Cranleigh Cottage Hospital – Origins of the NHS

April 2023

Cranleigh Cottage Hospital is regarded as the first cottage hospital of its kind offering medical services free at the point of use. In 1859 the cottage was owned by the Rector, the reverend Sapte, who offered it to the local GP, Dr Albert Napper.

Until this hospital, local people faced an arduous journey to St Thomas’ Hospital in Southwark. There were nearer facilities in Guildford but the survival rate was very poor due to untrained nursing staff and it was before Lister had convinced the medical staff to use antiseptic practices. Around thirty percent of inpatients simply did not survive. Furthermore, this was the “poor house”, and being labelled a pauper was just about the worst possible outcome, akin to being a felon.

Dr Napper was able to save the risks of delay, transport and social stigma by treating all who needed it close to their home and loved ones. Everyone had to pay something for their care, that was how the doctor and nurse earned their living. Those who had no money were catered for by a fund from contributions of those in the community who were able. Arguably it was the origin of the NHS.

Other small towns and villages did have local “cottage” hospitals but none that enjoyed Napper’s vision. Dr Napper faced a deluge of criticism from fellow doctors across the country but by persistence and huge personal effort, he travelled, wrote, and slowly gained support for his idea that nobody should suffer unnecessarily because of their inability to pay. And it all started here in Cranleigh.

The entrance sign above the door to the hospital

2023 sees the 75th anniversary of the formation of the NHS so it is fitting that we seek to conserve the origin and bring it back into life as a heritage and history focus for this wonderful place that we live in, previously unrecognised for its significance in our welfare.

To highlight the important part the Cottage Hospital played as a forerunner to the NHS we plan to have a float at the Cranleigh Carnival 24 June 2023. We are seeking volunteers to help design and create the float and take part in the parade on the day. If you would like to get involved behind the scenes or on the day please get in touch.

The Cottage Hospital in the 1880s

As part of this celebration, we would also like to speak to people who worked at the hospital when the cottage was still in use or those who visited it so we can add some background to the photographs and bring the cottage hospital story to life.

Again please do get in touch if you can help provide any stories or experiences.

Photos courtesy of Gary Prior, Admin Facebook Group – Cranleigh, Ewhurst & Surrounding Areas History & Michael Miller –

Originally published in The Cranleigh Magazine