Located in St Mary’s Lane, next to the town cemetery and to Clinch Green Wood, Bexhill Isolation Hospital at the start of 1914 was a collection of iron huts, some of which had come from a different site where they had been erected in the 1880s. They were not weather proof and were so primitive that the patients were bathed in front of the kitchen fire and laundry was done in a lean-to outhouse.
The different infections could not be isolated from each other and there was regular cross-infection. Most of the cases were childhood viral infections which, before vaccination, were life threatening. There was also fear of tuberculosis from which adults were also at risk. Effective isolation was imperative and fear of an epidemic and its impact on prosperity as well as health were very real.
Dr Weston, Medical Officer for Health, was campaigning for improvements and had proposed a quite ambitious plan which was heatedly debated in the Town Council meeting in January 1914, reported at length in the local newspapers. The recommendations were:
(a) That the following permanent hospital buildings be erected on land east of St. Mary’s Road:___ Administration block (to include three bedrooms); laundry block; scarlet fever block (14 beds); diphtheria block (four beds); and observation block (four beds).
(b) That the existing diphtheria block be repaired, so as to be available for convalescent cases.
(c) That the present kitchen and rooms attached be transformed into an out-bathing and discharge station.
Even six months before the War, the plans met such ardent opposition that it was decided that the scheme would be implemented gradually over several years. Perhaps the bad weather that month which brought strong gales which forced the closure of the scarlet fever ward were a factor.
By March 1915 the Council were applying for funds to continue the scheme. A Local Government Board Inquiry was held to discuss the proposal. A new laundry had replaced the lean-to, a priority for infection control and hygiene. The condition of the site and the medical problems caused by the deficiencies were set out by the Town Clerk, the Mayor and Dr Weston, Medical Officer of Health.
Dr. Weston’s main concerns were:
• Cases were taking longer than expected to recover.
• Patients were being infected with a second, different virus whilst recovering from the first.
• Patients were being re-infected with the same virus because new cases were mixed with those recovering.
It is clear that sanitation and drainage were also a concern. In November 1915 estimates for improvements to drainage and sanitation, further improvement of the laundry and the new Observation Block were accepted. In January 1916 a tender from a local builder for the Observation Block was accepted and in July of that year it was reported that the “new Hospital” was open, without a single patient. The Observation Block was not completed until 1918.
Miss Farr and Miss Hiscock, Matrons.
One of the arguments for improving the Isolation Hospital was that its Matron, Miss Farr, whose excellence was extolled by Alderman Gray and who would “do things about the hospital that other matrons would not do” had said that she would have to resign if “proper provision was not made”.
In October 1915 Miss Farr did indeed resign to resounding appreciation from Alderman Gray for her “devoted attention to the Hospital.” She “had been immensely useful, and was ever ready and willing to take her part in any emergency that might arise.” Her assistant, Lucy Hiscock, was appointed in her stead. “They could hardly look for so competent a Matron, at any rate at present, but they hoped that the sister taking charge would work up to it”. Nevertheless Matron Lucy Hiscock appears to have served with only one minor misdemeanour throughout the war years. In January 1916, in the absence of adequate blackout blinds for the Hospital she attempted to improvise by the use of brown paper to obscure the lights. She was fined 10s 6d.
Dr. Weston’s plans were never completed in full and the Council’s discussions were still going on in 1929 and through the 1930s. The Hospital closed in 1941.
Other articles about the isolation hospital