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Sourhall Hospital about 1902 before the enlargement.

Photo courtesy of Roger Birch


1874 saw a smallpox epidemic in the township in which 32 people died. At a public meeting at the Oddfellows Hall in Todmorden, chaired by the Rev. Molesworth, vicar of Todmorden, it was resolved to raise financial relief for the victims and their families. Collections were held at mills, workshops, churches and chapels and within the space of a month nearly £250 had been raised. At that same meeting, Mr. Samuel Fielden of Centre Vale urged the authorities to work together to check the spread of the disease. He volunteered to instruct the medical officer to isolate all cases, offering to meet the cost personally for the first 2 weeks.

A few days later the Local Board voted a £700 grant for making an isolation hospital. It bought a two storey building at Sourhall known as PEEL MILL which had been a picker making factory built and operated by the Holt family some 30 years earlier. The factory was converted in to an isolation hospital for 16 smallpox patients. The cost of maintaining the hospital was shared with Bacup and a joint Hospital Committee was set up. In 1876 a new heating appliance and some apparatus was installed at a cost of £45.

On the 11th. May 1881 the master of the hospital reported to the Local Board that the whole of the patients admitted during the year had been 10 with scarlet fever and 8 with typhoid, and that there had been a total of 71 patients since the hospital opened in 1874.

One of the patients at the hospital was John Fielden Haigh (1845-1886). He was a farmer at BROWNROADS FARM, Inchfield, Walsden. His young daughter, Mary Alice, had died 2 weeks earlier. The almanac reported:

On Dec. 2nd. 1886 Mr. John Haigh, farmer, Brownroads, Walsden, (formerly of Warland), died in Sourhall Hospital aged 44 years, having gone there the previous Friday.

John and his daughter are buried at St. Peters, Walsden. The memorial inscription reads:

In Memory of Mary Alice daughter of John Fielden and Mary Haigh

of Brown Roads, Walsden who died November 17 1886 aged 15 yrs.

Also of the above named John Fielden Haigh who died December 2 1886 aged 41.
Also of Annie their daughter who died January 13 1895 aged 23 yrs.
Also of the above named Mary Haigh who died July 8th 1927 aged 76yrs.
Also John William Haigh who died July 12th 1942 aged 67yrs.

With the decline of smallpox, patients with typhoid, and later diphtheria, were admitted. On November 2nd. 1888 there were 9 patients with typhoid being treated at the hospital. Two people with severe symptoms had died. Henry Wilkinson of Lydgate, aged 39, had died on 31st. October and Benjamin Swire of Shade had died on 1st. November.

At a meeting of the Bacup Town Council in July 1890 it was reported that since the joint agreement was set up in 1877 for Bacup patients to be sent to the hospital, the cost to Bacup had been £101.9s.3d. a year and a total of £1,217.11s.9d. Altogether they had sent 23 patients.

At the half yearly meeting of the Bacup and Todmorden joint committee in August 1904, it was stated that 187 patients had been treated in the hospital from the outbreak of the smallpox epidemic in 1902, and there had been no deaths.

The 1891 census shows us that Charles and Harriet Barrett were the Master and Matron of the hospital and there were 5 typhoid patients in residence, Fred Henry Law and his children William, John Henry and Sarah, and a 15 year old John Bulcock.
In 1907 the hospital was enlarged. A new brick annex was built to house a further 18 patients. This was connected to the original building by a covered walkway.

In 1949 the Sourhall Joint Hospital Committee was wound up and the buildings converted to private housing.


The photo shows the buildings in 2004.


The following is an extract from the Parliamentary Papers for 1882, kindly submitted by John Alan Longbottom, which contains very interesting information on the hospital at Sourhall.

BPP 1882 Vol XXX Appendix No. 1. Pages 261-265

The use and influence of hospitals for infectious diseases by Dr. Thorne Thorne.

Todmorden Urban Sanitary District – Population 1881 23,861 Rateable Value about £72,000

In 1874 small-pox became epidemic in Todmorden, and the existing hospital was provided by the Urban Sanitary Authority with a view of staying its spread.

The hospital premises comprise an old cotton mill and two cottages which, together with a third cottage not belonging to the hospital, form one block of two-storied buildings. The mill and one cottage were originally purchased by the Authority: the second cottage has been taken on lease at a yearly rental of £4., and added to the hospital; and the third cottage referred to, though adjoining the hospital premises, is not the property of the sanitary Authority, and is tenanted by an elderly widow.

