Here comes Mary Bolitho of Trewidden, with her silver key. We are in good company, watching her. Is she nervous, or confident? Delighted, or already jaded – despite her youth - with yet another duty? Excited, or indifferent? We have no way of knowing, and neither will the others alongside us: the Mayor, the Bishop, all the assorted men of the Corporation, the magistrates and officials. All the leading men of Penzance, gathering at St John’s Hall, come to witness the opening of the new Infirmary.
They have just heard J B Cornish describe the building, and doubtless concur that it’s “as good a hospital as can be found… a legitimate source of pride to everyone connected with it”. The old workhouse and men’s ward has been cleared away. This is a new structure, fit for the 20th century. Once the staff roll up their sleeves and start work the next day, it will surely, as the town clerk says, “be found to work smoothly and for the welfare of patients”. And Mr T B Bolitho –despite having already put up a quarter of the building cost (other members of the family stretching back four generations have made equally hefty contributions of cash and land) - has sent a further cheque for £100, so that the operating theatre can be tricked out with all the “latest improvements”.
So what would Mary Bolitho see before her, beyond the “fine frontage” on St Clare Street? What is it that she opens with her silver key? The other side of the “splendid entrance” is a corridor serving the two-storey central administrative block, with a ward block on each side. There are twelve beds to each of the “bright and cheerful” wards, and four private rooms attached: 28 beds, she counts. Just so. If necessary, an upper floor can be built in the future. On the south side, looking across the fields towards the sea, is a public dispensary.
One or two hiccups lay ahead. The Bishop of Truro is about to give a lengthy speech about the religious connotations of the word “hospital”. And it will soon became clear that nobody has thought to lay in a stock of surgical instruments. There is no steriliser, despite all the recent worry about the new king and his appendix operation. And there is the small matter of £2000 (nearly a quarter of the building cost) still to be raised. But Mary Bolitho has turned the key, bringing modern health care to Penzance, and a hospital, surely, for ever.
A History of the West Cornwall Hospital, Penzance E C Edward, 1945 pp 29-30
Cornishman January 19th 1907 p 5