A brief history of Wycombe hospitals

Click for details of the present consultation

With another consultation in progress on proposals to change health services in Wycombe, I despatched my researcher to discover something of the history of our hospitals. It turns out Wycombe has had three main hospitals and two smaller ones since the 19th Century.

As I have said before, I would like to see Wycombe Hospital return to direct community ownership and control. I believe that would end these cycles of disappointment and despair by bringing local healthcare under meaningful control. Foundation Trust status would be a worthwhile step, but I believe we should go further to put local people directly in charge through some form of mutual ownership.

In the meantime, here is the history we have found:

Major hospitals:

1875 to 1923 – The High Wycombe Cottage Hospital on Priory Road, Amersham Hill

1923 to 1971 – The High Wycombe War Memorial Hospital, Marlow Hill (Nationalised in 1948)

1965 to present – Wycombe General Hospital, Marlow Hill

Smaller hospitals:

1929 to 1996 – Booker Hospital, Cressex

Date unknown to 1976 – Shrubbery Maternity Home, Amersham Hill

Time line:

1875 – The Cottage Hospital had 7 beds and the land given by Lord Carrington. It cost just £1200 which was raised by voluntary contribution. The total expenditure in the first year was £248, which was £3 less than its income.

Patients were admitted on the recommendation of a subscriber and paid at least 15p a week according to their means. From the beginning there was a Samaritan Fund. The Hospital’s history is full of acts of generosity. Unlike today, those who spent the money had to raise it first.

1884 – Beds increased to 12, paid for by donation of £100 from Lady Colville, who was the sister of Lord Carrington. The remaining £80 came from public donations.

The early reports concluded on a religious theme, showing there were strong links between the churches and the hospital, and not just in fundraising.

The Hospital changed its name to the High Wycombe and Earl of Beaconsfield Memorial Cottage Hospital and in doing so received £2800 from the surplus of a fund raised for the purpose of a national memorial to Disraeli. Part of the money went on a new wing and an operating room.

1899 – A need for a further increase in accommodation was mooted when they ran out of female beds from May to September. The following year a telephone line was laid.

1902 – An isolation room was added, while a new isolation room at Booker opened just one year later

1904 – A new operating theatre was built at a cost of £360 which was paid for through donations.

1917 – It was decided that the site was too small for the necessary enlargement. Marlow Hill was the chosen location. X-ray machines were also bought this year.

1918 – An appeal for funds for the new HW War Memorial Hospital appeared in the annual report from 1918.

1919 – Almost £15,000 had been raised with a grant from the British Red Cross of £12,000. A competition was introduced for the design. It was won by a local resident, Horace Cubitt.

1920 – The lowest tender of £39,500 was more than could be afforded. They had £33k. The decision was made to delay. This was a good decision in retrospect: a fall in general prices meant the contractor had to reduce his price to £32,315.

1922 – The Marquess of Lincolnshire who had given the land on Marlow Hill laid the foundation stone on 15th March. He also gave a Hospital Football Cup as a means of raising money. The local War Memorial Committee had raised over £28,604 for the hospital.

1923 – 9th December, the Hospital was formally opened.  The following week the Cottage Hospital was closed.

There was no need for furniture and equipment as local manufacturers and traders donated what was needed.  Success in money raising was key in those days of voluntary healthcare – flag days, competition, collections in churches, public houses and business premises.

1924 – People could obtain a bed in private wards for 75p a day. While, under the contributory scheme, free treatment was assured for 2 pence a week for married people.

1932 – The first extension of the new hospital took place. The two general wards were enlarged from 14 to 20 beds, a new block of 7 single rooms and a 4-bed children’s ward. The total cost was £14,000 over budget.

1936 – It was agreed that services needed to be doubled. A building extension fund was created.

1939 – WWII broke out which imposed a huge strain on the hospital. An extra 34 beds were provided by the Ministry of Health which defrayed the cost.

During the war, regionalisation made it possible for County Councils to provide money to voluntary hospitals – HW received £896.

1945 – After the War, the state was more involved but the majority of the services were still voluntary. The British Red Cross, St John’s Ambulance and the Women’s Voluntary Service were key.


1947 – In the final annual report, the hospital committee looked back with pride on the achievements of the voluntary hospital’s 800 years and the Chairman said: “As we bid farewell to the old order let us welcome the new order and wish god speed to those who will endeavour on its behalf.”

1948 – On the 5th July, the hospital came under the jurisdiction of the HW and District Hospital Management Committee and was subjected to the Oxford Region Hospital board. By now the hospital had 96 beds. The pressures of the war and an increased population meant that High Wycombe was chosen to be one of the places to have a new District General Hospital.

1966 – Phase I of the Wycombe General Hospital complete next to the Memorial Hospital. However, the War Memorial Hospital did not close when the first phase of the new hospital opened.  Its Accident and Outpatient Department had to function as in phase 2, in 1969, it failed to include inpatient accommodation.

1969 – Phase II complete: A&E together with outpatient, X-ray, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and medical records departments.

However, to cater for the geriatric patients a new single storey block of 56 beds had to be built at Booker Hospital.

1971 – Phase III: 120 beds, Maternity, Gynaecology, Paediatric and the Midwifery Training Schools. A BFP article on 4th June 1976 – New Maternity Unit costing £1m set to open – explained that centralisation of services at Wycombe meant the closure of baby care units at Amersham and the Stone Maternity Home. The Shrubbery remained open. Voluntary donations continued.

The War Memorial wing was demolished to make way for this on the 15th March. The names of the War Memorial Wings were transferred to Booker Hospital (Beaconsfield and Carrington). The new hospital now just used ward numbers and floor locations.

1974 – With the reorganisation of the NHS in April, the hospital became the responsibility of the Buckinghamshire Area Health Authority.

1978 – October: The plaques and foundation stones from the Memorial Hospital were taken down and preserved and can still be seen today at Wycombe General.

Tags: , , ,

Comments & Responses

2 Responses so far.

  1. Rob Wallbank says:

    Dear Steve, I like the idea very much of local control. The erosion of local health care services is a back would step and places a huge burden on a very large and stretched hospital many miles away. With so much building work going on in both towns, especially Aylesbury, Stoke Maderville will reach crisis point very quickly.

    I would like to comment a lot more when I have time, but I support your thoughts on this matter.