Manchester Histories Festival

Healthcare for the poor before the NHS

Monday 13 March 2017

On Tuesday the 18th of April at 7pm at The Friends Meeting House Mount Street Manchester, Dr Michael Whitfield will be giving a talk and presentation about Britain’s forgotten Health-care system.

This event hosted by the Manchester Victorian Society in partnership with Ancoats Dispensary Trust will examine how healthcare was provided for the poor before the NHS came into being in 1948. Ahead of the event Linda Carver, founder of Ancoats Dispensary Trust gives us some background to the subject:

At a time when all is not well in the NHS and it is at a point of crisis, this talk is particularly relevant as it will attempt to examine how people centuries ago tried to find ways to help others who had been affected by serious illnesses.  Hospitals and GPs existed for many years before the NHS but there was also another sort of institution that helped to manage illness and that was – the dispensary. 

At a time when the Ardwick and Ancoats Dispensary (locally known as ‘Ancoats Hospital’) is on the brink of being brought back to life by the Ancoats Dispensary Trust and their partner igloo regeneration, this talk will throw light on why the dispensaries including the one in Ancoats were so important. 

The Ardwick & Ancoats Dispensary locally known as ‘Ancoats Hospital’

The Ardwick & Ancoats Dispensary

Although the Hospital itself was demolished in the late 1980s, the Dispensary remains.  It still has Grade II listed status despite it’s parlous condition and is a remarkable building that played a significant part in the social and medical history of the country. 


The Ardwick & Ancoats Dispensary        The Ardwick & Ancoats Dispensary

view of Ancoats 
during the 1950s

Photograph with permission of Manchester Libraries.  A view of Ancoats during the 1950s

During the Industrial Revolution and the growth of urban populations any medical problem affecting a worker was likely to result in poverty for the whole family.   Admission to the workhouse was feared, so the dispensaries were created to give medical care at no cost to the patient and their family, enabling them to stay at home.


Dr Whitfield is a retired Bristol GP who has written the first book about the Dispensaries  He was a senior lecturer in GP practice in the University of Bristol and has been writing about the history of medicine over the last 10 years.  Dr Whitfield will at the end of his presentation challenge the audience as to whether anything can be learned from the Dispensary system of healthcare. 

Tickets are £10 on the door and copies of Dr Whitfield’s book will be on sale or can be ordered.  Please arrive early to ensure a seat. 

Ancoats Dispensary Trust will have a presence at this event to answer any questions about the progress of saving the Dispensary and its imminent restoration.



Guest blog for Manchester Histories by Linda Carver of Ancoats Dispensary Trust



We use cookies to help us provide you with a better service, but do not track anything that can be used to personally identify you.

If you prefer us not to set these cookies, please visit our Cookie Settings page or continue browsing our site to accept them.