A ‘fascinating collection’ at the hospital

Iron Lung

Story and  photos by Graham Jones

On 14th December members of the Burngreave Local History group made a visit to the Northern General Hospital to see the amazing collection which has been put together by the hospital’s own history group.

We were shown around by history enthusiasts and former members of hospital staff, Lyn Howsam and Mary Garside. Our hosts made the collection come alive with a wealth of information and insights into the history of both the hospital and the workhouse on this site and of Sheffield hospitals generally. Lyn has written two books on the subject.

This is definitely not a pathology museum and so there are no pickling jars containing human organs. However, on one shelf there is a fascinating collection of buttons, coins, false teeth, beads, washers and even a metal toy soldier: all had been inhaled by patients, many of whom would have children rushed into hospital by anxious parents to have them removed with surgical expertise.

An old iron lung.

The collection contains an astoundingly wide range of medical equipment and machinery, artistic items, old maps, documents and hundreds of photos showing staff and buildings dating right back to the days when the buildings in 1880 were opened as the Fir Vale Sheffield Union Workhouse.

The site had its own farm, laundry, stables and punishment block. The total number of workhouse and hospital patients in 1909 was almost 2,500.

We were shown that parts of the former workhouse are still used by the hospital today for administration, works and staff purposes. Although the

Eye test on an old machine
Eye test on an old machine

School of Midwifery opened in 1887, the Sheffield Union Hospital didn’t become a separate entity until 1906. As Lyn Howsam explains:

“The Workhouse also had hospital wards and in 1901 plans were drawn up to separate the hospital side from the Workhouse, so the Sheffield Union Hospital came into being well before the City General Hospital. The Sheffield Union Hospital was renamed City General Hospital in 1930 when the Workhouse side became the Fir Vale Infirmary.”

The two institutions merged in 1967 to form the Northern General Hospital, a world class hospital now pioneering new treatments and providing a wide range of quality care with its six thousand committed staff. Many of our readers will have been patients, visitors or staff at the Northern General and have their own stories to tell about this hospital. For further information about the hospital history group, contact: sheffhhg@gmail.com