Nottingham University Hospitals Archive

Nottingham University Hospitals Archive

The Nottingham University Hospitals Archive website features in-depth history about various Nottingham hospitals including the General Hospital, Mapperley Hospital and the Queen's Medical Centre.

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A history of the Nottingham Children's Hospital

Our honorary archivist Paul Swift chronicles a history of the Nottingham Children's Hospital, from its beginning in a converted house to the amalgamation of all children's services under one roof at the Queen's Medical Centre. 

The Nottingham Children's Hospital as we know it today is an amalgamation of two hospitals - one which was already housed at the Queen's Medical Centre (QMC) and the other which transferred from Nottingham City Hospital in June 2008.

Both have individual histories, one beginning in a converted house in 1869 and the other beginning 34 years later in 1903 with the opening of the Bagthorpe Workhouse and Infirmary - later renamed the Nottingham City Hospital.

27. South View Of The Bagthorpe Workhouse And Infirmary , 1903

1903: The City Hospital as the Bagthorpe Workhouse and Infirmary

To begin our discoveries we have to travel back to a time when the Nottingham Children's Hospital was housed in a former mansion house, Forest House. The house once belonged to Sir Thomas Birkin, who transferred its services to QMC on 11 November 1978.

18. Forest House 1900

1900: Forest House

The children's hospital we know today is a far cry from what any previous generation of children experienced. At the turn of the twentieth century, without the aid of modern medicines, treatment was very primitive. If you were struck down with an illness like tuberculosis, the healing process could be slow and sometimes very painful, with long bouts of separation from family and friends.

Visiting was not allowed if you were suffering from tuberculosis and all your friends and family could do was look at you from the outside, using a viewing platform outside the hospital ward. Rules for inpatients were also very restrictive with no visitors allowed except in cases of extreme illness.

28. Viewing Platform

A viewing platform outside a ward

Even after the discovery of penicillin in the 1940s, one of the drugs that brought the disease under control, fresh air was very much still in evidence in the treatment for tuberculosis, as this picture taken of children at the City Hospital in the mid-1950s demonstrates.

25. Nottm City Hospital Children 's Wards , Early 1950's

The treatment of fresh air for tuberculosis suffers

Today on the wards apart from seeing lots of nurses and doctors and the reassuring faces of family and friends, there are also lots of toys and games to play with. When it first opened the children's hospital was an austere place that lacked the comforts so familiar on hospital wards today. Not only were the wards forbidding looking places, they were also lacking in space.

In contrast to the cramped conditions of Forest House, first built as a workhouse and infirmary, the wards at the City Hospital were more spacious, as the photograph below from 1925 illustrates.

24. Nottm City Hospital Children 's Wards , 1925. Now The Edward Unit

1925: Children's Ward, Nottingham City Hospital

In answer to the cramped conditions, the facilities at Forest House were finally extended. This was made possible by John Dane Player of John Player and Sons, who paid for the whole building project with a donation of £40,000, which today would be worth £1,921,600. Appropriately named the Player Wing, it was officially opened on 30 April 1927 by HRH Princess Mary.

20. Official Opening Of The Player Wing , 1927

1927: The official opening ceremony led by Princess Mary and John Dane Player

The opening of the Player Wing led to a number of departmental expansions throughout the hospital, including the outpatient department, X-ray department, ultraviolet ray and electrical massage departments.

Unlike hospitals today, which are funded by taxation, before the inception of the National Health Service in 1948, hospital funding came from many different sources. Hospitals like the Nottingham Children's Hospital, Forest House, were funded and patronised not just by members of the aristocracy and captains of local industries, but also by members of the public. To achieve this, members of the public were encouraged by the hospital management to subscribe to monthly donations or to leave legacies in their wills, which would allow them a lasting memorial of their legacy by having a brass memorial plate erected over a child's bed. These hospitals were referred to as voluntary hospitals.

