History of Beckenham Beacon

Beckenham Cottage Hospital History – now ‘Beckenham Beacon’

Beckenham in the 1860’s

The Beckenham area already had the railway and stations in the 1860’s. The Penge Tunnel opened in 1863 and it had the Mid Kent line via Lewisham, to Beckenham Junction Terminus.

New innovations comprised the provision of gas in 1854, sewerage in 1860 and electricity in 1900. Beckenham had one G.P., Dr. Robert Stilwell and a District Nurse, Mary Elliott, 1826-1907.

Fees were charged but Mary looked kindly on those of lesser means, helping workmen, maternity care and every cry for help. She was known as an unfailing friend of the poor, indeed our own Florence Nightingale. She died aged 81. When she retired an annuity was provided for her old age by the grateful public of Beckenham.

Beckenham Cottage Hospital establishment – 1872

Peter Hoare of the banking dynasty, who lived at Kelsey Manor, thought that Beckenham also needed a hospital. Bromley already had a Cottage Hospital opened in 1869. There are many memorials to the Hoare family in St. George’s church, Beckenham.

Peter Hoare was given The Kelsey Estate by his father, also named Peter, of about 60 acres. On the death of his father he gained another 82 acres.

In 1872 a four-bed, purpose-built “voluntary” cottage hospital was opened for the population of 8,000 and rising, on Middle Barnet Field near, what is now the Beckenham Recreation Ground, at a nominal rent of one shilling per annum.

That year there were 26 patients. Patients were charged 6d. per day, per bed – 2 1/2p in today’s money. The building also housed public baths and a wash-house.

Some of the costs that year were: drugs £7.8.3d., wages £42.12.3d., laundry £6.3.10d., coal and gas £24.3.10d., provisions £98.19s., and wine, beer and spirits £9.13.1d. Patient payments were £28.19.8d.

There was a crisis in 1876; Peter Hoare died and the executors demanded a commercial rent of £80 per annum for the property. This meant that the hospital would have to close.

The good burghers of Beckenham rallied to the plea to cover the rent. They did better than that, raising enough money to pay the rent, buy the freehold and also double the number of beds.

Mr. A.W. Reed, who lived in Ravenscroft Road Beckenham, was appointed in 1877 as a paid collector in place of the volunteers who went before. It is believed he knocked on doors asking for at least one penny. The Lea Wilson ward was opened in 1880. It was named after the Squire whose house was in the High Street known as ‘The Cedars’ behind the row of shops including Ardec men’s clothiers.

“Haggersfield” came on to the market in 1880 with 7 acres. In 1891, Croydon Road Recreation Ground was opened to the public and gave a “Pleasurable and cheerful Prospect from the wards”.

In 1887 Percival Hall Jones of local firm, Twinlock, which made office filing systems, endowed the Percy Jones Ward a four bed extension and two years later an operating theatre and increased the beds to 31.

In 1893, an unknown generous donor gave £100 for central heating. In 1898/99 local building firm Messrs. Syme and Duncan built an extension of 32 beds, costing £4.742.14d.

In 1899 the “Marie Louise” block, including the “Fewster” children’s ward was added which was named after the son of A. Gurney Smith Esq.

In Victorian times the hospital was affectionately known as “The Cottage”.

1900 onwards

The electrical firm Muirhead’s in Elmers End supplied an X-Ray machine in 1902, just seven years after X-Rays were invented. Alexander Muirhead devised the first electrocardiogram [ECG].

In 1911, 285 people were treated for motoring accidents, and in 1912, 1,026.

A Dental Department opened in 1912. In 1913 the population was 14,000.

First World War

During WWI, the hospital was associated with the Naval Brigade depot, H.M.S. Crystal Palace, the park then used as a Royal Navy station; men going on leave were described as ‘going ashore’.

BalgowanSchool was completed in 1915 but it was used right away as a military hospital during the conflict. Kelsey Manor was used as a hospital for wounded officers. Dr. Robert Stilwell, Beckenham’s earliest G.P., Doctors, Tim Randall, R.M.H. Randall and George Stilwell served and attended the wounded in the various hospitals as well as Beckenham Cottage Hospital.

