Doctor’s book examines Cossham Hospital history

A NEW work published by a retired Bristol doctor lifts the lid on the history of Cossham Hospital, from its foundation to the present day.

Dr Michael Whitfield, a former senior lecturer in general practice at Bristol University, has written several books about the history of medicine, and has now turned his attention to the much-loved hospital in Kingswood which has treated generations of people from the surrounding area.

His new 42-page booklet, called Cossham Memorial Hospital, Bristol: Development & Loss, has been published by Avon Local History And Archaeology (ALHA), a group which brings together more than 90 historical societies in the region.

The booklet starts with the establishment of the hospital in 1907 as a memorial to mining magnate and East Bristol MP Handel Cossham, who had owned local collieries including Parkfield, Shortwood, Speedwell and Kingswood, and died in 1890.

From choosing the site and designing the building – the clock in the tower cost £450, a small fortune at the time – to early staffing problems and smallpox outbreaks, the book details the hospital’s early years before moving on to the First World War, when up to 50 soldiers at a time were treated.

Crowds turned out to welcome a group of Belgian soldiers wounded in the opening months of the conflict.

The booklet also details the hospital’s continuing financial problems in the years before the NHS, when inpatients had to pay towards the cost of maintenance as well as for treatment, and the hospital was constantly in debt.

Staff working conditions and some of the commonly treated ailments, from heart disease and pneumonia to an increasing number of road accident injuries, are examined, along with staff pay and working conditions.

After the Second World War – when Cossham treated some of the victims of the Bristol Blitz, including a man injured in a raid on Eastville Park – the hospital entered a new chapter with the birth of the NHS in 1948.

Dr Whitfield examines Cossham’s interaction with nearby Frenchay Hospital, its role as a training school for nurses and the opening of new departments such as physiotherapy.

The booklet also records the founding of the Cossham League of Friends, who provided many of the pictures used, and the ongoing struggles to save services from being transferred elsewhere, starting with the loss of the casualty department in 1971, surgical services in the 1980s and mental health services in the 2000s.

The transfer of all of Cossham’s nurses to Frenchay at the start of the 1991 Gulf War, temporarily closing it, came at the start of a decade when the hospital’s whole future was called into question, with then Kingswood MP Roger Berry fighting its corner.

In 2004 a plan to close the hospital and to transfer its services to two local health centres led to the formation of the Save Cossham Hospital Group, with the hospital eventually undergoing a £19 million refurbishment and opening new facilities including a dialysis unit in 2012 and midwife-led birth centre in 2013.

The booklet concludes with the ongoing and so far unsuccessful campaign to open a minor injuries unit at Cossham and the current “temporary suspension” of services at the birth centre due to staffing problems.

ALHA membership secretary William Evans said: “ALHA hopes that the booklet will be of interest to many people in East Bristol and Kingswood who will have been born in the hospital, have been treated there, have visited patients there, have worked there, have supported it, or have had other dealings with the hospital.

“Cossham Hospital is part of the life of the area, and part of the lives of many people in Kingswood and Fishponds.”

ALHA is organising a conference in Thornbury in April 2024 to mark the 200th anniversary of Handel Cossham’s birth.

Dr Whitfield’s booklet is a result of his research for a talk on the hospital at the conference.

Copies can be ordered from the ALHA website at, from GenFair at or from ALHA, 5 Parrys Grove, Bristol BS9 1TT, for £3.50 plus £1.10 towards postage and packaging.