Memories of Taunton - with Nick Chipchase
I apologise in advance if the image is impaired as it comes from a souvenir booklet printed by Barnicott and Pearce in 1913. In some 40 years of collecting Taunton items it is the only one I have seen so it must be very rare.
The booklet was produced to mark the centenary of Taunton and Somerset Hospital 1812 - 1912. It contains numerous photographs but I have chosen this one as it clearly reflects differences in attitudes and behavior between 1912 and today. This is the nurse’s sitting room at East Reach where the immaculate staff are engaged in ladylike activities like chess, the piano and needlework . Having worked at the Musgrove Park Hospital social club for a while ( it no longer exists ) I am well aware how the medical staff of today would rather spend their free time. A tennis court was also built at East Reach across the road from the hospital for staff to engage in healthy outdoor pursuits.
The booklet also shows a very sparse operating theatre, Gould, Liddon and Blake wards, the kitchen, laundry, dispensary and outside balconies for patients to lie in bed in the fresh air. My memories of the hospital are the removal of my tonsils c 1953 and casualty after being hit off my motor bike by my own doctor . Convenient to say the least.
The former St Joseph’s convent was intended to be “ a general hospital for the relief of the sick poor “. The first stone was laid in 1772 but the project ran into dept before the building was completed. The Franciscan nuns , originally from Belgium , bought the property in 1807 and developed the site into a convent. Two years later Dr. Malachi Blake reminded the inhabitants of Taunton that to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the reign of King George 111 many towns were starting projects for the benefit of their people. His idea of “ a public medical institution for the benefit of the poorer inhabitants “ lead to a public meeting on how best to move forward. Following this Mr George Sheppard of Bishops Hull kindly donated the land and the hospital foundation stone was laid with Masonic honours on April 11th 1810. The Institution was formally opened on 25th March 1812 and consisted of four wards for twenty six patients,a surgery, committee room and Matron’s residence. in 1839 a new wing was added comprising another four wards.Further enlargements took place in 1842 ,1848 and 1873. In October 1888 the Victoria Jubilee Nursing Institute opened next to the hospital to promote intelligent and careful nursing in the treatment of sickness reflecting the self denying labours of Florence Nightingale. A gift of £5,000 from Mr James Broadmead of Langport established a special endowment for the Institute.
Other additions included a children’s ward, an out patients department and dispensary. The tennis courts were laid out in 1896 for the benefit of the nursing staff. Electric light was installed for the whole building in 1898 and in the following year the laundry was extended and new apparatus installed. The hospital interior was re-modernised in 1901 including an addition to the Nursing Institute ,moving the kitchen and servant’s quarters, the inclusion of a casualty room at street level and a passenger lift to the wards and operating theatre.1904 saw the arrival of X Ray apparatus. A fund was opened in 1911 at the behest of Lord Portman and proceeds were collected during the annual carnival.
Eventually the hospital at East Reach outgrew its site and everything was transferred to the American Army Hospital at Musgrove. I have been an infrequent visitor to the casualty department there as well.