A one-time public drug dispensary on West Street became one of the city’s main hospitals in a blaze of pomp and circumstance one May day 120 years ago.
The Royal Hospital on West Street was opened by the Duke and Duchess of York, who processed slowly down the street accompanied by what were described at the time as the ‘gallant’ lancers of the Hallamshires in their best uniforms.
This spectacle attracted “a stratum of humanity several yards thick, bubbling with enthusiasm” as the royal party approached the red carpet. The duchess opened the doors with a specially designed gold and jewelled key.
Queen Victoria had decreed that the hospital should be called the Sheffield Royal.
The grandeur of that day was in sharp contrast to the beginnings of the hospital’s medical life back in 1832.
Then the dispensary was opened to “succour the poor and sick of the town” with ointments, pills and plasters. It also had its own ‘leechwoman’, a Mrs Popplewell.
A report on the history of the building featured in the local press in June 1967 said that a terrible cholera epidemic was threatening the towns and cities of England at the time, which may have prompted the opening of the dispensary.
The medical profession was also facing tough times, the paper reported, as Overend’s School of Anatomy in Eyre Street was suspected of dark deeds following the Burke and Hare body-snatching scandal in Edinburgh in 1828.
The school was burned down following a riot in the street in 1835.
According to the historians at the city Medical School, “The crowd misinterpreted the noise of a domestic argument on the premises as a dispute over grave robbing”.
By 1858 the dispensary had become Sheffield Public Hospital and Dispensary and wards and 21 beds were added.
In 1865, when the hospital had 521 beds, it treated almost 28,000 patients.
In the 1870s the strains on the hospital prompted a drive to raise enough money for a new building, an ambition that was finally realised in May 1895.
Plans were drawn up in 1954 for a new casualty department, extending the hospital into Devonshire Street.
In January 1960, Alderman Grace Tebbutt cut a ribbon to open the first new building at the Royal in 25 years – a plastic surgery and jaw unit at the Fulwood Annexe.
Since the end of the war, the work had been done by just two surgeons with access to 10 beds that were spread around the hospital.
Surgeon Mr W Hynes remembered: “We did not have our own operating theatre, and used to work in one corner of the main theatre when things were quiet.”
By the the mid-1960s it was becoming increasingly apparent that the old building needed to be replaced by something bigger and more modern.
There was a plan to turn the Royal into a school of nursing which was rejected by the Department of Health in November 1972. The department decided on a purpose-built facility instead.
By 1977 the state of the Royal was described as “appalling”, with rain coming in through the roof, blankets being used to keep the wind out, only one bedpan-washing machine and staff “at breaking point” because of the conditions.
The new Royal Hallamshire Hospital, planned to replace both the Royal and the Wharncliffe Hospital, finally opened on November 6, 1978.
As The Star reported, staff at the Royal casualty department were sad to break up a close-knit team but recognised that the new facilities would be far better.
The grand old building was demolished in 1981.