Wellington Cottage Hospital
A Private hospital that opened just a year before the First World War and served as a convalescence unit for the wounded during the conflict. In the post-war era, its continued operation became a major focus for the remembrance of Wellington’s fallen generation.
Wellington Cottage Hospital, which closed in September 1990, owed its existence to a bequest from the wife of a Victorian entrepreneur who made a fortune transporting fish to the town by railway. Ann Bowring donated three and a half acres of land opposite Bradleymoor House in Haygate Road, the home she shared with her husband John, in 1910. With it, came £3000 for construction of the building (worth around £350, 000 in 2019) and a further £400 to equip the new facility. In addition, a further five acres of land was supplied that now forms the northern half of Bowring Park. Work on the hospital began in May 1912 and it opened the following year. By the end of World War One, four of its six beds were given over to military occupation, for which the board of trustees that managed the facility received regular cash payments. Despite this financial assistance, those assembled at its 1916 Annual General Meeting heard the balance sheet was down as a consequence of the war itself and the rising prices of everyday items. Once the conflict ended, and with it the military presence, that trend was exacerbated and by 1919 there existed a very real danger the facility might close.
A Gloomy Outlook
News of the cottage hospital’s plight in 1919 first surfaced when a £100 loss was reported at its March AGM. Donations had fallen, the military auxiliary hospital had closed and all revenue from that source had ceased, the meeting heard. While every bed was now available for civilian patients, those attending were also told the receipts from such cases were likely to be small. ‘Unless some means were devised to very much increase the assets’ reported the Wellington Journal, ‘the institution could not be carried on’. That gloomy outlook triggered an almost instantaneous response and donations began to pour in from many sources around the district. Such was the level of concern that the still relatively new facility might fold, an endowment to the hospital was even included in the fledgling plans for the town’s official war memorial commemorations at a public meeting in May chaired by John Wesley Clift. It provided an interesting insight into local perceptions of the facility. There was, Clift surmised, a ‘general desire to make the institution of a more general nature than it had previously been’, while he also spoke of a plan to transfer its management to ‘more extended control’. Although the war memorial committee would have little to do with fulfilling those ambitions, they would, nevertheless, eventually be realised.
A Rapid Transformation
During the summer of 1919, a series of dances and formal balls were held at various locations in the town to raise funds for the cottage hospital. At the end of September, all the proceeds from the town’s annual carnival (amounting to £100) were also donated to the facility, helping to affect a rapid transformation in its fortunes. So much so that the chair of the board of the trustees, Walter Dugdale, was able to announce the hospital would be increasing the number of beds at the unit from six to eight, to better accommodate the daily average of 7.25 patients passing through its doors every month. A draft proposal for handing over the running of the hospital to a representative board was also in preparation, while a deluge of life governors were elected to mark the transition to more representative administration of its affairs.
In October 1920, the hospital board launched an appeal for the endowment of a memorial bed. A few months earlier the town’s official war memorial committee had been wound up, having failed to raise the necessary funds for a statue on the Green. The underlying feeling of many townsfolk it seems, as evidenced by the letters page of the Journal, was that some form of commemoration should be dedicated to helping the living relatives of the fallen, and to those servicemen who had survived the conflict. So, while recognising that theirs was just one of a number of ‘various schemes put before the town’ the board members implored:
“Many however will prefer that their tribute to the memory of the fallen should go direct to the relief of suffering and pain. To these the needs of the cottage hospital must eloquently appeal”.
The Missing Endowment
Just as they had the previous year, Wellingtonians once again dug deep to support the endowment scheme. Almost as soon as it was announced, funds began to stream in: an ‘American Tea’, organised by Mr and Mrs Chubb, raised £70, the Wellington Volunteer Fund contributed another £50, while John Wesley Clift personally donated £25. The cottage hospital was also a mainstay of the area’s industrial benefactors, particularly Sankey’s Hadley Castle Works and the Sinclair Ironworks at Ketley. Their respective workforces proved particularly generous fundraisers and it was to their fallen colleagues that two endowed beds were eventually commemorated. While those two workplaces remain part of the local landscape a century later, the same cannot be said of the memorials — which, despite being listed on the official Imperial War Register, are missing at the time of writing.
By the end of 1920, the hospital was treating more patients than ever before: the daily average stood at 8.32, while 83 people had been admitted (compared with 66 in 1919). By April 1921, the endowment fund stood at £275 and a few months later, in August, the Charity Commission scheme for a more representative hospital board was finally adopted. In its initial hour of need, a Wellington Journal editorial had warned that public subscriptions would continue to be the lifeblood of the hospital for the foreseeable future. As the economy plummeted into recession, those cautionary words proved prophetic and by 1924 its cash resources were exhausted, with ‘immediate assistance’ required once again. Eventually, the facility would become the responsibility of Shropshire’s Regional Hospital Board, continuing to serve the town for the best part of the Twentieth Century (and more latterly as a care home). Yet, without the events of the First World War and its immediate aftermath it is tempting to wonder if that would ever have happened otherwise.