Originally a workhouse

Brighton General Hospital, once Brighton Workhouse
Image of Brighton General Hospital originally taken for the Hanovernet website

Built by George Maynard in 1865-7, the buildings now occupied by the Brighton General Hospital were administered by the Board of Guardians for the Parish of Brighton as a workhouse and infirmary until 1 April 1930 when their responsibilities passed to the public assistance committee of the county borough council. (They had been used as a hospital during the First World War, however.) The former Poor Law Institution became known as the Elm Grove Home, and on 1 November 1935 the Brighton Municipal Hospital was established in most of the buildings. (For details of the building’s life prior to this time see “Brighton Workhouse at Elm Grove“.)

Extending the hospital
More buildings were taken over in 1937, and in 1939-40 the new hospital took over the whole site, with the remaining occupants of the home evacuated to various establishments throughout the county. In May 1948 the establishment was renamed Brighton General Hospital, and was taken over the following month by the Ministry of Health following the National Health Service Act. It now has 495 beds, and is also the local teaching hospital with a post-graduate medical centre added in 1966. There are, however, plans to close the aging building if a new hospital is built at Hove.

The hospital today
The principal building, facing north-west above Elm Grove, is an impressive four-storey edifice with four gables and dolphin decorations, and has a frontage of 318 feet; the central clock tower has a cupola and weather-vane, and bears the date 1866. The large blocks facing Pankhurst Avenue were added in the 1890s. The adjacent ambulance station in Elm Grove was erected in 1951-2 on the site of the former workhouse vegetable garden. The Brighton County Borough Ambulance Service took over from the police accident ambulance service on 1 October 1948, but was itself taken over by East Sussex County Council in April 1974.

Comments about this page

  • Thanks so much for this website. I’ve grown up in the states but was born at Brighton General Hospital. I was curious to see if I could find information on Brighton General, and I did! Thank you again.

    By W.R.Good (Roy) (19/12/2003)
  • Many happy memories of my years as a student nurse at BGH in 1967-1970, married a local boy and now live in East Anglia.

    By Pam Ralph (15/09/2004)
  • Great photo, I was born there in 1968, I have never been back…

    By Sam (16/11/2004)
  • Having a nostalgic moment. Would love there to be a bit here on those ‘alumni’ who trained there in the sixties.

    By Lesley Rowe (nee Turner & Attree) (25/05/2005)
  • I am finding this whole web site fascinating. I was born in the General and for the first sixteen years of my life lived just down the road in Ryde Road. I remember always been warned to be very careful of the road as the ambulances use to come out of the station opposite the top of our road, and then come speeding down, mind you the speed then is nothing compared to now. Another memory is of seeing all the down and outs queueing for a place and waiting for the doors to open, my mum never liked me walking up past there when they were waiting to be let in. For many years my uncle worked at the General, I think in the laundry, and a friend’s Dad was a nurse there for years.

    By Lynne Hughes (17/06/2005)
  • I was born in this hospital, and I remember that Fred Lennon (John Lennon`s dad) died here in 1976, could anyone tell me where in Brighton he used to live?

    By Bridget Dawkins (13/07/2005)
  • I was born in Brighton General (August 1968). My Mum had to adopt me out but I have since found her. She feels so bad about having to let me go and said one of the nurses was cross with her for leaving her baby behind. We’d love to know if anyone remembers a young girl called Mareth who had a baby girl in 68, also named Mareth? Thanks for a wonderful website, can’t believe how interesting it is.

    By Mareth Millar/Winch (21/09/2005)
  • I was born in this hospital in 1984, I was the longest baby on record.

    By Charlotte Greenwood (10/02/2006)
  • Good to see the picture. I was born in the hospital during December 1940 and lived for the war years with my grandparents at 182 Elm Grove. I had my tonsils out there in 1946 and remember the visits made by my school to deliver harvest festival produce to the hospital during those years. Happy memories!

