The History of Pathology – Guildford and St Luke’s

Our researchers are busy working on topics and stories from the SLHHP archive and here is the latest research from Phil Davie, lead researcher, on the history of Pathology in Guildford, particularly at St Luke’s.

Pathology Services

Pathology: the science of the causes and effects of diseases, especially the branch of medicine that deals with the laboratory examination of samples of body tissue for diagnostic or forensic purposes. From

When patients of the Guildford Workhouse required pathology services the work was given to a local specialist on a per item basis. After the 1914-18 War Dr Allan Pimm became the Guildford pathologist. He was a member of the Pimm family that had long run a furniture manufacturing and showroom business at the top of North Street, Guildford.

Dr Pimm undertook Public Health work, for Guildford Corporation (or Town Council), and Pathological Testing, for the Royal Surrey County Hospital (RSCH) and Guildford Institution Infirmary (the renamed Workhouse Infirmary). Dr Pimm utilised a laboratory based in rooms in Harvey Road, possibly part of the family home. At the same time a Dr R C Matson was working as a part time pathologist for various hospitals in the Woking area plus Woking Urban District Council.

In 1923 Dr Pimm ceased his pathology activities to become full time Medical Officer for the Guildford Institution (ex-Workhouse). Dr Matson succeeded Dr Pimm in providing pathology services to the RSCH. From 1925 Dr Matson also provided services to the Guildford Institution. Dr Matson’s increased workload necessitated appointment of a Laboratory Technician. In 1928 a converted garage at the RSCH became the Pathology Laboratory and base for Dr Matson and Technician.

A still increasing workload led to appointment of an Assistant Pathologist in 1931. Their duties included visits to the Warren Road Hospital to collect samples for later analysis at the RSCH. This was undertaken on a contract basis for Surrey County Council, who then ran Warren Road Hospital (the renamed Guildford Infirmary).

World War 2 saw an extra 135 beds, an operating theatre, and a Radiotherapy Unit open at the Warren Road Hospital – all having additional pathological requirements. In 1943 an unused operating theatre was converted in to a Pathology Laboratory, the first on the Warren Road site – although it still worked under limited supervision from the RSCH unit. Use of Penicillin, the first antibiotic, in 1944 further increased the workload at Warren Road, which now had 3 staff. Rapid growth continued after the war ended and the Laboratory became an independent unit in 1946.

Warren Road Hospital was renamed St Luke’s Hospital in 1945 and formed part of the Guildford Hospital Group when the NHS was formed in 1948.

A new Laboratory was built at St Luke’s in 1953 and opened by the Minister For Health (the Rt. Hon. Ian McLeod). A Public Heath Laboratory was housed on the upper floor with the Pathology Departments of Haematology, Biochemistry, Histology and Bacteriology on the lower floor. It enabled all Public Health and a large proportion of Medical Pathology to be centralised, albeit with some professional friction. The Laboratory became a Pathology Training School in 1958 with two consultants and 11 Technicians

Guildford and Godalming Hospital Groups merged in 1961. In 1964 the associated Pathology departments also merged, with administration centralised at St Luke’s and other Laboratory activities being transferred slowly thereafter. By 1966 the St Luke’s Laboratory was grossly overcrowded so a prefabricated single storey extension to the building was added for Haematology. In 1967 Pathology Medical Services comprised 6 Consultants, 2 Registrars and 2 Senior House Officers. A Principal Biochemist, 4 Chief Technicians, 28 further Technicians, plus ancillary staff provided Technical Services.

In 47 years the Pathology function at Warren Road/St Luke’s Hospitals had grown from one part time doctor to some 43 medical and professional staff covering the Guildford and Godalming areas.


Unpublished booklet: 50 years Development of the Pathology Services in the Guildford and Godalming areas, Dr S Keyes M.R.C. Path, undated

Minute Book of the House/Visiting Committee of the Guildford Poor Law Union (1924 To 1930). Reference BG6/12/12, Surrey History Centre

Minute Book of the Board of Guardians of the Guildford Poor Law Union (1923 To 1926). Reference BG6/11/45, Surrey History Centre.

