The Birmingham Dental Hospital
When the new Birmingham Dental Hospital and School of Dentistry opens its doors to students, staff and patients in just under a year’s time at Pebble Mill, former home of the BBC in Birmingham, it will be a historic moment, as the first such building to be opened in 40 years in the UK.
But the opening of the new, state-of-the-art building will just be the latest pioneering dental development to come out of Birmingham – after a long and illustrious history which has seen Birmingham become the home of the longest-established dental hospital in the country. The Hospital and School form part of Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Trust and is home to the University of Birmingham School of Dentistry, having been delivered in partnership with BaS LIFT.
The dental hospital in Birmingham – then known as the Birmingham Dental Dispensary – was established in 1858, with the start of the teaching of dentistry arriving 22 years later in 1880. The students paid the sum of 75 guineas each for the education they would receive. In 1892, Queen’s College, which organised that teaching, merged with Mason College, expanding the numbers of students dramatically.
Although there were two dental hospitals set up before Birmingham, they have both long since closed – while at Birmingham the hospital and school has thrived and grown, so much so that the new building opening next year will actually be the seventh home of the Hospital and School. From Oddfellows Hall in Temple Street where the hospital opened, it moved four times before settling in Great Charles Street in 1905, as a response to the increased numbers of students and patients using the building following Mason College receiving its charter and becoming the University of Birmingham in 1900. It was the first University in the UK to grant dental degrees.
The Great Charles Street location was a smaller hospital than had been planned, but a public appeal for funds was unsuccessful and so the plans had to be downgraded. As it was, the £10,000 cost of the building was partially met by staff – who contributed a massive 11 per cent of the total by donating £1,100 to the project.
But, as times changed, that building too outlived its usefulness, and in 1955, staff began the process of commissioning a new building to meet the needs of staff and students. At one point, there had been plans afoot to build a dental hospital near to the Medical School on the main campus of the University, but the outbreak of the Second World War prevented the idea from ever being more than a dream. In addition, bombs dropped on Birmingham only narrowly missed the Great Charles Street hospital, destroying the building next door.
Ten years after Professor Alex MacGregor had started the commissioning of the new building, the current home of the School and Hospital opened on Whittall Street – and it was every bit as state-of-the-art at that time as the new building will be when it opens its doors next year. The move was not without incident though. Dr Peter Rock, then a student at the School, recalled how he and a group of colleagues spent a day with smuggled-in sledgehammers and chisels knocking down walls separating the male and female common rooms at the end of the 1964 summer term, in preparation for the move. Their efforts were premature though, and when Prof David Shovelton looked in late that day, he delivered the startling news that the move was delayed – and the autumn term was spent sitting on piles of bricks until the move began in November 1964, finishing the following January – although the students had at least fulfilled their wish for a unisex common room.
Dentistry students joining the University from September 2015 will benefit from world class teaching facilities at the new building, where the larger wing will focus on clinical teaching and service, whilst education and research will take place in the second, smaller wing. But the physical new building is not the only change taking place, with the integration of community dental and hospital services also underway, which should also bring innumerable benefits to patients, students and researchers. This integration will allow for the already world-class research which is carried out at Birmingham to be strengthened, with an increase in clinical trial activity to aid understanding of risk factors which underpin oral and dental disease.
Much like when the late Professor McGregor, then Director of Dental Studies, visited the top facilities across Europe to draw inspiration for the building the Hospital and Schools currently occupies, the new building will also incorporate the latest thinking, optimum building design, and of course, state-of-the-art facilities. Modernisation on the scale of this building would simply not be possible were the School and Hospital to remain in its current home.
Flexibility is key to the design of the new building – with the integration of the services comes a need for adaptability, for staff to be able to offer the service provision to patients dependent on their needs. Rather than having staff in a series of self-contained units, as the current building does, cut-off physically from one another, the design of the new building will allow staff this physical integration to complement the service amalgamation.
The new building, along with a raft of other medical and healthcare developments on the Pebble Mill site, will be a unique new use for the site, which was home to the famous BBC studios from 1971 until 2004 when the BBC moved to the Mailbox. And while the healthcare developments will be a departure from the broadcasting history of the site, the name Pebble Mill will live long in the memory for anyone who watched British TV in the 70s and 80s, as the famous Pebble Mill at One lunchtime show was broadcast live from the foyer on weekdays between 1973 and 1986.