Saturday, April 6, 2013

The house and hospitals on Oster Hills, St Albans

Help Desk
Normally I do not answer questions relating to people and events after the end of the First World War, but this question, from Roger, relates to a building, Oster House, which is already mentioned on my web site, and I am also interested because of my mental health work, which meant I helped inspect a temporary mental health ward that was on the site in the 1990s. The relevant part of Roger's question reads:

My great grandfather George Henry Webb practiced dentistry in St Albans and also at a free hospital in St Pancras. After he died in 1932 Annie Fensome continued to live at 58 Lattimer Road and used the name Webb. She died in Oster House Hospital on 28 February 1946. Presumably this was not regarded as a Work House as probate shows she left the sum of £2,453 2s 9d to someone called Lizzie Smith wife of a John Smith London.

The medical history of Oster House, and the adjoining Oster Hills Workhouse site, is complex, and I can only highlight a few key events:

In 1827 land was sold on Oster Hills and a large residence was built and let to William Leworthy. In 1834 it was let to James Quilter Rumball who used it as a private mental hospital. In 1835 the side of Oster Hills nearest the town of St Albans was used to build the union workhouse. In 1846 the metal hospital moved to Harpenden and the house was let to the Rev. B. Hutchinson, vicar of St Michaels. However the house was sold in 1848 (the sale was an issue when the St Albans bank went bankrupt in 1850) and purchased by Abraham Scott, who died early the following year. However the Scott family remained there until William Scott went bankrupt in 1892 when the house was sold. Frederick William Dearbergh lived there until his death in 1923.

Meanwhile a new St Albans Hospital and Dispensary was built about half a mile away facing on Verulam Road, and in 1893 the Sisters Hospital for infectious disease was given to the city by Sir James Blundell Maple and built at one end of the workhouse site, which by this time was catering from the infirm elderly poor. An inspection in 1894 noted: The building set apart for the sick is small, crowded, and unsuitable for its work, but the matron informed us that the guardians were contemplating the erection of the new infirmary and their report gave further details of the unsuitable conditions. In subsequent years a new infirmary was built and in 1923 it was decided to purchase Oster House as a nurses quarters. In 1925 the Visiting Committee of the Board of Guardians "visited the [Work] House, Infirmary and nurses quarters, Oster Hills, and new casual wards, etc. The inmates were having their dinners, and we were pleased with the contented atmosphere which seemed to pervade the institution. It was a delight to visit the charming quarters provided for the nursing staff, and we feel that the atmosphere created here cannot fail to be reflected on the inmates of the House."

Following the Public Health Act 1936 the St Albans Joint Hospital Board was formed and was responsible for a number of establishments including the hospital in Verulam Road, the Sisters Hospital, and the Osterhills Hospital (the former workhouse infirmary). Further changes were made when the NHS was formed in 1948 and subsequently, with Oster House remaining the nurses hostel well into the second half of the 20th century. In recent years most of the hospital site has been sold off for housing, and it now only offers limited facilities with patients having to go to Hemel Hempstead or Watford Hospitals. Currently Oster House provides specialist community-based step-down and rehabilitation services for adults with learning disabilities (including those with autistic spectrum disorders), mental health needs and challenging behaviours.
However there may have been special arrangements at the hospital during the war, as many London hospitals moved facilities out of London. I note that the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital archives contain records for “Oster House Hospital”, St Albans, between 1945 and 1947. I don't know the details but it is possible that the house was used as a short-lived hospital in its own right – presumably for women only – at the time Annie died?

Can anyone comment below about what happened at St Albans Hospital during and immediately after the Second World War?


  1. hi chris. i dont know anything about oster house during the war but i have discovered my 2 x great grandad israel loveridge (who's son you helped me with before) died in oster house st albans on the 4th feb 1940, of heart failure. he and eliza his "wife" had been stopping at the goat public hse on sopwell lane st albans at the time. so i guess it must have been a hosptital for poor folk at the time, he was buried in a paupers grave in st albans so im sure had very little money.

  2. Hi - I've just found this site while researching Maude Marie Purkis who died in Oster House on 18 November 1945 at the age of 80. She was far from being a pauper - she left an estate of a little over six thousand pounds - so it seems that you are correct in thinking it might have been a hospital for women, possibly those who were elderly or terminally ill. - Carole

  3. I was born, as many of my contemporaries were, at Oster House in 1944 - part of it was used as the maternity unit of the City Hospital, although from what my mother said, it might as well still have been the workhouse! Very rigid discipline.

    My parents weren't paupers but couldn't afford a private nursing home. My father was away & my mother had people billeted on her, including doctors (from Barts?) who'd been moved out to HillEnd. Home delivery not possible - midwife shortage?

  4. Hi I was born in Oster Hills on 7th October 1949. My Mum is not with us any longer to ask but I seem to recall her saying that it was the Maternity Hospital and was run by a very strict Matron. I'm not sure if it was private or not.

    1. Hi there, I also was born in Oster Hills Hospital, St. Albans, in August 1953. Angela Nachbaur

  5. My Grandfather Arthur Thrussell died in Oster House in 1941 after an industrial accident at the silk mill in Abbey Mill Lane

  6. Hi There,
    I am from New Zealand and am trying to research my Grandfather, I managed to obtain a copy of his Death Certificate which shows that he died in Oster Hills Hospital on 13th April 1947. So it would appear that the Hospital catered for both Men and Women at this time.

  7. Hi,

    My gt gt gt grandfather was James Quilter Rumball, he is proving the most interesting ancestor so far. Jennifer Coville

  8. Hello. Glad I found this site. I too was born in Oster Hills. Didn't know it had been a workhouse.


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