    By Robert C Munro (21/02/2006)
  • There is now a Brighton General Hospital SRNs’ Association which holds bi-annual reunions, the next in 2007 and this Association has a web site which can be found at http://www.communigate.co.uk/sussex/brightongeneralsrn. The site contains much information about the BGH and lots and lots of photographs of the nurses,(from as early as 1947 up to the 60’s) the wards, reunions, hospital Christmas celebrations and much more. My e-mail address is shown on the site so that any ex BGH SRN can contact me if they are interested in joining the Association there is no fee or charges of any kind. I simply add them to my address list and let them know when a reunion is to happen.

    By Kenneth Ross (04/04/2006)
  • What a great site… thank you so much. I was born in BGH in 1967, and was a student nurse between BGH & the County betwen 1986 & 1990. I even staffed in my first post as an RGN in 1990 on what was then Dyke 1 ward, urology. Happy times. Now live in Yorkshire but have such fond memories of BGH!!!

    By Chrissie Burton (23/04/2006)
  • I was born at the BGH on the 24th Dec 1935. I too have some happy memories of my time in the area. I lived around the hospital in my early years: Firle Rd and Ryde Rd. I now live in South Australia. This is a great site – I will be looking in from time to time.

    By Eddie Patrick (01/02/2007)
  • My great-great-great grandmother gave birth to a son George William in the Brighton Workhouse in 1863; her name was Mary Ann Towner. When registering him, she could only put her mark, an ‘X’. She was not married, and there was no name for the father. So very, very sad; I feel for her so much. It must have been awful for her. I was also born in the Brighton General in 1945, so was my son in 1963. I’m so glad I found this site, it has helped me very much with my ancestry, and the history itself is fantastic.
    Thank you – it’s now in my favourites.

    By Carol Ann Adams (29/07/2007)
  • I was a student midwife at B.G.H. in 1962 and have great memories of my time there. After four years in Birmingham it was wonderful to live beside the sea. I still live beside the sea, though now on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. I found this site while reading about workhouses. I thought B.G.H. was once one; it was easy with your web page to confirm this. While working nights at B.G.H. we had to cross the gardens to the main building for our meal. One night on my way to dinner I discovered five or six homeless men sleeping in the Board/Meeting Room. I have a feeling the door was locked after that, though I do wonder if at that time there was still some sort of accommodation for the homeless?

    By Kate (10/02/2008)
  • I was a pupil Npnurse at the hospital in 1976. Most of the trainees always wanted to go to the Sussex County – it being more modern. I loved it at B.G.H. as I could walk to work from Park Road Terrace by the Red Lion Pub.

    By Edwina Zander nee Turner (26/03/2008)
  • Very late I know, but just found Bridgit Dawkins asking about John Lennon’s father. I understand he was living opposite PrestonPark in a very nice flat. Hope that small piece of info helps a little.

    By Jennifer Tonks (nee Smith) (26/11/2008)
  • I was born in the Brighton General in 1966, as was my Dad Ray Williams in 1944. One of my Great-great-great Grandfathers, William John Crossfield, a former naval man who’d served on HMS Odin in the second opium wars, and a life-long Brighton resident, sadly died there aged 77, when it was still Elm Grove Workhouse in 1914 (just months before the war).

    By Steve Williams (04/03/2009)
  • When my gt gt grandfather Robert Ackerson Pelling died aged 74 in 1890, his widow, Elizabeth (nee Jackson), entered the workhouse where she died one year later at 71, 49 years later in 1940 I was born there.

    By Ralph Packham (05/11/2009)
  • Hello Ralph, it would seem we are related as Robert and Elizabeth are my father’s gt gt grandparents. We stem down through their 1861 son Walter and his wife Emily. Hello cousin.

    By Naomi (03/12/2009)
  • Hi Jennifer. Thank you so much for the information about John Lennon’s dad. I met John Lennon back in 1975 – I was only 9 but I still knew who he was.

