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Montagu Hospital - the early years
by J R Ashby
From the Society newsletter, November 1993

After the talk last month by Mr John Martin on the History of Montagu Hospital it was suggested to me that it would be a good idea to use his talk as a basis for our newsletter this month, which I thought was an excellent Idea.So with added material from our archives I set about compiling this history.

If you had become very ill two hundred years ago there was only one person who could help and that was Dame Varoh, the nearest doctor being at Wath. (In 1873 this was Jonathan Gawtress Wade, Surgeon. This information was found on a local deed).
Dame Varoh lived at Glebe Farm, Church Street and became on of the first people to vaccinate people in our area. (The first vaccination was given for Smallpox in 1796). Her daughter who followed in her footsteps married Joseph Lockwood in 1817 and became an Apothecary (a cross between a pharmacist and a medical practitioner).
In 1853 the government made it compulsory to vaccinate all babies under the age of four months for smallpox and Martha Lockwood, again after her mother, became Vaccination Officer for our district.
By 1877, after our area had started to become industrialised and the population had increased greatly, we find that there was also a rise in the number of people coming to our town with some medical training.
By this year we had one trained surgeon and physician by the name of James Steward, three chemists, James Walter Ainley, who was also our post master, Samuel Pepper and Robert Shields and a herbalist, Mr George Codd. But after the sinking of Denaby Pit (first sod cut in 1863, coal reached 1867 and coal production started 1868 – This information was obtained from A Railway History of Denaby and Cadeby collieries) there became an increasing number of people needing specialised medical help with respect to accidents incurred whilst working underground.
Such medical help, which a doctor alone could not give, involved complicated operations etc. and an increasing need for a hospital closer to home was felt to be necessary.
The two nearest at this time were Rotherham and Doncaster. (Doncaster Dispensary opened in 1792, Doncaster General Infirmary and Dispensary opened 1868 – Information from Doncaster Royal Infirmary Bicentennial Souvenir Booklet), and it was as an indirect result of an accident down Denaby Pit the Montagu Cottage Hospital came to be built.
Late in the 1880s Mr Chris Ward was involved in a serious accident at Denaby Pit and was taken home on a coal cart. (Information taken from a Short History of Montagu Hospital) to await the arrival of the doctor.
Here I must mention that in those days you could not go straight into hospital however badly hurt you were. Firstly a doctor had to be called to your home than he had to recommend you to a hospital. The recommendation would go in front of the hospital committee to be assessed as to whether you were a fit sort of person to go into their hospital and as to whether or not you were suffering from a contagious disease, insanity epilepsy or an incurable illness, as you were not allowed to be admitted into hospital under these circumstances. If the hospital committee said you could be admitted, then OK, if not then another hospital had to be tried by your doctor with the same procedure.
By this time you could be dead. It is not surprising, therefore, that doctors preferred to do simple operations etc. at the patient’s home. But when Mr Ward’s doctor arrived his injuries were found to be too extensive for his own doctor to deal with and he was taken by trap (possibly a dog cart, which doctors of the time seemed to prefer) to Doncaster Infirmary, where one of his legs was amputated.
His accident occurred at 2.00am. but he did not receive treatment until 10.00pm. that night. It was this experience which decided him on the course of action he was to take on his recovery, and this was to agitate for a hospital.
Chris Ward was not the only one here to feel the need for a hospital. Dr W Sykes who was able to enlist the aid of many powerful sympathisers instigated the first meeting of all interested parties at the South Yorkshire Hotel in 1889 and six months after the meeting the hospital was ready for opening.



Mexborough's old cottage hospital, on Bank Street, partially demolished.

The 'new' Montagu Hospital, Adwick/Cemetery Road, in 1904.

The building itself was donated by Andrew Montagu. It was previously occupied by the Primitive Methodists and then a Sunday school (information from the Mexborough and Swinton Times) and financial assistance for the necessary alterations to the building was given by the miners, glass blowers, railway employees and trades people of Mexborough and the immediate area (M. & S. T.).
The site of the Montagu Cottage Hospital was next to the Oriental Buildings, close to the old library on Bank Street and was opened by Mrs J. Montagu in January 1890. It could accommodate fourteen people, eight male and six female.
The male ward was to the right and the female to the left of the building and there was a balcony to the rear for people to use in convalescence, with views over the river and fields towards Denaby. The first Matron or nurse as she was first called was Miss Moore of Mexborough who trained at a hospital in Sheffield. After obtaining the post as nurse here she took up residence in her accommodation at the hospital.
She not only had to nurse the patients but also was expected to provide good meals and make sure the hospital was clean, neat and in good order. Also one of the first rules made by the hospital committee was that accidents should be admitted at any time of the day or night without the recommendation of a doctor so she would have to be “knocked up” in the early hours to look after emergency cases as well(this was after 1891), and it was quickly found that Miss Moore could not undertake the running of the hospital single handed, the workload being too great, and an assistant nurse was advertised for at a salary of £5 per year plus £5 for uniform.