fonds NHS/MAR - St Mary's Hospital, York, Archive

Identity area

Reference code



St Mary's Hospital, York, Archive


  • 1930-1985 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

2.68 cubic metres

160 boxes, 1 wrapped item, and 1 roll.

Context area

Name of creator


Administrative history

St Mary’s Hospital originated as the York Poor Law Union Workhouse, built by the York Board of Guardians in 1847 to replace the small and inadequate existing workhouse in Marygate. The new workhouse was built in Huntington Road and was designed to take 300 paupers. The new building, probably completed in 1849, consisted of three parallel ranges, with the whole site surrounded by boundary walls. A range of paupers was accommodated, with male and females kept separately.

There were further alterations to the buildings in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A chapel was built, and later a laundry, kitchens, dining hall, vagrant wards, a nurses’ home, labour yards, a porter’s lodge and a maternity home were added. These subsequent alterations completely altered, replaced and extended the west range of the original building, although the east and centre blocks were little changed except for slight additions. A separate central children’s home, fronting onto Haxby Road, for 28 children, was built in 1914.

Over time, the workhouse (or, as it was later called, the Institution) gradually assumed the function of a welfare home and hospital. There were wards for the sick, but these never developed, as they did in some larger workhouses, into a large and separate hospital. Although by the early twentieth century the institution was often referred to as the ‘Institution and Infirmary’, these were not really separate entities, but were parts of the same complex.

After the abolition of boards of guardians in 1929, York City Council, through its Public Assistance Committee, became responsible for the York Guardians’ former functions, including the management of the institution and infirmary. York’s medical officer of health became the chief medical officer of the Public Assistance Committee.

There had been some developments in the medical facilities at the infirmary in the early twentieth century, and by 1930 there were 405 beds available: 51 for general medicine, 28 for general surgery, 41 for children, four for maternity, 11 for venereal disease, four for TB, 87 for chronic sick, 29 for mental illness, 59 for mental deficiency, and 91 other.

The staff of the infirmary in 1930 consisted of the visiting medical officer, the superintendent nurse, the assistant superintendent nurse, the night sister, the masseuse, as well as six sisters, 26 probationer nurses, ten female attendants and seven male attendants. The infirmary had facilities for light treatment and massage, and a dentist was called in when necessary. Surgical facilities were very basic, and only two operations under anaesthetics took place in 1930; other cases were referred for special treatments to York County Hospital, while the infirmary’s probationer nurses attended the privately run Purey-Cust Nursing Home in York, which had 19 beds and carried out major operative surgery, in order to gain their surgical training.

Pathological work for the infirmary and the other hospitals run by the city took place at the York County Hospital for arranged fees. On the other hand, the York County Hospital transferred considerable numbers of chronic sick and incurable patients to the infirmary in order to concentrate on acute cases and special treatments. Out-patient facilities were not traditionally provided by the old poor law institutions, but by the mid-1930s the infirmary was providing some out-patient facilities, connected to the massage and light department: there were 150 out-patient attendances in 1934, 774 attendances by 56 persons in 1938, and 413 attendances by 63 persons in 1939.

In the 1930s plans were made to expand the infirmary site with three additional blocks with beds for 180 patients. As the scope of the scheme developed, the original concept of these new buildings as merely extensions to the infirmary altered. The building work was instead aimed at producing a separate, new and up to date medical and surgical hospital - the City of York General Hospital which was completed and opened in 1941, still adjacent to, but now separate from, the infirmary. The latter would continue, as part of the Public Assistance Committee’s Institution, taking the elderly, chronic sick, and some mentally ill and mentally defective patients.

The war and the opening of the new hospital led to some changes at the City Infirmary. In 1939 a surgical theatre was fitted up and other alterations and protective work done so that some infirmary wards could be used as an Emergency Medical Services Hospital. A number of existing infirmary inmates were transferred to hospitals in the West Riding to allow room for military patients. The infirmary received 77 non-civilian patients in 1939, 623 in 1940 and 434 in 1941. With the opening of the new hospital next door in 1942, however, Emergency Medical Services patients were treated there instead.

The new City General Hospital also took over other infirmary functions: its children’s ward and its nurse training school replaced these services at the infirmary. It also took over the block on the east side of the City Institution site as administrative offices, skin department, stores and dispensary.

In 1943 adjustments were made to the administration of the infirmary. The new superintendent of the City General Hospital henceforth provided a medical service for all the municipal hospitals, including the infirmary and institution, and under this scheme all patients except those admitted under Mental Observation Orders were admitted through the admission department of the City General Hospital. This meant that those needing modern treatment or investigation could be admitted to the new hospital immediately, leaving only those with chronic illness or needing nursing care to be admitted to the infirmary.

