In the late 18th century, there was a trend among people who were well off to give money to medical provision for the poor. This saw the establishment of voluntary hospitals and services. One type of service was the dispensary. In cities across the UK, dispensaries were built that offered out-patient treatment to those who could not afford it, but who were not poor enough to get free healthcare from living in ‘work houses’. These dispensaries were funded by subscriptions which local people paid monthly, giving them unlimited access to medical care in return. The subscriptions were cheap enough for poorer people to afford and this meant that they could then be seen at the dispensary for their care when they needed it without worrying about a big bill.
In Nottingham, the General Hospital was often the first point of call for patients, but a local group of wealthy philanthropists decided to join in the dispensary movement and create one in the centre of the city. The first dispensary was in Woolpack Lane in a grand house which sadly is no longer in existence. This small dispensary proved popular and soon there was enough money to consider a specially designed building right in the heart of Hockley. A short distance away from the original location of the dispensary was Broad Street and it was decided that would be an ideal location.
Henry Goddard was an architect established in Lincoln who had previously designed some of the city’s more ornate buildings, such as The Drill Hall and The Old Barracks. By 1841, he had teamed up with William Adams Nicholson, a founder of the Royal Institute of British Architects and a man well-known for designing public buildings such as workhouses, schools and town halls. Now known as Nicholson and Goddard of London, they were employed to design the new dispensary and given the brief to make it ‘an object of civil pride’. They came up with a blueprint for a building in the classical revival style, complete with ornate plinths, sash windows and features that gave the building a very classical and grand feel. The same was reflected inside, with even the radiators, some of which still exist, being intricately designed.
The whole building cost £1,797, which would be almost £2.5m in today’s money. Built into the deeds was a clause which stated the building must always be used for the provision of medical care. This clause still holds true today as the building has always been used for medical care and will continue to be for many years to come.
Some of the origional fittings can still be seen, including a plaque to mark the plumbers from when construction took place. There are also several fireplaces, which are now boarded up.
Number 12 Board Street today is in fact in two halves. The dispensary backed onto another building in Heathcoat Street. Both buildings had back yards, which are now the waiting room. When you walk through the waiting room you are traveling from what was one building to another.
This second building in Heathcoat Street was thought to be offices and warehouses when it was originally built. In its time, it has been a boot and repair works, an auction house, a liquidation company and also a ‘fancy goods dealer’, as it lists in the Nottingham Post from 1931. From the 70s to the 90s, it was better known as the location for Kitchens Unlimited, a company which sold fitted kitchens. It was also the site of McCathy’s Vacuum Cleaner Centre and it was also rumoured to be a school for a short time.
Its history as a warehouse can’t be seen from the public floors these days. However, under the building is a vast basement which now lays empty, apart from a few old computer bits and Christmas decorations. This very spooky area clearly has several large rooms which were used to house various items over the years.
One of the methods the dispensary used to generate revenue was to buy local buildings and rent them out. It is known that the dispensary owned a few warehouses in Broad Street so it is highly possible that the Heathcoat side of the building was also at one point owned by the dispensary, which may explain why they were linked together.
Back to the dispensary in Broad Street and in 1940 at the height of war, subscriptions were low. Despite this in 1945, 4,600 people came to the dispensary seeking treatment, so the need was still there. However, by 1955, finances were suffering badly at the dispensary. While the dispensary spent £12,000 that year, it only received £1200 from subscriptions. Eventually, the building was bought by Nottingham Health Authority and turned into a drugs and counselling service. Alterations were made in the early 1980s and 90s. One of the planning applications mentions a ‘covered walkway’. This could be when, what is now the waiting room, was covered over to join the two buildings together.
The Gender Identity Service moved into the building in 2017 and has been operating from here ever since, and will for many years into the future. With such a long history the building is quite eccentric. While we do have good disabled access to the ground-level rooms on the Heathcoat side of the building, the rest of the clinic has some pretty steep and plentiful stairs. If our staff look extra fit to you, that is because of the amount of exercise it takes just to get from one room to another!
If you have any extra information about the building which we haven’t listed here, drop us a line and let us know.