Children's Hospital 150th Anniversary

2016 marked the 150th anniversary of the very first Bristol Children’s Hospital, which opened on Royal Fort Road in 1866. The original hospital was founded by public subscription, with ongoing support from philanthropists, organisations and individuals across Bristol and the South West: a spirit of generosity that continues today through The Grand Appeal.

Below are just a few of the most significant moments from the hospital’s fascinating history. You can also read more in the The Grand Appeal special edition of the Bristol Times, here, or discover more about past Christmases at the Hospital in a festive edition of the Bristol Times here.


The Bristol Hospital for Sick Children and Outdoor Treatment of Women opens in Royal Fort Road. The hospital was established by philanthropist Mark Whitwell,with the principle that any child, no matter how poor, would be admitted as long as there was room. The hospital was a house on Royal Fort Road and was bought for £750 (around £70,000 today). It treated women as well as children and babies, and had nine cots. The first patient was received on 26th October.


The hospital committee launches an appeal to raise funds to build a new hospital at the top of St Michael’s Hill. By Christmas the appeal had raised £2,500 (around £200,000 today). The hospital was designed by local architect Robert Curwen, and the foundation stone was laid on 5 April 1883 by the Duchess of Beaufort.


Patients are transferred from the Royal Fort Road building to the new purpose-built hospital on St Michael’s Hill on 1st August. The new hospital has a total of 88 beds and cots, including 3 cots in a special Babies' Ward. In the following years the number of beds is increased to 100, and dedicated Measles and Opthalmic Wards are added. The Measles Ward is entirely supported financially by one member of the hospital committee, Mr Augustus Phillips.


The Children's Hospital opens a convalescent home with 28 beds in Weston-Super-Mare. Children are now sent here to recuperate and rebuild their strength following treatment in the Hospital, and to benefit from the fresh air and trips to the seaside.


The hospital is granted Royal Status by Queen Victoria, and becomes known as Bristol Royal Hospital for Sick Children and Women.


Punch the terrier helps collect donations from the local community to support the hospital. Known as 'the children's friend', Punch raises £43 in his lifetime - around £4,000 today! In this picture Punch is wearing bronze, silver and gold medals to mark his amazing achievement.


King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra become Royal Patrons of the hospital. The hospital buys adjoining land around the building, to ensure it has space to expand for the future, and to ensure patients can benefit from sunlight and fresh air.


The Hospital Committee announces the need for a special isolation block for the treatment of diphtheria, a highly contagious bacterial infection and one of the leading causes of infant death at the time. Lady Emily Smyth of Ashton Court responds to the call, generously donating £1,000 for the construction of such a block - the 'Lady Smyth Annexe'.


Nurses and patients celebrate the end of the First World War with a tea party in the garden. The Hospital also celebrates its Jubilee (delayed from 1916 due to the War) by building a new Nurses Home and Outpatients Department, the latter located ‘near the centre of the City, at a point where the tramways converge, so that patients may escape the ascent of St Michael’s Hill’.


The hospital pioneers heliotherapy treatment for tuberculosis by using an ultraviolet ray lamp, donated by local philanthropists, the first of its kind in Bristol.


Sun balconies are added to the hospital building so that patients can benefit from sunshine and fresh air during their treatment.


Rex, a Great Dane owned by Miss Cook, Principal of Hampton House School in Cotham, becomes the next dog to fundraise for the Hospital. A true gentle giant, he wears his collection box strapped to his back and is led around by the school’s pupils. Rex collects £166 - an impressive £10,000 today - before his retirement, and then his son Rajah follows in his paw-prints.


The hospital is reopened after work to modernise the facilities, adding more accommodation, improving sanitation and bringing more light and air into the building. The modernisation costs £30,000 (about £1.6m today), with the committee writing that, "It is believed the result will be one of the finest Children’s Hospitals in the country."


An appeal is launched to raise £1000 (about £64,000 today) towards a new X-ray machine, to keep the hospital up to date with the very latest medical technology. The appeal states that, "by the skilled employment of X-ray methods, lives may be saved, exploratory operations avoided and the requisite treatment determined in a way which has been impossible in the past".


More than 80 children are safely evacuated to the Homeopathic Hospital on St. Michael's Hill when the hospital is bombed during the Second World War. During a roll call, one boy is discovered missing and Matron Gladys Ruth Ellis bravely returns to the bombed hospital to find him, earning her an MBE. The hospital’s upper level is considered unsafe, so patients are moved to an evacuated girls' school in Weston-Super-Mare, Eastern House School, while it is repaired.


Women are no longer admitted: the hospital is now exclusively for children.


The NHS is founded on 5th July and the Hospital ceases to operate under the 'Voluntary System'. As part of United Hospitals Bristol it is no longer reliant on private and philanthropic sources of funding, and doctors need not hold honorary and unpaid positions. The Committee writes, 'This is an important date in Hospital History, not so much because it closes a period, as because it opens a new opportunity in the service of the sick.’ 


Watch the video above to see Dr John Apley, consultant paediatrician, give a tour of Bristol Children's Hospital in the 1950s. For 15 years Dr Apley acted as the paediatric cardiologist for the whole South West, treating patients as far afield as the Scilly Isles. He achieved national recognition for his work during the Vietnam War in 1967-8, when he kept the Nhi Dong Children’s Hospital in Saigon running despite heavy fighting; he was later awarded a CBE.


The NHS introduces daily hospital visits for children, who previously could only see their parents for an hour at weekends. Children benefit immeasurably from the love and reassurance provided by their families, which in turn supports physical recovery, and parents enjoy doing everyday tasks like feeding their little ones and changing their clothes.


Watch footage of the Queen Mother's visit to Bristol Children's Hospital in 1966, and hear her speech to patients and staff. The Queen Mother visited to celebrate the Hospital's 100th anniversary and to open a new building housing Outpatient, Casualty, X-Ray, and Pathology Departments.


Her Royal Highness, the Princess of Wales visits the hospital to open the new intensive care unit.


The Grand Appeal is founded to build a brand new, state of the art children’s hospital in Bristol, the first in Europe designed wholly around children


The building for the new Bristol Children’s Hospital on Upper Maudlin Street is opened by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales.


The Grand Appeal makes a grant of £5m to Bristol Children’s Hospital towards funding the expansion of the hospital and the centralization of all paediatric services in Bristol.  The Appeal funds a new cardiac hybrid theatre, 3T MRI scanner and intra-operative scanning suite, burns and neurosciences facilities, and child-friendly artwork throughout the hospital.