James Paget at 40: Work starts on building the new hospital

Pipework being carried out ahead of the main construction of the James Paget Hospital

Pipework being carried out ahead of the main construction of the James Paget Hospital - Credit: Family of Alan Weston

The James Paget University Hospital was officially opened 40 years this month.

To celebrate the landmark anniversary we are looking at the history of the hospital and its construction.

Here we look at the start of the major construction project

It was once just an empty field, sandwiched between Woodfarm Lane and the main road linking Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth.

But in the late 1970s, this parcel of land became home to one of the biggest construction sites on the East Coast - and a hive of activity as work started on the James Paget Hospital.

Among the first on site was digger driver Keith Greensides, who worked for local company EE Green. Keith drove his Massey Ferguson digger onto the site one morning in 1976.

Gorleston's James Paget University Hospital has launched its first gender neutral toilet Picture: Ni

Gorleston's James Paget University Hospital has launched its first gender neutral toilet Picture: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

In front of him was a grass field with some pegs in the ground, marking the path that he needed to follow to dig the very first trench - making him the first person to turn the soil on the site.

“It was just a wide open space, nothing there at all,” he recalled. It was the start of two years’ work on the site for Keith, who dug a range of trenches for foundations, some as deep as 12 feet.

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But he made sure he was comfortable while working - fitting out his digger with a radio and even carpet.

“It was a really enjoyable job,” he said. “And when I drive past now, it’s nice to think I had a part in building the hospital.”

The first team on site were the Clerk of Works and Site Engineers team.

Among them was administrator Valerie Huggins, who started work in January 1978, based in a wooden hut erected near to where the helipad now sits.

The hut was basic, with just five rooms, with the largest used to keep all the hundreds of plans and drawings containing all the detail needed to construct the hospital.

A bird's eye view of the James Paget University Hospital

A bird's eye view of the James Paget University Hospital - Credit: JPUH

It was the job of the Clerk of Works’ team, who were employed by the Regional Health Authority, to ensure that the plans were followed to the letter by the construction team, who were housed in a similar hut nearby.

Valerie said:“We were the very first people on the site,” she recalled. “During my three years, I watched the hospital grow from what was a field, into the building it is today.”

Also on site in those early days of construction was Alan Weston. He was part of a team putting in some of the miles of pipework across the site, before any of the buildings begun to take shape - as can be seen in the main photograph supplied by his family.

Why the hospital was needed

The James Paget is celebrating its 40th anniversary - but the idea of building a new hospital for the people of Great Yarmouth and Waveney goes back to the mid-1970s.

Ministers at the Department of Health gave permission to build the hospital that would become the James Paget more than six years before it welcomed its first patients.

There was a concern that the quality of health care in our area was falling behind the rest of the country, with services being provided by hospitals which dated back to the Victorian era, including Great Yarmouth General, Northgate, Gorleston and Lowestoft.

Lowestoft Suffolk -- Building and Rebuilding
Vehicular entrance to Lowestoft Hospital
Dated -- Feb

Lowestoft Hospital seen in February 1981 - Credit: Archant

It was agreed that the new district general hospital would be built in two phases, with the first providing roughly half its total beds along with facilities including A&E, X-ray, operating theatres and a pharmacy. The second phase would increase the number of beds to over 500.

The hospital would be one of a series built to the ‘Best Buy’ design, with departments, clinics and wards housed in a two-storey building forming a square, containing courtyards.