Website of the Laceby History Group

Laceby Hospital

It was tucked in a curve of the beck, arrived at by what is now called New Road but used to be known as Sammy's Lane. The buildings

were erected in 1901 and opened to admit the first 8 smallpox cases in 1902.

Laceby hospital consisted of a small collection of one-storey, wooden buildings and outhouses and was opened under Section 111 Hospitals Committee (Isolation Hospitals).

During the 1920's one ward was adapted to accommodate TB patientsThis had one side made of canvas so that it could be rolled up in fine, sunny weather for the patients to benefit from the new (to this area) idea from Swiss sanatoria that clean, fresh air helped in the treatment of that particular disease.

From that initial intake in 1902, smallpox cases admitted to the hospital were sporadic. 27 admissions in 1904, 99 in 1931, 5 deaths out of 22 admissions in 1947, 2 cases in 1949, 1 in 1954 and 14 foreign seamen admitted as contacts during a scare in 1958. The hospital was kept in a state of preparedness but the wards were closed after the last patient had been discharged. The outbreak in 1947 was a nightmare for patients and staff alike, for it coincided with one of the heaviest snowfalls in living memory. 100 men were sent from Grimsby Corporation to dig out Sammy's Lane to admit the cases. Later, two of the patients, feeling better presumably, walked into the village to post a letter. The hospital upon discovering the 'escape', rang the local policeman and he chased them back at the point of a gun! The postmaster and his assistant had to be vaccinated against the aisease in case, by handling the letter they had become contacts.

The scare in April 1949 had the Sheffield Regional Hospitals Board meeting to suggest preparing Laceby hospital to receive smallpox contacts from the S.S. Mooltarne. This was done and two male patients were admitted. They were discharged on 2nd May and the hospital was closed again on 4th May .

The 14 foreign seamen admitted in 1958 were Pakistanis froScunthorpe. The menu was specially adapted for them to include curry ! Daily, at sunrise they rose, unroll ed their prayer mats and proceeded with their prayers facing Mecca!

In the early days when the hospital was in use, the normal nursing staff consisted of a matron , three qualified nurses and three ward maids although extra staff was commissioned during outbreaks. Matron Day, from Middlesborough was the first matron and she lived in a house on the site. The house which was built of wood and corrugated iron was unusual in that it had a long, central corridor with rooms off each side. That corridor proved later to be the perfect indoor cricket bowling area for the caretaker's sons!

The hospital had two wards each with centrally placed stove fuelled by coke. From the start, electricity was generated on the  premises by a system dynamo and batteries which were housed in a custom-built engine shed. The batteries had to be re-charged daily to provide enough power for lighting and cooking for 24 hours. Mains electricity came in the early 1930's. There was no gas. A Petter paraffin engine pumped water to the kitchen and the four bathrooms which were located at each end of the wards. The paraffin engine was used only when the wind failed as a windmill was on site. Huge tanks of water were stored in the roof of the hospital and the pressure was kept constant.

Other staff i ncluded a head laundress with a laundry maid, a resident porter who in 1931 became caretaker and his wife who was cook, a gardener and a chauffeur. The gardens were a showpiece and were said to assist in the healing process of the convalescent patients.

The chauffeur drove a Model T Ford car which was known to have been used in emergencies to convey patients but its primary use was for fetching supplies from Laceby during 'non-operational' periods and for transporting staff. The doctor was fetched from Grimsby twice a week during an outbreak.

It was a blue car with balloon tyres; it was the first coloured car other than black in Laceby. Sometimes during the summer months, the wooden spokes in the wheels would harden in the sun then the chauffeur would fling them, in turn, into the beck to swell them

to stop them creaking; thus providing maintenance and reconditioning without cost to the hospital authorities! The car was also used to fetch ice from Grimsby docks . This was put into a box which in turn was placed inside a larger box containing the food stock. During outbreaks no visitors were allowed and all deliveries to the hospital had to be left on the approach road, in an old tramcar which had been stationed there for another purpose (more about that later). The tramcar bell was rung to acquaint the hospital staff of a delivery and anyone with time to spare fetched the goods .

Up to 1938 the caretaker and his wife were not allowed to leave the hospital TOGETHER. Then the hospital authorities relented and sent them a formally worded letter to say that between the hours of 2.00 p.m. and 8.00 p .m. on Sundays only they may have leave to vacate the premises together .

During the 2nd war the phone would ring to warn them of an air raid. This was the signal for all staff to take shelter in the autoclave for the duration of the raid . The normal use of the autoclave was to sterilise with pressurised steam, the clothes of the incoming patients who received their cleaned clothes on discharge .

Between the years 1939 and 1945, the gardener turned his attention more to growing vegetables than flowers. The authorities were soon on to this and dictated that surplus potatoes were to be sent to Scartho Hospital. Chickens ran about the place and the caretaker followed the time-honoured practice of killing a pig once a year to supplement rations. The Laceby Fire Brigade often paid the hospital a visit to make use of the beck to practise their drill. The hoses were thoughtfully played on the vegetable garden.

Re-organisation took place many times during the life of Laceby hospital. In 1934 one such event found a ward going spare; this was put to good purpose by the Laceby scouts who, with the hospital board's permission used it in Cooper Lane as their headquarters for many years. In 1949 the Hospital Board's engineers issued a report on the repairs being undertaken at the Laceby hospital to bring the maintenance of the building and equipment up to date in accordance with Regional Hospital Board policy. In 1950 the same committee decided that the policy regarding smallpox cases was that each patient needed two beds so the 40 beds available at Laceby would only accommodate 20 smallpox cases should the need arise. They'd certainly got their sums right but the need didn't arise.

Happiness came to the hospital during the summer months in the shape and form of many children from the Brighowgate (Grimsby) Children's Home. About 100 children at a time came to spend a holiday in the country and what a paradise it was for them. Playing hide and seek round the mortuary (empty !) proved to be a popular game; another was swarming over the afore-mentioned open top tramcar, which had been given to Laceby hospital to provide a sunhouse for TB patients - it was the last horse-drawn tram to run in Grimsby and had been thoughtfully donated by the corporation; fishing for tiddlers in the beck; damming the stream and swimming in the resulting pool; riding the Cleethorpes donkey which was also supposed to be on holiday at the nearby farm. All these games and more occupied the waking hours of those town children let loose and invigorated by fresh Laceby air.

On Sunday mornings they could be seen walking down Sammy 's Lane in crocodile formation on their way to church and the same immaculate line returned later. They had a brass band and played on their way to church as well as during the service. Bandmaster Roberts, a musician with one arm , was in charge.

The end of the Laceby hospital story came in 1970 after many redundant years of uncertainty and indecision. The Sanatorium, the Isolation hospital or the Smallpox hospital, whatever name it was known by, just by being there had played its part in the total irradication of smallpox in this country and the almost total annihilation of TB and had in that way helped to sign its own death warrant.

The care and total devotion to duty of caretakers and nursing staff goes unrecorded except in the hearts of surviving ex patients and those grown-up holiday children.

Finally the decision was taken. The hospital was to go. ISeptember 1970 the Grimsby Fire Brigade arrived and walked through the empty Ward A and Ward B, through that long, empty corridor in the house, throwing petrol to all corners . Everybody safely away - then someone struck a match . . . 

Brenda Anderson


We wish to acknowledge with grateful thanks the information and memories of Mr . Fred Cross, Mr. & Mrs. Jack Rudd and Mr. Harold Gladding without whose cheerful co-operation this story could not have been written .

The History Group also wish to thank Jack and Flo Rudd for the very willing loan of precious photographs used in this edition and for our archives.