Over 200 years ago – in October 1798 – a group of eminent local people met in the old Guildhall in Whimple Street to discuss the establishment of a Public Dispensary to provide medical care for the poor.

In November that year the Dispensary opened in rooms at the Mayoralty house in Woolster Street later moving in February 1799 to rented rooms in a house in How Street owned by Richard Cleverton.

Financial support for the Dispensary was provided by donations, covenants and subscriptions and the Institution grew quickly providing such services as inoculation against smallpox and breathing apparatus for the easing of respiratory problems.


In 1804 a garden in Catherine Street was purchased for £235 and the building of the Public Dispensary began in 1806.

Dr Charles Younge, a member of a well known local family had been interested in the project since it began and when he died in 1807, he bequeathed £1000 in Trust for the dispensary’s use. This was of great assistance to the committee of the Dispensary which held its first Meeting in the new building in November 1809.

Dr William Woolcombe was the Dispensary’s first physician from 1798 to 1816. He was succeeded by William Cookworthy’s great nephew, Joseph Collier Cookworthy until 1863 and was followed by many other eminent local doctors who gave their assistance.

In 1832 an acre of land was acquired for the building of a hospital on the south side of Notte Street which opened on May 27th 1840 with a complement of twelve beds under the title of the South Devon and East Cornwall Hospital.  For legal reasons the name could not include reference to the Public Dispensary. The hospital was extended and grew to well over 100 beds. By 1870 it was considered inadequate and in 1877 it was decided to build a new hospital at Greenbank. 

The public dispensary building in Catherine Street was leased to the National Health Service from 1948-2013 and more recently to the British Red Cross.


Compiled from information provided by www.chrisrobinson.co.uk

Created by Plymouth Public Dispensary