Medical Establishments: Other hospitals, asylums and the public baths

Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead. Originally published by Mackenzie and Dent, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827.

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Eneas Mackenzie, 'Medical Establishments: Other hospitals, asylums and the public baths', in Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead, (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827) pp. 524-527. British History Online [accessed 22 May 2024].

Eneas Mackenzie. "Medical Establishments: Other hospitals, asylums and the public baths", in Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead, (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827) 524-527. British History Online, accessed May 22, 2024,

Mackenzie, Eneas. "Medical Establishments: Other hospitals, asylums and the public baths", Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead, (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827). 524-527. British History Online. Web. 22 May 2024,

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No adequate idea can be formed of the misery and disease the forlorn and abandoned objects of this charity are doomed to suffer. Though Newcastle be peculiarly unfavourable to female virtue amongst the lower orders, yet the diseased outcast was denied all participation in any of the public benevolent establishments. The doors of the Infirmary were shut by law against peculiar cases of disease and destitution, "though the applications were sometimes so numerous and urgent, that the medical officers found it difficult to reconcile duty and humanity by a refusal. In the poorhouses no suitable apartments were or could be provided; and without these the consequences to the other inmates of such establishments must be easily imagined. The Dispensary was the only institution whence relief could be obtained; but its power of extending such relief was necessarily limited to slight cases."

Impressed with the importance of the subject, two eminent surgeons of this town suggested the propriety of providing an asylum where this proscribed class might be sheltered and cured. The proposal was liberally supported by many benevolent gentlemen; and several ladies, despising pharisaical affectation, sanctioned the undertaking by benefactions; so that the projectors were enabled to hire a house within the Walls, near Pink Tower, which was opened for the reception of patients in November, 1814, under the management of a committee of gentlemen.

"In 1816," writes a governor, (fn. 1) "the institution, which might be said to have been conducted hitherto on the principle of a private charitable experiment, having proved its usefulness and consequent claims to the protection of the community, its promoters resolved to place it on a public permanent footing. Of this measure regular intimation was given by advertisement in the newspapers. Its original benefactors, among whom stood conspicuous His Grace the late Duke of Northumberland, and the Honourable and Right Reverend the Lord Bishop of Durham, continued their patronage; while many respectable names were added to the list of subscribers. The corporation and other public bodies granted their powerful support by liberal donations and subscriptions; and the parishes of Newcastle, sensible of the diminution of their parochial burthens by the ready accommodation afforded to this class of paupers, became annual contributors. Rules for the government of the charity were drawn up, and the officers appointed. The same principle which, from its commencement, had regulated the admissions, was adopted, and has been adhered to. The forlorn applicants, being the rejected of all society, are received without favour or distinction. Thus the Hospital has gone on, relieving much individual suffering, and, in one essential point, contributing to the health of the town as far as its means would admit. Since its establishment, not an application has been made to the Infirmary on the part of those who, in former years, in numbers besieged its doors, supplicating for admission. The Dispensary has also experienced a considerable exemption; and and it is presumed that the medical gentlemen, in their private practice, have been much less incovenienced than they used to be by this description of patients."

All infant establishments have to encounter many obstacles; but the peculiar character of this one rendered them of extraordinary magnitude. A false delicacy has been felt by its supporters in urging its claims to notice, while no direct appeal, it was thought, could be made to that sex whose distinguishing attribute is humanity. The want of general support has deterred the governors from connecting a Penitentiary to this hospital, to secure the wretched prostitute from relapsing into her former habits. They, however, have sent a few patients, who evinced a desire to return to the paths of virtue, to the Edinburgh Magdalen Asylum, the managers of which agreed to receive such on payment of a small sum in aid of their funds. It was once in contemplation to have procured a suitable scite, and to have built a small hospital, adapted to the purposes of the charity. But, instead of erecting or purchasing a building, the funds of the hospital have always been so slender, that the governors have never been able to go beyond the most parsimonious expenditure; and, at the present time, they seem unable to meet their engagements. But this is partly their own fault. The institution still retains too much of the character of a private charity, and there is a very strange and unnecessary mystery observed in conducting its affairs.— In order to secure the permanence and prosperity of the institution, this unwise policy must be abandoned, and annual reports of its state published to arouse the benevolent feelings of the charitable. Above three years ago, the institution was removed to more eligible premises in the Raff-yard, Queen Street, on the west side of the Castle, and which are quite insulated from the neighbouring houses.


