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Hospital Saturday and Sunday

Hospital Saturday meeting in Hyde Park, London, c. 1880.

Hospital Saturday meeting in Hyde Park, London, c. 1880.

Credits:Wellcome Library, London.

Originally funded by donations and subscriptions from the middle and upper classes, English voluntary hospitals developed new sources of funding in the 1800s. Hospital Sunday and Hospital Saturday were two new forms of mass contribution which appeared in these years. Hospital Sunday originated in the 1700s and involved churches and chapels setting aside for local hospitals the funds collected from a charity sermon on one Sunday a year. Hospital Saturday was also an annual event. It involved workers donating a penny in the pound of their wages to local hospitals. In return, contributors were ensured free treatment in a voluntary hospital. Early examples include those in Walsall (1863), Manchester (1872) and Birmingham (1873).

In 1889 both funds raised more than £73,000 for British voluntary hospitals. The largest single sum from Hospital Saturday in that year, £2680, went to the General Hospital, Birmingham. At the time this sum was equivalent to 15% of the institution’s income. Over the next decades, workers throughout the country demonstrated the ‘power of the penny’, but only slowly gained representation on hospital boards.

By the 1920s and 1930s, over 400 schemes existed and working-class contributions at some institutions surpassed all other sources of income. More recently, they have been described as a ‘double-edged sword’. With increased contributions came increased demands for services. Nevertheless, these schemes kept some hospitals financially afloat throughout the early 1900s. Generally, these contributory schemes disappeared with the introduction of the NHS. Those that survive demonstrate the strong connections between working people and local hospitals.


M Gorsky, J Mohan with T Willis, Mutualism and Health Care: British Hospital Contributory Schemes in the Twentieth Century (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2006)