The Essex County Hospital Heritage Project

Deb Wiltshire

Prior to the early 1800s there were no general or voluntary hospitals in Essex. There had been a military hospital at the barracks in the heart of Colchester which had housed up to 500 soldiers who were injured or sick, but this closed following the end of the Napoleonic Wars. The War Office decided to sell off the barracks as lots, and so funds were raised by a small group of townsmen including the founder of the hospital, the Revd. Archdeacon Joseph Jefferson,  to purchase the South Wing of the Military Hospital on August 12th 1818.

The plan to establish the Essex and Colchester Hospital was launched at an inaugural meeting on November 12th 1818 with the declaration that

“so humane and useful an Establishment be submitted and strongly recommended to the Public as a GENERAL INFIRMARY for the POOR” [1].

ECHeditforDebblogAdditional suitable land was later purchased in June 1819, and building work commenced with the foundation stone being laid June 18th 1819. The hospital, initially called the Essex and Colchester Hospital, formally opened its doors on September 14th 1820 with the first inpatients admitted a week later on September 21st. By the end of January 1822, the hospital had admitted its 200th inpatient, the majority of whom came from Colchester or from within a 15 mile radius of the town. In 1907 the hospital became the Essex County Hospital, a name it retains today.

In recent years  some of the functions of Essex County Hospital have moved to the newer facilities at the Colchester General Hospital which opened in 1984, and the old hospital will close next year in its 200th anniversary year. The site is being sold and it is due to be redeveloped.

Essex County Hospital has been an important part of the Colchester landscape and of the town’s history. It is an institution which is held in great affection by many of those who worked or were treated there, and work is underway to preserve as much of the history of the hospital as possible before its doors close for the last time.

The Essex County Hospital Heritage Project is a partnership between the History department at the University of Essex and the Colchester Hosital University NHS Foundation Trust. The project, headed up by the historian Dr Alix Green from the University of Essex and Becci Hurst, Assistant Project

Manager on the team leading the transfer of services from Essex County Hospital to new accommodation nearer the Colchester General site, aims to create an online resource which preserves and makes available to the public important and fascinating artefacts and records of life at the hospital across its 200 year service.

DSC00172Many of the original features of the hospital remain in place, and in the first stage of the project, staff and postgraduate students from the University are documenting and photographing these original features which would otherwise be lost.  Catalogues of old records and photographs are also being created which will be made available.

The Project website has now been launched and we would like to invite you to visit the website to keep up to date with what’s happening.  An Open Day is being planned for 2018 to celebrate 200 years of service provided by Essex County Hospital to the community, so please do look out for further announcements.

Have you ever worked at the hospital, received treatment there or perhaps visited a patient there? Do you have any memories of the hospital that you’d like to share with us?  If so we’d love to hear from you so please do get in touch via email ( or via the contact form on the website (

1 John B. Penfold, The History of the Essex County Hospital, Colchester: Previously the Essex & Colchester Hospital 1820-1948 (1984) The Lavenham Press, Sudbury, p. 2.

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