In 1765, a subscription was commenced for building a Lunatic Asylum for the counties of Newcastle, Northumberland, and Durham; and an application being made to the mayor and common council for a scite for the intended hospital, that body appointed a committee on October 7, the same year, to portion off a part of the Warden's Close for that purpose. The plot of ground measured and staked out contained, in length from the north-west to the south-east corner, about 90 yards; from the south-west to the south-east corner, about 100 yards; and in breadth, from the north-west corner to the south-east corner, about 60 yards. This piece of ground was granted in trust, for the use above-mentioned, from the Christmas-day following, for the term of 99 years, under an annual rent of two shillings and sixpence. The corporation also subscribed towards its support.

This hospital, which was opened in 1767, was erected by Mr. Newton, architect; and when it came under the care of the late Dr. Hall, it was enlarged and improved. The situation is retired and quiet, and suitable for patients labouring under the most terrible calamity that can afflict mankind. During many years, it was under the charge of the late Dr. Wood, who was succeeded, after his death in 1822, by Dr. Glenton. All the original subscribers having died, the corporate body, as the sole surviving proprietors, took possession of the hospital; and, being dissatisfied with the system on which it was conducted, they, on Dr. Glenton's decease in 1824, entrusted it to the care of Noel Thomas Smith, M. D. with whom they agreed to make such additions and alterations as were necessary, on condition that he paid the interest of the money expended in the form of rent. The plan of the projected improvements was drawn by Mr. Dobson, architect, who also superintended its execution with unwearied attention.

The old building was but ill calculated to answer the purposes of such an hospital. It was frequently crowded to excess, and little attention was paid to free ventilation and cleanliness. The chains, iron bars, and dungeon-like cells, presented to the unhappy inmates all the irritating and melancholy characteristics of a prison, and, at the same time, were highly injurious to their health and lives. Many of the cells were close, dark, cold holes (less comfortable than cow-houses), the doors of which opened direct upon a court-yard. There was no proper classification observed, and occasionally both males and females were mixed together; while, in the medical treatment of the patients, the old and exploded system of restraint and coercion was pursued.

Without entering into minute particulars, it may be observed, generally, that the alterations were made upon a liberal and judicious scale. The whole building was divided so as to appropriate a distinct part to six different classes of patients, each of whom has the exclusive use of an adjoining airing-ground. The cold, dreary cells alluded to above, and which had been formed by inclosing an open piazza, were properly ventilated; and a light, enclosed walk erected in front. This is appropriated for males, Class 1, who have an airing-ground consisting of 1000 square yards. The corresponding wing for females, Class 1, has been improved in a similar manner, and enlarged. Adjoining, an airing-court has been formed, containing 270 square yards. The males, Class 2, inhabit the main body of the building, and have a yard for exercise, containing 650 square yards. Class 3, occupy the chamber floor, and the females, Class 2, the upper rooms of the projecting wings. The females, Class 3, have convenient apartments in front of the building. Besides the airing-yards, each class has a large day-room, and a separate gallery, warmed by hot air from the fires and stoves below. The doors have proper ventilators, and the windows are lowered so as to afford the patients an amusing look-out. The stanchels are iron painted like wood, by which the prison-like appearance of separate iron bars is avoided. The floors are doubly boarded, to prevent the transmission of sound. All the rooms are kept remarkably clean; and even the paupers are accommodated with warm, clean, separate beds, two or four in one room. Each class has a water-closet; and there are warm, cold, and shower baths. On the ground-floor is a large kitchen, bake-house, and new wash-house; with a yard and necessary offices. Adjoining is the matron's room and physician's room. The keeper's sitting-room, on the chamber-floor, commands a view of three yards, and communicates by private doors with all parts of the hospital. Patients, whose friends can pay for superior accommodations, are provided with a neat bed-room and a sitting-room. All the patients are well fed. The parishes are charged only 9s. 6d. per week for males, and 9s. for females.

