The future of this fine old building is under threat. It has stood empty for many years and there are fears that it may be demolished, despite its important place in the local history of Grantham and in the wider history of hospital architecture in England.
A day of public celebration, parade and partying accompanied the ceremony of laying the foundation stone of Grantham Hospital on 29 October 1874. The band of the Royal South Lincoln Militia lead a procession, followed by the architect and builder, local dignitaries, and interested parties, that marched from Grantham Guildhall to the site of the new hospital on the Manthorpe Road to the north of the town centre.
Countess Brownlow, who was closely associated with the project from its inception, conducted the actual ceremony, once she had listened to an address by the chairman of the building committee, a short service by the Vicar, and been presented with a silver trowel. A public luncheon was given at the Guildhall presided over by Earl Brownlow. Tickets for this event could be purchased for 2s 6d. Earl Brownlow and his wife donated funds towards the hospital and took an interest in the plans, and the Earl of Dysart gave £1,000 to the building fund. [Grantham Journal, 24 Oct 1874, p.4]
Grantham Cottage Hospital was designed by the London architect Richard Adolphus Came (1848-1919), who went on to lay out the development of Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire where he later settled, designing many of its buildings. He appears in the 1901 census as the proprietor of the Royal Hydro Hotel there. Came freely adapted a basic pavilion plan to create a picturesque elevation. Unusually, the wards were T-shaped, an arrangement which was commended by the great champion of hospital architecture in the late 19th century, Henry C. Burdett. He thought the wards were novel, pleasing and noteworthy, presenting a cheerful and airy appearance ‘which fills the visitor with pleasure’.[H. C. Burdett, Cottage Hospitals, 2nd edition 1880 p.412]
Baroness Brownlow also officiated at the official opening on 5 January 1876. ‘As it now stands approaching completion, the building with its neatly arranged grounds, and trim Gothic porch, forms a somewhat picturesque object’, reported the Grantham Journal.
The hospital, which is Gothic in character, is constructed of local stone with Ancaster dressings, and consists of three distinct blocks of buildings. The main building, which faces the road … is composed of a central block of two stories, providing a waiting-room, entrance lobby, surgeons’ sitting-room and operating-room, kitchen, offices and store-rooms, &c. on the ground floor; convalescent and board rooms, and four bedrooms on the first floor; and two bedrooms and lumber room in attics. There are wings stretching right and left of this block, forming the wards for male and female patients, and containing seven beds each, together with nurses’ room, bathroom, and other offices. The Gothic timber porch, which certainly contributes much to the appearance of the building, has been erected at the expense of the Earl Brownlow. Some distance in the rear of the main building, the fever hospital has been erected, and will contain five beds, bathroom, nurses’ room, kitchen &c., the working of this department being kept entirely separate from the other part of the hospital. A convenient laundry is also provided, with the addition of washing and ironing rooms, drying closet, and other similar accommodation. [Grantham Journal, 8 Jan 1876, p.4]
A major extension to Grantham Hospital was built in the mid-1930s to designs by the local architect F. J. Lenton, of Traylen & Lenton. The plans were approved by the British Hospitals Association, the Ministry of Health and the County Council. It was partly as a result of Kesteven County Council’s obligation to provide hospital accommodation that Grantham Hospital was extended, and the enlarged hospital was to take patients from the county as a whole. This raised the number of beds provided in the hospital from 33 to 76 initially. A new entrance was formed to the south of the original building. New ward blocks ‘of the latest verandah type’ were built for men, women and children. There was also separate provision for private patients, a new isolation block and operating theatre unit.
Verandah wards with folding windows, usually occupying the length of one side, originated in Denmark, and were introduced to England by Charles Ernest Elcock at the County Hospital, Hertford. Beds were placed parallel to the the side walls in groups of four, separated by glass partitions, instead of the old pattern in Nightingale-style wards where the beds were placed in rows at right-angles to the side walls. Each ward had five groups of four beds and two separate observation wards. The south-facing children’s ward had a paved terrace in front of the folding windows to allow cots to be wheeled out into the open air.
Verandah wards were hailed as revolutionizing hospital planning by providing improved access to fresh air and sunshine, and the psychological effect of smaller groups of beds (‘cosy communities’). It is interesting to note that the local paper praised the hospital for its functional design. ‘Rigid economy’ was observed in order to be able to provide the most up-to-date equipment: ‘In past days Hospitals were so often designed for external effect first and foremost’… ‘present-day designers always have in mind that their building should not be monumental, but sufficient for the present, and of a type that can be readily altered or adapted to the possible requirements of the future. [Grantham Journal, 27 Jan 1934, p.5]
In the new hospital, the private wards occupied a separate unit to the west of the complex which had its own enclosed garden. It had six private wards, with bedrooms for special nurses and separate ward kitchens. A subterranean boiler house was constructed at the edge of the site to provide heating and hot-water, operating on the panel-heating system by low pressure hot water, accelerated by electric pumps. All pipework was concealed in the ceilings. This was supplemented in the wards either with conventional open coal fires or gas fires. The building contractors for the extension were Bernard Pumphrey Ltd of Gainsborough. [Grantham Journal, 22 Sept 1934, p.5]
The new buildings were completed early in March 1935, after which the old hospital was refurbished to provide accommodation for the nursing and domestic staffs. At the same time a maternity unit was created in the old south ward wing of and the old theatre converted into a special labour ward. These alterations brought the hospital’s capacity up to 100 beds. [Nottingham Evening Post, 24 March 1936.]
Further additions were made following transfer to the NHS, including a new maternity unit which opened in 1972. Grantham Hospital has retained huge local support, as witnessed by the demonstrations that took place earlier this year to protest against the drastic reduction of the opening hours of the A&E department.