Ipswich Icons: Anglesea Road and Ipswich hospitals started life as military establishments

Ipswich Hospital, Anglesea Road Wing in the 1840s and, left, the boiler house.

Ipswich Hospital, Anglesea Road Wing in the 1840s and, left, the boiler house. - Credit: Archant

Ipswich, like most towns in the middle ages, was plagued by disease and fever, writes John Norman of the ipswich Society.

This is not surprising given that a steady stream of travellers from London and other towns came to trade, sailors from across the globe used the dockside pubs and the occasional rat would “jump ship”.

Basic hygiene was clearly lacking,

clean drinking water wasn’t readily available to ordinary members of the population and the proximity of cess-pits and wells indicated the lack of understanding of the spread of bacteria.

There was a dung hill where muck was left to rot, open sewers flowed down the narrow streets and the town’s ditches were choked with industrial waste.

The Black Death reached Little Cornard in 1349 and Ipswich a few days later.

Hospitals however were almost non-existent, the best the town could offer was a bed for paupers and for those suffering from various skin diseases (which were prevalent).

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They were usually attached to the religious houses which provided a basic minimum of care, until the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536-1541).

Henry VIII broke the allegiance with Rome, created the Church of England, commandeered the wealth and assets of these religious houses and left the sick, the poor and the destitute to fend for themselves.

In 1569 Ipswich Corporation purchased land at Blackfriars and in 1572 obtained a charter from Queen Elizabeth to set up Christ’s Hospital.

This hospital was essentially for the poor, the young and for vagrant beggars, eventually becoming an early workhouse.

Elsewhere the home of Robert (Lord) Curson, a substantial house with extensive gardens on the corner of Silent Street and Rose Lane, became a residence of the Bishop of Norwich and, during the Dutch Wars, a hospital for the wounded.

This provision was typical in the 17th and 18th Centuries, hospitals initially used for the war wounded became available to the wider population after the conflict.

The main hospitals in Ipswich started life as military establishments, on Rushmere Heath (wooden huts for the wounded of the Napoleonic Wars) and a brick building between Anglesea Road and Ivry Street, north of the Barracks of the Royal Horse Artillery).

Both the First and the Second World Wars brought a major increase in the demand for hospital beds and large country houses were extensively used, mainly as convalescent homes.

Close to Ipswich: Hintlesham, Chantry, Wherstead, Gippeswyk Hall and in Belstead Road, William Paul’s family home, Broadwater House (since demolished).

The East Suffolk and Ipswich Hospital and Dispensary was built in 1835, paid for by public subscription at a cost of £2,500 and initially with 50 beds.

The architect, William Parkes Ribbans created a building in a prominent position at the top of Berners Street.

The building, although much altered, is still in use today, the portico visible from across the valley.

Demand was such that the facility was extended to accommodate 100 beds, and after the First World War, following further public subscription (this time in excess of £50,000) a new wing was built on the site of the military depot.

In January 1948, the management of the hospital was taken over by the National Health Service Act.

The hospital was renamed ‘Ipswich Hospital, Anglesea Road Wing’ and closed (as the main hospital) in 1955.

Anglesea Road continued to provide auxiliary medical services until finally closing in the early 1980s.

The original building (with portico) has been converted to a care home.

An outstanding feature of the hospital complex was the boiler house and water tower which loomed large over Ivry Street.

Designed by architect Peter Barefoot in 1961, the plumbing was enclosed, but clearly visible, inside a tall glass box, sufficiently unusual to win a Civic Trust and other architectural awards. A similar but smaller glass tower remains at the Heath Road Hospital.

On the other side of town the wooden huts had been sold (after the Napoleonic Wars) and the land became available for an alternative use.

Britain had been engaged in the war with France in 1803 and by 1809 these temporary barracks had become a hospital for men being evacuated from Walcheren (on the coast of the Netherlands close to Belgium) where they had contracted Walcheren fever, a combination of malaria and typhus.

The camp closed in 1813 and the entire goods and shackles were sold at auction.

The heathland on which they had been built remained in public ownership and in 1895 a workhouse and infirmary was built on the site.

The infirmary provided the foundation for the Heath Road Wing, now Ipswich Hospital, and this has progressively expanded to become a facility serving Ipswich and East Suffolk.