As all these changes took effect, the bed complement at the infirmary fell: from 434 beds in 1935, to 405 in 1937, 385 in 1938, 313 in 1941 and 261 in 1944. In July 1947 the City Institution, including the City Infirmary, was renamed The Grange by the Public Assistance Committee, which was itself renamed the Social Welfare Committee.

With the creation of the National Health Service (NHS) in 1948, hospital services at The Grange came under the control of Leeds Hospital Board through York ‘A’ Group Hospital Management Committee, although by agreement made between representatives of the regional hospital board and the city council, The Grange remained vested in the local authority, with the Ministry of Health having first refusal to acquire it should it no longer be required by the local authority in the future. The city council thus continued to own the site and it was also responsible for the services in the non-hospital part of The Grange, which was used as residential accommodation for the aged, infirm and handicapped.

The joint usership of The Grange by York ‘A’ Group Hospital Management Committee and York City Council after 1948 posed potential problems. The kitchen at The Grange, for example, also served the City Hospital, and the agreement specified that the kitchen was to be improved by the council in consultation with the regional hospital board, and staffed by health service employees.

A meeting between the council and the regional hospital board on 19 November 1948 to discuss agency arrangements, thus recommended the setting up of a joint subcommittee of the city council, composed of five city council members and four hospital management committee members, to manage The Grange. The subcommittee was established in early 1949. Staffing and administrative details were then worked out. The superintendent of The Grange was to have administrative charge of the whole of The Grange except for the kitchen, stores and nursing service, and the domestic staff on site would be employed by the council. The hospital management committee would control the kitchen and stores, and the nursing staff would be the responsibility of the matron of City Hospital. Transfers of residents between The Grange welfare accommodation and the hospital section of The Grange would be by mutual arrangement between The Grange superintendent, the welfare assistant and the authorities at City Hospital.

The hospital part of the building was renamed The Grange Hospital in June 1948, while the welfare accommodation was known as The Grange House or simply as The Grange.

When York ‘A’ Group Hospital Management Committee took over responsibility for The Grange Hospital, it was in bad structural repair, very overcrowded and in need of modernisation. The aims of the management committee were to establish a full hospital geriatric service for York, by upgrading the building and expanding and improving medical facilities and staffing. All the subsequent developments at the hospital in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s were prompted by these aims.

Medical staffing was strengthened: a resident medical officer, experienced in the care of the chronic sick, was appointed in 1950, and a second resident medical officer was added in 1955. In 1956 a whole time consultant geriatric physician was appointed, and a second consultant and another senior house officer in the early 1970s.

Building improvements began almost at once, with rewiring, and other electrical facilities and redecoration, along with the introduction of better facilities for patients such as lockers, sprung mattresses, new armchairs and new cot beds. The main kitchen was immediately reorganised and re-equipped, followed by ward kitchens and sluices in 1951. Clinical rooms in wards were provided in the early 1950s. Central heating systems were renewed, and a modern telephone system installed. A start was made in the mid-1950s on the breaking down of the very large dormitory wards into smaller units of not more than 30 beds.

Provision was made for distinct and separate accommodation for different types of patients who had different needs: for example, the mentally handicapped patients, who were now accommodated on licence from Claypenny Colony, had a separate area created for them; new geriatric admissions were admitted into newly created admission wards from the early 1950s, ambulant patients had their own day room and dormitory accommodation.

The Grange Hospital was renamed St Mary’s Hospital in 1955, and in the following year plans for major hospital improvements were submitted to Leeds Regional Hospital Board. These were approved in 1957. A five year plan of upgrading thus began in 1958, under which wards were renewed and refurbished, and connecting corridors and lifts installed, in order to transform and modernise the hospital environment.

Attempts were made to increase patients’ privacy by cutting ward sizes and providing curtained cubicles. In 1960 of the 232 beds, six were in single rooms, and all the rest had curtained cubicles; there were two four bedded wards and four other wards were divided by partitions into two and five bedded sections. The final stage of the refurbishment programme was the creation of a rehabilitation unit out of one of the former wards. New lawns and gardens were also made.

In the mid-1960s, the council vacated the former male infirm section in The Grange, and the hospital management committee refurbished this as an additional ward, which by the early 1970s was being used for both men and women stroke patients. The acquisition of this new ward also allowed bed numbers to be reduced on other wards during the late 1960s, to create day room space on the wards without affecting the total bed complement of the hospital. Another part of the former male infirm section was converted into a patients’ club and subsequently became a small day hospital for patients from within the community, who could be looked after, fed, entertained and receive rehabilitation treatment.