Biography of Allan Pimm MRCS, LRCP, Liz Lloyd, Researcher at The Guildford Spike, 2014

A New Plaque for the Spike

A lasting reminder of the history of the Warren Road site and the Guildford Union Workhouse
A lasting reminder of the history of the Warren Road site and the Guildford Union Workhouse

At the latest Spike volunteers gathering, the work of the St Luke’s Hospital Heritage Project was celebrated with the presentation of a plaque, marking the site of the Guildford Union Workhouse and telling of it’s history. This was purchased with grant funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and will be a permanent source of information on an important part of Guildford’s local history for generations to come.

volunteers party April 2014
Our team of volunteers with the new plaque


A short history of St Luke’s Hospital – ‘From Workhouse to Hospital’

Photo Sr of Aylward and Jean Bruce (K Convery)THE HISTORY OF St LUKE’S HOSPITAL

In 1838, a workhouse was built on the outskirts of Guildford, in accordance with the provisions of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act. Its purpose was to house 300 people, the destitute, ill and infirm from 21 parishes. 10 infirmary beds were allocated for the sick – which proved to be totally inadequate.

On 9th February 1856 the Poor Law Board Inspection of the Workhouse reported that the infirmary was overcrowded by 30%, the ventilation was “most imperfect “, and declared: “the infirmary is totally unfit and a disgrace to the Establishment.”

A new infirmary was built the following year but by 1891, after another damning Poor Law Board report, the Guildford Board of Guardians built the new 170-bed Guildford Infirmary, the forerunner of St. Luke’s Hospital, which opened in 1896.

During World War I, the infirmary and most of the remaining workhouse buildings were taken over by the military. The Guildford War Hospital treated 7,680 mainly British, Australian and Canadian soldiers between 1916 and 1919.

In 1929 The Local Government Act passed management of the infirmary to Surrey County Council (SCC.) Union Lane had been renamed Warren Road and Guildford Infirmary became known as Warren Road Hospital. By now there were 190 beds, including five maternity, mainly for unmarried mothers.

In 1938 there were proposals to build a large modern hospital on the site.As Warren Road prepared for another war, these plans were suspended.
The London hospitals were organised to meet the threat of bombing and the Warren Road site was incorporated into Sector 8 of the Emergency Medical Services, under St. Thomas’ Hospital. In addition to providing general hospital care for civilians, Warren Road treated military cases, including hundreds of casualties from Dunkirk and the D-Day landings.

In 1939 Warren Road Hospital was provided with a military style ‘hutted hospital’, built by Canadian soldiers. A group of London teaching hospitals used this new annexe to set up a temporary Radiotherapy Unit.

World War II brought about significant changes, with doctors and nurses coming down from St. Thomas’ and other London teaching hospitals. For many of them it was their first experience of working in hospitals where conditions and standards of care left much to be desired. This and the over-estimation of beds needed during the war helped pave the way for the NHS.

In 1945, the association with the old workhouse infirmary ceased, in name at least, when Warren Road Hospital became St. Luke’s Hospital. SCC renamed the hospital after Addison Road church of St Luke’s, (Luke being the Patron Saint of Physicians.)

In 1948 the hospital was incorporated into the National Health Service, which had just been established under the National Assistance Act of 1947. Following Clinical Union with Guildford’s Royal Surrey County Hospital (RSCH) Farnham Road in 1952, St. Luke’s expanded and specialised. The stigma of being a former workhouse hospital began to disappear.

During the late 1950s and 1960s, St. Luke’s expansion continued. The Nurses’ Preliminary Training School was built in 1956 and radiographers, operating department practitioners and midwives were all trained on site.

Dr R B McMillan MD, FRCP(E) was the Superintendent Physician. His foresight and organisational ability guided the hospital through this period. The new McMillan Day Hospital was named in his honour. Matron Brigit Coyle was another key figure and Coyle Hall was named after her.

