It’s appropriate that during these dark times we look at the Northern General Hospital, the city’s largest hospital and one of the country’s leading facilities.
The sprawl that is the Northern General has its origins in the hospital of Sheffield Poor Law Union workhouse, erected in 1878-1880.
Before the creation of the Sheffield Poor Law Union in 1837, the workhouse for the township of Sheffield was in Kelham Street. That building, originally erected in 1811 as a cotton mill, had been converted in 1829 for use as a workhouse to accommodate some 1,200 inmates.
It had no special provision for the sick except for an isolation unit provided during the cholera epidemic of 1832.
Due to opposition from ratepayers, plans drawn up in 1856 for a new workhouse for Sheffield Union were not completed until 1881, when new premises at Fir Vale were opened.
The completed buildings, comprised six separate departments: the main building to accommodate 1,662 paupers, plus officials; asylums to accommodate 200 patients classed as lunatic; a school for 300 pauper children; vagrants wards to take up to 60 men and 20 women; the hospital block to cater for 366 patients; and the fever hospitals.
Management was in the hands of the Board of Guardians and its various committees, which in the 1880s had established a training school for nurses and a midwifery school. Overcrowding caused by the numbers of children was addressed by setting up a boarding out system in 1888, and by opening a children’s hospital, for up to 60, in 1894.
A Lock ward or Lock hospital for treating women with venereal diseases also existed in the 1890s.
A new 3-storey hospital block was completed in 1906 and on 21 March 1906 the Local Government Board issued an order to formally separate the newly named Sheffield Union Hospital (which by then could accommodate 643 patients) from the workhouse, thereafter, known as Fir Vale Institution.
Over the next few years Sheffield Union Hospital became known as Fir Vale Hospital. The workhouse became Fir Vale Institution, though Fir Vale House was the name generally used for the institution premises accommodating geriatric patients and those classed as mental defectives.
Belgian refugees were temporarily housed at Fir Vale during World War I, and over 15,000 soldiers, including men from the Sheffield Battalion who had been wounded on the Somme, were treated in a new children’s hospital which had opened in 1916. Military patients remained until 1920 and it was not until 1921 that the children’s hospital received its first children.
In 1930 the name was changed to the City General Hospital.
About 1929, Fir Vale House was renamed Fir Vale Infirmary (for the care of the aged and chronic infirm), though the name ‘institution’ lingered for some years.
During World War II numbers of its inmates were temporarily transferred to the Grenoside Institution when the hospital premises were designated as an Emergency Medical Service Hospital. No casualties from the war front were admitted until 1944 when 992 service cases and 405 prisoners of war were treated.
During the 1950s, cardiology and cardiothoracic surgery commenced and in 1955 the City Hospital performed the first heart valve replacement operation in the world; in 1957 one of the first open heart operations in Europe was conducted here.
It provided medical and surgical wards, children’s hospital, maternity hospital, casualty and orthopaedic departments. The City General Hospital and the Fir Vale Infirmary were run as separate institutions until 1967 when the Hospital (then with 654 beds) and the Infirmary (then with 682 beds) were amalgamated under the title of the Northern General Hospital.
Fir Vale Infirmary was to be known as the Geriatric Wing and the City General Hospital as the General and Maternity Wing.
In 1968 a League of Friends was established to harness local support and raise additional funds.
Teaching was long a key function of the hospital and this was recognised when it, together with Nether Edge Hospital, was awarded university teaching status in 1971, and was one of the first Trust Hospitals.
The Northern General Hospital is the largest hospital campus within the Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, with over 1,100 beds. In fact, it is one of the largest hospitals in the UK and a leading teaching unit with a growing international reputation. It is classed as a major trauma centre and recently opened a helipad close to the Accident and Emergency block.
Thank you to Sheffield City Archives and Local Studies Library for the historical detail.
Did you know that several buildings on the site are named after local families and individuals, particularly in the steel industry?: –
The Huntsman Building is named after Benjamin Huntsman, a manufacturer of cast or crucible steel, consisting of mostly orthopaedics but also contains the A&E, Surgical Assessment Centre (SAC), X-Ray departments, the theatres, one of four outpatients’ departments, a large dining room and the site’s main Medical Records department.
The Firth Wing, is named after Mark Firth, an industrialist, and contains CCU, Vascular surgery and other surgical wards.
The Chesterman Wing, named after James Chesterman, a manufacturer of steel products, contains the regional cardiology centre as well as extensive inpatient and outpatient facilities.
The Vickers Corridor, reputed to be haunted, takes its name from Edward Vickers, an industrialist, and deals primarily with renal and endocrine diseases, but also contains departments of Sheffield Medical School and the Sheffield Kidney Institute.
The Sorby Wing is named after Henry Clifton Sorby, a microscopist and geologist, and contains the renal outpatients unit and the Metabolic Bone Centre.
Samuel Osborn, a steelmaker, is remembered in the Osborn Building and contains the spinal unit.
The Brearley Wing celebrates Harry Brearley, a metallurgist, containing the respiratory and rehabilitation wards and a dining area, as well as an outpatient department and a specialised Patient Discharge Lounge which allows patients to move into a comfortable waiting area before leaving the hospital.
The Bev Stokes Day-Surgery Unit recognises Harold Beverley Stokes, a former Chairman of the Northern General Hospital Trust.
Finally, the Hadfield Wing is named after Sir Robert Hadfield, another metallurgist, and holds departments displaced from older wings of the hospital.