HARWICH: The Isolation Hospital, Dovercourt


Dovercourt, Essex

The Borough Isolation Hospital – Office & Nurses’ Home. © ‘Harwich and Dovercourt in old picture postcards’ by Phil Cowley. Courtesy of www.harwichanddovercourt.co.uk

The Borough Isolation Hospital – Office & Nurses’ Home. © ‘Harwich and Dovercourt in old picture postcards’ by Phil Cowley. Courtesy http://www.harwichanddovercourt.co.uk

At the outbreak of the First World War, several places in Harwich were taken over by the Admiralty and for the Admiralty.    Harwich was a fortress town so patients were not always sent directly to these hospitals – they would be transferred from surrounding camps and other towns i.e. from Colchester.

In Harwich, a ‘Garrison Military Hospital’ was created at ‘The Great Eastern Railway Hotel’ and it’s Annex.

There was also a ‘Dovercourt Military Hospital’ which was a separate unit but not a true auxiliary hospital – it was a ‘section’ of the Garrison Military Hospital, Harwich.   Being a ‘section’ rather than an ‘auxiliary’ meant that they were able to take patients directly from disembarkation and were under the control of the War Office rather than the British Red Cross Society and/or St. John (the Joint War Committee).    Additionally, in Dovercourt, ‘The Isolation Hospital’ was used to care for soldiers and sailors with infectious diseases.

Three private houses in the area were also requisitioned for use as hospitals, ‘Cliff Hall’ (Marine Parade) with beds for 120 patients, ‘The Grange’ (Hall Lane) and ‘The Gables’ (Marine Parade), as well as the ‘Tower Hotel’ (Main Rd).   The ‘Quay Pavilion’ was used as a canteen – it had entertainment facilities and a bar for naval personnel.   Local residents entertained the patients by providing concerts.

The Admiralty requisitioned much of the Harwich Great Eastern Railway fleet during late 1914.   Cargo steamers ‘Clacton’ and ‘Newmarket’ where converted to minelayers and minesweepers, whilst ‘Munich’ and ‘St. Petersburg’ were converted into hospital ships.

The Public Health Committee realised (soon after an outbreak of Smallpox in 1877) that the Harwich Borough was ill-prepared to cope with an outbreak of infectious disease and it was agreed that a permanent isolation hospital should be built.     Eventually, the Committee purchased three acres of land, known as ‘Bobbits Hole Field’, from Mr. Clarke.  This plot was south of (what is now) the Harwich & Dovercourt football ground car park in Dovercourt.     The first Harwich Borough Isolation Hospital opened in July 1880.  The Council made the bricks for the build and, when the hospital was finished, the 312,000 left-over bricks were sold at 24s 6d per 1,000.   A Mr. and Mrs. Lot were appointed caretakers at 15/- a week.  

During the First World War, The Isolation Hospital was also used to care for soldiers and sailors with infectious diseases.   There were four permanent nurses and, when more help was required, Red Cross nurses from the local Voluntary Auxiliary Detachment and nurses from the Ipswich Nurses’ Home were also used.    It appears this arrangement also worked in reverse:

Friday 11 September 1914 – Chelmsford Chronicle [sic]:  “CHELMSFORD JOINT HOSPITAL BOARD.

… The Borough Surveyor of Harwich wrote asking if the Council would be prepared to lend nurses from the Isolation Hospital to his authority, as the Harwich Authority had great difficulty in obtaining nurses at the present time owing to the requirements of the Red Cross and other hospitals.—The matter was left in the hands of the Medical Officer.  …”

After the First World War, the number of patients cared for at the Isolation Hospital declined.   Apart from childhood infectious diseases, there had been no major outbreak for many years and, due to its lack of up-to-date equipment, it was decided to close the hospital in 1938.   The hospital was demolished in 1989.

Only one person has been discovered as working at the Isolation Hospital in Dovercourt.  Dates in () refer to the Dovercourt Isolation Hospital service:-

TANN, Miss Barbara (17.8.1914-30.9.1915. Voluntary Nurse.  Also worked on wards at the Military Hospital, Harwich)

Born 22 December 1892, Sheringham in Norfolk.  Baptised 19 March 1893 Sheringham, Norfolk.  Daughter of Norfolk-born Policeman Frederick Tann and his Gloucestershire-born wife Alice Emilie (nee Flux).

1901 Census:      Inn, Redgrave, Suffolk. With Innkeeper father; mother; 3 sisters; 1 brother; and 1 servant.

1911 Census:      Norfolk Inn, Kings Quay St, Harwich.  With Innkeeper father (“Police Pensioner”); mother; 3 sisters; 2 brothers; 1 Gov. Messenger lodger; and 11 Royal Naval lodgers.  Barbara’s occupation was “Assisting in business”.


ADDRESS: Isolation Hospital Dovercourt; RANK AT ENGAGEMENT: Nurse; DATE OF ENGAGEMENT: 17/08/1914; PAY AT ENGAGEMENT: Voluntary; RANK AT TERMINATION: Nurse; DATE OF TERMINATION: 30/09/1915; PAY AT TERMINATION: Voluntary; PARTICULARS OF DUTIES: Nurse in Wards in Military Hospital, Harwich; WHOLE OR PART TIME: 1764 hours; COMMISSION: Essex.

1964, 15 Apr:      Barbara Mary “of Adelaide House, Beach Street, Deal” died at Victoria Hospital, Deal.   Barbara never married.

Thanks go to Steve Delves ref research on The Isolation Hospital, Dovercourt.

NEXT: IPSWICH:  ‘Broad Oke’, No. 7 Burlington Road