Addenbrooke’s Hospital

Stapleford History Society 13 May 2014

Talk by Hilary Ritchie

It’s always a pleasure to hear a speaker who is genuinely both passionate and knowledgeable about her subject.  On 13 May Stapleford History Society members and visitors were treated to such an experience.  Hilary Ritchie, the enthusiastic archivist at Addenbrooke’s, traced the history of the hospital from its origins to current projects that will make it the largest bio-medical campus in Europe.

Yes, there really was a Dr John Addenbrooke, student and then fellow of St Catharine’s College, who on his death in 1719 left the college his medical books and medicine chest, which is still there, and £4,500 – some £3-4 million today – to build a ‘small physical hospital’ for the poor people of Cambridge and surrounding parishes and counties.  After Parliament was persuaded to provide extra funds, it opened on Trumpington Street in October 1766, with 20 beds.  The first week saw 11 patients.  One surprise in the records is how often nurses – then not professionally qualified – had to be dismissed for unfortunate reasons, such as using bad language and in one case for turfing out a patient to make room for her man to move in.

By the 1840s, surgeon George Humfrey, physician George Paget and Nightingale-trained matron Alice Fisher brought modern methods, including introducing anaesthetics for operations only a year after their first-ever use, in Philadelphia in 1846.  In 1864 architect Digby Wyatt designed the building that has now been flamboyantly transformed into the University’s business school.  Now it seems the New Addenbrooke’s on Stapleford’s doorstep sprouts a new building every couple of weeks.

Hilary Ritchie has an extraordinary – and rare – wealth of documents in her domain, as well as a growing collection of weird and wonderful medical devices from the past.  She is only too keen to help researchers and to raise awareness of the collection, and hopes one day to open a museum.  2016 will see the 250th anniversary of the hospital opening its doors, and Hilary is sure its founder would be gratified that it is still serving the people of Cambridge and environs so well.

(And in case you were wondering if it’s true that Brown’s restaurant was formerly a VD clinic: well, it’s partly true, as it was the Outpatients’ department, part of which was indeed that clinic …).

[report by Maureen Street]