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End of an era as final services transfer from Cookridge Hospital to brand new £220M cancer centre

14th Jan 2008

Patient services have now transferred from Cookridge Hospital to the brand new £220 million Bexley Wing at St James’s Hospital, Leeds, containing the St James’s Institute of Oncology.


To mark this occasion, the final radiotherapy patient to be treated at Cookridge, Freda Burgess (80), from Baildon, near Shipley, was presented with a bouquet of flowers by Sheila Snowden, a Senior Therapy Radiographer.


Sheila is the longest serving therapy radiographer in the Leeds Teaching Hospitals, having worked at Cookridge Hospital for over 30 years.


Angie Craig, Head of Radiotherapy at the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “This really is the end of an era, and while of course we all feel nostalgic about Cookridge Hospital and have many happy memories, everyone is very excited at moving to a state-of-the-art new building which offers an outstanding environment for patients and staff which is second to none.”


Services from Cookridge Hospital have been gradually transferred since the new building was officially handed over to the Trust just before Christmas.



Background history - Cookridge Hospital 1869-2008


Cookridge Convalescent Hospital (as it was then called) was opened in 1869 to provide a place for patients who had been treated at Leeds General Infirmary to continue their recovery.


The £10,000 cost of the original  building, designed in a gothic vernacular style, was met by a donation from Mr John Metcalfe Smith, of Beckett’s Bank in Leeds, and the site chosen was the then-remote district of Cookridge “where patients could be cheered up among the bracken and pure air”, as a contemporary report noted.


Patients paid for their own care if they could afford it but there were free places available as a result of donations from benefactors - three weeks convalescence cost around 8 shillings a week. Those people cared for at Cookridge had to conform to a list of rules - not changed until 1934 - including “to be obedient to Matron and to perform all such services in the house and grounds as she may appoint.”


Over the years the convalescent hospital was gradually extended, and during the First World War the building was requisitioned to care for wounded servicemen, resuming its civilian role after 1919. In 1939 when it was again taken over by the Government and briefly housed the Leeds Maternity Hospital.


Whilst experiments with using radium against cancer started on a small scale at Leeds Infirmary as early as 1929, the story of Cookridge Hospital as a cancer treatment centre did not begin until 1952, when it was acquired by the Leeds Regional Hospital Board. They quickly recommended it should be developed as a Regional Radiotherapy Centre harnessing the latest technology - a plan which required considerable adaptation of the original convalescent hospital plus a number of new buildings which were constructed on the site during the 1950s and 1960s.


The relative isolation of Cookridge from population centres at this time was a key factor in its choice for this role - in the aftermath of widespread aerial bombing of Britain during the Second World War, there was much concern at the time about future air raids, and the consequent danger which would be posed to the population from the escape of the radioactive materials used in high-dose radiotherapy treatment for cancer.


Over the years, countless thousands of people have reason to be grateful to the old hospital and the staff who have worked there. Despite the cramped and increasingly-outdated buildings it continued to be at the forefront of the development of new technology and pioneering better treatments with improved survival rates. This expertise and the reputation forged by Cookridge Hospital will live on in the purpose-designed surroundings of the Bexley Wing which houses the new St James’s Institute of Oncology.

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