Upgrading and refurbishment work went on into the 1970s, although by this time it was clear that the remaining life of St Mary’s was short, and that once York District Hospital was opened City Hospital would provide the main geriatric accommodation in the York district. New additions at St Mary’s were thus made with this development in mind: for example, a new kitchen and staff dining block opened in 1976 first served St Mary’s but later was used by City Hospital.

Although nearly all patients at St Mary’s were elderly and chronic sick, the hospital initially retained its short stay observation wards for the mentally ill. But a report from the Board of Control instructed that the hospital should no longer receive patients under the Lunacy and Mental Treatment Acts or the Mental Deficiency Acts and the short stay mental observation beds were closed in 1952. They were later reinstated at Naburn Hospital while the old mental observation wards at St Mary’s were converted to extra wards for the chronic sick. Although St Mary’s continued to accommodate some mentally handicapped patients, these were housed on licence from Claypenny Hospital.

Much effort was put into developing rehabilitation facilities at St Mary’s. A full-time occupational therapist was appointed and an occupational therapy service was developed from the early 1950s. Physiotherapy was being developed by the mid-1950s, but the national shortage of physiotherapists meant that due to lack of staff the service to the geriatric unit had to be withdrawn in July 1958. Nurses and occupational therapists thereafter offered patients some help in simple exercises, but the physiotherapy service proper did not resume until the early 1960s. Other services to patients included speech therapy, from the late 1950s, and chiropody from 1955 onwards.

A boost to the rehabilitation programme was the conversion of one of the wards to a combined rehabilitation unit, opened in 1962, as the final stage in the five year scheme of improvements. The new unit had the services of a physiotherapist, a remedial gymnast, occupational therapists, a chiropodist, facilities for dentistry, and a speech therapist (although the latter post was vacant at the opening of the unit). The unit meant that services could be expanded: for example occupational therapy could be more than a bedside diversional service and concentrate more on rehabilitation aspects.

Another service developed in the 1950s was the almoners department, inaugurated in 1957. A full time almoner was employed to deal with social problems and to liaise with other bodies to facilitate the finding of homes for former patients. This service meant that more discharges were successfully made, although the continuing shortage of welfare homes meant that 8% of beds in the York geriatric hospitals in 1962 were still occupied by people well enough to be accommodated elsewhere.

The shortage of beds at St Mary’s and the increasing stress on rehabilitation meant that there was a need for more beds, particularly for convalescent cases. Bungalow Hospital had been used as an annexe, for 20 women patients, since 1947. Acomb Hospital was taken over as a geriatric hospital in 1954, with 40 beds, and the occupational therapy service for all the geriatric service was based there in the late 1950s. Additional accommodation for geriatric cases was also provided at Fulford Hospital after 1956. The facilities and accommodation at the four sites, St Mary’s, Acomb, Fulford and Bungalow, together constituted the geriatric service for the hospital group, with 346 beds between them in 1964.

At the end of 1963, the joint user agreement, under which The Grange and St Mary’s Hospital had been administered since 1948, was ended by mutual consent. Thereafter York City Council and York ‘A’ Group Hospital Management Committee were responsible separately for administering the parts of the site for which each was responsible, and the post of superintendent of The Grange ended.

The long term future of St Mary’s was always doubtful, given its age and structural condition. The planning for York District Hospital from the 1960s meant that St Mary’s was earmarked for closure as soon as the new hospital came on stream and geriatric facilities could be moved elsewhere. Because City Hospital would close as a general hospital once York District Hospital opened, it was chosen as the new centre for elderly services. In 1977, York District Hospital opened and conversion of the now redundant City Hospital began.

In 1979 City Hospital re-opened and St Mary’s Hospital was closed. Geriatric beds at Fulford Hospital were closed at the same time, but those at Bungalow, Selby War Memorial Hospital and York District Hospital remained in use, giving a combined district bed total of 347. 245 of these beds were at City Hospital.

In order to achieve this level of beds at the comparatively small City Hospital, four of the wards at St Mary’s Hospital, in the two ward blocks nearest to City Hospital, had to be retained for use. They became part of City Hospital, and they were extensively renovated to increase bed space, day space and facilities.

It was decided that nearly all the remainder of the St Mary’s buildings would be demolished, and the site would be landscaped. Meanwhile, in April 1979 a deal was made by which the redundant Yearsley Bridge Hospital was transferred from NHS ownership to that of the North Yorkshire County Council and York City Council, and in return, The Grange and St Mary’s Hospital sites became health service property.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, services for the elderly underwent change, in the light of growing community care and also the desire to concentrate remaining elderly beds at the York District Hospital. As a consequence, City Hospital began to reduce in size and the former St Mary’s wards were the first to be vacated: two wards closed in 1989 and the other two in the early 1990s. Demolition of the last of the St Mary’s buildings followed.