An inspection of this hospital, in its present improved state, affords a gratifying proof of the skill and humanity of Dr. Smith, the ingenuity of the architect, and the enlightened liberality of the corporation. Formerly, from 90 to 100 patients were in the house at one time; when the establishment consisted of one male keeper, one matron, and two girls. Since the enlargement of the house, the present physician has limited the number of patients to 80, and maintains an establishment consisting of one superintendent, three male keepers, and five matrons, who are assisted by females in a convalescent state. Mr. Wilkinson, the present keeper, is an active man, who acquired a knowledge of the duties of his office in the York Asylum. When Dr. Smith took the charge of this house, six miserable wretches were found chained down in their melancholy cells. They were all liberated from this painful restraint; and five of them now enjoy the liberties of their class, and, with others, amuse themselves in the large garden that belongs to the house. This affords a striking and convincing instance of the advantages derived from a soothing, kind, and humane treatment of persons labouring under the most awful of all diseases.


Is a private asylum for respectable patients labouring under mental derangement, and which belongs to Dr. Steavenson, F. R. C. P. of Ed. by whom it was rebuilt and considerably enlarged. (fn. 2) The situation, between the Leazes and the Town Moor, is pecu liarly retired, pleasant, and healthy. It contains 24 apartments, exclusive of out-offices, &c. and is calculated to accommodate eight or nine patients of each sex. There is a pleasant garden for the ladies, one for gentlemen, and another for noisy or unruly patients, who occupy a dormitory distinct from the main building, and which is warmed by pipes proceeding from two stoves below the floor. Patients in a state of convalescence are permitted to walk in a garden that commands an extensive prospect, or in an adjoining field belonging to the house, containing four acres of ground. They are also occasionally accompanied in an excursion upon the Leazes or the Town Moor. Most of the patients have a bed-room and sitting-room, which are not only clean and comfortable, but even elegant. They are all neatly furnished, papered, and carpetted. No violence, chains, or iron bars, are used; and one man-servant was turned off on suspicion of having struck a patient. They are all well fed; and have daily a good dinner of fish, beef, mutton, veal, fowls, with vegetables, puddings, &c. and excellent malt liquor, wine, and sometimes a little punch, as may be thought proper. Their breakfasts consist of tea, coffee, or cocoa, at pleasure; for the doctor holds that although maniacs sometimes require venesection, they seldom require low diet. There are shower-baths, portable warm baths, and other requisites necessary to health. Those inclined to read are furnished with books from the circulating libraries, and are allowed, or rather encouraged, to amuse themselves in harmless games. Mr. Paget, surgeon, assists the doctor in his attendance; and there are three experienced menkeepers, a housekeeper, matron, and four steady women servants. On the whole, this establishment seems to be conducted on the most humane and judicious principles.


These commodious baths were built by Dr. Hall, and Messrs. Henry Gibson and R. Bryan Abbs, surgeons. They stand a short distance from the Westgate, on the west side of the road below the Lunatic Asylum, and were erected under the direction of Mr. Craneson, architect, and opened to the public on the 1st of May, 1781. The situation is remarkably pleasant, in a grove or garden, the walks of which are tastefully fringed with curious shrubs. "Considerable medical skill," as is well observed in the Picture of Newcastle, "has been employed here in the application of the gaseous fluids; and we imagine we begin to see the comfort and elegance of the Roman age again revived in Britain, in the use of vapour, hot, and tepid baths, the swimming bason, and the cold enclosed baths, at this place." Unfortunately, the water that supplied these baths was lately cut off in sinking a pit-shaft at Hemsley Main; and no other supply has been obtained. Dr. Hall having become sole proprietor of the Baths and the adjoining premises, they were, at his death, purchased by Dr. Kentish; and, on his leaving Newcastle, they were sold to Malin Sorsbie, Esq. at whose decease they became the property, by purchase, of G. T. Dunn, Esq.


  • 1. The Northumberland and Newcastle Mag. vol. ii. p. 314.
  • 2. The house was formerly a gentleman's residence, and called "New House;" but being purchased by the late Dr. Hall, and opened as an asylum for lunatics on October 18,1766, he called it St. Luke's, in compliment to the tutelar saint of lunatics. It was purchased by Dr. Steavenson in February, 1795, who gave it the present more agreeable cognomon, and who has expended a large sum in purchasing the adjoining grounds, and in rendering the house suitable for the purposes to which it is devoted. The above Dr. Hall, father of Alfred Hall, Esq. sheriff of Newcastle, was not only very eminent in his profession, but also extensively engaged in new and bold commercial speculations.