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Published in the Dec 08 edition of Rotherham Family History Magazine "A Bridge in Time"

Doncaster Gate Hospital must be saved for the community, because of its Victorian architectural beauty and the social history that links it to generations of Rotherham families.  

It was originally known as The Rotherham Hospital and Dispensary before its absorption into the NHS in 1948. For 137 years its elegant architecture bearing the motto Aesculapius, recalling the Greek God of health and medicine, has stood like a proud beacon guarding the southern entrance to the town.     

John Guest, factory owner and local historian, declared at its public unveiling in May 1872, the hospital was “…a noble edifice, whose least claim was that as striking an ornament and credit to the place as the previous condition of its site was a disgrace and deformity”.      

The buildings distinctive design had been the wining entry in a national competition run in the May 1869 edition of ‘The Builder’ magazine. Ninety two entries were received and these were put up around the walls of the Mechanics Hall. A sub-committee voted by 17 votes to 3 for the mock Tudor/Gothic design of architects Mallinson & Bakewell of Leeds and Dewsbury. Thirty years later the 1909 ‘Sheffield & Rotherham Red Book’, was able to comment admiringly “The hospital and dispensary consists of excellent suite of buildings occupying the brow of Doncaster Road Hill. It is built of light Thrybergh stone with high roofs and Dormer windows in the Tudor style and stands in large ornamental grounds.”

Every section of society contributed financially towards the building costs and maintenance of the hospital in those first 70 years when it was a charitable institution before the NHS. Particularly striking is the contribution made by generations of workers organised in the local factories and coal mines in the area.  Given their comparatively low wages and difficult conditions during a period that included the First World War and the ‘hungry thirties’. This sacrifice is an expression of how much it meant to them to have a hospital that could properly deal with their medical needs.

It was particularly important because prior to the hospital the only medical institution in the town was the Dispensary on College Street. This had been built over 40 years before in 1828 and shared the building with the Grammar school and Subscription Library. This had taken over from the original dispensary on Wellgate. From the beginning it had a struggle to deal with increasing numbers of accidents and the spread of infectious diseases; including two attacks of the deadly cholera in 1832 and 1849 as well as tuberculosis and diphtheria. Those injured in factory accidents had to be hauled onto carts and driven in agony over the eight miles of jutted road to Sheffield Infirmary.

In 1850 a Public Inquiry was held into the high level of infectious deceases. This lead to the setting up of the Rotherham and Kimberworth Board of Health with Dr Shearman becoming the first Medical Officer of Health. Despite these improvements the towns medical facilities struggled to cope.

From 1850 Rotherham experienced an explosive population growth as more land was sold for housing to accommodate and attract workers needed for the growing local industries. Rotherham mushroomed in size from 10,000 inhabitants in 1841 to 25,000 by 1871. Squashed into rows of small terraced houses and working in highly dangerous conditions increased the instances of fatal disease and life threatening accidents. Those unable to work were forced into the Union Workhouse.  A dispensary opened decades before would have been completely inadequate to meet the medical and social demands created by this new situation. 

This would have lead to a great deal of underlying social tension and it seems this broke through to the surface when a devastating boiler explosion took place at the Midland Iron Company in 1862. The 13th September Rotherham Advertiser reported seven deaths and 20 casualties.  Most of the victims were young boys and this figure would have been much higher except it occurred at change of the early morning shift. There were reports of enormous anger as young, broken bodies were carried through the streets. People came from as far away as Sheffield to view the scene of destruction. Also that same year an official inspection of the town took place by a Dr Ord who reported high instances of “Fever and Jaundice”.

Early in 1863 the first public meeting was called to discuss the need for a hospital. However this meeting decided there was insufficient support for the enterprise.                
Raising the Funds for a Hospital
Another accidental death at the Midland Iron Company in 1867 once again fuelled demands for action. It prompted a further meeting to be called and Earl Fitzwilliam offered to start a subscription with £500. There was a £1,000 donation from Miss Elisabeth Nightingale of Fairfield House on Moorgate. A committee was set-up to raise £6,000. A donation of £1000 was sent by Mr Thomas Liversidge of Boston, USA. Presumably in recognition of the support Boston had received a hundred years before at the time of the American War of Independence.

