Book Launch: Battle Hospital History

6 December 2005

Battle Workhouse and Hospital 1867-2005

Sir William Benyon is guest of honour at a book launch in the historic Old Library at the Royal Berkshire Hospital at 12 noon on Wednesday 14 December.

In the month that Battle Hospital finally closes, a history - Battle Workhouse and Hospital 1867-2005 – is being published by the Berkshire Medical Heritage Centre which also runs the hospital museum. The book's authors, local historian, Margaret Railton, and retired consultant anaesthetist Marshall Barr, previously collaborated on another history, The Royal Berkshire Hospital 1839-1989. This new volume traces the history of Battle from Union workhouse, then War Hospital in the First World War, through several changes as Battle Infirmary and then a municipal hospital and, with the formation of the NHS in 1948, working in tandem with the Royal Berkshire Hospital to provide the full range of services of a district general hospital. The two hospitals united as a single NHS trust in April 1993 and consolidated under one roof at the Royal Berkshire Hospital this year.

Sir William Benyon's family have been closely associated with Reading hospitals since the foundation of the Royal Berkshire Hospital in 1839. The Gallery at his home, Englefield House was used as an auxiliary hospital during World War I.

At the launch Colin Maclean, Trust Chairman, will present copies to several staff who previously worked at Battle, the first of 800 copies to be given to all former Battle staff who have transferred to the Royal Berks.

One nurse with fond memories of her time as a 'Special' working nights at Battle more than 30 years ago is now the Trust's Chief Executive and visiting professor at the University of Reading, Professor Ann Sheen OBE. "When I think of Battle, I do not think of the building, but of the people and of their extraordinary achievements over so many years. The people of Battle Hospital continue their excellent work with the benefit of a single site and using state of the art equipment in an environment that they have helped to design."

Dr Marshall Barr, author and Chairman of the Berkshire Medical Heritage Centre, said "We have been researching and writing this book for many years with the help of Battle staff and drawing from archive material. It has been a fascinating project," he said. "I believe the book will stand as a real testament for the people of West Berkshire and beyond for whom Battle Hospital has so long been a landmark. Battle Hospital has played an important part in community life for nearly 140 years. We wanted to gather and record its history at this important moment as the hospital moves across town to new premises."

Notes to editors

1. Battle Workhouse and Hospital 1867-2005  (£15.99) by Margaret Railton and Marshall Barr, published by the Berkshire Medical Heritage Centre, will be for sale from 14 December. ISBN 0-9539417-1-X. Hardback, dust-wrapped, 430 pages, 160 illustrations.

Available from:

  • branches of WH Smith,
  • Wordplay Books & Toys Caversham,
  • The Bell Bookshop Henley,
  • Bookends Wokingham, and
  • Newberry's in Twyford;

and at the Royal Berkshire Hospital from:

  • the Appeals Office (tel: 0118 322 7962),
  • the League of Friends (tel: 0118 322 8592),
  • the Trust Library (tel: 0118 322 7849) and the
  • Old Laundry Medical Museum (tel: 0118 926 2724).

2. All proceeds will go to the Berkshire Medical Heritage Centre, Reg Charity No. 1084890. The Berkshire Medical Heritage Centre aims to preserve objects and archive material relating to health care in Berkshire and South Oxfordshire for the enjoyment and education of the general public and of people working in the Health Services.

3. How to find us and history.

4. An extract from the book is quoted below.

 EXTRACT FROM Battle Workhouse and Hospital 1867-2005

Coping with Diphtheria

In the summer of 1935 a diphtheria outbreak occurred in Reading, posing a problem in finding enough beds for affected children. The vacated Casual Wards were still empty and it was quickly agreed to renovate the area as a children's isolation ward. By September the Medical Officer of Health reported that the Borough had 82 cases of diphtheria under care, with eight children in the old Casual Wards…  For the past 10 years the average number of cases annually had been 64. The total number for this year so far was 165… There had been seven deaths. The increased prevalence was probably accentuated by the large new child population on the Whitley Estate where an undue proportion of cases had occurred… The Medical Officer of Health offered reassurance… 'I should state there is no danger whatsoever to the other inmates at Battle.'…When the 1935 outbreak gradually petered out Battle could be congratulated on having played a significant part in the Borough's effective management of several difficult months.

Battle Workhouse and Hospital 1867-2005  (£15.99) by Margaret Railton and Marshall Barr,
published by the Berkshire Medical Heritage Centre, will be for sale from 14 December. ISBN 0-9539417-1-X.

More information

For further information, or to arrange an interview, please contact: Deborah Wearing, Communications Officer, tel: 0118 322 7421 or Vee Scott, Interim Communications Manager, tel: 0118 322 7447. See our website:

Royal Berkshire and Battle Hospitals NHS Trust, Communications Department, Royal Berkshire Hospital, London Road, Reading RG1 5AN Fax: 0118 322 8804

 A scene from our hospital (randomly selected)

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