Wolverhampton and District Hospital For Women: developing health services for women.



J. C. Newbold, M.A., M.B., B.Ch.(Cantab) F.R.C.S., F.R.C.O.G.

5th May 1972

On the 15th September 1886, the minutes of the half-yearly meeting of the Board of Governors of the Wolverhampton and Staffordshire General Hospital record that Dr Vincent Jackson, assistant surgeon, brought up what he considered to be a vital matter, the provision of a New Surgical Infirmary for Women. He stated that this had been strongly recommended in 1884 and 1885 without being put into effect, but that now a generous donor had given a house in Cleveland Road near the hospital and funds to establish it. The Chairman said that the matter had been n sprung on him " and dismissed the motion.

On Wednesday November 24th,1886, The Wolverhampton Chronicle printed for the first time in its weekly list of Charitable Institutions, details of the “Wolverhampton Dispensary for Women".

The names of the staff were given as: -

Consulting Surgeon

Dr Lawson Tait

Acting Surgeons

Dr Charles Smith

Dr Collis.

36 patients had been treated in the past week.

The Minute Book of this first Committee is preserved and this sets out the motives for the founding of the Institution. It points out the advantage of a separate Institution for Women suffering from complaints peculiar to their sex and goes on to say " Experience shows that hospitals which give beds-in their wards for Gynaecology do not do a fair proportion of work. The case of St. Bartholomew's is an illustration. Besides, every town has its special department - Birmingham, Liverpool, London and Nottingham. The hospital in Nottingham was started in exactly the same way and has now developed into a flourishing and useful institution"

From this Minute Book we learn that the first week's work had been completed on September 23rd, 1886, and we can assume therefrom that Gynaecology as a special subject started in mid-September 1886.

It must have been a great feather in the cap of the Wolverhampton Dispensary for Women, to have persuaded the famous Lawson Tait to be Consultant Surgeon - not that he would have needed much persuading, I should imagine. Three years earlier he had become ever more famous when he performed the first operation in the history of Surgery for Tubal Pregnancy, in a private house in Penn Road, Wolverhampton, whether he had been summoned from Birmingham by Dr Spackman, grandfather of our own Dr Charles Spackman, still alive, and also of Mr. William Collis Spackman late I.M.S., an illustrious member of our College.

Incidentally, that patient-died in bed shortly after the operation and this caused Tait to observe that the next time, he performed the operation he would tie the bleeding artery first and not waste an hour cleaning out the blood clots. Two weeks later, he operated again for this condition, this time in Birmingham, put his resolution into practice, and the patient lived.

The Minute Book records that within two years the volume of 'work had become too great for the house and larger quarters were sought.

In 1888, the Wolverhampton and District Eye Infirmary completed a new building in Compton Road, and left their old establishment, St. Mark's Place, in St. Mark's Road, Chapel Ash. Negotiations for its purchase were started and it was eventually acquired by the Wolverhampton Dispensary for Women, who moved in in March 1890. This building stood where Attwood’s Motor Showroom now stands, on the corner of Salop Street and St. Mark's Street, facing down Chapel Ash.

The 17th and 18th operations in the New Hospital were both performed on a Mrs. Maud Wilcox, on June 24th and July 5th, by a Mr. J. W. Taylor who was appointed to the staff of the New Hospital. This was for the removal of a full-term extra-uterine pregnancy and subsequently to relieve intestinal obstruction caused by the placenta still adherent to the gut. The details of this operation are minutely described in the first operation book, which is preserved. Mr. Taylor subsequently reported this case in the Medical Press.

In 1891, an assistant Surgeon, Dr Lycett was appointed, and in May 1892 Dr Smith died. The Committee, previously all G.P.Surgeons, decided to advertise this post and to insist that the successful applicant should devote all his time to Gynaecology and live in Wolverhampton. There were five applicants, two being local practitioners. Two were short-listed, Dr Berington of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Dr Frederick Edge of Barming Heath, Maidstone. The interviews with both candidates are fully recorded in the Minute Book. Edge's was all that a good interview should be. Berington's said everything that a candidate should not say. Edge was appointed. Shortly after this, Mountford Nicklin M.B. was appointed as assistant Surgeon.