    By Bridget (10/12/2009)
  • Just had to add something to this page! I’ve lived in this area all my life and it wasn’t until I started on the family tree that I really started to notice some of the things that have been around me all my life. My nan was admitted to the workhouse infirmary after she had a breakdown following the death of her husband in WW1 – she was left with 3 children and I guess it got too much. The children were sent to Warren Farm Industrial School(they never really talked much about it). Her second husband died at BGH in 1944. His dad died at the Kingston Workhouse infirmary after an accident in 1921. I’d love to know more about all this but don’t know where to start. Does anyone know if there are any records accessible to the public?

    Editor’s note: If you post a question on our Message Board, it will be responded to by one of our local historians who may be able to help.

    By Barbara Jones (08/01/2010)
  • Hi to Eddie Patrick, hope you are well, could you have a look at a message for you in the Free Butts section,on the Pubs page. Hope all is well.

    By John Davis (11/08/2010)
  • My Mother was born in the workhouse at Elm Grove Road on 26th May 1923. She was born to a Jenny Clarke, who was a kitchen maid in the Brighton area and fell foul of the master or son of the house. Mother was registered as Edith Ruby Clarke. The story goes that Jenny walked into the sea and tried to drown both herself and my Mother. My Mother was taken in by the Salvation Army and put with a delightful couple called Edie and George Battrick in Parkstone Dorset. I have tried everything I can to trace Jenny Clarke; to discover if she lived or died after the birth. Does anyone out there know anything please?

    By Diane Perry (19/08/2010)
  • I worked as a porter in the food stores behind A Block from 1974 to 1977. There were two 60+ chaps called Bill and Ron plus myself and another 18 year old. Talk about difference of opinions! We would despatch stock from the endless rows until the ‘warehouse’ was nearly empty and then there would be a day or so when we would have non-stop deliveries, filling the room up with another 3 months’ worth. Most of the time we sat drinking tea though, and I’ve just written a song called “Cosy In The Cabin” which mourns the passing of such cushy numbers in the UK workplace!

    By Steve Andrews (22/02/2011)
  • It was so interesting to read all the comments about the General as I was born there in 1951. My mother Lilian was an unmarried mother a terrible disgrace then. As soon as I was born she was expected to give me up for adoption but she refused. I was named after a nurse there.

    By Pamela Turney (03/04/2011)
  • I did my SRN training at BGH from 1967-1970. I remember while on duty on a winter’s day, looking out over Brighton, snow had fallen overnight and the whole of Brighton was carpeted in white. Just so magic!

    By Penny Snaddon (nee Maddock) (31/05/2011)
  • My grandmother died in August 1930. On her death certificate the place of death was given as 250 Elm Grove. Anyone know why the hospital isn’t mentioned? Would it be because of the stigma of the workhouse?

    By Barbara Stock (21/06/2011)
  • My mum worked at the laundry in the workhouse,and my dad was a chef at Brighton General Hospital for thirty six years, until he had an accident there.

    By John Avey (14/11/2011)
  • My Mum left Lismore, Co. Waterford in Ireland, 1934/35 to train as a nurse in The Municipal Hospital, as it was known then. She was an SRN SCM when she returned home to marry my Dad in 1945/46. My sister and I are visiting Brighton on March 1st for a few days just to see where she worked and spent 11 years of her youth. Although life was hard, and I’m sure lonely for a young Irish girl, she always spoke with great affection about Brighton and her many trips to London. We would love to visit this hospital and we were wondering if it was possible to see their records from this time, and where they are now stored.

    By Phyllis Foley (14/02/2012)
  • For the attention of Phyllis Foley. It is now not possible to get hold of any records from the General as they were all dumped years ago. Also the old nurses’ home has been pulled down, for several years I used to organise a nurses’ reunion and we had some at those events who had in fact trained in the 30s and 40s. I have also set up a web site with lots and lots of photographs and anecdotes and memories sent to me by ex-BGH SRNs. The web site can be found by clicking on the link or if you cannot get in that way type it in google, it is: http://www.communigate.co.uk/sussex/brightongeneralsrn There is also a book of the history of the hospital which I think is still available on amazon, it is called: A History of Brighton General Hospital by Janet Gooch published by Phillimore and the ISBN 085033 363 6 There are also several pages of photographs on this site, if you type in the search bar Brighton General Hospital these wil come up and you can then go to the various pages with nurses’ photos I have put on this site. If you go to the web site I have mentioned you will find my e-mail in case you want to contact me further. Yes the work was hard but we had a great time and a wonderful training for life.

