History of Patrick Stead Hospital
& The League of Friends

Halesworth the Town, Patrick Stead the Man, Patrick Stead the Building, Early Years, the War Years, and the League into the 21st Century.

Postcard showing the Patrick Stead Hospital, Halesworth

Halesworth the Town

It is probable that there has been some settlement at Halesworth going back some 8,000 years. By the end of the medieval age it had become a market town and the main settlement in the area. Mixed farming surrounded with many supporting small businesses in the Town.

In the 18th century, the River Blyth was dug out to become more navigable, and traffic increased up and down the river supporting the hemp industry, brewers, malsters, of whom Patrick Stead was one, and other trades. The arrival of the railway in 1854 lead to the decline of the river trade. Today the Town is a lively mix of old and new set in the wide Suffolk countryside.

Patrick Stead the Man

Patrick Stead (1788 -1869) came from Edinburgh to Halesworth in 1824 where he established a successful maltings business and was involved in opening up the River Blyth. He returned to Scotland in 1854 and, when he died, remembered Halesworth with a bequest of some £26,000 to establish a hospital in the Town.

Patrick Stead, the Building

The architect, Henry Hall FRIB (1826-1909), designed the two-storey building with outpatients, accident ward, dispensary and other offices on the ground floor, with wards above, and it opened on 6 September 1882, having cost £4,200.4s.10d with another £942 for gas-fitting and road-making. The balance from the bequest was invested to provide income for the Hospital. The Hospital was built by the Haward family, a local firm of builders.

The original plans for Patrick Stead Hospital, Halesworth

The Early Years

The Hospital was first managed by a Board of Trustees advised by medical officers who were surgeons from the Town. A Book of Regulations and Byelaws held the rules by which patients were admitted and how they were to behave. Patients were expected to pay 2s. 6d a week upwards depending on their needs. There was expected to be no, ‘…cursing or swearing…….playing of cards………smoking in the Hospital.’

The War Years

During the First World War wounded soldiers were treated at the Hospital.

During the First World War wounded soldiers were treated at the Patrick Stead Hospital

Some of them penned amusing and sometimes poignant drawings and verses for the autograph book of the daughter of one of the Red Cross volunteer nurses, which are held at the Halesworth Museum.

Again, during the Second World War the Hospital soldiers were treated here, whilst in 1939 a maternity unit opened.

Roots of the League of Friends

These go back some 200 years to Worcester where there was first mention of such an organisation for the benefit of patients in hospitals. They were known by various names such as, Ladies Association, Linen Guild, Comfort Guild and Women’s Maintenance Council. In 1949, shortly after the NHS came into being, a National League of Hospitals Friends was formed to continue this tradition of support.

Patrick Stead Hospital League of Friends

Prior to 1948 the doctor’s wives of the Halesworth area under the Linen Guild and other local volunteers ensured that patients had ‘good linen’ and that the wards were well cared for.

In the early 1950s a group of Friends of Bulcamp organised whist drives to provide extra comforts and amenities for patients at the Blythburgh Hospital. Patrick Stead Hospital and Blythburgh Hospital together formalised their voluntary work in 1956 when a joint League of Friends was formed. Reorganisation in the NHS in 1974 put Halesworth and Blythburgh in different health districts, and so separate leagues were formed.


The Patrick Stead Hospital was incorporated into the NHS when it came into being on 5 July 1948 under the Eastern Regional Health Board, and the Trustees automatically dissolved. By 1950 it came under the Ipswich & District Health Authority and, subsequently, other bodies until its present management by the social enterprise East Coast Community Healthcare CIC.


There have been many and novel fund-raising efforts over the years. Aside from the fetes, which are well-known, there have been whist drives, street collections (WW1), church offertories, subscriptions, a carnival (1925), a tennis tournament (1928 & 1933), a flag day (1930), ploughing matches and Home Guard sports (1942), a dance in the Rifle Hall (1947) (1991),  jumble sales, cake stalls, a slide show of: ‘Old Halesworth & Local Interest’, quiz nights, an open garden and a sponsored knit-in (1983).


