'A source of great benefit and blessing to this town', how and why Rugby's St Cross was built

A view of St Cross - date of the photo is unknown.
A view of St Cross - date of the photo is unknown.

For a long time the fate for Rugbeians unfortunate enough to be involved in an accident or become seriously ill was to be transported to Birmingham or London – more often than not dying before they could arrive.

The opening of a cottage hospital on Pennington Street in the town centre must have brought great relief to our ancestors.

A vintage photo of St Cross.

A vintage photo of St Cross.

Great comfort must have come from knowing that, should they fall ill, they would be spared the ordeal of being bundled onto the back of a horse-drawn carriage or steam train, hoping they could cling on until they reach a distant city.

The cottage hospital expanded and eventually became known as ‘The Rugby Hospital’.

The hospital was ultimately limited by the age of its first building.

Additionally, in an era where fresh air was considered to have healing properties, the hospital’s surroundings, which comprised uninviting and unsanitary structures, were far from ideal.

Mr and Mrs Wood came to Rugby as strangers, but it wasn’t long before their philanthropic spirits saw the creation of a hospital that would provide a solution to the town’s medical difficulties for years to come.

The couple decided a plot on their Barby Road estate would be the perfect site for a modern hospital – allowing for more sanitary conditions and providing an abundance of fresh air from the south.

Mr and Mrs Wood laid the foundation stone for the Hospital of St Cross privately on December 9, 1882.

Building work was undertaken with great vigour, resulting in the hospital being completed within a month or two of the target.

In 1884 the Advertiser, then only in print for 38 years, reported on St Cross’s official opening.

The Rev C. Elsee addressed the crowd at the opening of the building - which was originally intended to accommodate 31 patients.

He said: “I am sure that I am only expressing the feelings of all who are here, and in fact, of all who are in the town – if I say that we are deeply sensible of the liberality which has prompted him to make this great gift to the town, and the we do accept it most gratefully.

“I am sure you will join in the trust that this hospital may be a source of great benefit and blessing to this town and neighbourhood, and that this door which Mr Wood has now opened may never be closed against any cause to which the misfortune of accident or illness shall give a claim of entrance, according to the wishes and intentions of the generous founders.”

Initially, only a small portion of the ten acres of land given with the hospital was developed.

Areas that had been developed comprised grass areas with gravel paths - which provided space for patients to exercise and get fresh air.

The rest of the land was grazed to save money on upkeep.

Dr Jex-Blake, addressing the assembly at the lunch held in Market Hall after the opening, said: “I have lived to see many changes in Rugby since I came here a little boy 40 years ago, but I have seen no change so great as the rearing of this beautiful building on its beautiful site, with its admirable internal arrangements – and all the gift of two people, who, really a few years ago, were strangers to this place.

“But Mr and Mrs Wood have long since ceased to be strangers.

“Mr and Mrs Wood are household names amongst us; and they will be still more endeared to coming generations.

“I hope that the work which that little hospital for a time gallantly and successfully did, will be carried on with ever-increasing beneficence and success, and that the good intent of Mr and Mrs Wood, like the good intent of Lawrence Sheriff, will bear fruit for many centuries, and that many generations will rise up and call them blessed.”

Mr Wood later rose and said: “As regards the hospital, we believe that we have simply acknowledged our responsibility.

“There is no such thing in this world as perfect happiness, and this day, in the minds of many of us, there is a feeling of regret that those excellent persons who were instrumental in founding the first hospital for the town of Rugby, and for which Rugby will be forever indebted to them.

"I mean Miss Nicholson and Mr Campbell [both instrumental in the setting up of the Pennington Street hospital].”

St Cross is asking for your photographs as it prepares to celebrate the NHS’s 70th anniversary.

Hospital manager Juliet Starkey is hoping to gather pictures of the hospital through the ages in order to create a piece of artwork in celebration.

Anyone who is happy for their pictures to be part of the exhibition is asked to email copies to communications@uhcw.nhs.uk