Dr Louisa Martindale and the women's hospital

Photo:Windlesham House, the New Sussex Hospital

Windlesham House, the New Sussex Hospital

Photographer unknown. Photo from 'Step Back in Time Photograph Library' Queens Road, Brighton

Photo:Dr Louisa Martindale

Dr Louisa Martindale

Photo by Adrian Hancock from portrait by Frank O Salisbury reproduced by kind permission of B & H NHS Trust 2006

By Ann Smith


From residence to workhouse to hospital to residence  

In the past ten years there have been changes in use of buildings in the town centre, which have often been converted into living space from schools, factories, warehouses and hospitals. Older people remember, but many, even those living in the new apartments, are not always aware of what went before. One such is Temple Heights on the corner of Windlesham Road and Temple Gardens, on the westernmost edge of our area.  

The three Martindales - Louisa, Louisa and Hilda.  

This is the story of the Martindales, a widowed mother and two daughters, but mainly of the elder daughter, Dr Louisa Martindale. The Martindales were a formidable trio, mother Louisa, daughters, Louisa and Hilda. The widowed Mrs Louisa Martindale moved from Lewes to Brighton in 1885 so that her daughters could attend the High School for Girls, founded by the Girls’ Public Day School Company, and be educated on what were then considered by many to be lines ‘fraught with considerable risks’.  

Both girls did well: Hilda became the Senior Lady Inspector of Factories but it is the elder daughter, Louisa, who left her mark in Brighton.

The first woman doctor in Brighton ... and a new dispensary for women and children

Louisa studied medicine and eventually set up practice as the first woman doctor in Brighton.

There was a great demand for women and children to be seen by a woman doctor and so her mother, Mrs Martindale, set up a Dispensary for Women and Children in 1911. The all female staff, including Dr Louisa Martindale, were heavily overworked, with some 8000 patients from all over Sussex being seen annually. However they could not cover the more serious medical and surgical cases needing in-patient treatment which still had to be sent to the County Hospital.  

As there seemed no chance of a medical woman being put on the staff there, the Louisa Martindales, mother and daughter, and others, took an adjoining house and opened a small 12 bed hospital for medical and surgical cases with Dr Louisa, the senior surgeon. Mrs Martindale was a great fundraiser, very well connected and passionate about the needs and rights of women.

Windlesham House, after a few initial difficulties  ...

More space was needed and in late 1918 the New Sussex Hospital Management Board was set up with premises at 4, 6 and 8 Ditching Road. Negotiations were under way for the purchase of Windlesham House, later called Sussex House, from the freeholder, Mrs Scott Malden, but even when all seemed secure, access was denied because of the presence in 1919 of a group of elderly men from the workhouse who were still in residence. They had been moved there when the workhouse in Elm Grove had been requisitioned for use as a military hospital for the period of the Great War 1914 – 1918. Their return to base was delayed after the Guardian refused to go back until all had been made good ie returned to its pre-war and sometimes old-fashioned state.

... became the New Sussex Hospital, or the women's hospital as it was known

Eventually Windlesham House was free and the New Sussex Hospital moved in. There were 84 beds including 12 private wards for those ‘patients unwilling to enter the free wards of public hospitals and unable to pay nursing home fees’.

In its heyday it had medical and surgical departments, eye, throat, ear departments, a dental clinic, pathological, X-ray, electro-therapeutic and massage departments. It was recognised by London University and was the first hospital in Sussex to realise the necessity of providing small single wards at ‘four – five guineas’ a week; it was under the care and protection of qualified medical women, among whom, Dr Louisa Martindale, who came down from her home in London to operate there twice a week. Often known locally as the women’s hospital, the New Sussex was closed in 1980 and became a day centre for psychiatric patients. 

By 2002 the buildings had been sold, conversion into flats had begun and Temple Heights were born.  

The portrait of Dr Louisa Martindale used to hang in the boardroom of the New Sussex Hospital, presiding over the interview of new appointments of medical staff; it is now locked away in Millview Hospital. Maybe it should be again on view?


To find out more, read Women’s hospitals in Brighton & Hove 1899 – 1920 by Val Brown and, if you can find them: A Woman Surgeon by Louisa Martindale, From One Generation to Another by Hilda Martindale .


This page was added on 01/04/2011.

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