    By Ken Ross (16/02/2012)
  • My grandmother – born Minnie Toynbee in 1894 and one of six Brighton children – lived in Firle Road, Pankhurst Avenue and died in Brighton General in February 1988. It’s interesting to read much of the above commentary on the hospital because Granny and her generation were in mortal fear of going into the hospital, or what they still called “the workhouse” – it almost certainly explains the motivation of the young woman who tried to drown herself.

    By David Blundell (17/08/2012)
  • My mother, Gladys Bradley, was born in the workhouse in April 1921. Her birth certificate gives the location as 250 Elm Grove as was the norm after about 1913 to avoid stigma. Her mother was also called Gladys Bradley and was herself born in another Sussex workhouse in 1898 to Jane Bradley. Mum remained in the workhouse and was fostered after a few years – her mother had met and married someone who would not accept her child. Mum was happy with her foster parents whose surname was, I believe, Sutton and lived in Malmesbury with them until her late teens. The Suttons seem to have been related to the person who cared for mum and some other children in the workhouse. We retained a connection with Brighton and, at one, time, I had a house in Finsbury Road which is not a million miles from the hospital. I also should have liked to see records of the time and it is disappointing that they have been destroyed.

    By Marny Pigott (12/02/2013)
  • I started my SRN training at the BGH on 18th February 1948, yes just prior to the NHS in July of that year. It was here that I met my wife- we married in 1950 for 60 years. We both qualified in February 1951. I am now 86+ years. I only found this site by accident whilst doing a little research on the earlier NHS for friend.

    By John Berry (11/05/2013)
  • Hi John, my Dad was a male nurse, Ernest Smith, do you remember him?

    By Maralyn Eden (12/05/2013)
  • Hi Maralyn. Your dads name rings a bell but I am unable to put a face to the name. Thats what you get when your are my age. Regards John.

    By John Berry (20/05/2013)
  • Hi John. Can you email me, I will send you a photo of my Dad in training – malonair06@hotmail.co.uk Maralyn.

    By Maralyn Eden (21/05/2013)
  • A wonderful site, and memories that were forgotten have come back to life. I was born in the General in June 1940 a traumatic time for any mother, with a father who was sick with TB and a war all around. I remember going to the hospital as a 4 or 5 yr old to be scrubbed down for scabies which burned terribly. Joy joy! We lived in Maresfield Road, I went to Whitehawk for a very short time possibly kindy, then to St Marks leaving there maybe at 10 yrs old we then moved to Moulsecoomb and I finished school there. Now live in Australia, so lovely to have these memories revived, so thank you, Sylvia.

    By Sylvia Rollings nee Taylor (22/05/2013)
  • TO SYLVIA ROLLINGS NEE TAYLOR. May I suggest you have a look a the web site I mentioned in a comment just over a year ago, it contains lots of photographs of the BGH and of the staff going back to the 50s, 60s, 70s etc. Hope you enjoy having a look at the site, it is http://www.communigate.co.uk/sussex/brightongeneralsrn

    By ken ross (23/05/2013)
  • It is a wonderful site. So many great pics. I discovered my dad on there. In the late 40s early 50s, dad was a male nurse there. When I found it I contacted a lovely person who remembered him! My lovely dad was Ernest Albert Smith. I had a stay in Brighton General as a small child. It was lovely having my dad working there on my ward x

    By Jennifer Tonks (24/05/2013)
  • My mother was quite mad, and spent quite a bit of time in the psychiatric unit at Brighton General (one minute she would be running up and down Brunswick Place naked, the next she would dress-up and pretend to be Field Marshall Herman Goering). This was during the mid-1970’s and I recall that when my dad would drive us up to visit her at the hospital, the nurses were always incredibly kind to me. They must have took pity on a poor lad whose mother was quite clearly barking-mad, and the staff would always give me sweets when we visited. One doctor even gave me his stethoscope, which I have to this day.

