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A Timely Look Back At Guildford’s St Luke’s Hospital

Published on: 10 Dec, 2018
Updated on: 10 Dec, 2018

By David Rose

A SUPERB collection of photos show former staff who once worked at Guildford’s busy St Luke’s Hospital. It is timely to look back on these now in 2018, a year in which the NHS has marked its 70th anniversary

Situated off Warren Road on the edge of Charlotteville, St Luke’s provided a range of inpatient and outpatient services that included obstetrics and gynaecology, a geriatric department, maternity ward and a regional radiotherapy and oncology centre.

Doris Laverty was a trainee nurse from 1939-42. This photo was taken by a recovering American GI who was a patient at the hospital. Click on pictures to enlarge in a new window

The Spike Heritage Centre, that occupies the former casual ward of the Guildford Union Workhouse, itself the forerunner of the hospital, has a growing archive relating to St Luke’s. The pictures here are some of those its volunteer archivists have collected from local NHS archives, former hospital staff and individuals.

Some of the people featured are known, but there are many more whose identity would be welcomed.

Nurses on a maternity ward with Sister Noreen Eldridge who spent most of her career at St Luke’s Hospital. The picture is believed to have been taken at St Thomas’ Hospital.

In 1930 the old Guildford Union Workhouse and its infirmary became the responsibility of Surrey County Council. It was first named Warren Road Hospital, then renamed St Luke’s Hospital on April 1, 1945, after a tin chapel in nearby Addison Road of the same name, with St Luke being the patron saint of physicians. 

In 1948 the hospital was incorporated into the National Health Service, with its own 70th anniversary being widely celebrated this year.

In 1952, a clinical union was formed with Guildford’s other general hospital, the Royal Surrey County Hospital, then in Farnham Road. St Luke’s expanded and finally the stigma of being a former workhouse infirmary began to disappear.

Nurses on Florence Desmond Ward in 1967.

The Nurses’ Preliminary Training School was built in 1956 and radiographers, operating department practitioners and midwives were all trained on site. St Luke’s also became home to the district’s pathology service, with a public health laboratory, plus haematology and clinical biochemistry departments.

Dr Robert Bingham McMillan was physician superintendent from 1947-68. This photo was taken later in his career, believed to be in the early 1960s.

Dr Robert Bingham McMillan was a well-known medical superintendent at the hospital taking up his position in 1947. He pioneered the first day hospital for the elderly in the UK at St Luke’s. He believed that loneliness in old age led to mental deterioration and also thought that no one should have to travel more than five miles to attend their local day hospital.

Matron Coyle with some of her staff in 1958.

In 1963 a large fundraising campaign took place to install a Betatron radiotherapy machine to fight cancer, and Dr McMillan was on the campaign’s executive committee. The machine, which had been developed in Switzerland, was to be the first of its kind in the UK. More than £200,000 was raised through public subscription over an intense two-year period to pay for it.

It was an amazing effort by local people, with actress Florence Desmond, who lived at Ripley, playing a major role. Money poured in from young and old, and rich and poor alike.

The Betatron radiotherapy machine being tested in 1966.

The Betatron, with its massive 35 million electron volts, was able to concentrate and focus more efficiently on the areas of the body affected. To prevent the escape of radiation, the building the Betatron was housed in required 1,000 cubic yards of concrete. Steel rods used in its construction, if laid end to end, would have stretched 44 miles and weighed about 50 tons.

The console in the Betatron building in 1966 – its first year of full operation.

By January 1980 centralising services at the then new Royal Surrey County Hospital on the edge of Guildford hospital was being planned. 

However, St Luke’s continued to provide 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 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, which by then had been relocated at Egerton Road. 

On April 1, 1991, St Luke’s Hospital and the Royal Surrey became a joint self-governing trust within the NHS. 

A telephone service was installed in 1960 and was a gift donated by the League of friends.

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

In fact, some parts of the former workhouse still exist. One being the former casual ward building that gave a bed for the night to tramps and vagrants. It was given Grade II listed status in November 1999 and is now a popular heritage and community centre run by the Charlotteville Jubilee Trust, an independent self-funded organisation. 

The Spike is open for business!

