Historic Hospital Gets A Refurbish
03 Aug 2012

Work is currently underway to refurbish Truro’s former Infirmary building in keeping with its rich history. Located to the south of the city centre on the west side of Infirmary Hill, Cornwall’s first hospital is now a grade II listed building originally constructed in the late 1790s. Having served the community for over 200 years, Royal Barham House comprises of three distinct periods that encapsulates the unique building’s rich history.

Senior Archaeologist, Historic Environment Projects for Cornwall Council, Nigel Thomas says, “Cornwall Royal Infirmary was the first hospital founded in Cornwall. It was designed by the architect William Wood and was built in the 1790s. It served for two centuries as Truro’s infirmary, more recently being known as the City Hospital. Its imposing facade is a well known landmark, situated on the higher ground south of the city centre. The hospital gave its name to Infirmary Hill and the site now lies within Truro’s Conservation Area.”

1799 The Central Wing

The infirmary was opened to serve Cornwall’s mining community and the poor on encouragement from the Sherriff, Sir Francis Basset.  It had 20 beds, 10 for women, and 10 for men, on separate floors, and it was funded by subscription. The local freestone building was originally heated by fireplaces in its main rooms, and its blocks of chimneys are still visible.

In its first year, 47 patients were admitted, but as many as seven or eight beds were often vacant, as local suspicions suggested that the new hospital was being used for experimentation.

The hospital soon started a campaign to promote a vaccination against Smallpox, a disease responsible at this time for one in 12 deaths with one quarter of those suffering from blindness.

Over the next few decades the type of cases being treated at the infirmary were fevers, ulcers, chest  infections, rheumatism, contusions, fractures, abscesses, tumours, dislocations, colic, haemorrhages, palsies, cancers and wounds of various types.

A Parish domiciliary medical service was introduced following the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 and was available to paupers until the introduction of the National Health Services in 1948. Within this period, Truro subscribers could nominate poor ‘worthy’ cases for medical and surgical care with free medicines from a dispensary based at Union Place.

1868 – West Wing Extension

A new operating room as built at a cost of £123 and 18 shillings. In 1869 healthcare improved further when a nursing system for nurse training modelled on the Nightingale School was introduced. In 1889 an Ophthalmology department opened, followed by a Dentistry department in 1894.

1901 Electricity was installed to accommodate a new x-ray room

1907 – South Wing

During the Edwardian period, a brick extension with Delabole slate roof was built which enabled the hospital to offer 50 beds to the War Office for serious surgical cases of Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry war casualties.

The first contingent of wounded were received in June 1915, being carried from Truro railway station in convoys of ambulances. Children’s wards were also opened at this time.

In the late 1930’s the hospital underwent a major expansion, with the construction of the main hospital extension, its two wings flanking an open area, encircling a water feature.

When the Second World War broke out one of the first moves was to protect the hospital. Ramparts of 25,000 sandbags were built and all ‘sitting up patients’ were sent home. Despite the preparations, two 500 kg bombs were dropped over Truro, one virtually demolished the south wing of the hospital. Rachel Appleby, a staff nurse was one of 14 other people who were killed on that day.

"Our oldest casualty was 76-years-old and the youngest, sadly, was just 10 days."

After the war the NHS was introduced in 1948. The City Hospital began to transfer its services to Treliske in 1992, and it finally closed in 1999.

As part of the regeneration of the building, the entrance at Lepers Arch Gate is due to be restored  based on the original design. In addition a plaque will accompany the arch to expand on the history of the arch and explains how the arch survived bombing raids of World War 2.

For more information about the coming soon apartments call 0844 417 3171 to book a personal appointment.


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