Would you believe that Southampton General Hospital once had its own herd of pigs?

It was actually before the hospital as we know it existed; when the land was occupied by Southampton’s Shirley Warren Poorlaw Infirmary.

The starched white caps and aprons, blue uniforms, and carbolic smell all formed part of a very different world to the one we’re now used to.

Those patients, nurses, and doctors wouldn't recognize the modern-day Southampton General Hospital if they returned from all those years ago.

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When one looks at the vast hospital that now serves the city and beyond, it is hard to imagine that the old infirmary once had a farm that supplied fresh vegetables for the kitchens, grew two crops of hay annually and had its own herd of pigs.

The land for the new infirmary was purchased in 1900 for £8,200 and the building designed by architect Mr Gutteridge. The construction itself was handled by Henry Cawte of Shirley at a cost of £64,800.The chairman of the Board of Guardians Charles George Thomas laid the foundation stone on March 6, in the same year.

These facts were highlighted in a small commemorative publication that was produced more than 30 years ago and written by Paul Nicholson, who carried out the research into the hospital’s history.

Shirley Warren Infirmary

A picture of the infirmary, taken from an old postcard

According to the booklet, the original premises was a two-storey red brick building with a long corridor flanked on either side by wards. At the end of each ward was an open verandah and stretches of lawn between each ward.

At first the infirmary had 289 beds and it was not until later in the 1900s that early X-ray equipment was installed at the hospital.

“In 1929 changes were made by the local authority with responsibility for the administration passing to a health committee with money coming from the rates,’’ says the publication.

“The Royal South Hants Hospital continued to be funded by donations, subscriptions and payments for treatment by the better off in Southampton.’’ Now known as the Borough Hospital, the old infirmary had increased the number of its beds to 431 and nine children’s cots. In 1930, a total of 336 surgical operations were performed while the average stay for all patients was 50 days.

Shirley Warren Infirmary

One of the wards in Shirley Warren Infirmary

During the Second World War, as with the First World War of 1914 to 1918, the hospital treated many military casualties including more than 900 soldiers following the retreat from Dunkirk in 1940.

In 1949 the Southampton School of Nurse Training opened as before trainees had to pay one guinea (£1.05) entrance fee and then a further 30 guineas (£31.50) for a year’s instruction.

“The duties of nurses had included doing most of the ward cleaning and in the absence of any central sterile supplies department using the ward equipment for bowls and instruments,’’ recalls the booklet.

“The night shift cut large rolls of gauze for dressing which were packed in special drums and sent to the hospital autoclave for sterilisation before being returned to the ward.

“The nurses’ home was built in 1902 and renovated in 1965. Throughout the 1950s special passes were required for a night out and lights had to out by a given time.’’ As the decades rolled on major changes took place at the hospital, the accident and emergency department moved from the Royal South Hants as did the children’s unit which was previously based in Winchester Road.


The nurses and staff at the infirmary

The traditional long Nightingale wards disappeared. In 1977 the hospital’s Centre Block opened at a cost of £9m while the Princess Anne maternity hospital welcomed its first mum-to-be three years later.

Since then the hospital has continued to grow and is now considered one of the best equipped and most advanced medical and surgical centres in the country.

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