by Ted Roe

The Fleet and District Hospital was opened in October 1897 after two years of hard work by the people responsible. In the first place a meeting of interested persons was held at Elvetham Hall in September 1895 under the presidency of Lord Calthorpe. After an earnest appeal from Dr Wilcox (a Fleet doctor) and the originator of the scheme, it was resolved: That it is desirable to establish a Cottage Hospital at Fleet, and that a general Committee be appointed in furtherance of this object, with Miss Lyre as Secretary. An Executive Committee and Sub Committee for the selection of the site and planning of the building were soon formed and a site selected and handed over as a leasehold gift by Lord Calthorpe.

The size of the hospital was limited by the means at the Committee's disposal; an appeal to the public immediately brought in 444 for the building fund and by 1896 this sum had risen to 612 with 123 paid in as annual subscriptions. It was then decided to build a hospital of 8 beds in two public wards and one private ward, together with the necessary central quarters, including rooms for the matron and a domestic. Plans were drawn up and put out for tender. Mr. Daniel Poulter secured the contract to build the hospital with a tender of 638.1O.6d. Construction got under way immediately and on 1st September 1897 the completed building was handed over to a Committee of Management who were responsible for fabric and management and all liabilities, the first of which was the provision of a coal cellar with a mortuary compartment. The Hospital was formally opened on 28th October 1897.

At this time facilities were very limited and economy forbade elaboration. The site had to be fenced; there was no garden nor gardener; there was only surface drainage, which was a constant problem suitable vessels had to be provided to receive the discharge from lavatory-sinks and a man engaged to clear the earth closets daily, and a cess pool had to be dug. There was no heating system and the supply of hot water was severely restricted. There was no question of main drainage and no gas or electricity was available. In spite of all these difficulties the Hospital did what it was intended to do, Even so it was not long before the public were grumbling because they said they could not find the entrance gate in the dark, so eventually a lamp was placed in the road near the gate on condition that the matron turned it out every morning.

No public ward patient was admitted without a "letter of recommendation" these were issued to subscribers for each guinea subscribed. In the first instance the subscribers came only from Fleet and Crookham, but later all the surrounding villagers were allowed to subscribe. The whole existence of the Hospital depended on the money subscribed and donated by interested persons, and from time to time in the early days, the number of beds and staff had to be reduced when money was short, However, enough money always did come along to keep it going and also to make improvements and extensions. After the Boer War a free bed was made available for one wounded soldier. Between 1907 and 1914 the kitchen was enlarged and two new bedrooms were constructed. Gas was installed and a limited telephone service was arranged with the National Telephone Company, and extra staff were taken on.

During the Great War of 1914-1918 the Hospital fell on really hard times, and at one stage was on the point of closing, but volunteers came to the rescue both official substitutes and part-time workers, and old friends gave financial support. As in the later war, the pecuniary help and proceeds of entertainments were partially diverted to the critical needs of the war and war combatants, but financial crisis was somehow overcome. The Hospital moreover did its best by training Red Cross recruits and admitting local Reservists for treatment.

After the war the Fleet Hospital Workers Committee was formed and they did a grand job of restoring the Hospital finances. Friends of the Hospital and the doctors made known the need for financial help and many more subscribers were enrolled and donations streamed in; the proceeds of entertainments and Church collections flowed in.

In 1921 central heating was installed and in 1923 electricity and main drainage came. The electricity was a great improvement and it also allowed x-ray equipment to be installed. In 1926 a wireless installation was provided through the efforts of Doctors Bulter, Savory and Greenish. An extension fund opened in 1923 had been gradually increasing and was greatly helped by the proceeds of an open air fete at Dinorben Court and the proceeds of the initial performances at the new Fleet cinema. 1928 saw the new x-ray, nurses' quarters and waiting room, also a new sanitary block and ward pantry, and in 1929 a range of new outbuildings was added. Between 1928 and 1930 a major extension and alteration was undertaken which altered the whole appearance of the Hospital. A huge new wing was added on the south side which included new kitchen quarters, nurses' dining room and sleeping quarters and an imposing new entrance; two private wards were made into a children's ward, and a new operating block was added for which an operating table and shadowless lamp were presented by donors from Crondall and Ewshot and from friends at Elvetham. Generous gifts were also received towards the construction of the children's ward with a southern veranda. Another major addition was made in 1937; this comprised a new women's ward which was opened by Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Gloucester. These large extensions were made possible by the sustained generosity of the public throughout the area served; sufficient funds were always available and overdrafts were of short duration.

In 1928 Fleet joined the Royal Berkshire and Associated Hospitals Contributory Scheme which is centred at Reading, and over 70% of public ward patients have been members. The coming of the 1939-45 War put an end to plans for a new men's ward.

During the war the Hospital carried on much the same as usual although under tremendous difficulties owing to staff shortages and rationing, which made mountains of paper work. When war was declared, all the patients had to be evacuated and twenty beds kept ready for an emergency, but this only lasted a short while. Soon after the war, in 1948, the Hospital lost its status as a Voluntary Hospital and passed to the ownership of the Ministry of Health, since when it has continued to serve the district well and still enjoys the patronage and voluntary help from many local people and organisations. In recent years a new men's ward has been added. With the centralising of the hospital services at Frimley in 1975.