Despite this the costs could not have been met without the money raised within the local factories by the workers themselves. By April, 1872, £8,528 had been raised publicly. Individuals and firms contributed £6,573 and workmen £1,404, a staggering amount considering how low worker’s wages were at that time. These are just some examples of workers donations; Guest and Chrimes workmen raised £250. Parkgate Iron Company workers donated £190. Yorkshire Miners Union donated £25 and the Glass Bottle Union £10.

In the past the local dispensaries had relied exclusively on philanthropic gifts and sponsorship from the wealthier members of society but here workers were organising their own contributions to the building and maintenance of the major local medical institution. Their pride in this achievement can be seen in the Hospital Annual Accounts where their contributions are listed separately. This was acknowledged when the worker’s representative, Mr Warburton, was invited to share the platform at the Opening Ceremony.

* Four acres of land had been purchased for £2,230 and the foundation stone laid on 19th January 1870 amid great public rejoicing. Shops and offices closed and the Church bells were rung.

The Hospital Dispensary opened in 1871 but the Hospital itself did not open for patients until 14th May 1872. The final cost of the building was £9,265.7s.5d. plus £1,034 for furnishings. Dr Shearman himself went around collecting furniture at discount prices. In its first year the number of inpatients almost doubled. In 1874 a mortuary known locally as the “Death House” was built at the cost of £305.11.6.

Over the years various ways were found for raising funds. A “Hospital Sunday” collection was arranged for the last Sunday in January each year. From 1891 until 1939 the Hospital Demonstration committee organised annual demonstrations where Sunday school children, Boy Scouts and members of voluntary organisations assembled in Main Street and paraded through the town to Clifton Park taking collections along the route. In 1918 the Mayor’s Flag Day realised £321, Workmen subscribed £2,731 including grants from Working Men’s Clubs and the Churches £231. A new Outpatients Department was finally opened in 1931 at the total cost of £21,015. £11, 000 of this was provided by the Memorial Appeals Fund and another £5,700 was given by the Miners Welfare Fund  

Expansion and Medical Innovations.
As a result of these donations improvements and medical innovations were able to be made. In 1898 a new Children’s Ward, known as Queens Ward, was opened to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee. The following year a new operating theatre was in use and work started on eight nurses bedrooms. In 1908 the committee was 36 strong plus Chairman and Vice-Chair, with one third representing the workmen of the area who paid £1,572, mainly by 1d deduction from wages. In 1910 new bedrooms were added and a year later a west wing named the Deakin Ward.

December 1914 saw the first intake of 20 wounded Belgium soldiers followed by 15 British soldiers treated with frozen feet contracted in the trenches. The 1919 annual meeting heard that capitation fees of £740 were paid for wounded soldiers for the year 1918 [it had been £1,112 in 1917] and altogether a total of 278 soldiers had been treated during the war.

In 1948 Rotherham Hospital and Dispensary became Doncaster Gate Hospital as it became part of the NHS and one of three acute hospitals in Rotherham, along with Montagu at Mexborough and Rotherham Municipal General Hospital [once the Workhouse and later renamed Moorgate Hospital in 1949].

It continued to be medically innovative with its own Pathology Lab and by 1953 a new X-ray department and operating theatre costing £11,150. The Hospital obtained a new Physiotherapy Department in 1963. When the new Rotherham District General began to be built in three stages in 1976 and the Hospital Management Committee decided to close the old Moorgate Hospital and retain Doncaster Gate, which would house maternity and paediatrics until phase two of the new hospital was completed.

The hospital continued to play a vital role right up until this year. Rotherham PCT must not be allowed to determine the future of the building. It was built and maintained through the efforts and financial sacrifices of past generations of Rotherham people, particularly the working class.

The Doncaster Gate Hospital building needs to be preserved in its entirety for use by the community. As a Victorian architectural gem whose past is intractably bound up with 200 years of Rotherham’s social history.


By David Hyland Hon. Sec. Rotherham Local History Council.

*Much of this detail comes from Vernon Thornes pamphlet “The Health of Rotherham” Published by Rotherham Libraries.



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