Paul Stebbing, BMBC’s Archives & Local Studies Officer, examines the first governors’ minute book for Beckett Hospital in Barnsley
Long before there was a National Health Service, Barnsley’s Beckett Hospital on Church Lane was tending to the sick. Originally the Beckett Dispensary, the charitable institution was founded by trust deed in 1862 by John Staniforth Beckett, whose endowment of £5,000 was to provide free medical and surgical assistance to Barnsley inhabitants too poor to afford it. No-one was eligible whose family earned over eighteen shillings a week, unless the family numbered more than six. Formally opened on the 14th March 1865, the Dispensary was managed by a committee of twelve governors who were elected annually, and who met monthly.
The meetings of the governors are detailed in their first minute book, held by Barnsley Archives and Local Studies, which covers the period 1864-1939. It provides a detailed insight into how the hospital was run; documenting the election of committee members, the receipt of reports and accounts, amendment of rules and appointment of hospital staff. Key events in the history of the hospital are referred to, such as the opening of the Kendray Wing in 1883 and the obtaining of a new ambulance by subscription in 1889.
Initially the Dispensary provided drugs, medicines and medical advice, but was not equipped for the admission of patients. However, by 1870 patients were being regularly admitted. The death of John Beckett in 1868, leaving a further £5,000 bequest to the hospital, meant that services could be expanded. Between 1872 and 1873, the hospital was able to treat 73 in-patients and 1,108 out-patients. The huge sum from Beckett’s estate, along with further public donations, meant that further extensions were possible, including a childrens’ ward in 1902, which contained 16 beds, and then a Nurses Home, named after trustee and benefactor Samuel Joshua Cooper.
During the First World War the hospital treated 1,115 soldiers and sailors, and by the time of the Second World War, the hospital (known locally as ‘the miners’ hospital’) dealt principally with surgical emergencies and provided 154 beds. Surgeons from Sheffield visited weekly. By that time, wards were substantially overcrowded, so much so that the nearby Cooper Art Gallery acted as a temporary annexe to the hospital.
At the formation of the National Health Service in 1948, the hospital’s management was brought under the control of the newly created Barnsley Hospital Management Committee of the Sheffield Regional Hospital Board. However, recommendations soon started to surface that a new hospital should be developed on the nearby St Helen’s Hospital site. This eventually happened and services in the Beckett Hospital buildings started to be scaled down. The hospital finally closed for the last time on 13th August 1977; the main buildings being demolished two years later.
Barnsley Archives and Local Studies hold an extensive archive relating to Beckett Hospital. Originally held by Sheffield Archives, the archive was recently returned to Barnsley, along with large series of records relating to other local hospitals and healthcare. These series contain minute books, photographs, plans, reports, accounts and other historical papers. They will be available to researchers in the new Barnsley Museum and Discovery Centre, situated in the Town Hall.