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Boston - The Small Town With A Big Story

 Health Care Through The Ages 

Dr Martyn Walling and Dr Ken Hines

Only Pilgrim Hospital rivals St Botolph’s church tower for a place on Boston’s skyline, symbolic of the importance that is now attached to health care. Before the 1900s people relied extensively on quackery, prayer, leeches, herbs and even poisons such as mercury, arsenic and phosphorous. However during the 19th Century there were rapid changes with scientific methods and anaesthetics being increasingly adopted. In addition better nutrition and welfare led to an improvement of the general health of the population. Today doctors and other health care professionals provide a wide range of medical services, many based in new, purpose-built medical centres. Pilgrim Hospital, which received its first patients in 1971, now includes an acute Mental Health Unit, an Intensive Care Unit and a very busy Accident & a Emergency department; ambulances along with an air ambulance support this health care provision. Health Care in its several forms now employs the greatest number of people in the area.

Boston Pilgrim hospital taken from a field in the distance.

Pilgrim Hospital, Boston.

St John's Almshouses alongside the Maud Foster Drain

St John's Almshouses alongside the Maud Foster Drain, Willoughby Road.

Before 1948 health care was not free and many people relied instead on chemists or druggists for help. Most doctors worked in small surgeries, frequently part of their homes and also cared for their patients in hospital. Doctors in rural areas may have found themselves paid in kind, with a chicken for example. At the time of WW2 Boston’s hospital had just one consultant surgeon, one physician/ paediatrician and one anaesthetist and a small team of nurses.

The earliest known hospital in the town was the ‘Hospital of St Leonard’, established in 1220 and run by monks. It was renamed ‘St John the Baptist Hospital’ in1230 and taken over by the Knights Hospitallers. In 1542 this passed to the Duke of Suffolk who later built almshouses on the site, retaining the name. Today these almshouses are managed by a charitable trust. The Hospitallers also had a hospital in Skirbeck. Boston’s Union Workhouse was built on part of its site in 1836 and included a small hospital ward.

Boston General Hospital

Boston General Hospital.

Air Ambulance

Lincolnshire Air Ambulance (courtesy of Lincolnshire & Nottinghamshire Air Ambulance).

A cholera epidemic in 1832 led to the creation of a temporary hospital in a warehouse, although it was not until 1874 that Boston had its own General Hospital. This was opened in two cottages in Irby Street in 1874 and two years later moved to a new, 22-bed building beside Bath Gardens. Nearly a century later this was replaced by the Pilgrim Hospital.

In order to manage dangerous diseases on ships using the port, an isolation hospital was set up in 1887 in White House Lane with two wards dealing with plague, cholera, yellow fever and other infectious diseases. A sanatorium for people with tuberculosis opened in 1922 at Norton House, later to form part of the London Road Hospital. Wyberton West Hospital, which opened in 1938 and was used as a receiving centre for evacuees, is mainly remembered as a Maternity Hospital. Other treatment centres, now gone, included Allan House on Carlton Road and Holden House in South Square both of which were used by the Red Cross and St John Ambulance for the rehabilitation of troops during WW1.