Birmingham Health & Welfare

Selly Oak Hospital / King’s Norton Union Workhouse – Selly Oak

Selly Oak Hospital Accident & Emergency Department

Selly Oak Hospital Accident & Emergency Department

June 2010 sees the beginning of the wind-down to closure of Selly Oak Hospital in South Birmingham with the transference of its functions to the new Queen Elizabeth ‘super hospital’ some half a mile away. The 140 -year-old site is due for clearance in the coming months freeing 43 acres for redevelopment and currently houses a wide-spectrum of buildings from various decades of the facilities’ history with a large number dating back to its inception. Try as I might I have yet to come across a definitive plan of exactly what is to be demolished so I thought it worth documenting as much as possible whilst it’s still in situ!

The site was originally developed in 1870 as King’s Norton Union Workhouse, on Raddlebarn Road, by King’s Norton Poor Law Union to replace their workhouse which had been in operation on King’s Norton Green since 1729.  As with all workhouses, the function was to provide relief to those, including many whole families, who could not financially support themselves in pre-Welfare State times under the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act. The Amendment Act stated the a parish could only provide such services to those within its facilities (as opposed to previously whereby alms/support could be dispensed to those outside such institutions also) and thus led to a dramatic increase in Workhouse development.

Further expansion of the workhouse site took place in 1897 with a new infirmary for 250 patients costing £45,000 with a subsequent major redevelopment of facilities commencing in 1902 with blocks for a further 1000 ‘inmates’, a doubling of the infirmary in 1907 including operating theatres and the addition of the Woodlands Nurses Home in 1908. In 1911, following a merging of the Aston and Birmingham Unions, Kings Norton Union was absorbed into the new Birmingham Union and the workhouse renamed Selly Oak Hospital. This saw an increasing emphasis on the medical side of the facilities’ role with the workhouse function increasingly turned-over to elderly and chronically sick patients under the moniker of Selly Oak House, which itself was absorbed into the ‘Hospital’ with the formation of the NHS in 1948.

Further phases of development have taken place over the years leading to Selly Oak Hospital operating in a wide-range of buildings from 19th Century workhouse remnants (of which there are many) to 1960’s/70’s prefabricated concrete monstrosities.  A more recent development, however, has been the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine which has occupied part of the Hospital since 2001 to treat injured service personnel (following a closure programme of Ministry of Defence Hospitals) which is staffed by medical personnel from the Armed Forces who can also be seen throughout the hospital on various duties (including A&E cover at times).

In 1995, Selly Oak Hospital was joined with the the Queen Elizabeth Hospital to form the University Hospital Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust. Following a policy of combining services in large super hospitals – one much the same as rang the death knell for the many specialist hospitals that used to be dotted around the City a couple of decades earlier – £600m was spent on the development of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital site with its new facilities coming online during 2010, heralding the closure of Selly Oak Hospital as surplus to requirements.

As a footnote, I’ve been reading the list of Graded buildings in Selly Oak and haven’t come across any of those of the former workhouse and think it would be a sad loss if they were all bulldozed in the coming months.  If anyone can shed any light on that, or indeed on plans mooted for the site, I’d be glad to hear from you.

Below I have provided a selection of photographs taken around the hospital of both the remaining workhouse structures and more recent developments.


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