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Howbeck House: the Workhouse

In Hartlepool today, the town’s hospital stands on the site of the original West Hartlepool Workhouse. Some of the early buildings still exist. The hospital has had several names during its life, being first known as the Workhouse. In 1905 the name “workhouse” was changed to Howbeck House. It was changed again in 1925 to Howbeck Infirmary. In 1948 it became the General Hospital. Today it is known as the University Hospital of Hartlepool.

The hospital is in the north west part of the town, about a mile due west of the Headland. At the time it was built it was set in open fields, at the very edge of the town. It was close to the boundary between Hartlepool and West Hartlepool, on the West Hartlepool side.

The origins of the Hospital

In 1859 a Hartlepool Poor Law Union was created. Its purpose was to make provision for people in the district of Hartlepool who for one reason or another, could not provide for themselves. It remained in existence until 1930 when the Poor Law system was wound up. Soon after it was set up, the Union bought land, now part of the site of the present day hospital. The first building was opened in 1861. It had an entrance building, main building and infirmary for the inmates. It was the first hospital on the site.

New buildings were added

In 1890 a new hospital opened with separate wards for infectious diseases. A new school building was used from 1897 until 1915. By that time there were wards for homeless people and a block for “short stay lunatics”, also referred to as “low grade lunatics”. These people may have been expected to get better, if their illness was temporary. Others, probably those of low intelligence, would be expected to find other accommodation and manage somehow.

On December 16th, 1914, the hospital was damaged by fire in the Bombardment. Five patients died, and many others were injured. The school buildings were later used by soldiers during the First World War.

Between 1897 and the 1960s a laundry, operating theatre, nurses’ home and verandas on the infirmary wards were added. Tuberculosis patients used the verandas to get fresh air. It was believed this would help their illness.

The present day

From 1948, when the hospital became part of the National Health Service, the Hospital Management Committee decided the General Hospital would become the centre of health care provision in West Hartlepool. When the twin towns amalgamated, it became the centre for the new town. The first new building of the present hospital was opened in 1972. The second stage opened in 1984, following the demolition of some of the earlier buildings. Today, only a few of the original buildings remain.

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