History, Haunts & Hospitals: Worcester Royal Infirmary Part Two

Worcester Royal Infirmary with Jenny Lind ChapelThis week we discover what life was like as a patient and nurse at Worcester (General, later Royal) Infirmary, learn a few new medical terms and hear about the infirmary ghosts.

Life as a patient in the past wasn’t quite what it is today.

In order to gain access to medical treatment, individuals had to be recommended by subscribers, who were local businessmen or landowners. Recommendations were limited to one inpatient and one outpatient per year for every guinea donated.

Access was limited in other ways: those under seven were only allowed in for major surgery, while pregnant women, the mentally ill or those patients with sexually transmitted or contagious diseases were forbidden entry. The dying were also not encouraged to visit as rules focused on admitting those who could be cured.

In the early days of the infirmary, patients who were fit enough, were expected to assist staff with chores on a daily basis.

Loaf of BreadHospital Diet in the Nineteenth Century (per day)

  • 16 oz bread
  • 5 oz meat
  • 12 oz potatoes
  • two pints of beer
  • 7 oz butter (per week)

Small beer (weaker beer with less alcohol) was drunk more than water until disease-causing impurities in water were reduced.

In 1854 the weekly board voted to ration nurses’ beer to three pints per day.

In 1861 it was decided that boys under fourteen would only get half a pint per day; and children under eight, milk only.

Heating, Lighting and Washing

Washing Facilities: a cold bath was available from 1772 onwards, and in later years, members of the public could use the facilities for a small fee.

The cold was a constant concern for patients and staff and additional freestanding furnaces were added to wards and the main entrance in particularly cold weather. Gas lighting and heating was installed in 1867, and electric lights in the operating theatre in the 1890s.


Before 1850, nurses didn’t have to be formally trained and hospitals would employ them so long as they could read a medicine bottle. Nurses were mostly drawn from the working classes and before Mulberry House was built, sometimes had to sleep in the wards. Formal training began in the 1880s, reforms being led by Florence Nightingale, and these reforms led to new ranks of nurses. The first, and then the second world war, with their high numbers of injured soldiers, emphasised the importance of state-led training.

Medical Terms

Some terms, once familiar, are less so today. Here are some examples:

  • Ague: a severe fever with recurring chills, shaking and sweating
  • Chincough: whooping or a dry persistent cough
  • Apoplexy: sudden loss of sensation and movement due to a loss of blood to the brain because of a stroke
  • Phthisis: often refers to TB but could be used for other lung or throat conditions

Many of the terms had a Latin or Greek origin because much of Western medicine originated around ancient Greek and Roman medical texts.

Haunted Happenings

Worcester Royal Infirmary - main entranceLike many old buildings the infirmary was reputed to be haunted. There have been numerous sightings of the ubiquitous grey lady, around the Entrance Hall, Board Room and Jenny Lind Chapel. One, quite recent, was at a University of Worcester city campus open day, when a woman, clearing away afternoon tea in the Board Room around 5.30 pm, saw a ghostly figure disappear through a closed door into the Jenny Lind Chapel.

Another ghost was Tom Bates (the Elder), a surgeon at the infirmary who retired in 1909. After war broke out, Bates took on the role of surgeon again in a voluntary capacity, but caught influenza in April 1916, and died after a week-long struggle. He was said to roam the Bates Medical and Bates Surgical corridors, keeping a watchful eye on the children, even though these were only built after the second world war,  in memory of his son, Tom, also a surgeon.

Coming Next: some interesting Worcester Infirmary locations and all about Powick Asylum. What were the patients really like?

Article written by Ellie Stevenson, author.Ellie Stevenson, author
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  • The Infirmary [museum], University of Worcester, Castle St, Worcester [notes from]
  • University of Worcester. The History of the Charles Hastings Building, 2011.

Further Information


Where there’s a Ghost

Samlesbury Hall, near Preston (UK)Great Britain is rich in its ghostly history. And wherever you go, north or south, there’s nearly always a white lady, or maybe a grey one. This mysterious ghost,  white or grey,  is often associated with a tragic event of a romantic nature: here are just three of the very many sad stories. But are they true?

York’s Theatre Royal

A grey lady is said to haunt the room behind the dress circle of York’s Theatre Royal (see image below), which is of Georgian origin. In mediaeval times, however, the building was part of St Leonard’s hospital, and run by nuns. Predictably, one of these nuns had an affair with a nobleman. As punishment for her dalliance, she was apparently bricked up in a windowless room (lovely behaviour!) and has haunted the theatre ever since. Somewhat surprisingly, seeing this woman is said to be a good omen for the evening’s production!

York Theatre Royal (UK)

Winster Hall, Derbyshire (privately owned)

Winster Hall, a grade II listed building, was constructed in the early 17th century. In the late nineteenth century it became the home of Llewellynn Jewitt,  a noted engraver and prolific writer. In between these periods, legend suggests, a daughter of the house jumped from the roof, along with her lover: her lover was said to be one of the servants. The ghost of the woman, a white lady, is said to haunt the spot where she fell. The hall later became a pub for a while.

Winster village is noted for the extent of its preservation and is an official conservation area. There is a local history of lead mining and the hall’s first owner was himself a mine owner.

Samlesbury Hall, near Preston

Samlesbury Hall (see top image) has a history of tragedy. Its Priest’s Room was named after a Catholic priest who was murdered there, during the Reformation. Despite the best efforts, his blood couldn’t be removed from the tiny floor. The room was then bricked up for 200 years. Even then, when the boards were removed, the stain came back every so often…

The white lady, named Dorothea Southworth, came from a Catholic family but fell in love with a Protestant soldier, by the name of de Houghton. They defied their families and met in secret, but, planning to elope, they were caught that night and her lover was murdered in front of her eyes, with two of his friends. Dorothea was sent to a convent abroad but she never recovered, and sadly died.

Her ghost has been said to haunt the hall, and has been seen on the drive, or in the nearby grounds. She was often seen in the two world wars, by soldiers stationed at the hall, presumably looking for her lost lover.

In the late 1800s, three bodies were discovered, when road works led to an excavation: could these be her lover and his friends?


Britannia: America’s Gateway to the British Isles – York Theatre Royal

Environmental Graffiti – Samlesbury Hall

Stately Ghosts: haunting tales from Britain’s historic houses, London: VisitBritain Publishing, 2007.

Winster Hall in Main Street, Winster

Image sources

Samlesbury Hall, near Preston

Theatre Royal, York