THE Royal Berkshire Hospital’s first foundation stone was laid on May 13, 1837, with King William IV showing a keen interest in its construction.

His Consort, Queen Adelaide, became the first patron of the new ‘institution’, but it was William’s coat of arms that appeared on the central pediment.

Additional wings were constructed at the London Road site in the 1860’s, along with a chapel in the the main block, designed by Joseph Morris.

The RBH began treating patients in 1839, with the first entry in the hand-written admission ledger naming this ‘in-patient’ as fifteen-year-old George Earley, who had broken his arm whilst working on the Great Western Railway near Sonning.

The availability of treatment depended on certain ‘entry criteria’, as it was not automatically ‘free at the point of entry’, like most of the NHS today.

Firstly, there were the wealthier patients, who had doctors visit them at home and frequently made donations to the hospital, to help pay for the running costs.

Secondly, via the dreaded workhouse system, where patients (who couldn’t afford it) could get a form of medical attention, they were to be known as the ‘deserving poor’.

Amongst the Grade 2 listed buildings in the North Block was in the old laundry of 1881, which eventually became a staff changing area and bed store.

89 years ago, the hospital admitted its most famous patient, who was the victim of a flying accident at nearby Woodley Aerodrome.

Douglas Bader was destined to become one of the most famous RAF fighter aces of WWII, after he was dragged from the mangled wreckage, he was rushed to the RBH.

Bader was very lucky to come under the care of one of the hospital’s legendary surgeons, Leonard Joyce (1882-1939), who had just come off duty, staying on to treat the unfortunate young pilot.

To save his life he made the terrible decision to amputate both of his legs, but Squadron Leader Douglas Bader never forgot the surgeon, keeping in touch with Joyce and his family for many years, frequently visiting their Reading home.

The Children’s Ward, originally opened by benefactor Lady Wantage in 1912, has walls tiled with beautifully illustrated panels depicting nursery rhymes and fairy tales, placed at intervals around the room.

The firm W.B Simpson, from St Martins Lane, London, produced each panel at a cost of £30 and the striking artwork drew heavily on such stories as “Goosey, Goosey Gander” and “Little Bo Beep”.

One or two panels cannot be seen by patients today, as there is a partition in the north corner, luckily Lionel Williams (former RBH Medical Photographer) got a photo of ‘Little Boy Blue’ and this was included within the pages of a booklet, published by the RBH museum in 2016.

The Royal Berks Museum chronicles the extraordinary changes in medicine within its walls, including the history of anaesthesia, blood transfusion, dentistry and wartime medicines.

The largest item on display is an ‘Iron Lung’ machine, which was used during the many Polio epidemics of the 1940’s and 50’s, but the smallest displayed item is an original phial of Penicillin, dating from 1944.

The fear of hospitals, or Nosocomephobia, was perhaps understandable in centuries past, as any visitor to the museum will testify, especially after glancing at some of the archaic looking medical instruments used to treat patients.

Some other medical related phobias (or fears), include Hemophobia (blood), Latrophobia (doctors) and (this authors favourite) Tryanophobia (needles).

The oldest item in the museum’s collection is a humble ‘pestle & mortar’, dating to 1750, but one of the scariest looking items of equipment is a ‘Tonsillectomy guillotine’, which was still being used in the 1980’s.

It’s not very often that a museum exhibit stares back at you, but the collection of glass eyes, donated by their maker Mary Surman, is truly an ‘eye-opener.’