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
This article is copyrighted material. Brief extracts including a link to this site can be quoted but the article must not be reproduced in full anywhere without the author’s written permission.


  • The Infirmary [museum], University of Worcester, Castle St, Worcester [notes from]
  • University of Worcester. The History of the Charles Hastings Building, 2011.

Further Information


History, Haunts & Hospitals: Worcester Royal Infirmary Part One

doctor with stethoscopeThe University of Worcester’s City Campus, a Georgian Grade II listed building, was once Worcester Royal Infirmary (RVI), built to solve a shortage of beds at the previous infirmary in Silver Street. The new hospital (1771) was originally known as Worcester General Infirmary (WGI) but was granted Royal status in 1932.

A wealth of stories surrounds this hospital and those who want can find out more at the two museums, one in the former infirmary itself, and the other at the George Marshall Medical Museum. See below for more details. In the meantime, here are just a few tasters.

The Cutting Edge

When Worcester General Infirmary opened, anaesthetics and antiseptics hadn’t been discovered. Until the middle of the 19th century, operations were undertaken on a wooden table with assistants and straps to hold down fully conscious patients. Around half of surgical cases ended in death from gangrene or other infections, with some also dying on the operating table from shock or blood loss. Anaesthetics were discovered in the 1840s, antiseptics in the 1860s (although these weren’t immediately adopted) and blood transfusions weren’t fully successful until the turn of that century.

Famous Names

Sir Charles Hastings Window, Worcester Cathedral. Given by the BMA on their centenary 1832-1932.

Sir Charles Hastings Window, Worcester Cathedral. Given by the BMA on their centenary 1832-1932.

Sir Charles Hastings

The Provincial Medical and Surgical Association (later to become the British Medical Association) held its very first meeting at the WGI in 1832. Charles Hastings presided over the meeting and was a prominent member of the group which formed the association. Such associations were a means of professional self-regulation.

Hastings was one of 15 children, he trained in Edinburgh and was given the post of House Surgeon at the WGI at just 18. He was a physician at the infirmary for 35 years.

George Marshall

George Marshall was a local GP and surgeon who came to Worcester in 1931 and became a consultant surgeon to the infirmary at the start of the NHS in 1948. He treated the residents of Worcestershire for decades.

By his retirement, Marshall had collected almost 10,000 medical artefacts, many of which came from the infirmary.

Martha Stewart

Martha Stewart was the first female surgeon at the infirmary and was appointed in 1915 (note that this was during the first world war). She was only in post for five months, being asked to leave almost as soon as she arrived, but why exactly, remains a mystery.

Death and Dissection

Medical education of the 18th and early 19th centuries was limited by the lack of bodies available for dissection. The only legitimate source of anatomical specimens was executed prisoners, and in the 19th century the local paper tells of bodies being removed from the gaol and taken to the infirmary.

In 1813, a gaol was built opposite the infirmary and in order to make such transfers easier, a tunnel was supposedly built under Castle Street, connecting the two buildings.

In the current University’s plant room, a bricked up arch could mark the site of the  tunnel in question, and during redevelopment, archaeologists took away several bricks beneath the arch and found only – a human tooth.

Also during the redevelopment, two pits were discovered, containing parts of human skeletons. Some of these may have been amputated and some had been turned into teaching models. The pits predate the 1860s.

In the early 19th century, medics began to petition for access to enough bodies to suit requirements and Charles Hastings led this campaign from Worcester. In 1832, an Anatomy Act was passed, allowing the medical establishment to dissect the bodies of unclaimed paupers as well as criminals.

The First World War

During WWI the infirmary offered two wards to the War Office for soldiers. The first wounded soldiers arrived in October 1914 and totalled 50 Belgians and 13 British.


Even in hospital, some Christmas traditions existed. Each ward competed to be the best decorated, putting up their own themed decorations. Surgeons used surgical knives to carve the meat.

Next: Life as a Patient, Nursing Care, and do you know your medical terms? And maybe the odd ghost or two…

Ellie Stevenson, authorArticle written by Ellie Stevenson, author.
This article is copyrighted material. Brief extracts including a link to this site can be quoted but the article must not be reproduced in full anywhere without the author’s written permission.


Further Information