Hospital born out of need to fight fevers

A century ago, fear of diseases like smallpox, diphtheria and typhus gripped the public. Andrew Robinson reports on Seacroft Hospital's 100th anniversary.

PORING over the files and records at Seacroft Hospital makes for some pretty grim reading.

The annual report in 1912 reported that "55 per cent of the female patients admitted were verminous".

The following year the hospital treated 1,350 people for scarlet fever and 694 were admitted with diphtheria.

Many people spent their final days at Seacroft before succumbing to one of the many infectious diseases of the day that were rife in the notorious slums of Leeds.

Before the hospital was built, the only accommodation for the treatment of infectious diseases was the House of Recovery at Beckett Street.

By 1889, the full extent of illness became more apparent with the Infectious Diseases Notification Act that brought to light many more cases; so many that the 92-bed Beckett Street building could not cope.

Two years later Leeds Corporation bought the 102-acre Seacroft Estate (site of the former Manston Hall) for 12,000.

By 1893 a decision was taken to put up a temporary smallpox hospital at Seacroft and a severe outbreak of typhus led to a tented hospital going up in 1897.

Records show that 1898 saw the first permanent accommodation open at Seacroft. Sixty-six beds were for scarlet fever patients. 'B' ward was opened for 30 smallpox sufferers.

A decision was taken, also in 1898, to build a new hospital for scarlet fever, diphtheria and enteric fever, and a separate hospital for smallpox – which led to the purchase of the Killingbeck estate.

The big event came in 1904 with the opening of hospitals at Seacroft and Killingbeck at a cost of 250,000 and 75,000 respectively.

At Seacroft, accommodation was provided for 482 patients (240 scarlet fever, 60 diphtheria, 104 enteric fever, 48 isolation and 30 convalescence). At Killingbeck there were 238 beds for smallpox.

Later years saw Seacroft used as a military hospital – during the First World War – and Killingbeck was converted into a sanatorium.

In 1912 the Clock Tower was built to hold 28,000 gallons of water for consumption by the hospital but, by the second half of the 20th century, usage was in excess of 75,000 gallons per day.

Yesterday the Seacroft Hospital staff celebrated its centenary by unveiling a plaque and an exhibition about its history.

Martin Buckley, chairman of Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said: "The role of Seacroft Hospital has come a long way from its original purpose as an isolation unit for patients in Leeds with infectious diseases and its important military role during World War One.

"However, in the coming years, the role of Seacroft Hospital is set to change but it will not be closing.

"We will make sure our service users and staff are kept up to date on future developments via the Future of Seacroft Hospital Group."

Today Seacroft Hospital specialises in elderly medicine and the in patient treatment of cystic fibrosis.

It also houses a renal satellite unit, an outpatients department, pain services and a day surgery as well as facilities for East Leeds Primary Care Trust and Leeds Mental Health NHS Trust.