December 2020

£1,500 for a hospital bed Documents given to the safe custody of the Civic Association open a lens on the period between 1923 and 1963 when Ruthin Castle was a hospital A 36-page 9″ x 6″ brochure dated September 1950 promotes the hospital and the virtues of Ruthin itself which in the ‘Eden of Wales’ enjoys a ‘mild and equable but not relaxing climate’. From 24 guineas a week for a bedroom and up to 40 guineas a week for one with what today are called en-suite facilities, plus 30 guineas for preliminary lab or X-ray investigations, patrons had access to first class medical staff and full board. It was certainly not for the indigent. 40 guineas equates to about £1,500 per week today. Sounding like something out of Richard Gordon’s fictional St Swithin’s, the brochure acknowledges one Sir Edmund Ivens Spriggs as co-founder and senior physician. Upon Spriggs’s retirement, his replacement, Sydney Wentworth Patterson, was credited formerly as consulting physician to no other than king Edward VII. Edward, of course, was Bertie, a frequent visitor to Ruthin Castle when titled prince of Wales, visiting the then home of the Cornwallis Wests. In 1913, Duff House in Banff, Aberdeenshire, was the first private hospital of its kind to open. Success there resulted 10 years later in ‘a general demand for doctors and patients that similar work should be done in a place more easily reached from larger centres’. Ruthin was the place deemed to be ‘more easily reached’ hence the purchase of Ruthin Castle & grounds. As if to emphasise Ruthin’s accessibility, the brochure includes maps showing Ruthin as the focus of the road and rail networks of the time. This, of course, was 12 years before the closure of the LMS passenger line through Ruthin. There were indicative rail times from London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Glasgow and, unsurprisingly, Aberdeen. As for travel by car, ‘Ruthin is easily reached by motor from the midlands and northern regions of England and from north and south Wales’. In a town known for the purity of its water, the brochure boasts ‘A pure and private water supply flows from a spring and reservoir on the property’. To guard against drought, the Castle ‘has been connected with the Birkenhead Water Supply and this can be drawn on at any moment’. For its time, the facilities at the hospital were impressive. Then again, you wouldn’t spent £1,500 a week for a back street clinic. The moat and south wings were newly constructed for the clinic, as were the specially built kitchens. The hospital boasted two ‘new and enlarged’ main laboratories with eight accessory rooms, accessible by crossing the bridge over the middle moat. These were fitted with ‘modern appliances for chemical, bacteriological and pathological work’. There were separate ‘laboratories of radiology’ at the junction of the moat and south wings. There was a fixed and a portable electrocardiograph. There was also a ‘properly lighted and fitted operating room’ with sterilising room adjoining. Those patients who were likely to be X-rayed were asked to bring pyjamas or nightdresses not made of silk. There was a slightly perverse-sounding ‘douche-massage bath’ and this was seemingly a rather primitive piece of equipment designed for some unspecified ‘abnormal complaints’. There was an electric light bath for obesity and for kidney disorders, and an intestinal douche for bowl disorders. The rather mediæval-sounding ‘Faradism, galvanism, diathermy, the short wave and similar methods’ were provided ‘and the Bergonié chair’, which appears to be a non-lethal electric model. ‘Sufferers from every form of internal disease are receiving diagnosis and treatment at Ruthin Castle’. Among the long list of suggested maladies were high tension, rest after overwork, habitual constipation, emaciation and ‘the Anæmias’. There were also exclusions, in bold type, including those with ‘infectious diseases, including active pulmonary tuberculosis; inebrity, severe neurosis, hypochondriasis; epilepsy in any form or mental affections’. Unstable, drunken, afflicted sufferers of covid-19, real or imagined, need not therefore apply. 
Archive from 2013 Historic Interest