In 1916 there were 28 beds.

Inter-war years, 1918-1939

From 1919 to 1939 maternity services were supplied from a house in Croydon Road.

Between the wars the people of Beckenham proved their appreciation of their own local hospital. Foxgrove Cricket ground raised over £500 in 1921 and the Town Fete, over £3.000 in 1923.

To commemorate the dead of WWI, a further ward was added in 1921.

In 1924, the Linen Guild was formed to repair sheets and blankets as patients had to provide their own. The Guild also provided night dresses, pyjamas, bandages and other medical requisites. It went on to have over a thousand members. Children were not left out, ‘Beckenham Bunnies’ was formed in 1931 for junior members of the guild, with life membership of 2 shillings and sixpence in 1932, and a promise to give one toy and one book to the children’s ward each year.

They also collected pennies and half-pennies with the heads of Queen Victoria and Edward VII, farthings, silver paper, cigarette cards, used stamps, anything to raise money. The children wore Bunny costumes and rattled their charity tins around the area and in the park during events.

Charity boxes in the shape of a brick could be found in the shops and public houses, with a sign “Buy a brick for Beckenham”.

One million shillings were collected with the slogan, “The best for Beckenham”. This paid for a state-of-the-art extension. Two new wards were added: the Percy Jones Ward for women and the George Stilwell Ward for men in 1924. In 1926, extensions costing £32.000 were completed. There were now 40 beds including 8 private beds. The population was now 38,000.

“Beckenham is now in possession of a fine and thoroughly equipped hospital of which it has every reason to be proud”.  (Anon.)

Events in the adjacent recreation ground were used to raise money for the hospital including flower shows and fetes.

In 1929 there were 45 Beds and 806 admissions; in 1932 there were 54 beds and 834 admissions.

Sir George Sutton paid for a new children’s ward at a cost of £6,000 in 1932. When he died in 1935, he left the hospital £14,000.

Beckenham Council had one ambulance that was kept at the fire station.

StoneParkMaternityHospital was opened in 1938 and was paid for by public subscription. A fourteen days stay cost two Guineas. [Two pounds and two shillings]. It closed in 1986. The site was sold to MordenCollege and is now a sheltered residential complex.

The Trapnell wing, in BeckenhamHospital, named after Dr. F.C. Trapnell, was opened in 1939 by the Duchess of Gloucester. It consisted of a private patients’ room, a boiler room for cooking and sterilising, teaching facilities and a nurses’ home for 50 nurses.

World War II years, 1939-45

In 1939 there were 74 beds staffed by 12 Sisters, 38 Staff Nurses plus probationers.

In 1940 the Pathology Laboratory and blood transfusions started. The hospital was upgraded to a casualty clearing station with 125 beds.

During just one night time raid, 40 casualties were admitted. The staff worked for over 13 hours without a break or refreshment and at times had to sleep on the floor.

The children’s ward became a casualty reception ward and they were moved to the staff dining room. The maid’s room was used as an emergency operating theatre. Dr. Robinson’s wife was killed during an air raid as was Lord and Lady Stamp; he was president of the hospital board and she was a staunch advisor and mentor.

The elderly Dr. Trapnell was kept busy performing operations.

Beckenham and the surroundings were one of the most bombed, blasted and rocketed areas; South East London was known as ‘Bomb Alley and later ‘Doodlebug Alley’. High explosives, landmines and incendiaries fell on many roads in the district. The longest air raid occurred at the height of the ‘Battle of Britain’ and extended from Saturday afternoon on 14th September over Sunday and into Monday the 16th 1941. There were sixty casualties, 23 fatal, with extensive damage to houses.

The surrounding areas suffered 294 Flying Bombs, killing 360 and injuring 3,392 people.

The Beckenham and Penge area received more than Kent. In an appeal for eggs, several thousand were assured and to that date 975 had been provided. £46.2.6d for provision of eggs wholesale, this would have enabled the catering department to buy 4,920 eggs.

MarianVianSchool became a rest-centre for bombed-out people until they could be re-housed while it was still teaching pupils. Conditions were such during wartime that nurses were no longer expected to give up their jobs on marriage.

