History of City Hospital | Art Works - City

History of City Hospital

Location: North Corridor, City Hospital

As part of the Arts Trails project in 2023, in the 75th year of the NHS, the project team created this timeline. Local historian Paul Swift provided photographs and information. If you follow the link below, you can hear and watch a video of Paul taking you through the timeline with some additional information:

Paul Swift - History recording - YouTube

We were also very lucky to connect with Bob Massey as part of the project, who provided us with some historical information about the role of arts in hospitals below:

After its conversion from a workhouse to a hospital, particularly during WW1, the health care at City was committed to providing services in a sensitive and humane way based upon the Victorian values of doing one’s civic duty and providing good works.

Led by a dedicated team of largely volunteers, well-heeled women such as Margaret Birkin, the wife of a local lace manufacturer, was one of the first in a long line of committed people who gave their time freely to provide a caring health environment. Margaret was matron at City's auxiliary hospital during WW1.

It is thought that it was during WW1 when soldiers returned home suffering from trauma and ‘shell shock ‘ that art activities began to be used as  therapy, with crafts, painting and drawing having a calming effect.
 Local plumber, Edwin Pitt, for example, organised theatre shows at the hospital during both World Wars, a tradition which carried on through to the 1960’s and 1970’s led by amateur performing groups and the Friends of City Hospital.

The collective ENSA, sent well-known performers all over the world to entertain the troops during WW2, and hospitals like City were the beneficiaries of high calibre shows and entertainment for convalescing soldiers.

The post-war period of 1945 -1960 was mainly a barren period. As the newly formed NHS struggled with the turmoil and enormous task of getting the nation back on its feet, the arts were seen as a low priority.

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