Although all hospitals throughout the UK during World War II came under government control, hospitals like the Nottingham Children's Hospital, Forest House, still made repeated requests for monetary donations. However, saddled with the privations of war, this was later extended to include requests for food and clothing, as the example from the annual report for 1943 shows.

03. Nottingham Children 's Hospital Annual Report 1943

Imagine asking a child of today to eat game, which could be anything from pheasant, wood pigeon or duck, or asking a child to eat rabbit, which may possibly, if available, extend to hare. Or could you imagine the children's hospital of today sending out requests for new and old linen and cotton sheets? This would not happen now, but that was how they used to keep and maintain themselves during World War II and even for a few years afterwards.

For hospitals like the City Hospital, funding came from the local authority as it was a hospital that had grown out of the Poor Law, a law that had been in existence since 1601. Although the Poor Law was revised in 1834, it did not formally end until the birth of the Welfare State in 1948 and the inception of the National Health Service.

For hospitals like the Nottingham Children's Hospital, Forest House, this heralded the dawning of expansion, coming as it did with improvements being made to the X-ray department, theatres and wards, especially the X-ray department and the operating theatres with the introduction of equipment and anaesthetic equipment specially designed for children.

Although much smaller, the Children's Unit at the City Hospital had already moved to a new purpose built building in 1930 with four new wards and an operating theatre, bringing the capacity to perform surgery up from one to two operating theatres. Up until 1930 paediatric surgery had to be performed in one primitive-looking operating theatre that has since, to this day, been found other uses.

09 Operating Theatre , Circa 1920's , Nottingham Children 's Hospital

1927: Operating theatre at the Nottingham Children's Hospital

To brighten any child's stay in hospital, it is quite common for special visits to be made by local and national entertainers. On special occasions celebrities often pay visits to children's wards. The below example shows a visit to Forest House in 1977 by one of the Wombles, in this case Great Uncle Bulgaria and a very young Bonnie Langford, dressed as one of the characters of the Just William television series.

17. Famous Folk , 1976

1977: Famous visitors to Forest House

With innovative strides being made in healthcare, it was decided in 1965 that Nottingham should become one of the main players in those innovative strides. After fighting off stiff competition from other cities, it was decided that Nottingham should have the honour to house a new medical school attached to the University of Nottingham.

Of course having a medical school would have serious implications for the children's hospital as indeed it would have for many other hospitals in Nottingham. It was decided the new medical school would have attached to it a new purpose built hospital. However, from the decision being made in 1965, it would be a further six years before construction work would get underway.

29. Medical _School May 1972[

May 1972: The Queen's Medical Centre during construction

The new hospital, although welcomed, in a way sealed the fate for the children's hospital, which by then had become affectionately known, especially by those who worked there, as Little Ormond Street - a reference to the amount of medical staff who had at one time trained or practised at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London.

On Saturday 8 September 1978, just over a year after the official opening of QMC, the countdown began for the transfer of the Nottingham Children's Hospital to the QMC on 11 November 1978.

With the impending transfer date drawing ever closer, there were those who felt a tinge of sadness as the old place was closing. However, for those with an eye to the future, children's services at the new QMC offered the chance for more staff and better facilities. It was also envisaged that at QMC, children would be able to receive treatment for such illnesses as diabetes, leukaemia, respiratory problems and neurosurgical conditions in their own hospital rather than having to travel to specialist hospitals elsewhere in the country.

The children's hospital that transferred to QMC came with a proud heritage. However, as an occupational hazard of progress the title 'hospital' was dropped from conversation, as the children's hospital became a children's unit - just part of one of the many departments at the QMC. However, after much planning and preparation, the Nottingham Children's Hospital title was revived with the transfer of wards from the City Hospital in 2009. This was made official in 2010 when the Duchess of Gloucester officially opened the Nottingham Children's Hospital at QMC.

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2010: The Duchess of Gloucester officially opened the Nottingham Children's Hospital at QMC

NHS Nottingham University Hospitals
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