University and NHS unite on history project

  • Date

    Wed 19 Jul 17

Researchers looking in hospital's past

A project is underway to help preserve the history of a popular Colchester hospital in the NHS era.

Essex students Deborah Wiltshire, Kyle Cameron-Symes and Amy Powis are working under the supervision of lecturer Dr Alix Green from the Department of History to accurately record materials relating to the hospital’s past. They are also looking to find ways of making this material available to the wider community.

Some of this material, including photographs, people’s memories and architectural drawings, will be made accessible via a website which will be continually updated.

The website went live yesterday and is the result of collaboration between the university and Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Essex County Hospital.

Colchester Hospital in 1936)
Colchester Hospital in 1936

The hospital on Lexden Road, which has served patients from Colchester and the surrounding area since 1820, will close next spring when the transfer of its services into the community and to Colchester General Hospital is completed.

Trust Projects Director Nick Chatten said that Essex County Hospital had been an iconic feature of Colchester for almost two centuries. 

"The hospital is rich in history and has many tales to tell. I realised just how interested people were in its history when we held an open day there two years ago and were overwhelmed by the number of people who turned up."
Nick Chatten Projects Director, Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust

"Our team leading on the transfer of services wants to ensure that we preserve as much of its history in the NHS period as possible, and make it accessible to whoever wants to see it," Chatten continues.

"The archive of materials could be a rich source for future academic learning and practical research skills development, and we see this project as early work that could develop into a longer-term relationship with the university’s history department."

"The County Hospital has been an important institution for Colchester and the surrounding area for generations. As someone who grew up here, the hospital is part of the fabric of the town for me."
Dr Alix Green Department of History

"We have a unique opportunity to capture as much as we can of this history before the last services leave the site," Dr Green continues. "I’m delighted that Essex history students can play a central role in this project, which reflects our commitment to make and share the histories of this area in partnership with local communities and organisations.

"We hope that local people will add to what we already know about the hospital, so I’d encourage anyone interested to get involved as the project progresses."

Mr Chatten thanked Colchester Medical Society, a professional association of doctors working in the Colchester area, and the Colchester League of Hospital and Community Friends for providing bursaries to support the students.

He said that a book by Dr John Penfold published in 1984 covers the history of Essex County Hospital from its opening in 1820 up to the creation of the National Health Service in 1948, so the focus of the collaboration with the university was on the period after that.

Material about the hospital is held by a number of organisations, including the Trust, the university, Colchester Medical Society and the Essex Record Office in Chelmsford. In addition, Colchester Recalled, a voluntary group, has interviews recorded with former staff and patients.

As well as people’s memories, photographs and architectural drawings, materials that are being catalogued include medical equipment, documents and recent video and drone footage.

Mr Chatten said that one of the Trust’s ambitions for its relationship with the university is to find a way of documenting the story of Essex County Hospital from 1948 onwards, continuing the work of Dr Penfold.

An open day is being planned for next year to celebrate 200 years of service provided by Essex County Hospital to the community.

Can you help with the project?

Deborah, Kyle and Amy are also trying to find new stories from the hospital’s history. Have you ever worked at the hospital, received treatment or perhaps visited a patient there? Do you have any memories you would like to share?

If so, please email or complete the contact form.