First NHS Hospital

The West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven was the first district general hospital to be built in England following the creation of the National Health Service.

The first medical service was the Dispensary at 107 Queen Street given by James Hogarth in 1783. It was replaced by the Infirmary at Howgill Street-opened IN 1830, extended in 1857, 1860, 1895 and 1897. There was also a Fever Hospital, at The Ginns for a time after 1819 (when typhus fever was prevalent) and Bransty Smallpox Hospital, rebuilt 1895 for infectious diseases, open until mid 20th century.

In 1924, the Earl of Lonsdale sold Whitehaven Castle to Herbert Wilson Walker, a local industrialist, who then donated the building to the people of West Cumberland, along with £20,000 to convert it into a new hospital.

The formation of the National Health Service in July 1948 added impetus to the need to revisit hospital provision in West Cumbria. Due to a lack of accommodation and the inadequacies of the hospital at the Castle in Whitehaven, a new general district hospital was planned for Homewood in Hensingham.

In 1951 an architect was appointed to design the new hospital and in 1955 Homewood mansion was converted into an initial unit. In 1957 Stage II began and was completed in 1959. Building of the main stage under the auspices of the Newcastle Regional Hospital Board, Stage III, commenced in May 1961. It was officially opened on 21 October 1964 by HM Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.

West Cumberland Hospital
West Cumberland Hospital


Whitehaven had been small harbour and fishing village from 13th century or earlier. Expansion began in mid-17th century with building of piers by Lowthers 1632-4 and 1679-81 and granting of market charter 1660. By the 1680s it had grown rapidly, expanding from village of c.30 households in early 17th century to a town of over 1,000 inhabitants by 1685, which more than doubled to 2,281 by 1696. Sir John Lowther had laid out grid of streets by 1680s, making Whitehaven the earliest planned new town in post-medieval Britain.

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