Borough Fever Hospital, Birkby

The Huddersfield Borough Fever Hospital, situated off Black Road in Birkby, was an isolation hospital from the early 1870s to the early 1900s.


A workhouse is believed to have been built on the site by the mid-1700s. By 1850, the workhouse included a separate hospital building and wash house.

Following the opening of Crosland Moor Workhouse in 1872, the Poor Law Board of Guardians requested that the Birkby Workhouse be sold.[1]

By January 1873, Huddersfield Corporation were considering purchasing the site in order to convert it into a dedicated isolation hospital for infectious diseases. This was partly in response to an outbreak of smallpox in the borough — with cases reported in Skilbeck's Yard, Deighton, and Hillhouse — which had necessitated the renting of the workhouse on a month-by-month basis for use as a temporary fever hospital.

At the March 1873 Town Council meeting, the Sanitary Committee reported that no new cases of smallpox had been reported and that of the seven patients currently in the temporary hospital at Birkby, four were now convalescing.[2] By May, the outbreak was over and the Hospital Subcommittee was authorised to pay George Sykes and his wife Edna — the former workhouse master and matron — 10 shillings per week for their services.[3]

The question of whether or not the Corporation should purchase the site from the Poor Law Guardians for use as a permanent fever hospital was raised again in January 1874. Councillors representing the area around Birkby were against the idea and instead favoured the building of a modern hospital rather than repurposing an old building.[4]

An outbreak of smallpox at Paddock in May and June 1874 saw the former workhouse being used again as a temporary fever hospital, with none of the ten cases proving fatal.[5] A fatal case occurred at the start of November when who had contracted smallpox at Penistone died at the hospital.[6]

In his report of 9 December 1874, John B. Pritchett (Medical Officer of Health) noted that "the Birkby Hospital has done an amount of good and has saved a number of lives, which no man can calculate, but it will not fulfil its mission until it has wards in which two or three different fevers may be treated and isolated at once."[7]

Huddersfield Corporation laid the legal groundwork to create a dedicated fever isolation hospital in the Huddersfield Waterworks and Improvement Act of 1876, although the exact location had yet to be decided upon. As well as the Birkby Workhouse, a site at Benholmley in Almondbury was also under consideration. Both sites were strongly objected to by local rate payers.[8]

An fatal outbreak of scarlet fever in the summer of 1876 saw patients being sent to the Birkby hospital. During June, nine people died of the disease.[9]

In his medical report dated 11 October 1876 to the town council, John B. Pritchett urged councillors to make use of their "new powers to build, purchase, or adapt any existing building for more complete provision for cases of different zymotic diseases".[10]

By the beginning of December 1876, the Hospital Subcommittee of the Sanitary Committee had authorised work to begin to convert Birkby Hospital into a fever hospital. Messrs. Whiteley & Nephew were instructed "to divide the fever ward at the hospital by [building] a partition down the centre of the room, also to provide stoves for heating the wards". Mrs. Mary Williams was appointed as the new matron on a salary of £52 per year, whilst the former workhouse's master and matron (George and Edna Sykes) who were still residing in part of the premises were told that they had no right to permanent residency. Of particular concern to councillors had been recent fatal cases in which Mrs. Sykes had refused to comply with orders from the Medical Officer of Health, therefore allowing smallpox to spread.[11]

In January 1877, Sir John William Ramsden notified Huddersfield Corporation that the offer of land at Benholmley for a new hospital had been withdrawn and that instead land close to the Crosland Moor Workhouse could be made available.[12]

An inspection of the ongoing alterations to the hospital was carried out in April 1877 by the Sanitary Committee, although it was felt that the Hospital Subcommittee had "exceeded the intentions and instructions of [the Sanitary Committee]" and that any fixtures or fittings should be of a type that could be transferred should a new fever hospital be built. In his monthly medical report, John B. Pritchett noted that the work done so far had eliminated "the dread which used to exist in people's minds of having to go to what was thought nothing better than a poor-house" and that there were currently "two members of wealthy families who were anxious to be taken there, and whose friends were thankful to have such a place to send them to at their own cost".[13]

A meeting was held in May 1877 between the Sanitary Committee and the Poor Law Guardians which resulted in the former moving from a monthly to an annual rental of the site. However, councillors then raised concerns about committing themselves to an annual rental when the possibility of building a new fever hospital was still under consideration. However, an inspection of the Crosland Moor site offered by Sir J.W. Ramsden had deemed it unsuitable.[14]