Called The Spike, it is open to visitors on Tuesdays and Saturdays from January to November and also on weekdays by prior arrangement – ideal for groups and school parties. A guided tour of the former casual ward and its original cells gives a fascinating glimpse into the past, plus there is an exhibition with medical artefacts (many from St Luke’s Hospital itself) and photographs that chart the transition of the site from a workhouse infirmary to an NHS hospital.

For more details call The Spike’s general manager John Redpath on 01483 598420, or send an email to

If you are planning a visit, check out The Spike’s excellent credentials on Trip Advisor or visit The Spike website at

And… it is also open on Christmas Day morning! Tours start at 10.30am and 11am, lasting an hour with seasonal refreshments afterwards. Tickets at £10 are available from Guildford Tourist Information Centre. Call 01483 444333.

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Responses to A Timely Look Back At Guildford’s St Luke’s Hospital

  1. Laelia Walker (nee Stride) Reply

    August 16, 2019 at 6:17 pm

    In the photo of the nurses on Florence Desmond Ward, the pretty nurse in the right foreground is Elizabeth Anne Sharpe (nee Alexander).

    We were in Set VII that qualified at Guildford School of Nursing in 1969.

  2. Dorothy Baxter-Smith nee Griffin Reply

    May 21, 2020 at 12:42 am

    I was in set seven at Guildford School of nursing and remember Elizabeth Alexander or Liz. My name is Dorothy Baxter-Smith nee Griffin. If anyone wishes to contact me please request my contact details through The Guildford Dragon NEWS.

  3. David Horsfield Reply

    May 30, 2021 at 8:14 pm

    Sister Robbins is at left front of the Florence Desmond photo.

    I was a 1971 starter, PTS Nurse Tutors were Jill Heath and Mr O’Neill. Miss Diepering was one of the Clinical Instructors; Miss Pennell was another. She made the national news some years later when she was rescued from Snowdon, where a walking holiday had gone wrong. I don’t recall the name of the principal at the time.

    I lived at “Arreton” on the Epsom Road during my training.

  4. Barbara Watkins Reply

    June 27, 2021 at 6:35 pm

    The principal was Miss Hayward. She had a flat upstairs in the PTS block. I started training in Jan 1970. Moved from PTS block to 8 Maori Rd. Then as a sister, moved into Miss Hayward’s old flat, which had been converted into a two-bedroom, kitchen and bathroom flat.

    I was on the poster, “We’re Building a Hospital”. Sat in a dumper truck bucket, in uniform, including an apron. Yes, I still have a copy of it. Happy days, good friends, excellent training.

  5. Louise Drinkwater Reply

    July 21, 2021 at 4:47 pm

    I have a letter addressed to the hospital and marked Hut 3, Warren Road Hospital, Guildford, sent on 14 January 1945.

    Could you please advise what type of ward Hut 3 would have been at the time?

  6. Debbie Sutton (nee Kineton) Reply

    November 7, 2021 at 9:07 pm

    I am trying to piece together information on my paternal grandfather that I never knew as my father was bought up in a children’s home when his parents’ marriage broke up.

    I have found that he was listed as being at St Luke’s in a 1961/1962 census?

    I am just wondering why or what he may have been staying there for? Was it still a workhouse or place for the homeless during this time period, not sure if he would have been a long term patient?

    Any information would be greatly received.

  7. Brian Duffy Reply

    January 27, 2022 at 9:44 pm

    The Guildford Hospitals Schools of Nursing Facebook page would love all hospital staff past and present to visit here and share their excellent memories and photos.

  8. Dorothy Baxter-Smith formely Griffin Reply

    February 21, 2022 at 12:26 am

    I was in my third year at Guildford School of Nursing and lived at 42 Farnham Road with Jackie Smith and the Martins. We were in Set 7.

    I was working at the Royal Surrey did my finals in November 1968.

  9. John Campbell Reply

    May 2, 2022 at 5:43 pm

    My mum, Ann Ward, entered the school of nursing in 1967 according to the register.

    I am looking for some pictures of her with her class.

  10. George Gordon Blundell Reply

    February 5, 2023 at 1:28 pm

    In 1962 I was admitted to St Lukes Hospital in Warren Road with Hodgkins desease. I was treated by Doctor Macmillan and still enjoy a healthy life. Many thanks to him.

  11. Veronica Madigan Reply

    May 25, 2023 at 6:24 am

    I am looking for information about the late Christina Madigan who died in 1987. She was on the electoral role in 1945 as at 10 Warren Road, Guildford.

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