The minutes show that Edge soon made his presence felt. For example, it was agreed that, as the operating room was cold in the morning, the servant should light the fire one hour earlier than usual.

In 1898, the minutes record that, as the St. Nark's Place premises had become too small for the volume of work, a new Hospital was needed and that the Chairman, Mr. John L. Gibbons M.P., of Sedgley, had given a plot of land opposite the West Park at the corner of Connaught Road. A Special Committee was set up, subscription sought, and eventually a competition for Architects to design a new hospital was announced. The competition was won by Mr. A. Eaton Painter. The feature in the design which most influenced the Selection Committee was that there were two staircases to the 1st floor, one at each end of the building, a safety measure in case of fire. There were 24 beds. Eventually, the building was commenced in 1902, the foundation stones formally laid by Lady Wrottesley and Mrs. J. L. Gibbons in 1903, and the building completed and occupied in 1904.

The Staff at this time was listed as:

Consulting Surgeons

Acting Surgeons

Thomas Savage, John W. Taylor, John A. Lycett,

Frederick Edge, Smallwood Savage, V. R. Somerset, W. Spencer Badger J. A. Wolverson, Ina McNeill

In this year, 1904 the Wolverhampton and Staffordshire medical and lay, and giving a complete list of all operations performed. It is apparent that beds had been set aside for Gynaecology and the most junior of the Surgeons, Mr. W. T. Cholmley, put in charge. That year 36, Gynaecological operations had been performed at the Royal. These included

 1 Vaginal hysterectomy

 2 Abdominal hysterectomies

 2 Abdominal fixations

 4 Permoeorrhaphies

 1 extra-uterine gestation

This amount of Gynaecology was small compared with that done in the Wolverhampton Dispensary for Women where, three years earlier in 1901, we are told in the Annual Report that 216 operations had been performed, of which 99 were abdominal operations. 660 new Outpatients had been seen, and there had been 3516 attendances.

The first printed report of the General Hospital (1904) already referred to, records that Dr EW Strange, the first Specialist anaesthetist, had been appointed in 1902 and that in the year recorded he had administered 1604 anaesthetics. The year of his appointment to the Women's in not known, but he and Edge were great friends, and his election could not have been long after 1905. It is from E.W.S. that we have learnt stories about Edge that help us to picture his character. Soon after his appointment to the Dispensary, he was appointed to the Women's Hospital in Sparkhill, Birmingham, to take a special interest in Pathology. He then began to live in Birmingham. He had opened a private Nursing Home at No,2, Tettenhall Road, Wolverhampton, and held a private clinic there, with patients sitting waiting on forms, before he went round to the " Women's " to do his hospital clinic. Dr Strange was sent to the Women's Hospital to ask the ladies waiting in the Outpatients Department whether any of them would rather be seen privately, and, if so, Dr Edge would see them now round the corner. At the end of the day he went back to Birmingham with a bag full of £1 notes 

In 1919, all the land along the South side of Connaught Road was acquired down to the Tettenhall Road (A41) and a larger Out Patients Department built. Proper facilities for maternity were very poor at this time. Patients were dealt with in their homes and, if in dire trouble, were removed to the Women's Hospital or- the Casualty ward at the General. More than once, Mr. s. w. Maslen-Jones, returning from a journey to London, was met at the station by a G.P. and asked _to bring his perforator to a woman in obstructed labour in her home.· A small house, No 1 Bath Road, was set aside as a District Maternity Home. There were 9 beds. The Women's Hospital Staff wished to build a new Maternity Hospital to supercede the D.M.H., but the Staff of the General decided to build its· own Maternity Hospital. Such was the disagreement that neither were started. A scheme to raise 1,000,000 shillings was poorly 'supported and. it wasn't until Mr. George Mason, in 1920, bequeathed £ 20 1000 that the Management Committee could proceed.


A Maternity Hospital with 21 beds was built on the Women's Hospital site in 1927 and_ a smaller ward with 9 beds to house oases of Puerperal Infection was also erected, the former dedicated to Mrs. Marson and the latter to Mrs Jeasie Fowke.

