Introduction
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Selly Oak Hospital
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Imagine that you are in 1870:  a new workhouse has just opened on this site, to replace the King’s Norton Union Workhouse which stood on Kings Norton Green. It’s a long, imposing red brick building with two round towers protruding either side of its entranceway. It represents fear and imprisonment for many living on the breadline, and security and survival for some of those who have already slipped below it. When the Poor Law Amendment Act was passed in 1834, the government determined that conditions inside workhouses should be worse than the worst conditions outside of the workhouses, so that the poor would only access the workhouses if they were in dire need. As a result, conditions in workhouses were appalling. Families were separated and inmates’ only possessions were their uniforms and their beds. Once inside, they could not leave unless they were formally discharged or found work for themselves on the outside. Work was monotonous, food was tasteless and inmates were not granted privacy to bathe. Despite this, access to medical care, food and shelter often made life inside preferable to life on the streets. The workhouses were feared by many, and a last resort for most who ended up there. 

 

The medical function of the Selly Oak Workhouse expanded to include an infirmary in 1897 - a carefully built and modern space. Initially, the workhouse and the infirmary were run separately with a large wall dividing them. The hospital expanded to include an operating theatre and a nurse’s home. According to some locals, you could catch the nurses sneaking out onto the roof for an illicit sunbathe on a warm day!

 

With empathy gradually seeping into national attitudes to care, the workhouse evolved into a house for the elderly and chronically sick in 1930. When the National Health Service was founded in 1948, the old workhouse and the hospital were joined into one unit and ran as a hospital until its closure. 

 

Although Selly Oak Hospital is generally remembered fondly, one local resident recalls referring to the building as the ‘family butchers’! The Hospital closure in 2011 was met with sadness and nostalgia by many, but also in buzzing anticipation of the new Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital nearby.

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