History of the Royal Alex

The photo that inspired the current Rockinghorse logo

Rockinghorse has been part of the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital ever since our charity was founded in 1967. Here we look at a brief history of the much-loved Royal Alex in Brighton…

The Early Years

It all started at a meeting held in Brighton Town Hall on 23 June 1868. Decisions were taken to develop one of England’s earliest children’s hospitals that would benefit the city and surrounding areas. The title of ‘Brighton Hospital for Sick Children’ was chosen and a private house was acquired for this purpose at 178 Western Road in the city. The house was adapted to provide just a handful of small rooms with hospital beds and not long after, an adjoining house was adopted to meet the increasing demand.

Doctors and nurses pictured outside the old Alex in the early 1900’s

Three years following its opening, the hospital proved so popular that it was decided new premises were needed. Church Hill House in Dyke Road was purchased in 1871, opening as the new Brighton Hospital for Sick Children on 14 July. However, four years later, it was decided that the building was in desperate need of redevelopment.

In 1880, the foundation stone of the redevelopment of the Brighton children’s hospital was laid. A year and a half later in July 1881, the hospital was officially opened by Their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Wales. The title of the ‘Royal Alexandra Hospital for Sick Children’ was adopted by gracious consent of Their Royal Highnesses. Over the years, many additions and improvements to the hospital buildings and facilities were made.

The old Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital on Dyke Road in Brighton

The Royal Alex and Rockinghorse

Dubbed ‘a golden day’ in its colourful history, the Royal Alex was honoured to receive a visit from 18-year-old Princess Alexandra on 1 July 1955. Her Royal Highness had not long before agreed to become Patron of the hospital and was keen to visit her namesake in Brighton. She became a regular visitor to the Alex in the years that followed, making a special visit for the 1968 centenary celebrations and further visits in 1972, 1992 and 1999.

Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra during her first visit to the old Alex in 1955

Our charity, known as the ‘Rockinghorse Appeal’ back then, was founded by well-known and much-loved paediatrician Dr Trevor Mann in 1967. Originally started as an appeal to provide the first incubator outside of London, Rockinghorse was adopted as the Alex’s official charitable fundraising organisation.

The initial aim of the appeal was to raise funds for research into children’s diseases and a target of £40,000 was set – a substantial amount in those days. Supported by local business people, the fundraising appeal began. Thanks to the generosity of the community, the funding began to have an impact and the difference it made to local children was immediate.

Dr Trevor Mann receiving a cheque for the Rockinghorse Appeal, as we were known back then

With the support of Rockinghorse, Brighton became a pioneering city in paediatric and neonatal care. The Alex became the first place in the entire country to have a ventilator, designed to breathe for tiny and premature babies. This helped put the Alex on the map.

Development of the ‘new’ Royal Alex

In early 2001, it was announced by the Health Secretary that a ‘new’ Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital would be developed. £28million had been allocated for the relocation of the new hospital which was to be built next door to the Royal Sussex County Hospital.

A ‘ground breaking’ ceremony was held in 2004 and the concerns of residents were addressed with the formation of a ‘Children’s and Young People’s Board’. The object of the board was to make a real difference in the way that paediatric services at the Alex were going to be delivered.

The Children and Young People’s Board was formed for the new Alex

Now known simply as ‘Rockinghorse’, our charity launched a multi-million-pound fund in 2006 for the new Alex. These funds were to help equip the new hospital (which was set to open in 2007) with the purchase of ground-breaking, state-of-the-art and cutting-edge equipment.

Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra paid her final visit to the ‘old’ Alex on Dyke Road in June 2006. Promising it certainly wouldn’t be her last to Brighton, she said at the time that she was looking forward to the official opening of the ‘new’ Alex the following year.

A photo of Blanche Ward at the old Alex on Dyke Road in Brighton

Almost 124 years after it had been established in Dyke Road, the old Alex closed its doors in June 2007. On 22 June, the final patients were transferred to the new Alex on Eastern Road in Brighton, next to the county hospital.

Ten years on

2017 not only marked the 50th anniversary celebrations of Rockinghorse but in June 2017, it also marked ten years of the ‘new’ Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital. The momentous occasion welcomed another Royal visit from Princess Alexandra, who joined us at the hospital to celebrate both anniversaries on 19 July 2017.

Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra with Rockinghorse CEO Ryan Heal at the Alex in 2017

In its first decade on Eastern Road, the Alex has seen many changes to the level of paediatric care it offers. With the support of Rockinghorse, it has become the centre of excellence that we all know and love today. Nearly 150 years since its inception as the Brighton Hospital for Sick Children, the Alex is now a 100-bed hospital supporting over 45,000 children every year.

The hospital not only serves Brighton and the surrounding areas, but also the wider county of Sussex, with the catchment area stretching as far as to the Isle of Wight. By providing services such as a dedicated Children’s Emergency Department, children’s outpatients services, a High Dependency Unit, Critical Care and Oncology services to name a few, the Alex is at the forefront of paediatric care.

The Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital on Eastern Road in Brighton

Here at Rockinghorse, we are incredibly proud to be such a big part of the development and changes of the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital. Working with the local community, we are continually helping to improve the care for the sick babies, children and young people of Sussex.

To find out more about our work, please click here.

Back to news