When Smallpox Ravaged Longton
To a town like Longton that was well-acquainted with ill health born of squalor, smoke and poor housing, Longton Cottage Hospital must have seemed a long time in coming.
Its arrival in 1868 was largely due to the efforts of the Reverend Adam Clarke, of St James’ Church in Longton, who had already introduced a dispensary scheme for medical care in 1864.
The Cottage Hospital was built in Mount Pleasant, now Lawley Street, but ultimately moved to another site, donated by the Duke of Sutherland, in Belgrave Road. This opened in 1890.
The hospital comprised three separate blocks and was designed along modern lines, boasting 38 beds. Open fires and hot water pipes were provided for the comfort of patients.
It was supported entirely by voluntary subscriptions, more than half of which were contributed by the working classes.
It is worth considering why this hospital was so important to the good folk of Longton, Normacot and the surrounding area.
In 1871, smallpox was on the increase in Longton, there being 120 cases treated by May 1 of that year. There were 14 deaths from this disease in one month alone.
Most of the Longton people who had the misfortune to fall ill were usually conveyed to the infirmary at Etruria, some distance away in an age when people rarely travelled far from their home.
The Cottage Hospital provided care for the manufacturing, labouring and other classes of Longton and the neighbourhood.
Many patients would be miners or pottery workers, perhaps in need of treatment or dressings for a work-related injury.
Improvements at the hospital were made gradually. In 1907 a new operating theatre was opened, illuminated by electricity supplied by the Florence Coal and Iron Company.
In 1914, new private wards were provided, these proving to be particularly in need during the Great War.
In 1923, a new outpatients’ department, built on adjacent land given by the Duke of Sutherland’s trustees, was opened by Sir Francis Joseph.
It embraced a casualty dressing room, a minor operation theatre, a dental operating room, an eye, ear and throat consulting room in addition to a dispensary and sterilising room.
This was a people’s hospital, and local inhabitants were often quick to support it through donations.
Even in the Depression years of the 1930s, the local Hospital Saturday committee raised a considerable amount of money for the hospital aided by the Alhambra and Alexandra cinemas.
In the late 1930s, subscriptions also came from the Potteries Motor Traction charities, Normacot Church of England Linen Guild, Blythe Bridge Carnival Committee and others.
Nationalisation and the years following brought other important changes at the Cottage Hospital.
The scope and quality of service could never have been imagined by its founding fathers.
The Ear, Nose and Throat and General Surgery departments continued to grow. In the 1980s, mastectomies and amputations were performed.
Following a five year period of closure, Longton Cottage Hospital underwent a pounds2 million conversion and was re-opened in 1992 by HRH The Duchess of Gloucester.
It provided predominantly single-room accommodation for more than 40 elderly patients. Services included chiropody, physiotherapy, speech and occupational therapy and a hair dressing salon.
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