The Woburn Cottage Hospital

The Woburn Cottage Hospital

Duchess Mary had been interested in nursing since she was at Cheltenham Ladies College as a girl. In 1898 she opened a cottage hospital on Leighton Street in Woburn offering free treatment to local residents. She avidly followed the latest advances in medicine and sought to design a purpose built facility for the village. In 1903 the newly built cottage hospital opened to provide care for a total of 12 patients at any one time from Woburn and nearby parishes. Edith Cavell was amongst the visitors who came to see the hospital in subsequent years.

The Bedfordshire Times published an article on the hospital in their issue on Friday 29th May 1903. “The Hospital takes the place of one which was very well equipped but on a smaller scale near the Woburn Town Hall, but we gather that it was Her Grace’s desire to have the very best Hospital of its character that modern medical and sanitary science could devise.”

“The new Cottage Hospital is built on a breezy height near the small Police Station on the Leighton-road. It commands on all sides a beautiful view of hill and valley, diversified with pines and pastures and golden gorse, which looked their best on Friday in the bright sunshine of early summer. The style chosen for the building is Old English, and true to the character of a Cottage Hospital. The white roughcast walls contrast agreeably with the light green timberwork and deep reddish tint of the steep tiled roofs and four tall chimney stacks...At a little distance in the rear there is an isolation block for such infectious cases as occur on the premises, and this has a large coachhouse at the back, already provided with a fine hospital carriage with rubber-tyred wheels and well-mounted on springs. In a secluded spot, behind a bank planted with shrubs stands a small mortuary, for which, in an institution so well-favoured, we can only hope there will be very little use”.

“The internal arrangements of the Hospital were designed by Her Grace, who has throughout taken the deepest interest in the progress of the work... The features that first impress themselves on a visitor’s attention are the antiseptic principles that prevail throughout, and the arrangements for cross-ventilation. The former makes for perfect cleanliness and the latter sweetens the air, prevents draughts, and effectually shuts off smell of cooking from the kitchen and ventilation from one part of the building into another. The principal wards are at the extreme ends of the front block, and provide for four men, four women and two children, and are about the same in size and character, with pleasant aspects from the window towards the south... Ambulance wagons, fitted with glass shelves and stocked with antiseptic dressings, medicaments, and every requisite, can be wheeled from bed to bed as required. There are glass tables, tables with enamelled or marble tops, luxurious arm chairs for the patients, glass shelves on enamelled brackets near each bed for the medicine bottles, little lockers for toilet requisites, and an electric bell to each bed. The bed-table is an admirable idea. It slides over the bed linen and van be taken close up to the patient, who supported by pillows on a light bed-rest, is enabled to read or comfortably pass the time in such in such occupations as the table will make possible. ... Everything is so well and thoughtfully that they that are whole could almost wish they were sick for the privilege of a sojourn in such pleasant quarters.”

“On the upper floor are five neatly and comfortably furnished bed-rooms for nurses, who have also a kitchen in proximity to the wards for preparing food, poultices, fomentations, and other requirements for the patients. The kitchen for the general cookery is in the domestic block, and is especially well equipped with range and utensils, and wash basins and sinks are of porcelain or similar material. Mention should be made of the fact that there is telephonic communication with the wards and all parts of the hospital”.

The Woburn Cottage Hospital became part of the Woburn Military Hospital, set up by the Duchess after the outbreak of World War I. Discover more of its story in the Valiant Hearts exhibition, opening on the 11th April.  

Pippa Gardner

Woburn Abbey Marketing Executive