A NEW website has been set up ahead of Dorset County Hospital’s 175th anniversary next year.

Mark Collyer, who is behind the website, set it up to help people in the county trace their ancestors or for anyone interested in the county’s social history.

It should help researchers access the Dorchester hospital’s archives covering the first 100 years of its existence. He said: “Usually, the most we know about the health of our Victorian forebears is what they died of.

“Very few hospital records have been published.”

Dorset County Hospital was formally established in Dorchester in 1840 and received its first in-patients in May the following year. It remained an independent charity until it was taken over by the National Health Service in 1948.

The hospital was intended for the working poor and their families to create “an enduring principle of gratitude and thankfulness to the superior classes from the labouring community”.

By the end of the 19th century, 28,832 out-patients and 17,503 in-patients had been treated. Mark’s website includes a growing number of transcripts of the patient admission registers, which date back to 1847, as well as lists of staff and benefactors.

These benefactors included hundreds of ‘governors’ (the subscribers and donors) who paid for the building and running of the hospital.

There are some fascinating stories on the website, including one of the earliest medical uses of chloroform, in February 1848, during an operation to remove a 2¼lb tumour, and horrendous tales of labourers involved in fatal accidents while constructing Dorset’s first railways.

The site is a work in progress and new material is being added all the time. The hospital’s early archives – including patient records up to the 1890s and staff records up to the 1940s – are located at the Dorset History Centre.

You can visit the website at historydch.com and receive updates on progress by following the Twitter account @historydch. You can also contact Mark at historydch@aol.com. The website, which is free to use, has no official connection with the modern Dorset County Hospital NHS trust.