By November 1877, the Sanitary Committee had recommended that Huddersfield Corporation "purchase the land and premises of the present or temporary fever and smallpox hospital at Birkby from the overseers of the township of Huddersfield". At their December meeting, a proposal to purchase the site for £2,500 was passed by 26 votes to 18.[15]

In January 1879, Dr. James Spottiswoode Cameron (Medical Officer of Health) wrote to the Huddersfield Chronicle to ask readers to send him any drawings or engravings from illustrated journals which could then be used to adorn the walls of the children's ward. He explained that they preferred not to use expensive drawings or paintings as the nature of infectious diseases meant that they would be periodically destroyed. The newspaper supported the request, even going so far as to suggest:

We wish every buyer of an illustrated paper who has a portrait of the Princess Alice[16] would sent it, for the winning amiability of her face and the noble occasion and manner of her death would lighten up the bedside of every feverish child whose infectious lips pout for the loving kiss of a mother in vain.

On 3 March 1879, the Sanitary Committee visited the site "to consider as to the best plan of increasing the existing accommodation". Over the winter months, "the hospital had been more than full with ever cases."[17] By May, they had submitted a proposal to build a new hospital wing for £1,600. This was agreed at the subsequent town council after a lengthy debate.[18] The new wing, designed by borough surveyor John Henry Abbey, was completed by November 1880.

A detailed description of the hospital was recorded in the Tenth Annual Report of the Local Government Board (1882).

In April 1882, Mrs. Annie Crump and her husband James, both from Liverpool, were appointed matron and gardener on a joint salary of £75, with their board and lodgings supplied.[19] Their salary was increased to £85 in September 1886.[20]

The capacity of the hospital was further increased in the summer of 1886 with the addition of a temporary wooden extension "to admit the smallpox patients", which was constructed by joiner and builder Fred Maffin of Squirrel Ditch, Almondbury. This had been necessitated by an outbreak of scarlet fever which saw the Sanitary Committee make use of the facilities at Crosland Moor Workhouse.[21] Unfortunately a hot cinder from the stove that was stood in the centre of the room started a fire in the early hours of Friday 1 October. At the time, there were 13 patients in the temporary extension but one of them was able to raise the alarm before the fire took hold. James and Annie Crump quickly helped the patients to safety before James tackled the fire with buckets of water until the fire brigade arrived.[22]

An epidemic in October and November 1887 led to the Sanitary Committee negotiating an agreement with the Board of Guardians to make use of facilities at Crosland Moor Workhouse due to the Birkby Hospital being full. Once patients were free of disease, they were transferred to Crosland Moor to convalesce.[23] The overcrowding led to the Sanitary Committee recommending that it was "desirable to erect a permanent [isolation] hospital on some suitable site in the borough".[24]

By June 1888, the Sanitary Committee was recommending the building of a new hospital on land at Mill Hill, Dalton, which had reportedly been purchased from Henry Frederick Beaumont for £2,000.

In April 1889, the Municipal Borough of Huddersfield became the County Borough of Huddersfield and the Mayor (Alderman Joseph Brooke) used the occasion of the first meeting of the borough council to move a resolution:

That it is the opinion of this Council, and in view of the advice of the medical officer of health and borough surveyor, it is desirable in the interests of the health of the borough, that steps should be forthwith taken to provide adequate permanent hospital accommodation for the borough, upon the site at Mill Hill recently acquired for this purpose, and that a complete plan for the erection of a permanent hospital on the pavilion system, embodying all modern improvements, be prepared, the same to be carried out in sections, as the requirements of the borough may from time to time demand.

Of particular concern to the Mayor was the fact that patients were having to share a bed during fever outbreaks and that they were already breaching the Local Government Board requirements to have at least 40 feet between the hospital and adjoining buildings. The Birkby Hospital also had limited room for expansion at 3,612 yards of ground compared to 12 acres purchased at Mill Hill. After a heated debate, the issues was adjourned for a month.[25]

Due to the split within the council, the Mayor withdrew his resolution at the May meeting in favour of the following which was carried without opposition and brought the Special Hospital Committee into existence:[26]

That the who subject of hospital accommodation for the borough be referred to a committee, with power to call in skilled scientific and professional evidence and that such committee consist of the chairman and vice-chairman of each standing committee of the Council.

