Seaside convalescence was popular in Victorian times. Salisbury General Infirmary, for a time, rented accommodation in the Dorset seaside town of Charmouth for the benefit of patients to take in the sea air.
Charmouth beach, on the Jurassic coast about a mile from Lyme Regis, had been made popular by the fossil discoveries made by Mary Anning in the decades before. Her prehistoric finds were well known around the world and shaped scientific understanding of the history of the earth.
With the help of the Infirmary’s President Sidney Herbert, his wife Ho. Mrs Herbert and reputedly close friend and nursing ally Florence Nightingale the Charmouth home was opened in 1858 housing 12 beds for women and children half of which were reserved for patients from the Infirmary.
‘I draw your attention to the number of patients leaving hospital who required sea air and change to restore them to complete health. Our physician (Dr Roberts) considers himself within the mark when he says one hundred per annum! Would it be possible to establish a small house on the coast of Dorset where, to begin with, a few might be admitted?’ An extract from 1857 letter from Rev. T S Hill to Right Hon. Sidney Herbert MP & President of Salisbury General Infirmary
Reports show that out of 86 cases admitted in the first year 47 patients were from the Infirmary and 60 (of the 84 in total) in the second.
It was established for three years initially in order to test the value of such and institution. After paying rent and furniture the home cost £330 per year to run. After three years the committee agreed to a suggestion made by Mrs Herbert that the home should carry on as an extension of the infirmary’s service and the hospital made exclusive use of nine beds, paying £200 per year for this.
In a bundle of documents from our archives, we see that in 1859 ‘a bathing-machine has been purchased for the use of the patients…’ costing £9 11s 7d and owing to the distance from the beach a donkey and chaise was acquired so even the most infirm could visit twice daily.
The Charmouth Home was finally given up in 1868 when a more permanent home was set up at the Herbert Convalescence Home in Bournemouth. The site of the home now houses Charmouth Medical Practice.