RETRO: Birthplace of Jess and thousands more babies

Nether Edge Hospital, Sheffield Demonstration to keep open the maternity unit - 7th September  1987
Nether Edge Hospital, Sheffield Demonstration to keep open the maternity unit - 7th September 1987
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It’s the place where Olympic star Jessica Ennis-Hill was born in 1986, one of 40,000-50,000 Sheffielders to begin their lives at Nether Edge maternity unit.

The modern maternity unit was very short-lived, opened in 1968 and closed in 1991, but the history of hospital services in Nether Edge goes back much further.

It continues today in the Michael Carlisle Centre, providing psychological care for older patients.

Osborne Road, where the centre stands, was once the home of Ecclesall Bierlow workhouse.

Opened in 1844, the first part of the workhouse was built on Cherry Tree Hill with an entrance on what is now Union Road.

Further extensions stretched north to Osborne Road.

Although the look of the buildings was much praised, they housed the misery of the Victorian poor, as a 1984 pamphlet written by Joan Flett in aid of the hospital League of Friends reported.

Families were separated and the adults did tough jobs like chopping old railway sleepers into firewood or picking apart ropes to be used for caulking to waterproof ships’ decks.

They slept until woken up at 6am on beds made of a plank that served as a table and chair and ate bread, gruel and cheese.

Around 1929 the buildings took on the name Nether Edge Hospital as part of moves away from the horrors of the workhouses.

As well as general and maternity wards, there was a sanatorium for TB patients and eventually it became a teaching hospital.

The TB beds were lost temporarily in 1940 when bombs also destroyed a 
dining hall and nurses’ home.

In 1966 Lady Mayoress Lily Graham, speaking at a hospital prize day, said: “It is hard for the younger people to realise the tremendous changes which have taken place in hospital life in the past 30 years.

“Then, many of the buildings were old and inadequate and terribly inconvenient. Decor was usually dark brown or dark green, and by no standard could one consider that staff were paid adequately for the long hours they worked and for the services they gave.”

In March 1988 the Duchess of Kent visited to open a new rheumatology and rehabilitation department that replaced the old Edgar Allen centre in Gell Street.

Other wards cared for geriatric patients and the speech therapy unit helped patients including former city council leader Sir Ron Ironmonger to talk again.

The hospital closed in 1997 as the city’s NHS services changed.

Maternity services began at Nether Edge in 1897 at the Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee Maternity Hospital.

When the new £730,000 unit opened in 1968, it was hailed as a hospital for the future.

The decor was warm and welcoming and the building housed 104 beds, plus a special care baby unit and other gynaecological and antenatal services.

The first baby born there in 1969 was Gillian Elizabeth Mole, whose mum Margaret lived in Handsworth.

Eventually maternity services were centralised when the old Jessop Hospital closed.

The Nether Edge unit was closed in 1991 and knocked down a decade later in 2001.

Protests involving trade unions and other community campaigners failed to halt the closure.

In the mid-1980s there was a debate about whether to centralise services at Nether Edge, instead of building the new Jessop wing at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital. It looked to have gone Nether Edge’s way at one time.

The unit made way for new homes, although some of the old buildings were saved from demolition.