    By Patrick Smash (24/05/2013)
  • Hi Ken. Thank you for your email,and photo, my Dad isn’t in this photo, or any of them on the web site. I did check your web site a few years ago. It was only when John Berry wrote on the Brighton site the other day, that he would have been there the time that my Dad left the Army. He was a male nurse at Farnbough Hospital in 1946, then to the Brighton General. I’m not at home at the moment, I will scan the photo I have and send it to you. 

    By Maralyn Eden (25/05/2013)
  • I owe my life to the dedication of the fine staff of 1947. I contracted tetanus, was rushed to the General – I was 17. My parents were told “if he survives the next 3 days he may get over it” Sister ‘Polly’ Jackson made sure of no noise at visiting time, muscle relaxants, Valium,  Scopalomine etc saved me, and I was one of the first to survive. Tetanus was prevalent in the south downs. Many of my family were cared for “up the top” as it was, whilst I was a lad, and during the war years I accompanied my cousin on night watch. The elms have gone now, my last visit in 2005 brought back so many memories of the place that saved my life. Thank you.

    By Roy Gurr (11/11/2013)
  • Phew, Roy–I’m surprised you survived the ‘truth drug’ Scopolomine! Many have not, especially in the East European prison camps under interrogation. Well done!

    By Stefan Bremner-Morris (11/11/2013)
  • I was born in Brighton hospital on Oct 15 1948, apparently one of the smallest premature babies ever delivered.  A nurse, it is said, saved my life by putting a toy in with me and touching me every day for about two months.  So I thank the hospital for this nurse. Any further info would be most welcome. Thanks for the site.

    By Michael Henry Wright (30/11/2014)
  • I was born in Brighton General Hospital on 27th July 1963. I am not sure what happened when I was born. But my birth certificate states I was registered by a Occupier Brighton General Hospital named  STANLEY FORTH/ FARTH. I was not named till over 2 years later on 30th  November 1965. I know my mother Doreen Jean Guzikowski took me home months later. But I would like to find out what happened to me in my first 3 months of birth and who Stanley Forth/Farth was. I hope someone might know why or what happened. Many thanks. Tracy Newman was Tracy Loraine Guzikowsk. 

    By Tracy Newman was Guzikowski (24/03/2017)
  • Hello, Tracy. There was a Doctor Stanley Firth who played a big part in the running of what was then called the Brighton Municipal Hospital.  He was born in 1902, of parents who were Master and Matron of a Manchester workhouse.  Dr. Firth was appointed Resident Medical Officer at Brighton in 1931.  I think his “Superintendent’s House” is the Poynings Building of today’s site. From what I’ve learnt, he seemed dedicated to his work, fair and progressive for the time in his approach, during some particularly difficult periods in the hospital’s history. I’ve found no reference to Dr. Firth’s activities after 1949, by which time the hospital became Brighton General Hospital within the N.H.S. (in 1951 there were 720 beds!).  I do not know the year of Dr. Firth’s retirement, if indeed he did retire.  Might he have continued working to at least 1965, perhaps in a quieter or honorary capacity towards the end of his career? – Dr. Firth is mentioned in “A History of the Brighton Workhouses”, by James Gardner (2012) ; “A Lingering Fear”, by Harry Gaston (2009) ; and “Brighton General Hospital”, by Janet Gooch (1980).  Gaston and Gooch include photographs of Dr. Firth in their books. I hope this helps, and good luck in your research.

    By Sam Flowers (26/03/2017)
  • Dr Firth became the medical head of the hospital when it became part of the NHS, and the matron Jessie Love, the head of the nursing staff. He was still in post into the late 1950s as was the matron. He lived in the house which can be seen if you go for the picture showing the whole hospital from the air. It is shown with the garden fronting onto the entrance road up for the main gate just about behind the building that is down towards Elm Grove. along side is a small open space that was used for odd sports games. Just hunt for all the pages about the hospital to find the picture.

