Strand Street Dispensary

Location: 22 Strand Street (now Boots Opticians)

The first hospital and dispensary for the Douglas poor was opened in 1841, as a site for the Douglas Medical Dispensary. “One of the most useful charities of the town” (Manks Advertiser 28 August 1828), it provided medicine and care for those who were unable to afford it. It was founded in 1822-3, and by 1828 there had been an attempt to establish premises next to the Ladies’ Soup Dispensary, but this proved too expensive and the charity operated from the poorhouse.

Speaking of the charity, the Manks Advertiser said:

“No person can make the rounds amongst the poor of this town, without being convinced of the necessity of some institution which entitles them to medical aid in the time of sickness and destitution” (1 May 1828)

The Douglas Medical Dispensary was originally funded by donations from wealthy benefactors and churches, but in 1828 the charity accepted public subscriptions and calls began for a small hospital, especially as patients who required hospital treatment had to make the sea journey to Liverpool.


Explore the evidence about the Strand Street Dispensary below

In 1840, those who paid £1 or more a year to the charity voted for a Surgeon to the Institution. Dr JHF Spencer, a young Maughold-born doctor, was elected to the post with 67 out of 88 votes.  He would serve in the post until the hospital was moved to Fort Street in 1849, before his sudden death in 1850 at the age of 37. An early pioneer in the use of chloroform, he wrote to Dr James Simpson, who discovered the anaesthetic, in 1847, about his experiences of its use in the Isle of Man.

The dispensary had six beds and a matron, the first being Widow Kelly who was hired in 1841. It opened daily from 9am to 11am. To ensure that only genuinely needy cases were accepted, the poor had to be recommended by a subscriber. But occasionally the hospital was criticised for sticking too closely to these rules, especially during a cholera epidemic.

The poor and sick of Douglas could visit the dispensary during its opening hours, but they might also be seen by the doctors in their homes, or at the poorhouse. They might also visit the home of the doctor themselves. As part of the dispensary’s service, Dr Spencer set up a mass smallpox vaccination programme for children through schools. Hundreds of people were vaccinated, and smallpox practically disappeared from Douglas. The dispensary also treated people suffering through cholera and typhoid epidemics.

According Doctor Spencer’s final report, the number of patients admitted between 1840 and 1849 was 6,640, of whom 3,920 were discharged as cured, and 246 died. The hospital only closed for one day, when the medical staff were required to give evidence in a trial, and 10 Strand Street continued to be used as a dispensary after the General Hospital had been opened.

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