Other parts of the St Mary’s/City site were redeveloped for smaller health units: Peppermill Court, a community unit for the elderly, and White Cross Court, a community rehabilitation unit for the elderly, were built in the early 1990s. City Hospital itself was closed in 1996.

Meanwhile, the buildings which made up The Grange were used by the local authority as welfare accommodation until 1972. A handicapped centre was also opened there in 1959.

After 1979, North Yorkshire Social Services Committee continued to rent parts of The Grange from the NHS, for use as day facilities for the mentally handicapped, until replacement premises were funded at Yearsley Bridge in the mid-1980s. During the 1980s The Grange was also used by a variety of other bodies, which leased parts of the building for short periods: for example, the Manpower Services Commission and York Community Council took leases in 1981.

In the 1990s The Grange was acquired by the University College of Ripon and York St John, and after refurbishment, the buildings have become student residences.

Archival history

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Most of the archive was transferred to the Borthwick Institute from North Yorkshire County Record Office in 1995. Other items were found at City Hospital and the estates department of York Health Authority in 1990, and deposited with York Health Archives which was then based at Clifton Hospital. In 1995 York Health Archives was transferred to the Borthwick Institute.

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Administrative records, comprising House Committee minutes and papers, 1949-1971, Welfare Committee and Accommodation Subcommittee minutes and papers, 1949-1952, The Grange Joint Subcommittee minutes, 1949-1952. The Grange and St Mary’s Hospital Joint Consultative Committee minutes, 1951-1960, York A Group Hospital Management Committee minutes and papers, 1949-1961, correspondence files, 1947-1973, chief welfare officer’s files, 1950s, forms and circulars, 1940s-1960s.

Land and buildings records, comprising plans and drawings, 1943, 1956.

Financial records, comprising wages books, 1958-1966, and receipts for pension order books, 1957-1958.

Stores and equipment records, comprising laundry books, 1950-1952, stores summaries, 1949-1958, linen stock books, 1955-1958, register of uniform taken to sewing room from stock, 1962-1968, clothing book, 1962-1963, and matron’s stores, 1961.

Establishment records, comprising staff registers, c.1939-1985, staffing of wards book, 1954, nurses off duty register, 1961-1967, and accident report books, 1948-1977.

Patient records, comprising admission registers, 1931-1972, admission and discharge books, 1958-1973, admission forms, 1949-1954, superintendent’s admission orders, 1957-1958, 1962-1963, 3 and 14 day orders, 1951-1953, residents’ case history sheets, c.1959-1970s, record papers and case notes, c.1940-1970s, case papers of deceased patients, 1957-1962, patient register, c.1958-1962, medical certificates, 1968-1970, discharge books, 1955-1964, admission and discharge sheets, 1964-1972, deaths notices, 1958-1959, notices for removal of body, 1958-1960, patient indices, c.1949-1955, ward report books, 1955-1961, and daily notes, 1955, personal property book, 1964-1967, drugs books, 1951-1967, and notices of illnesses, 1954-1961.


Further accruals are not expected.

System of arrangement

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Records are open to the public, subject to the overriding provisions of relevant legislation, including data protection laws. 24 hours' notice is required to access photographic material.

Conditions governing reproduction

A reprographics service is available to researchers subject to the access restrictions outlined above. Copying will not be undertaken if there is any risk of damage to the document. Copies are supplied in accordance with the Borthwick Institute for Archives' terms and conditions for the supply of copies, and under provisions of any relevant copyright legislation. Permission to reproduce images of documents in the custody of the Borthwick Institute must be sought.

Language of material

  • English

Script of material

Language and script notes

Physical characteristics and technical requirements

Finding aids

A typescript finding aid, to file level, is available for consultation in the searchroom of the Borthwick Institute.

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

Related units of description

For related material held by the Borthwick Institute, see the archive of York ‘A’ Group Hospital Management Committee and its successors, and the archive of Naburn Hospital, which includes a report on The Grange Hospital, 1951, and minutes of The Grange Hospital Joint Committee, 1951-1952.

The records of York Poor Law Union Workhouse and the York Board of Guardians are held by York Explore.

Notes area

Alternative identifier(s)

Access points

Place access points

Name access points

Genre access points

Description control area

Description identifier


Institution identifier

GB 193

Rules and/or conventions used

ISAD (G): General International Standard Archival Description, International Council on Archives (2nd edition, 2000); Rules for the construction of personal, place and corporate names, National Council on Archives (1997).

Level of detail

Dates of creation revision deletion



  • English



Accession area