By Denys Barber
In 1890, with a population of over 23,000, Blackpool had no hospital. Anyone needing urgent care was sent by train to Preston Royal Infirmary. At a public meeting that year the Mayor of Blackpool, Sir John Bickerstaffe, said: “It is most desirable that a hospital be built in Blackpool as soon as possible.” Three years later there occurred a tragic incident on Blackpool's doorstep which once again brought to the top of the agenda the need for the resort to have a hospital.
On 1 July 1893 there occurred a serious railway accident; the Blackpool to Wigan express, going too fast, jumped the rails at the tight curve near Poulton-le-Fylde station, and the train overturned. There were many deaths and serious injuries. But where to take the injured with no hospital in Blackpool? The nearest facilities were at Lytham and Fleetwood, where thanks to the benevolence of the Clifton and Fleetwood families the local people had somewhere to go if they fell seriously ill. However, the cottage hospitals were far too small to cope with the large number of casualties from the train crash and sadly many people, who might otherwise have been saved, died of their injuries.
At once a committee was set up, funds were raised, a piece of land on Whitegate Lane (as it was then known) was purchased, and a workforce started to build the very first hospital for Blackpool in record time.
On 25 August 1894 the first Blackpool Infirmary, as it was known, threw open its doors and the first patient to arrive was a little girl by the name of Alice Bellew, aged 4 years, on holiday from Oldham, who had broken her leg on a hobby horse at the funfair at Uncle Tom's Cabin. Alice was the first of thousands of visitors and local people to use the Blackpool Infirmary, with its dedicated and hardworking staff. There were twelve beds and three cots in the Infirmary recorded in the first Hospital Annual Report, which appeared on 31 December 1894.
Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee was marked on 22 June 1897, and in honour of the event Blackpool Infirmary became known as Blackpool Victoria Hospital. For the next twenty years Blackpool Victoria Hospital managed not only to survive but to expand - thanks to a team of dedicated money-collectors, event-organisers, and people donating money. The Hospital was financed by the people of Blackpool, visitors, holidaymakers and businesses. Victoria Hospital even managed to cope with the extra demand placed on it by people injured and ill as a result of the 1914-1918 War.
In the 1920s it became obvious that a brand new hospital on a spacious site suitable for expansion was needed. St Walburgas, Devonshire Road and even the town centre were considered. The driving force to build the new hospital, and site it on the Whinney Heys uplands, was Lionel Hope Franceys, Chairman of the Board of Hospital Management. Whinney Heys Hall and its estate had been bought by Blackpool Corporation in 1930 and this was given to the new Victoria Hospital development committee, much to the delight and appreciation of its Chairman. On 27 November 1932 Mayor Thomas Fenton broke the earth with a silver spade and construction of the new Victoria Hospital began. Lord Derby laid the foundation stone on 9 June 1933 and by 29 September 1936 the hospital was almost completed, and the first patients began to arrive from the Whitegate Drive Hospital which eventually became today's walk-in centre.
On 21 October 1937 the Duke of Kent opened the new hospital with a golden key. The modern era of Blackpool Victoria Hospital had begun.