A look at the history of Rugby's St Cross as the NHS celebrates its 73rd birthday

St Cross has been serving the town since 1884

Monday, 5th July 2021, 10:01 am
Updated Monday, 5th July 2021, 10:02 am
Nurses at St Cross - probably photographed in the early 20th century.
Nurses at St Cross - probably photographed in the early 20th century.

Today, July 5, the NHS celebrates its 73rd birthday - and this month Rugby's St Cross also marks its 137th birthday.

The health service's birthday will be celebrated at St Cross today with a tea party to raise funds for the UHCW Charity, and many across the country will see the date as more important than ever following the last year's events.

On this very important day, we thought it would be interesting to look back on the history of both St Cross and the NHS.

This drawing was included in the Advertiser when it first covered the hospital's opening in 1884.

How did St Cross come to be?

St Cross was built thanks to the generosity of Mr and Mrs Wood, who came to Rugby in 1874.

The couple saw a need for more medical facilities for Rugbeians when they heard of a railway engineer who died in Rugby during an amputation.

Ordinarily, those with serious injuries would be taken to other towns or cities, but the engineer’s case was so urgent an amputation was attempted in Castle Street.

The Castle Street hospital did not have an operating table so the attempted amputation was performed on a bed.

When Mrs Wood heard that the railway worker had died during the procedure she donated an operating table to the hospital.

Mr and Mrs Wood eventually donated land and funds for the construction of the Hospital of St Cross – an act of kindness that would see them become a beloved part of the town’s history.

Land off Barby Lane was chosen for the site, at least in part because its open fields provided for plenty of sunshine and fresh air for patients.

Escaping the Dickensian grime of the town centre also meant cleanliness would be a much more realistic prospect.

The opening of St Cross in July 1884 was a grand affair - and one which the Advertiser was present for.

Our Victorian colleagues reported that the event was attended by between 10,000 and 20,000 people, complete with several of the town's dignitaries.

At the time, the Advertiser appeared to be very impressed by the building itself, repeatedly commenting on the light, fresh air and modern drainage system found throughout the building.

This was at a time where it was believed that fresh air, sunlight and cleanliness were very important to health - a view which has been confirmed as medical science progressed.

The ideas behind the NHS were around long before 1948

In 1948 a war-ravaged Britain embarked on a project which would prove to revolutionalise access to healthcare .

The idea of a health service for all was not born in the 1940s, but a significant step towards the establishment of one was made during the height of the Second World War when William Beveridge published a report named ‘Social Insurance and Allied Services’ – many of us know this as the Beveridge Report.

Mr Beveridge used the report to propose the creation of a national health service and a vast expansion of the welfare system.

The report proved popular with the public and, when Clement Atlee’s Labour government was elected in 1945, Beveridge’s vision would become reality.

St Cross has its roots in the community, and nothing has really changed.

The hospital has its roots in the community, being founded by townspeople to help others, and then given a new home by wealthy philanthropists from Rugby.

Throughout much of its early life the Hospital of St Cross relied on the kindness of local people and their charity to keep going.

While healthcare was not guaranteed to be free before the NHS came along in 1948, people could still get care in emergencies and other situations for reduced rates according to their ability to pay.

This was thanks to the support of people from the community and their charitable spirits which saw them help raise money for their hospital or volunteer their time to help patients.

When the NHS was brought in and St Cross joined the new national service paid for by general taxation, some people thought that would mean the end of the need for communities to support their local healthcare facilities.

But at St Cross it soon became clear that the community wanted to continue helping their hospital.

In 1955, just seven years after the NHS was founded, the Friends of St Cross were set up.

The group has existed ever since as a way to coordinate the various fundraising events, offers of voluntary work, bequeaths and appeals for help from the hospital.

The Friends go beyond what the NHS can provide – working to ensure patients and staff at St Cross have a comfortable experience in a clean and modern surrounding. When the NHS says an upgrade to a ward may take years to save up for, the Friends have helped shorten that time.

Their work is on display throughout the hospital, from the brightly painted walls on the wards, to new chairs for families to use, special rooms for people with dementia, and far more than can be listed here.

And to this day they are still supported by the community.

What's in store?

The decision to remove the A&E from St Cross in the late 1990s proved as controversial then as it is now - and residents have been calling for its return as our borough continues to grow.

Rugby MP Mark Pawsey previously told the BBC he believed residents had adapted to having to travel to Coventry for A&E services but, several years later, he now shares the view that St Cross must have its A&E back.

To this end he has written to Dr Sarah Raistrick, chair of the Clinical Commissioning Group, and spoken in parliament to highlight the issue.

So will our town get its A&E back? Here's hoping.