from Worcester Royal Infirmary in Castle St. to Ronkswood, it was felt that the emergency services should be nearer to those beds and so the entire A&E Department was closed down at Castle Street and transferred to new accommodation at Ronkswood Hospital in October 1992 pending the building of a new District General Hospital in Worcester.

The wards at Ronkswood Hospital were originally numbered and when renumbered, three of them named after prominent members of the South Worcestershire Hospital Management Committee. Ward 8 - Edith Porter, Ward 9 - Norman Duggan and Ward 10 - Seymor Barling.

About the Article and Author

This article has been reproduced here with the kind permission of the authors, Ms Jacqui Fernell & Mrs M. Clayson, who are members of the Worcester Royal Infirmary Nurses League. First written in 1970‘s, reviewed and adapted in 2013.

Additional Articles

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