St Luke’s became home to the Group and District Pathology Service, the Public Health Laboratory, new Haematology and Clinical Biochemistry departments.

In 1963 the Betatron Cancer Appeal Trust began fundraising to buy an electron therapy unit for cancer treatment, the first of its type in the UK. Hospital staff, with the actress Florence Desmond, the hospital secretary Mr Frank Cogdell, Mr Wingrave-Clarke and the League of Friends worked together to raise over £150,000. The Betatron was installed in 1967 and remained in service for 24 years.

Later Developments….

By January 1980 the policy of centralising services in one Guildford hospital was well under way. In the first phase, inpatient services in general medicine, general surgery and paediatrics were transferred from St Luke’s. This marked the end of St. Luke’s as a general hospital.

St. Luke’s still provided a wide range of outpatients services and remained particularly busy as it housed the Departments of Rheumatology and Rehabilitation, Obstetrics and Gynaecology as well as an enlarged Geriatric Department and of course, the important Regional Radiotherapy and Oncology Centre. The Diagnostic Radiology, Physiotherapy and Occupational therapy departments continued their work on-site, along with the Public Health Laboratory and the Medical Photography and Illustration department.

The first Laser Laparoscopy in the United Kingdom was performed at St Luke’s Hospital in
October 1982
by Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist Dr Christopher Sutton and his team led
by Sister Annie Parker and her nurses, with technical support from Dougie Bathie.

All the funding for a new Colposcopy clinic was raised by the ‘Guildford Raise a Laser’ charity
appeal, set up and run by St Luke’s staff.

In 1985, the Obstetric Department was improved and expanded to accommodate the Haslemere and
District Maternity Unit. In 1990, Nurse and Midwifery training also increased to serve three Health
Districts with the Frances Harrison College of Healthcare.

The site at Warren Road was always earmarked for closure. In 1991 the older main building of the hospital was closed and the Inpatient and Outpatient departments transferred to the Royal Surrey County Hospital. On April 1st 1991, St. Luke’s Hospital joined with the RSCH to form a jointly self-governing Trust within the National Health Service. Departments continued to be transferred away from the site.

The last department to leave was Radiotherapy in November 1996.
The site was then sold to make way for the 257 homes in St. Luke’s Park and St. Luke’s Square.

Thomas Jenner Sells creator of Charlotteville

Image 1.7 Cline Road

Our researcher Liz Lloyd has been looking into the life of Dr Sells Sr and his creative vision for Charlotteville, which has endured, making this part of Guildford distinctive, even today.

Thomas Jenner Sells MRCS and JP 1811-1879

Thomas Jenner Sells was born on February 25th 1811 in Clarendon, Jamaica, the son of William Sells, Practitioner of Medicine, and his wife, Euphemia. William Sells was a surgeon in Jamaica for several years. B. W. Higman in, “Slave Populations of the British Caribbean 1807-1834,” quotes William Sells recommendation in 1815 that slave women should have, “proper lying-in houses,” for safe delivery of their babies, “with attention from a medical Practitioner.” In 1823 William published his own work, “Remarks on the Condition of Slaves in the island of Jamaica.” In November 1826 he and his family left Jamaica and by 1841 he was living in Kingston-upon-Thames where he died in September.

After completing his medical training, Thomas Jenner Sells settled in Guildford in about 1840. He worked and lived with the elderly surgeon William Newland, whose practice he took over. He was later in practice with Caleb Woodyer and James Stedman. On July 19th 1842 Thomas married Charlotte, the daughter of Rev. John Stedman and they settled at 109 High Street. In 1846 and again in 1851, Thomas was elected Mayor of Guildford and in 1856 he was a member of St Mary’s burial board.

Thomas and Charlotte had six children, four sons and two daughters. Charles John Sells and Hubert Thomas Sells followed their father into medicine, William Sells became a clergyman and Edward Jenner Sells became a bank cashier. In addition to his everyday medical duties, Thomas took over the private lunatic asylum at Leapale House. His partner at first was William S. Wilson, who married Thomas Sells’ daughter, Euphemia, two years later. By her early 40s, she was a widow and spent the rest of her life living with her younger sister, Frances Duncomb Sells, who had never married.