The last V2 rocket fell on Orpington 27th March 1944.

1945 onwards in the NHS

In 1945 beds were reduced in number to 85. Outpatients numbered 26,672 and admissions 1,655. A second residential officer appointed and thousands of pounds were spent of repairs and modern equipment.

Kelsey Park Farmhouse was purchased for staff accommodation and extra medical facilities in 1946.

The Linen Guild prepared to hand over to the incoming National Health Service.

Summarising the work done from 1942 to 1948: Money subscribed £10,848.10.11d.; value of linen provided £5.987. Special gifts to the hospital included an emergency lighting set for the operating theatre, fracture beds, over-bed tables, a library trolley etc.

The N.H.S. came into being in July 1948. Beckenham, Penge, Bromley and Farnborough formed into one group with a population of 250,000.

In-patients numbered 1,737. A complete nurses’ training school was established with Sydenham Children’s Hospital, Guy’s Hospital and St. John’s, Lewisham. By 1958 the college had over 200 girls from many areas.

Now there were no charges for Dental and Optical treatment etc. including staying in hospital – everything was free.

The people of Beckenham still held their own ‘hospital’ in esteem. The Friends of the hospital provided cubicle curtaining for the wards.

In 1958 there were 22,990 casualties and 2,163 admissions.

In 1959 a new out-patients department was opened at a cost of £77,000 and there were 2,262 admissions

In 1963 the car park was extended.

N.H.S. costs soared to £572million nationally.

In 1964, the catering department was improved and the staff now had their own coffee room.

In 1966 a new mobile X-Ray machine was provided. It would be needed in 1967 to accommodate the 7,076 out-patients, 2,892 in-patients and 28,044 accidents.

1969 saw the opening of the Douglas Lindsay Ward with the latest of materials.

Improvements to the Ruth Sutton ward and the operating theatre were also carried out. The scheme cost £50,000, increased the number of beds by another 24 and was completed in nine months.

The Management Committee considered the long waiting lists and over-crowded wards.

1970 – 2010

In 1971 the population was 80,000 and there were 117 beds.

The costs rose tremendously. Cost-cutting became the new vogue. Just one idea by Sister Margaret Bartholomew in1979 was to cut in half wooden spatulas used to apply ointment to wounds, making a saving of 50%. 21 beds were saved in the men’s ward but 7 had to go. Accident and emergency services were closed in 1973.

The Seventies, Eighties and Nineties were not happy times for the hospital with wards, departments and facilities in a state of flux. In 1982 a petition of 22,000 signatures was presented to the government to save the hospital. Sir Philip Goodhart M.P. said, “It was the largest demonstration of support for a local institution that I can remember in the past 25 years. This unprecedented gesture in part reflects the fear that the authorities will soon take far-reaching decisions without being aware of the strength of local sentiment and, in part, gratitude for the splendid skill and dedication of the staff of Beckenham Hospital”

1982 also saw the Friends of Beckenham Hospital raise money with a ‘bed push’, a cycle-ride to Brighton and the annual fete in the Croydon   Road recreation ground. Nurses ran the bottle stall.

Charity football matches were played between the local factory teams over the years. Kohnstamms, a specialist leather concern, Muirhead’s, Twinlock’s and others – now alas all gone. 1982 also saw surgery stopped, wards closed, only services for the elderly, outpatients and minor injuries unit were retained.

And so to present times …

The Beacon – 2009

The Beacon was completed in May 2009 and officially opened 11th May 2010.

It has provision for two GP surgeries, an Urgent Care Centre, outpatients, phlebotomy, a sexual health centre and ancillary departments. It has no wards with provision for beds for in-patients.

Pamela Osborne, a former “Bunny” said at the opening of the historic wall panels in the main corridor of the Beacon in 2007. “I was able to see the history panels in the Beckenham Beacon this week and they are absolutely wonderful. Congratulations on your vision and drive to carry it through. What a landmark in the hospital and they will be there forever.”

Here’s hoping Pamela is right but under the original P.F.I. deal, if it was deemed that in 25 years time there would be no need for this facility, the site would revert to the building consortium.

Alan Freeman.