Archive Sources: Health and Hospital Records at the Norfolk Record Office

Spending time in hospital is not something most people enjoy and we rarely think about the history of these organisations or the sheer amount of records that hospitals create. Some of these are fascinating documents that can shed light on our own family history but also help us build up a picture of what life was like in our county in the past.

Did you know that Norwich had the first purpose built mental institution in the country?  The Bethel Hospital stood on Committee Street but this was later renamed Bethel Street for the hospital. The Norfolk Heritage Centre in the Millennium Library now also sits on this street while part of the old hospital itself has become residential apartments.

Bethel Hospital and Garden Pictue Norfolk

Bethel Hospital and garden. Image courtesy of Norfolk County Council Library and Information Service-enjoy thousands of images of Norfolk’s unique history at

The Great Hospital remains on its original site near Norwich Cathedral. It is an imposing building that has been there since the 13th Century when it was built on the orders of the Bishop of Norwich, Walter de Suffield. The medieval records are unrivalled in their completeness for any English hospital and are held at the Norfolk Record Office. The records form part of the City of Norwich and City of Norwich Municipal Charities Records. These include the foundation charter, the will of the founder and the papal confirmation of the foundation. There are extensive records relating to the patients, staff and much more and the records span the thirteenth to the twentieth centuries.

Norwich Great Hospital St Helen's Hospital Cloisters Picture Norfolk

Norwich, Great Hospital, St Helen’s Hospital, Cloisters. Image courtesy of Norfolk County Council Library and Information Service-enjoy thousands of images of Norfolk’s unique history at

There were a variety of hospital types prior to the foundation of the National Health Service. Healthcare was paid for by a mixture of local authority organisations, health authorities, charitable bodies and voluntary organisations. Their records can include wonderfully detailed documents, like patient case files, including photographs, that can enable us to really build up our family tree.

The images you see here can tell you a little about the hospital buildings but next Tuesday 1 March we will be giving you a chance to learn what happened inside those walls. Join us for a workshop with original documents at the Norfolk Record Office: The Archive Centre from 2-3.30pm.  We will build up a picture of the history of healthcare in Norwich and Norfolk and learn about how these documents can benefit your research. More information can be found on . Booking required via / 01603774740.

This blog post has been written by Orla Kennelly, Archive Specialist at Norfolk Record Office: Norfolk Heritage Centre.

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