Forest House

When Edwin Patchitt died without heir in 1888, Thomas Isaac Birkin (1831 – 1923) bought Forest House and the surrounding thirty acres of Patchitt’s park from his trustees in 1890. Thomas Birkin (later Sir) was one of the two sons of Richard Birkin who had founded the famous lace manufacturing company in Basford before retiring to Aspley Hall in 1856.

In 1874 Thomas Birkin established his family home (wife Harriet, six sons & three daughters) at Ruddington Grange; he appears to have bought Forest House purely as an investment. In 1899 he donated Forest House and 3.5 acres of land to Nottingham Hospital For Sick Children. He subsequently sold off the rest of Pattchitt’s Park for house building.

The Children’s Hospital was opened by the Bishop of Lincoln on 1 July 1869 at Russell House (former home of Alderman Knight, renamed Telford House) at 3 Postern Street, opposite the General Hospital (later extending into adjoining properties). Millicent Hine, daughter of T C Hine (architect) was a prime mover and the first Nurse-in-Charge. Originally the hospital provided only in-patient care for children aged 2-10 years from poor families (a declaration of poverty countersigned by a clergyman required). Ten more beds were added in 1875 and an outpatient department built in 1886, opened by the Duchess of St Albans. Funding (public subscription and fund raising events) was a constant problem and the premises too small, so the offer of Forest House was enthusiastically accepted.

The initial alterations to Forest House cost £8,234. The original house was not significantly changed; the ballroom was used as a ward and an 80 ft wing with a pavilion ward added to the south side. The Duchess of Portland opened the new hospital on 17 December 1900, standing in for Empress Frederick of Germany (Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter Victoria who had married the King of Prussia and took an active interest in establishing hospitals) who was prevented by illness.

The 1901 Census showed 10 boys and 16 girls, aged 1-12 years, cared for by 21 staff. During the first year 422 children were admitted, 302 new outpatients had 12,878 attendances and 598 operations were reformed. At any time 100 children were awaiting admission. Expenditure was £1,803 but income only £1,546. Thomas Birkin gave £3,000 to establish an endowment fund and 15 other organisations endowed beds. A grand bazaar in November 1901 at Victoria Hall in Talbot Street raised £4,109.

The Management Board (weekly meetings) included Thomas Birkin, his eldest son T Stanley Birkin, John Dane Player and J T Spalding. An operating block was added in 1914 but Birkin did not want the hospital significantly altered in his lifetime. After Birkin’s death in 1923, John Player (who was on the Management Committee for 49 years and Chairman for 28 years, visiting daily) offered to pay for a new wing, increasing the hospital from 40 to 80 beds. It was opened by Princess Mary, before 1500 spectators, on 30 April 1927. John Player resigned as Chairman when the hospital was absorbed in to the newly formed NHS in July 1948 and died in 1950, having given £180,000 to the hospital.

Many alterations and innovations followed but on 11 November 1978 the Children’s Hospital moved into the newly opened University Hospital. From 1978 to 1996 Forest House was used as the headquarters of the former Nottingham Health Authority, which then moved to the vacant General Hospital site. Forest House was sold and is now used by the Jamia Al-Hudaa boarding school for Muslim girls.

© Christine Drew