Addenbrooke’s was the first hospital to be built in Cambridge in the sense that we think of the word ‘hospital’ today – namely a place where treatment as well as care is given to sick people.  There were hospitals in the middle ages but these were charitable institutions run by religious orders providing ‘hospitality’ in the form of food, shelter and clothing for the destitute, the poor, the aged and the ill.  They did not employ physicians but concentrated on confession of sins, prayer and penance for the well-being of their residents (well-being in the next world if not in this!).  Examples of such medical institutions in Cambridge were:

  • St John’s Hospital founded about 1200 and used mainly to house poor students and dissolved by Papal Bull in 1510
  • St Mary Magdalene’s’ Leper Hospital on the Newmarket Road founded in 1169
  • The Hospital of St Anthony and St Eliguis’ built in Trumpington Street in 1361.  Originally this also was for lepers but in the late Middle Ages when leprosy was virtually extinct in this country, it housed vagabonds – considered to be just as dangerous to the local community.

Addenbrooke’s Hospital built on the site of St Anne’s Chapel; in Trumpington Street, was completed on 26 Sept 1766 being named after Dr John Addenbrooke whose only claim to fame was that he was the first Englishman to bequeath his private wealth to found a voluntary hospital.  During his lifetime (a span of only 39 years) he was a relatively obscure figure.  We know that he was born in 1680, the only son of the Vicar of West Bromwich and that he came up to St Catharine’s Hall (now college) to study in 1697.  He left there in 1711 (having for a time been Bursar) and went to France where he obtained his Doctorate in Medicine.  Returning to this country he practiced medicine for a few years retiring to Buntingford for health reasons and dying there in 1719 at the age of 39.  His body was buried in the Chapel of St Catharine’s Hall where there is memorial slab.

By the terms of his will he left about £4,500 to be held in trust for his widow (who survived him by only six months) and then (for they had no children) –

to hire, fit up, purchase or erect a building for a small physical hospital for poor people of any Parish or any county

In 1728 land was purchased in Trumpington Street but building did not start until 1740.  25 years later the hospital was still not finished.  It had no kitchen and other essential facilities were either incomplete or missing – the cash had run out.   Early in 1766 a notice from the trustees’ appeared in the Cambridge Chronicle as follows:

The Trustees of Dr Addenbrooke’s Hospital, having nearly completed all they shall be able to d towards carrying out the purposes of his will, think it now proper to lay before the public the following state of affairs.

In May of that year there was a large meeting of the principal gentlemen of the County, the University and the town.  Subscriptions were invited (and obtained) and a Committee appointed to prepare rules for the governing of the Hospital and a Secretary and Treasurer chosen.  The great and the good chipped in.  Benefactors included the Earl of Hardwicke (2nd), the Marquis of Gradby,   MPs for Cambridge, Bishops, Professors and landowners.  £867 was donated in this first years including £521 in the form of annual subscriptions to help keep the hospital running.  An Act of Parliament was obtained quickly for ‘establishing and well-governing a General Hospital to be called Addenbrooke’s hospital in the town of Cambridge’.

Thus it was that the hospital and its future was transferred from the Trustees to a Board of Governors – and all within a space of a few months.

On 13th October 1766 Addenbrooke’s opened its doors to its first patients.  It had 20 beds which housed 106 in-patients in its first year and saw 157 out-patients – ‘a solid Georgian style house of simple but not ugly proportions and not frills’.