The Story Of Romsley Sanatorium
By Joe Hunt, President of the Romsley and Hunnington History Society, 1991.
In 1989 Birmingham celebrated its centenary as a city, and not unnaturally the effects of its growth on the surrounding area became a subject of research. Romsley was one of the first places to change prematurely, principally because it was seen as a place where the victims of that primarily urban industrial disease, tuberculosis, could enjoy pure and fresh air, with the possibility of a remission, or even a cure. Before the facts of a development which brought our village, somewhat reluctantly, into the twentieth century are forgotten, the story is worth recording.
In the year Birmingham achieved city status (1889) there was serving on its Council as Alderman, William Cook. He was a Gloucestershire man, having been born in Kingscourt, near Stroud in 1834. His entry into municipal politics came via the Trade Union movement, and 1870 saw him elected Secretary of the five hundred strong local branch of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers. He was elected to the town council in 1873 and elevated to the Aldermanic bench in 1881. Although he served on other council committees, he was principally known for his work on the Health Committee, of which he was Chairman for the very long period of thirty years. Made Mayor of Birmingham in 1883, he was knighted in 1907. In politics he was a Gladstonian Liberal and had represented the Birmingham East Division in Parliament from 1885. He died on 26January 1908 at the age of seventy-four.
Cook had been one of the founders of the Birmingham Hospital Saturday Fund, and was its Chairman for twenty-eight years. The fund, which still exists, and which gets its title from the pence it collected from Birmingham workers when they 'clocked out' at mid-day on a Saturday, was built up largely on the basis of Alderman Cook's hard work and enthusiasm
On his death it was felt that there should be a permanent memorial to him, and that this should perpetuate his work in the field of disease prevention. A memorial committee was set up and it was eventually decided that a Sanatorium for the treatment of tuberculosis (then rife in the City) should be built and should be known as "The William Cook Memorial Hospital". Plans were drawn up and the search for a suitable site began.
The Committee's choice fell on land at Winwood Heath, Romsley, and its purchase was not at all to the liking of a wealthy architect, Mr Theophilis Lloyd Llewellyn Bradley, who had recently designed and had erected a sizable gentleman's residence on an adjoining site. His protests were unavailing. Building work began and the hospital's foundation was laid on 14 October 1911 by the then Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Alderman W.H. Bowater, and it was said that upwards of one thousand of Birmingham's most prominent citizens were present. With the road from Romsley Hill Top right down to Bell End little more than a cart track at that time, transport must have been quite a problem.
The hospital opened its doors to tubercular patients on 14 April 1913, but the official opening (delayed because of the advent of World War One) did not take place until 1915. Originally intended to house one hundred patients (sixty men and forty women – and the sexes were severely segregated) the hospital's first Medical Superintendent was a Dr. Peter Allan and the first Matron, Miss H.M. Murray. A formidable lady, Miss Murray, who during her long stay at the hospital, became an active member of the St Kenelm's congregation, particularly during the incumbency of the Rev. V.E. Hinkman (1917-1933). Hinkman became the hospital's first chaplain, and dances organised by its matron in its public rooms were much patronised by the village elite.
From the opening of the Sanatorium (or the "Sanny" as it was familiarly known to village folk) a large notice board by the side of Farley Lane proclaimed it to be "The Sir William Cook Memorial Hospital" and inside the building's imposing entrance, which was under an equally imposing bell turret, a handsome marble plaque proclaimed the hospital's origins and purposes, and the good works of William Cook.
Some readers will know that my own researches into Romsley history have not gone further forward than 1968, but many will know of the fate which befell Sir William Cook's memorial. It operated for its first twelve years under the management of the Birmingham Hospital Saturday Fund, following which control passed to Birmingham Council's Health Committee, going finally to the Regional Hospital Board. During the hospital's last years, when tuberculosis had ceased to be a major health hazard, it was used as a geriatric institution.
In the early eighties, when closure was decided upon, strenuous opposition failed, and the buildings and land were put up for sale. In 1982 I was involved in an abortive attempt to persuade the Hospital Board to make the premises available at a peppercorn rent to the Sue Ryder Organisation, but expediency was the name of the game and the sale went ahead. The once beautifully laid out gardens, which had made the Institution virtually self-supporting so far as vegetables were concerned, were sold to a Black Country man who, reputedly, kept a lion in his backyard. He was subsequently denied the opportunity of developing the area and it has reverted to wilderness.