In memoriam – the final story of Altrincham General Hospital is one of a rare kind of revival. Since opening in 1870 it had served the community for more than 140 years, first as a fever hospital before being extended to a dispensary. On 10th August 1914, six days after the declaration of war the hospital sent a telegram to the War Office offering the use of a ward of 16 beds for wounded soldiers. By November the ward was in full use, and the hospital continued to provide healthcare after the outbreak of World War II with beds reserved for expected air-raid casualties. In more recent years it’s services had included an X-ray department and intermediate care beds for the elderly, located in a conveniently central place where friends and relatives frequently elderly and dependent on public transport could easily visit in-patients. There was also a busy minor injuries unit, serving 11,000 patients a year, and a large number of clinics providing 20,000 out-patients with blood tests, diabetes services, cardiology, audiology amongst other services. Despite the structure itself being dated, Altrincham general had performed way beyond its expected service period.
For 20 years or more, there had been questions over whether to refurbish the existing Victorian hospital buildings or to build a new hospital for the people of Altrincham and Sale. Under the previous Government, a clear commitment had been given that no closure would take place unless and until a new hospital was in place. In 2005 the local NHS was giving clear commitments that a review of community hospitals would not mean closure of Altrincham general hospital. This was however at a time when the health service was becoming under increasing pressure, and by 2013 just two years before our visit, a decision was made to split the town’s health service in two; a new minor injuries unit would be built on Railway street and a Health and Wellbeing Centre would replace the old general hospital.
The vital part of this plan was that the façade of the principal building on Market street – the only part of the original 1870s building deemed to have ‘architectural and cultural significance’ would be retained due to its listed status. The printed plans we found inside the hospital, which had already in parts been demolished, confirmed this and followed intricate instructions on how to preserve the section of the building. Whilst we were sad that the buildings were being removed, we understood how modern medical services simply have to evolve and move with the times. In some rare cases the past is allowed to live on through preservation of the old being mixed with the new, and the designs of the new health centre were promised to fulfil this idea.
To our amazement, however just six months after these photos were taken, we revisited the site only to find the entire hospital had been flattened, with nothing but hoardings and rubble left behind. Fast forward a year to spring 2017 and the construction was now well underway, but where was the iconic façade of the principal building? Far too often promises like this are made to back up ideas and propositions, and simply disappear hoping that nobody will notice when push comes to shove. We were prepared to have lost a piece of heritage forever, but in a rare turn of events by summer 2018 the wellbeing centre was finally finished and to our amazement the principal building had emerged from the mound of scaffolding as if risen from the ashes. It’s hard to know whether any original bricks were used, but certain features have indeed been put back in their place. The entire construction is almost identical to the artists impressions from 2013, making this one of the first cases we’ve ever seen where a building has disappeared only to suddenly come back from the dead in spectacular fashion. It’s easy to imagine how much of our heritage could last so long if given this treatment..