One of the hospital cottages is set apart for the nurse and her husband, both of whom have resided there since 1874, before which date they had been in service as female and male nurse respectively in the Royal Infirmary at Manchester. The second cottage constitutes the hospital kitchen, and has two bedrooms which can be used for nurses when the hospital is full, or, as at the date of my visit, for an occasional single patient. As yet the upper story only of the mill has been fitted for the reception of patients .It has been divided longitudinally by a wooden partition into two wards, opening into a common lobby which is fitted with cupboards for drugs, a lavatory for medical men in attendance on cases, etc. The nurses bed-rooms in the second cottage referred to also open on to his lobby. Each ward is 49 feet in length, 14 feet in breadth, and about 13 feet in height, the roof not being ceiled. There are 12 beds in the two wards, each bed having 114 feet of floor space, and about 1,490 cubic feet of air space. Each ward is well lighted by eigh
t windows, six on the wall facing the beds which stand with their heads to the wooden partitions, and two in the wall at the end of the building. The windows open in the upper half only. In the ceiling of each ward there are six ventilators communicating with a space beneath the roof which is open to the air. The wards, which are very clean, cheerful, and comfortably furnished, are fitted with lavatories supplied with hot and cold water, earth closets, and a movable bath, and they are heated by means of hot-water pipes.

In addition to the main building there are also:

1) a wash-house and laundry

2) a dead-house

3) an iron disinfecting apparatus originally intended to be heated, but now only   used as a fumigating chamber

4) a pail-closet

5) an ambulance shed

The latter contains a well-built light ambulance having much the appearance of a neat private omnibus. It was manufactured by Messrs. Sherratt and Ream, of Chorlton-on-Medlock, and it is fitted with a movable stretcher, which can be carried to and from the patient’s bedside. The cost was £64.

The water supply is from a spring on the neighbouring moorland ; the drainage, which is defective, is into a channel in a field leading to a watercourse which joins the River Calder.

The hospital is situated at Sour Hall, an isolated hamlet nearly on the summit of a range of hilly moorland to the west of Todmorden, about 2 and a half miles from Todmorden town, but as much as five miles from some of the populated parts of the urban district, which covers about 16,000 acres. The road leading to it is in part rough, steep, and stony.

In 1877 the Urban Sanitary Authority of Bacup made an arrangement for the admission of cases of infectious diseases from their district into the hospital, the terms of the arrangement being they they should pay to the Todmorden Local Board of Health an annual rental of £40., half the permanent expenses incurred in the maintenance and administration of the hospital, and the actual costs of any patients sent in by them.

The Guardians of the Todmorden Union have also on several occasions used the hospital for the isolation of paupers suffering from infectious diseases, the scale of payment being at the rate of 25s a week per patient, in addition to the cost of any alcoholic stimulants prescribed, and a fee of 5s for the use of the ambulance.

The total cases admitted into the hospital from 21st November 1874, when it was opened, have been as follows :-

21st Nov to end of December 1874 – 29 Small-pox cases

1875 - 15 Small-pox cases

1876 - 3 Small-pox cases and 2 Fever cases

1877 - 1 Small-pox case

1878 - 1 Small-pox case

1879 - 1 Small-pox case and 2 Measles cases

It will thus be seen that since the termination of the small-pox epidemic the hospital has been hardly used at all. Indeed, so far as Todmorden is concerned, it should be noted that with the exception of a single cases of small-pox and of 2 cases of measles occurring in domestic servants in 1879, the hospital has not been used since 1876, for the two cases sent in 1877 and 1878 were from Bacup. This circumstance is the more remarkable in view of the mortality statistics of the Todmorden Urban District for the three years 1877-79, from which the following figures are abstracted :-

Deaths from certain specified Causes in the Todmorden Urban Sanitary Distirct 1877-79

Scarlet Fever
Non-Spasmodic Croup

After inquiry as to any reasons which have led to scarlet fever cases – probably numbering some 600 during the 3 years referred to – not having in a single instance been removed to the hospital from amongst a population consisting mainly of the working classes who admittedly are as a rule without proper means of isolation in their own homes, I am inclined to attribute it to two causes.

