West Bay Discovery Centre, West Bay, Bridport, DT6 4EN.

The hospital once located at West Bay

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Looking back at historical maps of Bridport Harbour (renamed West Bay) we noticed that one from 1860s listed a hospital on the beach and we just had to find out more!

Map of Bridport Harbour 1883
Map of Bridport Harbour 1883

The hospital was built to isolate and treat patients who were suffering from cholera, just like Covid it was initially spread from aboard and the reason why the harbour was chosen for the isolation hospital was because the patients wouldn’t have to be carried far from the ship. Cholera became a disease of global importance in 1817 and there have been seven cholera pandemics in the last 200 years, claiming thousands of lives. Cholera is still an extremely serious disease that can cause severe acute watery diarrhoea with severe dehydration. It takes between 12 hours and 5 days for a person to show symptoms after consuming contaminated food or water.

In August of 1866 Bridport Town Council were so concerned that cholera might spread throughout the neighbourhood that they decided that was an urgent need to build an isolation hospital. It was ready within 3 weeks of the decision being taken. Three years later the hospital was already in need of repairs costing £12 10 (around £900 in today’s money.)

It is unclear how many patients the isolation hospital treated. We discovered that it was also used for other infectious diseases including smallpox. A man was cured after being in the hospital for six weeks. It is a wonder that anyone recovered when you read the report from 1885 that describes the hospital accommodation intended for possible cholera patients as inefficient. It was described as a wooden shed with a framework of timber, and weather boarding nailed on with no inner lining. The building was not even watertight. It was situated near the East Cliff not far from the beach in an exposed place. It barely provided more than shelter from the weather!

Inside the building (described as a shed) there was one large apartment divided by wooden partitions (reaching only a little more than halfway to the roof) into three. The first of these, on which the door opens directly formed the kitchen. The centre one which was the largest space formed the ward. The third contained a water closet or trapped pan without water supply, which to all intents and purposes was within the ward. There was no sewer connection and in the case of cholera the medical officer would disinfect excrets and bury them! Lighting and ventilation were provided by a fairly large window, and heating was supplied from a fireplace in the ward. The roof was made of corrugated iron.

With cholera so easily spread by contaminated water and food it was no surprise that at the time it was declared as not fit for an infectious hospital. Although the council rented the land from General Pitt Rivers improvements were made to the hospital and it was still operating as a cholera hospital in 1893. Despite many attempts it wasn’t until 1899 that Bridport had an isolation hospital to take in patients suffering with many infectious diseases including diphtheria, small-pox, scarlet fever and typhoid.

Walking along by the harbour we met local postcard expert Keith Alner and gave him the challenge to find an image of the hospital. Despite images of this period being rare he soon came back to us with this one, thanks Keith!

Image taken from Keith Alner's postcard collection showing West Bay in 1900s
Image taken from Keith Alner’s postcard collection showing West Bay in 1900s

Information provided from Bridport News in 1866,1869,1885,1890,1899.




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