Retro: Kettering General Hospital

Last week, Kettering General Hospital announced it had been awarded almost £12 m by the Government to undertake a major renovation of equipment and buildings.

The funding provides another boost for a hospital which, just two years ago in the now-defunct Healthier Together review of services in the region, appeared to be threatened with being downgraded.

A ward at Kettering General Hospital, unknown date

A ward at Kettering General Hospital, unknown date

Since that threat receded, thanks in part to opposition from local people, politicians and this newspaper, the hospital has been able to point to a number of success stories.

Its accident and emergency department, one of those services which threatened to be stripped away from Kettering, is now ranked as one of the best in the country.

Last year, Princess Anne made a visit to launch the College of Occupational Therapists’ five-year plan.

The hospital was chosen because its team is – in the words of the college’s chief executive Julia Scott – a “true exemplar of our profession’s specialist skills”.

And although new chief executive David Sissling, who took over in the spring, has indicated there remains a number of issues, including financial, for the 117-year-old hospital to deal with, there is a sense of optimism about how it is likely to survive and thrive in the coming years.

Kettering General Hospital was opened to great fanfare in October 1897 after a local fundraising campaign.

The hospital has, of course, changed significantly since, and continues to grow outwards, radiating away from its cottage hospital origins in order to cope with a local population which grows at one of the quickest rates in the UK.

However, even at the turn of the 20th century more than 25,000 people lived in Kettering, and the hospital plugged an obvious gap.

Previously, a dispensary was the best medical treatment the town could offer, and patients who needed to be admitted to hospital were taken by train to Northampton or Leicester.

In its first full year of operation, the hospital treated just 129 patients – an average of one every three days or so.

At first, the hospital had just two wards, named Spencer and Buccleuch, which each contained 10 beds.

Development continued with the opening of an operating theatre and extra consulting rooms in 1902, an X-ray department three years later and an eye department in 1908.

The hospital also came into its own during the First World War, with hundreds of wounded troops treated in tented wards – although the strain it put on the hospital meant some casualties and sick children had to be turned away.

As well as being a much-loved institution, hospital staff also became well-known to townsfolk.

Among them was Agnes Jackson, matron from 1935 to 1958 and one of the most famous faces at the hospital.

During the centenary celebrations in 1997, one patient who spent a month in the hospital after being injured during the Second World War told the Telegraph how the long-time matron’s twice-daily rounds stuck in his memory.

Nurses would spruce and tidy the patients in anticipation of Jackson’s inspections.

Today’s hospital is a far cry from that which was inspected by Agnes Jackson, and this year marks two decades since Kettering General Hospital became a trust in its own right.

With the rolling programme of work set to get under way in the coming months to help secure the hospital’s future for another 117 years, we have scoured our photographic archive for sights and scenes from the hospital’s proud history at the heart of the Kettering community – and that of the rest of north Northamptonshire.