Slideshow: Retro - Jessop’s hospital vision changed women’s lives

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A tiny building at the edge of Sheffield city centre bears a plaque commemorating the city’s first-ever women’s hospital, the vision of the man who gave his name to the Jessop Hospital.

In 1863 the then mayor of Sheffield, Thomas Jessop, called a meeting at the Cutlers’ Hall that decided to build the Sheffield Hospital for Women in Figtree Lane. This opened a year later with beds for six patients.

The Jessop Hospital for Women, Sheffield - 1959

The Jessop Hospital for Women, Sheffield - 1959

In 1964 Thomas Jessop’s vision was celebrated with silver spoons for all children born on the hospital’s birthday and a giant cake.

The Star looked back a century and noted that when the first tiny hospital opened, Sheffield’s baby death rate was the highest in the country at one in five.

In its first year staff welcomed 331 babes.

In 1878 Mr Jessop paid £30,000 for the hospital named after him to be built. That could cope with 12 maternity and 45 gynaecological patients. Initially only one floor was in operation.

In 1936, the Sheffield Telegraph talked to 80-year-old Kate Brailsford, whose father was a member of the hospital’s first board.

An appeal for money to widows and spinsters allowed the second floor to start working in about 1884, said Miss Brailsford.

The following year she was the honorary secretary of a bazaar held to raise money for the hospital. Ladies spent months toiling on fancy work to be sold.

Baroness Burdett-Coutts of the banking family opened the bazaar. Her appearance caused such a sensation that police officers had to link arms to force a path for her.

Miss Brailsford was also a member of the Samaritan Society, who sewed articles for the hospital and poor patients.

The ladies also gave poor mothers tickets for meat and for a pint of milk a day, which they did until the state provided a maternity benefit.

Gladys Marshall of Dore was a nurse at the hospital from 1919, She remembered in 1960: “Night duty for us meant a 12-hour stint, nine at night until nine next morning. We did this for three months and at the end of it we had three days off.

“When I went to the Jessop Hospital the discipline was like that at a boarding school. You didn’t dare speak to matron. In fact you didn’t dare do anything.”

Senior surgeon LB Patrick, who joined the staff in 1934, remembered: “Sheffield has always been an isolated town. Innovations were late in coming and there was opposition to the very idea of a hospital for women.”

In 1938 the chairman of the hospital board, James Henderson, announced that extensions to the building, including a nurses’ home, would cost around £150,000.

He said that would create a thoroughly up-to-date hospital with 227 beds, an increase from 143.

A year earlier, a mobile maternity unit known as the Flying Squad had been put in place, ready to race to any home where there was an emergency, saving lives.

In 1943 the new building, described by a Star reporter as “standing high and clean and symbolic of the post-war world”, finally opened.

The paper described how new mums delivered their babies in private rooms, then moved to “spacious, airy” rooms they shared with two or three others.

Babies were kept in nurseries. The paper reported: “The rows of cots lie in the light silent rooms which nobody may enter unmasked”.

In 2001 the Jessop closed and was replaced by the Jessop Wing at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital.

The Victorian building now houses the University of Sheffield music department.

A campaign to save the building’s Edwardian extension from demolition was lost and the site is now occupied by the university’s £81 million Diamond building that will open in September.