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Grantham Civic Society column: ‘Victims of the plague were sent to Pest House,’ explains Ruth Crook

Ruth Crook, of Grantham Civic Society.
Ruth Crook, of Grantham Civic Society.

In medieval Grantham, if someone became ill, he or she would consult a local apothecary or physician.

Such men would treat a multitude of illnesses and injuries from accidents. If someone became seriously ill, then they would usually die. The town was visited on several occasions by plague, and people became increasingly aware that they might be able to reduce the number of fatalities if they isolated those who were sick,

Grantham Hospital
Grantham Hospital

In 1584, a Pest House was built to isolate those who succumbed to serious infectious illnesses such as plague. It was situated on what is now Manthorpe Road, down by the River Witham, and opposite the current hospital site.

The Pest House allotment was leased by the Aldermen and Burgesses of Grantham. The lease states that “if it shall happen or chance hereafter...the Town and Borough...to be visited with the plague called the pestilence or any other smiting disease or contagious sickness wherby it shall be thought good to divide the infected people from the whole...better safeguard of the said Town...upon two days warning...all the tenants and dwellers within the said messuage or house to depart...to permit and suffer the infected or visited people to enter into the house...”

This lease tells us that tenants lived in the Pest House, shown on a later map as a single dwelling with a small storage building at the back. When anyone became ill, they would have to leave their home to make way for plague victims. It is unclear where the tenants stayed during this time, or whether they took their belongings with them.

Grantham’s Poor Law Union was officially formed in 1836, and, in 1837, the Grantham Union workhouse was built to the south-west of the town. It also had an infirmary and fever hospital. In 1867, it was subject to an inspection by the Poor Law Board. The report stated that: “The ordinary sick wards are in the body of the workhouse, and consist of one for women, one for girls, and one for men, besides the lying-in ward. The lying-in ward consisted of two small rooms, or, properly speaking, wooden boxes, in which the women are delivered, and in which they remain for a certain period afterwards.

“There is a separate two-storied building for infectious cases in the garden, with the itch (scabies) ward, kitchen, and two other wards on the ground floor, and four sleeping rooms on the first floor. The bedsteads are of iron, and without racks, with beds of straw placed upon cocoa-fibre matting. The counterpanes are of cotton, and are old-looking.

“There is one paid nurse, who has charge of all the patients in the four separate sets of wards, amounting to between 30 and 40”.

A new workhouse eventually opened on Dysart Road in 1890.

In 1874, Grantham and Kesteven Hospital opened on Manthorpe Road, providing the first proper hospital facilities in the town. In April 1934, the Grantham Hospital Maintenance Fund, for the benefit of people whose income did not exceed £260 per annum, began. By 1939 membership was 12,000 and provided £5,000 towards the maintenance of the hospital. It had 100 beds and provided care for electrical massage, orthopaedics, X-ray, maternity, medical and surgical patients. There were three general wards and six private wards, as well as a casualty department.

The hospital continues to provide medical care for the people of Grantham in 2015, but thankfully no longer has to deal with plague victims.

* The Grantham Civic Society feature published last week was written by David Brown, not Ruth Crook. Ruth was also referred to on the letters pages, in the Editor’s Comment. Ruth does not share the same views as David with regards the erection of a Margaret Thatcher statue in Grantham. We are pleased to set the record straight.


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