IN Bishop Auckland, for nearly all of the 20th Century, the cottage hospital bore the name of - and displayed the bust of - Lady Sybil Eden, who led the charge to get it built.

To commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee of 1897, Lady Eden, of Windlestone Hall, graciously agreed to head a fundraising operation to build the hospital.

Cottage hospitals were an important step towards accessible healthcare for all in the days before the NHS. Local donors raised the start-up costs which meant ordinary people only had to pay fees to cover the cost of their treatment.

For those who couldn’t afford their own private doctor, this was far more attractive than being forced to go to the workhouse infirmary, where the destitute were treated. In Bishop, the workhouse was established in 1855 on the southern edge of the town in Cockton Hill Road, and its infirmary dated from 1877.

When Lady Sybil had collected £2,000 – south Durham miners were particularly generous – it was decided to build her cottage hospital on open land directly opposite the workhouse infirmary.

Her cousin, Earl Grey, laid the foundation stone on July 23, 1898, and by June 3, 1899, it was ready to admit its first patient. On September 8, 1899, Lady Sybil persuaded the former Liberal Prime Minister Lord Rosebery to open the Lady Eden Cottage Hospital in a ceremony attended by thousands of miners.

The small, arts and crafts building, designed by local architect James Garry, was soon enlarged, but a bigger problem emerged: could Bishop Auckland support its own hospital? The Great Depression hit the coalfield so hard in the late 1920s meant the hospital struggled for donations, but the people rallied round with fund-raising carinvals.

However, in 1932, the Durham Miners’ Association, which had been so supportive, decided to fund instead the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle which, although much further away, had the better facilities to treat victims of industrial accidents.

Bishop Auckland responded by launching another fund raising campaign, and drawing up plans for a modernist rebuild of the cottage hospital, but the Second World War prevented this from happening – the only development at the hospital was the construction around it of a large concrete blastwall, part of which remained until the 1960s.

When peace returned, Bishop Auckland found itself in a new era.

For a start, Lady Sybil, whose son Sir Anthony Eden featured on last week’s front page, had died in 1945, and her family had left Windlestone after five centuries. One of her other sons, Timothy, presented a bust of her to the hospital, which displayed it in its entrance.

Then in 1948, the NHS was created. It took control of both the cottage hospital and the workhouse infirmary.

The infirmary site offered greater potential for expansion, and so over the decades it grew into a general hospital, with a hotch-potch of add-ons and extensions increasing its capacity. The cottage hospital had its own niche, offering more intimate treatment over the road, until 1990 when it was converted into a psychiatric unit.

As is well known in Bishop Auckland, Tony Blair’s New Labour Government decided to rebuild on the workhouse site, and in June 2002, the £66m general hospital opened.

It signalled the end for the cottage hospital, which was sold and has become a care home.

Even Lady Sybil’s bust was sold, in 2009, and in 2014 it appeared on the Antiques Roadshow where it was valued at between £1,500 and £2,000.

LADY SYBIL was a character. She was clearly very interested in health, as her involvement in the cottage hospital shows, and when the First World War broke out, she allowed Windlestone to become a Voluntary Aid Detachment hospital, and in 1919, she was awarded an OBE for her nursing work there.

However, in her youth she was said to have been a seductive society beauty, and her extravagance is said to have contributed to the family’s financial difficulties in the middle part of the 20th Century.

In 1894, her husband, Sir William commissioned the well known artist James Whistler to paint a small portrait of Sybil. When it was complete, Sir William said he would pay no more than 100 guineas, which the artist thought was less than agreed.

So Whistler painted out Lady Sybil’s face.

It led to a long legal case which the Edens won.