Blog from the Library – Farnborough Hospital aka Orpington Institute.

Query 8 July 2020

From Canada, the writer said they were not sure if anyone is monitoring this email during the pandemic but thought they would try.

I've come across a great aunt who apparently died at the Orpington Institute in Orpington, Bromley, Kent in 1937. I can't find any reference to the Orpington Institute online and with libraries closed no way to access print sources.
Would you have access to any resources that would explain the purpose of this Institute?

Answer 9 July 2020

Thank you for contacting North West Kent Family History Society. Our Society does cover the SE London and West Kent area which includes Orpington and Bromley and in your research case Farnborough.

The advantages of modern technology we do not have to rely on the postal service. We also have some online resources that keep us helping our members.

Your great Aunt who died in Orpington Institution would have been in the Workhouse infirmary that became Farnborough Hospital. The use of 'Institute' rather than workhouse or hospital or asylum was typical for the period.

If you want to learn more about the North West Kent area you can join the Society online and at only £10 per year, I feel is very good value. Our publications and research aids are online. The publications can be purchased from the eshop.

There is also a Gazetteer of the parishes we cover that gives research sources and their whereabouts. One of the most useful of our publication is 'West Kent Sources' which was in a paper form but is now published on CD, combined with its sister publication 'School Records.

One of our founder members was the late Fred Whyler who wrote about his families and the Orpington and Bromley area. You can look his articles up in our Journal index and as a member you can download copies of the Journals to help your research.

Fred wrote about Farnborough Hospital and I have pasted an extract below of the details that may be of interest. If you need help with your research we run a research service for which the application form is online. While our volunteer researchers cannot get into the Library some of them have extensive resources in their homes, so try contacting research@nwkfhs.org.uk . There is a very small fee for this service.

Extract from Whyler F., The story of Farnborough Hospital. 1978 Bromley Local History issue 3, p18-25. See web site https://ezitis.myzen.co.uk/farnborough.html

The Bromley Union workhouse opened at Locks Bottom on 13th March 1845.

By 1873 the workhouse could hold 420 inmates. In 1898 a female infirmary was built.

In 1907, the nursing staff consisted of a Superintendent Nurse and 8 nurses, a night lunatic attendant, a male imbecile attendant and a female imbecile attendant.

The workhouse had become severely overcrowded by 1910. The 694 inmates were mostly elderly, chronically or mentally ill, or children (at one time, of 426 inmates only 23 had been able-bodied). Two extra wards were built to accommodate the sick.

By 1923 two doctors were employed, while the nursing staff consisted of a Superintendent Nurse, an Assistant Superintendent Nurse, a Night Sister, 4 Ward Sisters, 2 Staff Nurses and 20 Probationers. In 1924 the infirmary had 201 beds. In 1925, it also had accommodation for 66 mental patients (although none occupied the padded cells).

By 1927 the workhouse and infirmary had become a hospital in all but name. Although it had no Out-Patients or Casualty Department, it was the only sizeable hospital between Lewisham and Tunbridge Wells.


The institution had no electricity and was lit by gas and portable paraffin lamps. The operating theatre, known as the 'greenhouse', was heated by a gas fire, which had to be extinguished before anaesthesia was given to the patient.


In 1929 electricity was installed and two new medical blocks were completed. However, as Poor Law institutions were not allowed to refuse admission, the wards remained overcrowded, with beds in the centre of the rooms or even along the corridors.

In 1930, following the abolition of the Boards of Guardians of the Poor, management of the workhouse and infirmary was taken over by the Public Assistance Committee of Kent County Council. At this time the institution was considered to be the best Poor Law hospital in the county. It had 445 beds.

Plans were made to improve and develop the site. Lifts were installed, so that patients no longer had to be carried on stretchers up and down the stairs. The resident medical staff was increased to six. A new wing was completed in 1936, when the institution was renamed the Farnborough County Hospital. It had 811 beds.

In 1938 the weekly cost of an in-patient was £2 8s 4d (£2.42).

A fine piece of research by Fred Whyler, which is worthy of being blogged on our web site. Thanks for asking about Farnborough Hospital.

I found Two patients online who died at Orpington Institute.

Obray, John Robert, Born 1872 in Sheerness, Kent, England, Died Jun 27 1939 in Orpington Institute, Kent, England

Alice Mary Maude Louise LOPEZ was born about 1862 in Jamaica. She died on 8 Dec 1937 in Orpington Institute, Orpington, Kent, England.

I trust this is of help and interest and look forward to you joining the Society.

If you would like to make a donation to the Society this can be done online.

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