    By Ken Ross (27/03/2017)
  • Hello, Ken. You may remember a few years ago kindly answering some questions for me, concerning the architecture of the General, with particular reference to the balconies of D. and E. Blocks.  Good to hear from you again – with best wishes.

    By Sam Flowers (29/03/2017)
  • Thank you for all your information. It was interesting to read. I was hoping to find out more about when I had been left in the hospital, or gone to foster care for the first few weeks after my birth. But unfortunately I have no further information, but I’m a bit closer to understanding my first few days on this planet. Thank you both. Mrs Tracy Newman 

    By Tracy Newman (30/03/2017)
  • Does anyone remember the midwife at Brighton General during the 1950s? My mum had a daughter on the 17th March 1959. She was 19 and my nan didn’t want her to keep it as my mum was single. When the baby was born my nan told my mum that her baby was born dead and my mum never got to see her. We have looked everywhere but no-one knows of any stillborn register or anything to say my mum was even in hospital at all. Does anyone know if we can find out anything regarding this?

    By Maria Burbidge (06/02/2018)
  • I was born at the Brighton Municipal Hospital on the 18th March 1940.  My parents being Indian and Czech. My adopted parents were Dutch and English. I was adopted at birth, my adopted father’s request was,  as long as I wasn’t black and I was a girl, they would be happy to adopt me!  After a very checkered childhood, in 1951 my adopted brother and I emigrated to Tasmania to follow my parents, who had emigrated a year earlier to live on Tasmania Island lighthouse, an island on the SE corner of Tasmania.  My last visit to England was in 2014 with my youngest son, (45) Magic.  I now live in Lower Snug, 25 kms south of Hobart. Nostagically I would like to do just one more trip home, that’s what dreams are made of!


    By Marianne Verver known as Nikki Verver (01/03/2018)
  • Happy memories of nursing training 68-72.

    By Alison Wallace (14/06/2018)
  • Yes,I remember happy times training in B G Hospital ifrom 1970-73…remember Mrs Worthy (in charge of the nurses home) Sister Gooch and many more ! 

    By Beverley Frison (née Craig) (23/10/2018)
  • A few years ago I posted that my mum, Gladys Bradley, was born in the workhouse in 1921 and remained there for some years.
    She had told us that she lived in a house with maybe six other children. The woman who looked after them, whom they called Aunt, must have had what today we call anorexia or bulimia. She ate seldom and little and, when she did try to eat, would start to choke so my mother had to run for the doctor. (He told mum to give Aunt egg white to lubricate her throat.)
    I found it odd that a very young child was sent for the doctor but, after realising mum was in the workhouse, I guessed that her house and the doctor were on-site.
    I do not know mum’s age when she left the workhouse but I know she went to Malmesbury to live with an older couple and attended primary school there. I am sure she said they were Aunt’s parents and I think their surname was Sutton. Does anyone know of a Miss Sutton working in a house in the workhouse complex and looking after mainly abandoned, disabled children? My mum may have been the only able-bodied resident.

    By Marny Pigott (01/05/2020)
  • I was born in Brighton General in 1955. I was ‘early’, very small and spent time in an incubator. Lovely to see the old photographs. My start in this world. 😊

    By John Coomber (03/05/2021)
  • An interesting read on the Brighton General. I was born there on Christmas Day 1965. From what I have been told I was the only girl born that day and the nurses talked my parents out of calling me Carol. 😂

    By Ann McCartney (03/05/2021)
  • Born there in early 1939.

    By Brian Dungate (08/07/2021)
  • I was born there in January 1958. It was weird, many years later in the early ‘90s, working as a student nurse on the same ward (C3) as I was born on, as in 1958 it was the maternity ward. In the early ‘90s it was female geriatric.
    Hope the place stays – so much history!

    By Cheryl (20/12/2023)

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