In 1875, the Great Yarmouth Health Board requested Dr. Hubert Airey, from the National Board of Health, to visit the town to inquire into the causes of the high rate of infectious disease. As well as detailing the poor sanitary state of the town, Airey recommended that an isolation hospital for infectious diseases was required and this hospital should have an ambulance for the conveyance of sick people, a cart for the removal of infected bedding and clothes, and a suitable apparatus available for disinfection. As a result of the Airey inquiry the Corporation resolved, at the end of 1875, to erect an infectious diseases hospital. The cost was £2,000 and an extra £200 was spent on a high wall 200 feet on each side and seven feet high to enclose it. Later, this hospital was re-named Escourt Hospital after the Chairman of the Poor Law Board. A convalescent ward, a mortuary, a disinfecting house, an ambulance shed, a ward and a laundry with the necessary offices were constructed. There were to be a female and a male ward separated by domestic offices with a storeroom, two bedrooms and a kitchen in the central area. The bedrooms were to be occupied by the resident nurses, a man and his wife. The two wards were to be airy and well-ventilated by six windows and 12 wall ventilators (six near furnished with a tap would be used in each ward. the floor and six near the ceiling) and a large ventilator in the roof. Fresh air and ventilation were thought to be important in the treatment and prevention of disease. Each ward was to be heated by two central stoves with iron pipe chimneys. They were to be lit by gas and furnished with six beds each. The floor of each ward was about four feet above the ground, which was dry sand and the under -floor space was ventilated by six ventilators. They also had open yards at the end for water closets, sinks and water taps. A full-size bath on wheels and furnished with a tap would be used in each ward.
The wooden convalescent ward was to be half the size of the main ward, divided into two to separate males and females, with a room partitioned off for a nurse. It was furnished with six beds. The disinfection house contained a Ransom apparatus powered by gas. The hospital- keeper disinfected, free of charge, any article of clothing or bedding for the public that was contaminated with fever poison.
The ambulance shed contained a cab, which was used to convey patients to the hospital and a large covered barrow for the transit of articles for disinfection. The mortuary was well-lit with gas, well-ventilated, roomy, paved with brick and had a slate table. As well as receiving the dead from the hospital it also received those who had died in the town from infectious disease.
The hospital catered for the following infectious diseases: cholera, scarlet fever, tuberculosis, measles, poliomyelitis, typhoid, smallpox, typhus, diphtheria and whooping cough. It would be many years before these infections were treatable. Cholera and smallpox were treated at various times at other places in the town, viz; the Hospital on the South Denes (c1871-1875), the North Denes Smallpox and Cholera Hospital (1868-?1893) and the Gorleston Smallpox Hospital (c1893-1953).
Due to the sporadic nature of infectious disease, the use of the hospital was variable. For example, in 1892 there were 539 cases of infectious diseases, including 40 cases of smallpox in the town. Ninety-seven cases were admitted to the Isolation Hospital including 28 paupers, whose maintenance was paid for by the Guardians of the Poor. There were 61 admissions whose financial circumstances precluded any payment and eight patients who had their fees paid by their friends or relatives. This, of course, was prior to the start of the National Health Service. During 1898, there were 719 notifications of infectious disease (of which 281 were treated at the hospital). These included 663 cases of scarlet fever, typhoid and diphtheria.
The hospital was not free to use by patients and, for example, in 1900 a charge of one guinea a week was made for maintenance in the hospital for those visitors taken ill whilst they were in Great Yarmouth. A similar charge was made to the inhabitants of the town whose houses had a rateable value of over £12 a year. This sum was abated or remitted if the patient or their friends could not meet the cost. The sum of £65 was received from these charges in that year.
In 1894, the isolation hospital buildings were replaced with a two-ward 80-bedded complex (blocks A and B). The windows on each side of the entrance were at a different height. One of the wards was a children’s ward and the lower windows enabled the children to see out.
By 1900, several much needed improvements were made to the hospital. A boiler house was erected for the provision of steam radiators to all the wards. A bacteriological laboratory was built in the hospital grounds and a porter’s lodge erected to control the entrance to the hospital and to stop the public wandering about the grounds and thus being exposed to danger. A brougham ambulance was purchased to convey infectious patients to the hospital.
Early in 1904, the Yarmouth Independent reported that the town was in a healthy condition, the death rate was low. These gratifying facts were due to the work of the sanitary officials. They urged the inhabitants of the town, especially those living in hovels, to be clean and pure. In this way there would be less disease, happier families and less pauperism. The misery, now prevalent amongst the poorer families, would be less.
In 1907, an extension for administration and improved nurses’ accommodation were built and the isolation hospital consisted of five separate ward blocks and an administrative building. The ward blocks contained 52 beds. A request was made for a loan of £1,050 to extend the administrative building to accommodate the different types of infectious disease. The extension enabled typhoid fever, scarlet fever and diphtheria cases to be separated. The staff consisted of a matron, ten nurses, three ward maids, one housemaid, one dormitory maid, a cook, and a scullery maid. There were only 14 bedrooms for the staff and some rooms had to be used as double bedrooms. This meant that staff, who might be looking after different infectious diseases, had to sleep in the same room. There was only one bathroom, which contained a water closet and three basins for all the domestic staff.
The average stay in the hospital was: scarlet fever, 39 days: diphtheria, 31 days and diarrhoea cases, 41 days.
During the Second World War on 5th August 1940, the hospital was closed and the patients were moved to the East Dereham County Isolation Hospital. In May 1941, ten high-explosive bombs were dropped in the north end of the town and one of the four wards at the hospital was severely damaged.
In 1948, the hospital was taken over by the National Health Service and in that year 257 patients were admitted. These included 93 cases of scarlet fever, one diarrhoea case, five diphtheria cases and 158 unspecified cases. There was a poliomyelitis epidemic and a considerable number of the victims were admitted and it was necessary to have three iron lungs in constant use. In 1950, the Ministry of
Health stated that in the event of another local poliomyelitis epidemic, the Isolation Hospital in Great Yarmouth would be restricted to cases of poliomyelitis from the whole of East Anglia and other infectious diseases in the borough were to be treated at East Dereham and King’s Lynn Hospitals.
With the advent of vaccination and immunisation the need for an isolation hospital lessened, but the hospital continued to discharge its prime function for treating infectious disease when required.
From around 1958, the hospital was also used for post-operative care of surgical patients from the General Hospital. For example, in 1961, one hundred and sixty-two convalescent patients were transferred from the General Hospital to the Isolation Hospital. In 1964 the physiotherapy department was moved from the General Hospital to the hospital. Six beds were made available for patients requiring electro-convulsive treatment in 1966, who until now had to be sent to Norwich for the therapy.
In 1971, Mrs. Irene Stoner retired as the last matron. Over the next 30 years the use of the hospital decreased and it slowly deteriorated. In 1970, it was used for the family support team and the health service administration (Primary Care Trust). In 1990, the headquarters of the Great Yarmouth and Waveney Health Authority moved into the former nurses’ home. In 1943, an increase in the incidence of venereal disease in the borough led to the opening of a special clinic at the hospital in 1944.
Part of the site now contains housing and the remainder is for sale for development and many of the hospital buildings have been demolished.
To commemorate the site of this important hospital in the history of the town, the Society has erected a blue plaque on its boundary wall. This compliments the plaques already erected on the site of the borough’s General Hospital and the Royal Naval Hospital.