During the building of these extensions to the Women's Hospital, Mr. NB Graham, owner of the Express and Star, and a great worker for and a benefactor of both hospitals realised the undesirability of having two rival maternity units in the town and the plans. For the other in association with the General Hospital were dropped. Shortly after this; I am happy to relate, the" General II and the II Women's" buried the hatchet and amalgamated, following which Fred Edge was designated Hon. Gynaecologist to the Wolverhampton and Staffordshire General Hospital and all Gynae. there ceased.
SW Maslen-Jones considered that the Women's lost on the deal, as funds for a new laundry which was about to be built, were appropriated.

Now some more about the Staff. After the war, Smallwood Savage retired, and in 1921 Mr, Samuel Walker, Maslen-Jones M.S., F.R.c.s. was appointed from Middlesex Hospital. He continued to be an active and influential surgeon until his retirement in 1956, and during his life brought great honour to Wolverhampton Gynaecology, and to himself. He was at one time President of this learned Society (The Birmingham and Midlands Obstetrics and Gynaecological Society) and eventually became Vice-President of the R.G.O.G. There is one very amusing story about his appointment to the Women's Hospital which he loved to tell. Having been to view the land and having returned, undecided, to London, Edge, who had taken a fancy to him, sent a telegram which said " Come quick. Money rolling in ". This decided him to accept the appointment. He also tells how, in 1919 having returned from the war he did a surgical course at London Hospital, where he became friendly with a brilliant young woman surgeon also seeking her P.R.C.S. named Miss Shufflebottom, affectionately nicknamed “Snuff”. Later she became better known as Mrs. Hilda Lloyd, later Professor Hilda Lloyd, then President of the R.C.O.G., thereafter Dame Hilda Lloyd and now, still happy and healthy in retirement, Dame Hilda Rose.

After the war, Miss Ina McNeill retired and was replaced by Miss Margaret Reynolds as it was thought right to have a lady doctor on the Staff

In 1931 Miss Jane Nagle came to the hospital as R.S.O. and, later becoming a Consultant, has remained working at the Women's Hospital ever since, a tower of strength and much beloved by the community. She retired five days ago.

In 1937 Mr. Edge died and was replaced by Mr. Patrick Lyon Playfair. In 1947 Mr. Playfair resigned his appointment to go to Rhodesia and I was appointed in his place. In December 1956 Mr. S. W. Maslen-Jones retired and Mr. Harry Johnson Fisher of Cardiff University and the Poet-graduate Medical School at Hammersmith was appointed in his place.

On May 1st, 1972, Mr. Alan Malcolm Smith of Oxford University, University College Hospital, and the United Birmingham Hospitals, lately Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at West Bromwich, was appointed to take Miss Nagle's place.

During my own surgeonship, a new 17 bed extension and 3 new labour wards were added to the Maternity Department. The veranda of Jessie Fowke ward was roofed to make 6 extra Gynae. beds, the Operating Theatre was enlarged and modernised, and in 1959 a large house, next but one to the hospital, acquired as a post-operative annexe, housing 18 beds. Up till this time, No.1 Bath Road, no longer used for midwifery, had been used as a convalescent annexe. A unit with 17 Special Care baby cots was built, in all accommodation for 122 patients. It is right that I should record that in 1946 Dr. Harold Everley-Jones was appointed Consultant Paediatrician to the Royal and Women's Hospitals, and still remains our indefatigable colleague in charge of Neonatal care.

Our New Maternity Unit, conceived in 1954, designed in 1957 and 1958, and commenced in 1968, was completed in 1971. We moved in on February 12th 1971 and Princess Anne formally opened it on May 26th. Within the next two years we hope to transfer Gynaecology to the New Cross site, at first to temporary accommodation vacated by Geriatric patients, and later to newly built Surgical wards yet to be constructed.

Despite this progress, it will in many ways be a sad day when we leave the Women's Hospital In the West Park, the loveliest, friendliest,hardest-working: hospital in Britain - or so we think.

J. C. Newbold, M.A., M.B., B.Ch.(Cantab) F.R.C.S., F.R.C.O.G.

5th May 1972