In the first instance the Sanitary Authority, having evidence that the spread of scarlet fever was to an important extent due to the inter-mingling of children, at the elementary schools with schoolfellows from infected houses, communicated in 1877 with the School Board and the managers of some other elementary schools, asking their aid in ascertaining where the disease was prevalent, with a view to the isolation of the sick and the disinfection of their homes, and they issued to each body packets of stamped post-cards, with certain printed details filled in, so as to enable the schoolmasters and mistresses without trouble at once to communicate to the Medical Officer of health any absence of pupils believed to be due to infectious disease. The Authority were, however, met with a refusal. Since this occurrence, although I am not informed that it was actually as a result of it, little or no effort has been made to secure isolation in cases of scarlet fever. In May 1880, it is true, nine cases of scarlet fever were admitted into the hospital, but 8 of the cases were paupers sent in by the Guardians, 4 from the Urban and 4 from the Rural District, and the remaining one was apparently admitted in error from the Hebden Bridge Urban District. Since the refusal of the school authorities to co-operate with the Sanitary Authority, at least one school has been closed on account of the prevalence of scarlet fever disease amongst the pupils.

The second cause relates to the administration of the hospital. In no case does the Sanitary Authority arrange for medical attendance on the patients. The paupers are attended by the Poor Law Medical Officer, and all others must arrange for the attendance of some private practitioner. The bulk of the population consist of the working classes, who pay as little as 2s or even less, for a medical visit, and as they either cannot or would not pay more for attendance at the hospital, which would as a rule involve a journey to and fro of some 5 to 8 miles on the part of the medical practitioner in attendance, the distance of the building from the populous parts of the district tends to hinder its use. In other respects it is not believed that difficulty of access has materially lessened the usefulness of the hospital for the purposes of isolation, because by means of a footpath, which could be used by parents and others anxious to inquire as to the welfare of patients, the journey to the hospital is reduced to something over a mile from the most populous part of Todmorden.

No steps have been taken either by the Sanitary Authority to compel removal to the hospital under section 124 of the Public Health Act 1875; and in only two cases, namely the two cases of measles admitted in 1879, has any charge been made to patients or their friends. In these two cases the actual cost of maintenance was charged.

The original cost of the hospital was as follows :-

Purchase of freehold of site and building - £350-0s-0d

Alterations to and furnishing of the building £586-0s-0d

Repair of the 1st cottage, disinfecting oven etc. £140-0s-0d

Heating apparatus £46-5s-0d

Ambulance £64-0s-0d

Repair to and fittings of the leased cottage £25-0s-0d

Total £1,211-5s-0d

The cost of maintaining the hospital includes the wages of the resident nurse and her husband, who receive 37s a week when there are no patients in the building, and 30s, together with board, when any cases are under treatment.

During the two years prior to 1878, when the arrangement made with the Bacup Urban Sanitary Authority came into operation, the permanent expenses incurred in maintaining the hospital, excluding interest on original outlay at the rate of 4%., were some £150.

In 1879 they amounted to £135-17s-6d made up of the following items:-

Rent of leased cottage - £4-0s-0d

Heating and lighting - £13-13s-0d

Repair of ambulance - £14-10s-0d

Sundries - £2-4s-0d

Wages to nurse and husband plus sundries £101-10s-6d

Total - £135-17s-7d

Of this sum, however, a share of the permanent expenses, together with a rental of £40, amounting altogether to £97-9s-3d. Were paid by the Bacup Urban Sanitary Authority, reducing the total cost to the Todmorden Authority to £38-8s-3d

The use of the hospital by the Bacup Urban Authority has, as already explained, been limited to 2 cases of small-pox. With regard to this, I am informed by the Medical Officer of Health that a refusal has always followed any suggestion as to removal to hospital, and that in a recent epidemic of scarlet fever no action was taken to secure isolation, because the prevalence of the disease was at first only learnt through the returns of death, and as soon as this information was obtained, it was found that there were already “so many centres of infection that it was not practicable to send all the cases to the hospital”


The population of the Bacup Urban Sanitary District is estimated at 30,000. Bacup town is about 3 miles from the building, other parts of the district being some 5 miles from it; and so far as medical attendance at the hospital is concerned, Bacup is similarly circumstanced to Todmorden.

In addition to the cottage adjoining the hospital block, several cottages lie in the neighbourhood of the hospital, the nearest being under 40 feet from the hospital building. In no instance, I am assured, has there been a case of infectious fever in any of the cottages since the hospital was opened in 1874.


Our sincere thanks go to Alan Longbottom for the above extract