|A postcard from Davenport
no.9 : Stepping Hill Military Hospital
This postcard was sent in 1916 by T.J. Jones to Miss M. Thompson (probably a work colleague) in Birmingham.
The text reads:
Pte T.J. Jones, RAMC 78985. Ward A1, Thursday.
This postcard was published by prolific Stockport firm 'Grenville Series', using the photograph from an existing card which was captioned 'Stepping Hill Hospital, Stockport'. The view is from Bramhall Moor Lane near what is now the main entrance gate of the expanded hospital.
The hospital, which today is the principal hospital for Stockport and the High Peak area, opened in 1905 as the Stepping Hill Poor Law Hospital, by the Stockport Poor Law Union, responsible for the Stockport Workhouse in Shaw Heath. 'Poor Laws' requiring citizens to fund facilities for the poor and destitute, had been in force in various forms since the 1500s, and the Workhouse was one of the answers. Initially paupers who were sick or giving birth were treated in an makeshift infirmary at Workhouse, but by 1900 it was realised a purpose-built facility was more appropriate.
The Workhouse in Shaw Heath, the oldest part of which dated from 1842 later became a geriatric hospital called St Thomas's, which housed elderly patients re-located from Stepping Hill while it was decided whether they could safely go home. (The author's mother spent several unhappy weeks in there.) It finally closed in 2004; in 2020 the (listed) buildings still stand empty.The site chosen for the new infirmary was an area of farmland, formerly part of the Bramhall estates of the Davenport family, between the Stockport - Buxton Road and the London and North Western Railway's Stockport - Buxton railway in an area known as Stepping Hill. A railway siding was provided, presumably for the delivery of building materials and later coal for the boilers, but by 1914 fell into disuse was removed. The original buildings occupied a rectangular site served by a new street called Poplar Grove, but large areas either side were protected for future use.
In its original form, the hospital comprised a central administration block including a boiler house, flanked by two three-storey pavilions ( with 24 beds on each floor) either side, linked by walkways which were open to the air, presumably to protect against cross-infections. Nearby was residential accommodation for staff.
The Official Opening
Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Saturday 9 December 1905:
Mr. G. N. Andrew, chairman of the Stockport Board of Guardians, on Thursday, in the presence of a large gathering, including representatives from many local and district authorities, formally opened the new workhouse infirmary at Stepping Hill, which will afford accommodation for three hundred and forty patients, a home for thirty-six nurses, and housing for twenty-four officials and servants. The administrative block and a large waiting hall occupy the central position: there are on each side of the main corridor two pavilions, each for men and women, having three floors, and at the end exercise verandahs and escape staircases. The entire equipment is of an up-to-date character, and the cost is estimated £130 per bed. A gold key for the opening ceremony was presented to Mr. Andrew by the architect, Mr. W. H. Ward, Birmingham. During the afternoon a large number of visitors were shown over the building by members of [the] Board.
Above, the initial layout of the hospital from an Ordnance Survey.
The 1914-18 war saw the hospital assume the role of a Military Hospital, along with several other buildings in Stockport, although some of the wards were probably retained for public use.
In 1930 the workhouse system was abolished, and Stepping Hill was taken over by Stockport Council and renamed as a 'Public Assistance Institution' although the old name remained in common use. In 1948, it passed to the National Health Service to become Stepping Hill hospital. The Stockport Infirmary in the town centre, which had been built in the 1830s as a charitable institution and also became part of the National Health Service until 1996 when it was closed, to become part of an office complex. Stepping Hill, which had by then expanded to fill all the available space on either side of the original rectangular plot, became the General Hospital for a wide area, part of Stockport Hospital Foundation Trust.
The hospital in 2020. Surviving original buildings can be seen in the centre of the view. The railway runs from middle left to bottom right of the image; in the 198os there was a proposal for a station to serve the hospital, but this never materialise, but visitors and staff can make a 10-minute walk from Woodsmoor station, opened in 1990.
The Autograph Book
Mary Hicks, who was a nurse at the hospital at the time, kept an autograph book in which patients could leave messages, drawings, or other thoughts. After being lost for many years, the book was discovered in Cornwall in 2014, and returned to Mary's family. A digital copy was made and is available to browse on the Hospital's website. One of the many contributors was none other than Thomas J. Jones, who wrote (page 6):
To Our Nurse
For those who minister and heal,
And spend themselves, their skill, their zeal,
Renew their hearts with Christ-like faith,
And guard them from disease and death.
And in thine own good time Lord, send
Thy Peace on earth till time shall end!