1952 saw the first open-air fête in the Patrick Stead Hospital grounds when just over £206 was raised. Then annual fetes were held alternating between the Patrick Stead Hospital and Blythburgh Hospital sites, until the Leagues split, since when there has been a fete every year at Patrick Stead Hospital.

Attractions have been varied, including a traction engine rally, Dagenham Girl Pipers, Band of Coldstream Guards, all-star wrestling, Wrentham Town Band, Suffolk Yeomanry Band, clay-pigeon shoot, Punch & Judy, Morris dancing, Pearly Kings & Queens and a hot-air balloon.

Some Highlights Over the The Years

  • 1915: £150 was raised to buy an x-ray machine.
  • 1927-41: A Football Hospital Cup competition was held.
  • 1930: A Contributory Scheme was launched.
  • 1939: A fete was held at the hospital.
  • 1939: An ambulance scheme was started at a cost of 1/- (10p) a year for the family.
  • 1956: The League held its first fete in the grounds of the Hospital.
  • 1963: The blast wall erected around the main entrance to the Hospital was removed.
  • 1967-69: A lift was installed.
  • 1970s: A trolley shop was started by Sister Wells when she retired, and which continues to offer the service to patients today.
  • £35,00 was raised and the Hospital upgraded, with re-wiring and a Day Room added.
  • 1979: The vegetable garden that had provided fresh vegetables for the Hospital kitchen was discontinued.
  • 1980s: The proposed closure of the Maternity Unit brought protest, but it eventually closed, with Mrs Sally Summerfield being the last lady to have her baby there, called Patrick.Save the maternity unit
  • The League raised £60,000 for further refurbishment of the Hospital and The Garden Room and staff dining room were built next to the kitchen area.
  • 1981: Centenary celebrations included an open-air service in the Hospital grounds, sporting events, barbecue, fete & carnival procession and a fireworks display.
  • 1990s: The League gave £100,000 towards the reconfiguration of the wards, and £50,000 towards converting the old nurses’ home into the Rayner Green Resource Centre. These were made possible by generous bequests and donations.
  • 1995: The Community Care Communications Programme project was started by Dr Jean Macheath resulting in the production of a comprehensive directory of health, care and local resources in the area.
  • The staff dining room was converted into a resource room for training and other use.
  • 1996/97: The League received a Huntleigh Sapphire Award, Certificate of Special Merit, in recognition of outstanding voluntary work for patients, for its Give-a-Living-Gift scheme, which brought donations of gardening equipment, benches, a summerhouse and shed for the Rayner Green Resource Centre, and bulbs, roses, fruit and foliage trees and other plants.The League received a Huntleigh Sapphire Award, Certificate of Special Merit
  • 1997: The wards were visited by 4-year old Max, a hospital visiting dog, who brought comfort to patients.
  • 1998: On the 50th anniversary of the National Health Service a tea at the Hospital for former staff was organised by the League.
  • 2000: An ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) Clinic opened at the Hospital and the League assisted with buying equipment.
  • The League was highly commended in the Huntleigh Sapphire Awards.
  • 2002: The League assisted in the introduction of an Elderley Care Clinic at the Hospital.
  • £2,000 was awarded to the League by the National Association of Hospital and Community Friends to buy a laptop computer and digital printer for the Rayner Green Resource Centre.
  • 2003: An extension to the Rayner Green Resource Centre was funded.

Into the Future

The League of Friends moves into the future with the stated object of its Constitution: ‘…to relieve patients and former patients of the Hospital and other invalids in the community who are sick, convalescent, disabled, handicapped, infirm, or in need of financial assistance and, generally, to support the charitable work of the said hospital.’

This brief history has been garnered from:

  • The archives of the League of Friends
  • Material held at the Halesworth Museum
    ‘The Patrick Stead Hospital: The authentic story of Halesworth’s hospital with notes on the Blythburgh and District Hospital, the work of the Halesworth and District League of Friends and some memories of Halesworth’ by JW Newby, published in 1964
    ‘The Patrick Stead Hospital, Halesworth and some memories of the Town’ by Dr Jean Macheath, 1996 (unpublished)