The Peterborough War Memorial Hospital.

Thursday evening, April 11th, was another well attended meeting of the Local History Society to hear the evenings speaker, Doctor Martyn Thomas, a retired local General Practitioner,  give a talk about his research into the history of the Peterborough War Memorial Hospital and the involvement of a Doctor John Norton Collins in the funding and building of the hospital.

Dr John Norton Collins was born in 1848, in East London, of Irish decent, who became a highly qualified Surgeon and Physician, studying and working in surgery, medicine, obstetrics, accident and emergency at the London Medical School.  In 1898 Dr Collins came to Peterborough, initially joining Dr. William Easby’s general practice.  1899 he was appointed Assistant Physician at the Peterborough Infirmary and Dispensary in Priestgate (now the Peterborough Museum.)

Old Peterborough postcard featuring the Infirmary and Dispensary.

The Infirmary and Dispensary was originally a grand mansion built in 1816 for a young couple then sold to Earl Fitzwilliam in 1856. The Earl later gifted the mansion to the City to be used as a public dispensary and infirmary, becoming  the city’s first hospital. From 1857 until the opening of the War Memorial Hospital  in 1928, Dr John Norton Collins had several senior roles within the infirmary and by 1917 he was appointed Senior Honorary  Surgeon. 

By the early 1900s with the expanding population Peterborough and the advances in medical treatments it became apparent  to Dr Collins that the Infirmary was failing, in several areas, to meet the needs of the people, even after two large extensions had been added to the building. Eventually the decision was made to raise money for a new hospital. As the discussions for a new hospital was taking place  during the time of the 1914/18 war it was suggested the hospital would be called the War Memorial Hospital. Hospitals in that era were not state funded, so all the villages towns in a 20 mile radius of the City were charged with fund raising for estimated £28000 needed to build the hospital. 

It was proposed by Dr Collins that the City set a competition for the design of the new hospital with the rules set according to the institution of architects. 29 applicant submitted drawings for the hospital. It was won by a Mr. Wallace Marchment.  His design was based on the principal of pavilion wards  as promoted at the time by Florence Nightingale. 

Donors to the Building Fund. The plaque has been preserved and is situated in the entrance to the new school building on the hospital site. Source: © Jane King (WMR-8482)g

Mr John Bunting, a wealthy businessman purchased, Thorpe Lawns, a grand house set  within 4.5 acres of grounds (worth £5000 at the time) Situated on Thorpe road it perfect site for the new hospital and he gifts the property and grounds  to the Hospital Building Committee. Dr John Collins spearheaded the fundraising and John Bunting gave another £5000 to the building funds. Against all odds the money was raised and building began in 1919.

It took ten years to build and was completed in 1928 and actually cost £100,000. When it was opened Peterborough had a hospital with three main blocks for a mens, women’s, children’s wards, private pay beds and an accident ward. Other buildings housed an operating theatre, nurses quarters, staff quarters, dispensary, laundry, kitchens, mortuary and chapel.

     The Children’s ward wing. 
War Memorial Hospital Source: © Jane King (WMR-8482)g









Dr Collins worked tirelessly to get the new hospital built and functioning.  He also gifted large amounts of money for the continued running of the hospital and for further extensions. He retired in 1928 but in 1931 he was asked to come out of retirement after the death of the Senior surgeon. He finally retired in 1946 a year before the beginnings of the NHS.

We would like to thank Dr Thomas for his comprehensive and interesting talk about Dr John Norton Collins, his life and his contribution to the building of the Peterborough War Memorial Hospital.

For more information about the building of the hospital go to-

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