In 1852 Thomas Jenner Sells participated in the investigation into the horrific murder of a 3 year old child in Albury. John Keene and his wife Jane were accused of drowning her illegitimate child, Charlie Broomer, in a well in February 1851. Mrs Keene’s mother, Ann Broomer, had reported her fears to Police Superintendent Josiah Hawkins Radley stationed at Guildford and he took a well-digger to Warren Well near Albury Heath. On finding remains, they summoned Dr Sells. Thomas Sells testified that the body had been in the well for at least a year and he produced the skull, which he had put back together, to show to the Court.

Other testimonies included that of Mr Ames, Master of Guildford Union Workhouse, who reported that Jane Keene had been admitted to the Workhouse after dark on January 10th 1851 accompanied by two children, 3 year old Charlie Broomer and a baby born a few weeks before to Jane and her husband John. She had left the Workhouse with her children on February 6th. On 16th February she returned to the Workhouse with her husband John and her youngest child, saying that Charlie was with her mother in Albury. In spite of the fact that all the evidence was hearsay, at the end of the trial Jane Keene was acquitted but her husband was condemned to death for murder.

One of the other cases involving Thomas occurred in 1864 when there was a quarrel between two boys from a gypsy encampment on Whitmoor Common. One boy, John Stacey, was stabbed. Dr Sells dressed his wound and then sent the boy to the Workhouse although his assailant had escaped towards Woking. In January 1865 an inquest was held on the death of Thomas Philips, a fruit hawker from Kingston. He had been arrested the previous week for being drunk in the street and as he was very unwell at the police station Dr. Sells directed that Philips should be removed to Guildford Union Workhouse. While at the workhouse, he fell and died.

T. J. Sells was a man of his time, an entrepreneur with a social conscience. He was actively involved in the management of two Friendly Societies, the Ancient Order of Foresters and the West Surrey General Benefit Society which provided sick pay to its subscribers. In 1865 he was elected chairman of the Working Men’s Institution, now better known as the Guildford Institute. He was co-founder of the town’s first public hall for the Guildford Institute in North Street. He was an Alderman of the town, a magistrate and during the last few years of his life, a justice of the peace.

In 1862 Thomas Jenner Sells purchased a large plot of land at the south-eastern end of Guildford with the intention of building many houses. Thomas Sells worked with Henry Peak, the town’s first Borough surveyor, and the design for one of the first housing estates in the town took shape. Thomas Sells named the area after his wife, Charlotte, and all the roads were named after famous physicians. Charlotteville, one of the earliest planned suburbs in Britain, was planned to have a social mix, with large villas to purchase and small terraced cottages to rent. The gradual building of this, “urban village,” continued after the death of T. J. Sells, but in 1867 at an anniversary dinner for the local Forresters’ Lodge, Thomas commented that, “He hoped he had shown his fellow townsmen the best way to spend their money. Every mechanic should live in his own home.”

Thomas earned the respect of his peers in Victorian Guildford. At a Forresters’ Dinner in 1865 his health was toasted by the chairman for being, “A skilful, courteous gentleman who thought no trouble too much in looking after his patients.” In 1864 his innovation in establishing Charlotteville earned the praise of the Surrey Advertiser, “Mr Sells deserves success and we cannot too highly commend that private enterprise which while it conduces to such success, improves the town and confers a lasting obligation upon the inhabitants.”

Thomas Jenner Sells continued to take an active part in civic duties until shortly before his death. He died at the age of 68 after a few weeks illness. In March 1879, two years after his wife, Charlotte, he was buried in the Mount cemetery in Guildford.
Elizabeth Lloyd

Diaries of Henry Peak edited by Roger Nicholas
Census and Parish records from
British Newspapers Archive
Times Digital Archive