The new Mill Hill Isolation Hospital in Dalton opened in 1898.

In January 1900, Huddersfield Corporation offered the hospital to the War Office to be used for wounded soldiers returning from the Boer War.[27]

At the time the 1907 O.S. map was surveyed, the former workhouse building had been demolished, leaving only the hospital building remaining.

By the end of 1905, the Huddersfield Education Committee were considering plans to convert the hospital into "a school for defective and epileptic children" along the lines of "open air" schools in Halifax and Bradford.[28] However, following pressure from the Board of Education, it was announced in October 1909 that the "site would be utilised for a public elementary school".[29] By March 1910, contracts to the value of £7,823 had been let for constructing the new school[30]

The school was designed by borough engineer Kenneth F. Campbell and could accommodate "400 children in the mixed department, and 200 in the infants' department". The foundation stone was laid on 9 June.[31] The school was formally opened 22 July 1911 by the Mayor of Huddersfield, Councillor George Thompson. Amongst the reported "features new to Huddersfield" were a laundry, cookery rooms, and "an arrangement for drying the children's clothes during wet weather"[32]

As of 2016, the site is home to Birkby Infant and Nursery School.


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Further Reading


Notes and References

  1. Pray Remember the Poor: The Poor Laws and Huddersfield (2004) by Allan Place.
  2. "Huddersfield Town Council" in Huddersfield Chronicle (20/Mar/1873).
  3. "Huddersfield Town Council" in Huddersfield Chronicle (24/May/1873).
  4. "Huddersfield Town Council" in Huddersfield Chronicle (22/Jan/1874).
  5. "Small-pox in the Borough" in Huddersfield Daily Chronicle (17/Jun/1874).
  6. "Huddersfield Town Council" in Huddersfield Daily Chronicle (10/Nov/1874).
  7. "Borough of Huddersfield: Returns of Births and Deaths" in Huddersfield Daily Chronicle (16/Dec/1874).
  8. "The Fartown Ratepayers and the Birkby Fever Hospital" in Huddersfield Daily Chronicle (16/Mar/1876).
  9. "Huddersfield Town Council" in Huddersfield Daily Chronicle (20/Jul/1876).
  10. "Huddersfield Town Council" in Huddersfield Daily Chronicle (19/Oct/1876).
  11. "Huddersfield Town Council" in Huddersfield Daily Chronicle (21/Dec/1876).
  12. "Huddersfield Town Council" in Huddersfield Daily Chronicle (18/Jan/1877).
  13. "Huddersfield Town Council" in Huddersfield Daily Chronicle (21/Apr/1877).
  14. "Huddersfield Town Council" in Huddersfield Daily Chronicle (17/May/1877).
  15. "Huddersfield Town Council" in Huddersfield Daily Chronicle (20/Dec/1877).
  16. Princess Alice was the daughter of Queen Victoria who had recently died in December 1878 from an infectious disease.
  17. "Huddersfield Town Council" in Huddersfield Daily Chronicle (21/Mar/1879).
  18. "Huddersfield Town Council" in Huddersfield Daily Chronicle (22/May/1879).
  19. "Huddersfield Town Council" in Huddersfield Daily Chronicle (20/Apr/1882).
  20. "Huddersfield Town Council" in Huddersfield Daily Chronicle (16/Sep/1886).
  21. "Huddersfield Town Council" in Huddersfield Daily Chronicle (17/Jun/1886).
  22. "Fire at Birkby Hospital" in Huddersfield Chronicle (02/Oct/1886).
  23. "The Fever Epidemic" in Huddersfield Chronicle (12/Nov/1887).
  24. "Huddersfield Town Council" in Huddersfield Daily Chronicle (16/Feb/1888).
  25. "Huddersfield County Borough Council" in Huddersfield Daily Chronicle (18/Apr/1889).
  26. "Huddersfield County Borough Council" in Huddersfield Daily Chronicle (16/May/1889).
  27. Yorkshire Evening Post (17/Jan/1900).
  28. Leeds Mercury (23/Dec/1905).
  29. "Huddersfield Education Hopes" in Leeds Mercury (15/Oct/1909).
  30. "Huddersfield Town Council" in Yorkshire Post (17/Mar/1910).
  31. "New Elementary School for Huddersfield" in Yorkshire Post (10/Jun/1910).
  32. "New Elementary School at Birkby" in Yorkshire Post (24/Jul/1911).