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Accrington Victoria Hospital a Brief History


Submitted By ladeofm
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Accrington Victoria Hospital

At least ten mills were in operation in Accrington in the early nineteenth century. Terraced housing for the industrial workers was built along new streets and in squares; a few higher status developments, such as Bank Terrace, were also built at this time. By the middle of the century overcrowded living conditions had given rise to major sanitation problems. Many people were living in cramped courts with inadequate drainage, and it was not uncommon for pigs and other animals to be kept in the town. The arrival of the railway in 1848, connecting Accrington with Blackburn, Burnley and Manchester, was a stimulus for further industrial and residential development. More new streets were laid out throughout the second half of the nineteenth century. Housing build after about 1860 tended to differ from the earlier housing, being generally of better quality and built in longer, more standardised terraces on streets laid out to an orderly grid plan . The town grew as a centre for the textiles industry, but in the later nineteenth and early twentieth century it also became a world-renowned centre for engineering including the NORI brick, used in the foundations of the Blackpool Tower. The NORI brick was also exported from Hyndburn to America in 1931 to be used in the foundations of the 1,454ft Empire State Building because they were the densest and strongest in the world .

Accrington grew rapidly from the late eighteenth century onwards as a result of the industrial revolution. The population grew from 3266 in 1811 to 10,374 by 1851 and 40,000 by 1898. As a result of the population boom the town centre was established with many shops being concentrated around the Church Street area of Accrington and along Abbey Road. Abbey Street, Blackburn Street, Blackburn Road, Oak Street and Warner Street had become major shopping streets by the middle of the century, and Burnley Road by 1878. Shops had become more widespread and far more diverse by the end of the century, and those constructed at this time were usually purpose-built. Accrington may have had only two taverns at the start of the nineteenth century, but had fourteen public houses and 27 beer houses by 1850, and in just 18 years that number had risen to 44 public houses and 36 beer houses .

Many new churches were built in Accrington in the nineteenth century, particularly by the Nonconformists who made up a high proportion of the immigrants moving into the town seeking work. These immigrants established schools as well as churches, as did both the Roman Catholics and the Anglicans. A technical school was built in the town in 1894-5. The earliest public building in Accrington was a courthouse, built in 1835 and demolished in the 1930s. The Peel Institution was built in 1857-8 and fulfilled various functions before becoming the Town Hall in 1878 .

However, on the 28th of February 1898 the town cottage hospital was officially opened by the Mayor Alderman Lee, the first choice was Lord Derby, but he was away on a tour of Egypt. The story had started four years previously when the Mayor Mr Haywood called a meeting to discuss the idea of a hospital based in Accrington; the idea was fully backed by the Accrington Observers editor. Previously patents had to travel all the way to Blackburn and to Manchester before the Blackburn Royal Infirmary was built . The first building contained sixteen beds and cost £7,700 which is equivalent to £684,000 in modern day money . However, the Mayor Alderman Heywood thought that ten beds would be more than sufficient with a capital of £3,000, equivalent to £266,000 . The cottage hospital was constructed by local builders Ramsbottom and Sons of Whalley Road. The town clerk Mr Aitken was made honorary secretary of the cottage hospital funds, interestingly the three streets that surround the hospital are named Aitken, Ramsbottom and Haywood.

The whole £7,700 was subscribed from local business owners and their workers and members of the Independent Order of Oddfellows; a society promoting welfare for its members and others. However, residence of Accrington raised a great deal of the money through many events such as a grant fancy dress ball held in the Accrington town halls` magnificent ballroom , so when the hospital opened its doors it was free from debt.

Accrington Victoria hospital as it was named, after Queen Victoria’s jubilee happening the same years of its opening has undergone substantial extensions over the 114 years of operation the first being in 1919, then again in 1928 when is ceased being a cottage hospital, then again in 1932 and 1938, these developments being funded by public subscription . Back in 1926, funds were needed to build a considerable extension that included doctors and nurses living quarters to be located in the hospital grounds. Subsequently a town meeting was called to discuss ideas for raising the money required: Many proposals where put forward the most attractive being a carnival procession which was the brainchild of Mayor Charles Wilkinson.

The Accrington Hospital Fete, as the event was to be called, took place August 14th 1926. The procession took a circuitous route through the town, and included local bands, actors from the local Hippodrome Theatre in fancy dress, and about 90 vehicles with various themes representing local industry. It was led by the Chief constable, flanked by eight mounted policemen. With the procession setting off from Avenue Parade at 3pm, before taking in Oswaldtwistle and Church, the procession landed at its destination of Oak Hill Park at 5.30pm. It was said “The whole town, that night was alive with young men and maidens in fancy attire parading the streets or on their way to the carnival dances. ” The result was a resounding success and over £1,000, equivalent to £45,000, was raised towards the hospital extension fund. Hence forth, 114 years later and the Accrington carnival procession is still held every 2 years, with only having a gap due to World War 2 it restarted in 1950.

A twin operating theatre was built in 1973, and a two-roomed X-ray department was built and extended in 1975. The outpatients department was extended and upgraded in 1974 as part of a scheme to provide a GP maternity unit. However, in 1979 a strategic plan set out by the district and regional health authorities to close the children’s ward at the hospital and subsequently remove the 15 paediatric beds and relocate them to Blackburn’s Queen's park hospital. After an overwhelming public reaction to the decision that was first demonstrated when a meeting objecting to the strategic plan attracted more than 600 people, many others having to be turned away. More than 10,000 letters of objection were signed and sent to the Minister in charge of the district and regional health authorities . Following a visit from the Minister, it was felt that the danger had passed. However, the matter arose again suddenly in 1982 and in 1984 the paediatric ward closed with the main reason being attributed to the surgeons' decision not to operate any longer at Accrington, however, with some feeling that that was a decision which they were encouraged to take by the district management team, which is now hiding behind it.

Over the years Accrington Victoria hospital has been on the verge of closing completely but with every decision to close comes with a massive outcry from the local public keeping the doors of the hospital firmly open. However, in 1989 the Royal Preston hospital expanded when it opened its first satellite kidney dialysis unit at Accrington Victoria Hospital, meaning patients from East Lancashire no longer needed to travel to Preston for dialysis , which gave the hospital and the local public a great boost. Although in 2009 eighteen patients were wrongly given the all-clear from breast cancer, which subsequently leaded to the cancer unit at the hospital being closed in 2010.

Accrington Victoria hospital is undergoing a refit for its A & E unit and has had many additions to the hospital over the last couple of years including a physio therapy unit an emergency dentist unit and the maternity clinic has opened after being closed for years, these have all breathed new life in to the old hospital and with the public firmly behind the hospital it will be open for many years to come.
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