Bamburgh Castle: A Unique Hospital in the 18th Century
Where might you go after a near-drowning in the North Sea? What about if you wanted a smallpox inoculation?
Bamburgh Castle, only 13 miles north of Dunstanburgh Castle (home to The Earl and The Enchantress' hero, Sebastian Lancaster, the Earl of Roddam) had a unique but brief historical moment as a hospital, facilitated by the Archdeacon of Northumberland, Dr. John Sharp. The Sharp family has its own set of interesting historical figures, so check out his family if you have a chance, all philanthropists, activists, or similar. A must read on Sharp, his hospital, and more, can be found here. Explore the additional links and downloads from the left-hand menu of that site.
While researching different types of hospitals to better understand what philanthropic options might be open to both Lilith and Walter, I stumbled across this brief (1770-1800) moment in time for Bamburgh and was quite surprised since not only is the castle a stone's throw away from Dunstanburgh, but I've also visited it many times and don't recall a whiff of history about the hospital, though the website now boasts it's recreated portions as part of the museum. Next time I visit, I will be looking for glimpses of the hospital! A brief overview of the hospital can be found here.
What made the hospital unique happened to be a few factors (and these really are just a few. This hospital was nothing short of astounding.): (1) It was funded by a trust rather than by a board, which meant there was freedom in how the hospital functioned and who the hospital could treat. (2) It was one of the only facilities that provided free healthcare and catered to the poor, to the point of having its own carriage to fetch them if they couldn't make it to the castle on their own. (3) It had one of the very first "electric machines" (for resuscitation and therapy), which was quite the feat considering the year was only 1770. (4) It was the saving grace for shipwrecked sailors and had its own bellow apparatus for those who needed artificial breathing or recovering from near-drowning. (5) It offered a smallpox inoculation well before the the vaccine was invented. (6) It housed every hospital type all in one--infirmary, dispensary, in and out-patient care, apothecary, and surgery. At the time, contemporary hospitals were only one of these, not two, much less all. (7) It created the first lifeboat station on the coast. (8) It was one of the only hospitals to also house a school for children.
One of the best sources I found to learn more about Dr. Sharp and his hospital can be found here. This article is rich in how the hospital was funded, the income of those that worked for the hospital, what the staff earned in salary, the layout of the facility within the castle, how the facility compared to other hospitals, etc.
What really took me by surprise was what a trendsetter it was not only in how hospitals were designed, but in the medicine and surgeries offered; and yet, there is very little about it in hospital history. Just as an example of being a trendsetter (relatively undocumented) was its offering of the smallpox inoculation. Dr. Sharp advocated for administrating the inoculation, though the scientific world was against it. As part of his campaign, he set up a program where all those who came to the hospital would be inoculated. He held special sessions for children to ensure they received the smallpox inoculation, so convinced he was that it was the answer to eradicating smallpox. Quite the trendsetter when the vaccine wasn't even recognized until Edward Jenner's "discovery" in 1796, never mind that Dr. Sharp and others had been using it regularly for half a century. This article talks a good bit about how far back the inoculation goes until Jenner received the credit.
I found the hospital, its location at Bamburgh, Dr. Sharp, and the Sharp family to be absolutely fascinating to learn about. As a little point of interest, you can rent as a holiday rental the apartments in which Dr. Sharp lived in during his time at Bamburgh. In The Baron and The Enchantress.
Spoiler alert! Sebastian takes the family to Bamburgh for a day to meet Dr. Sharp and tour the facility. As a midwife, Lilith is intrigued. As a philanthropist, Walter is awed. Dr. Sharp grants them a brief audience to discuss his work at the hospital. Their visit takes place in late July 1791. According to records on Dr. Sharp's life, he died the next year in 1792. I found it fortunate that Sebastian and his family were able to meet him before his death. All accounts I could find of Dr. Sharp were that he was a well-loved and kind man dedicated to his work and to helping others. Here's Bamburgh Castle's account of him.