The Leicester Infirmary (later the Leicester Royal Infirmary) was founded in 1771, although it was not until the 1860s that trained nurses were first hired in the wake of Florence Nightingale’s reforms of the nursing profession. In 1866 representatives of the Institution for Trained Nurses approached the hospital board stating that they intended to open a branch in Leicester and requesting that their nurses be trained at the Infirmary. The board refused the request but the Institution was opened in July that year, providing a set of trained nurses living in one home under the guidance of a lady superintendent. They usually nursed in private homes. In 1870 the Institution again approached the board and this time they were successful. 6 probationers started work at the hospital, living on the grounds and supervised by the matron. The Institution paid the hospital 5 shillings weekly maintenance per probationer.
In 1874 further moves towards professionalization were made when it was suggested that the nurses wear a uniform. Later that year the Institution proposed that their lady superintendent should take over the nursing of 2 wards, in which all probationers would then be trained. This arrangement proved so satisfactory that after only 3 months it was decided that the Institution would take over all nursing at the hospital, and 8 nurses, 18 probationers and the lady superintendent joined the staff. After a 3 month course of instruction the probationers became assistant nurses.
In 1883 the hospital cancelled these arrangements and started to organise in-house training. Probationary nurses had to sign an agreement and received a certificate when they finished their 3 month course. Doctors Buck and Blunt agreed to give them lectures, and moves were made to give the nurses better accommodation. In 1884 a small library was opened for the nurses. A Nurses' League was founded by matron Gertrude Rogers in 1903, and she published an annual journal recording the ins and outs of life as a nurse at the hospital.
A more formal preliminary training scheme was established in 1904. Nurses had to have 2 months of basic instruction in the lecture room before they began work on the wards. The Nurses' Registration Act of 1919 was a big step towards the professionalization of nursing, and led to adjustments in the teaching programme and the appointment of a sister tutor to meet the standards of the General Nursing Council. By 1925 no nurse could be state registered unless she took GNC exams.
From 1942 to 1946 the training school was housed in “Forest Edge”, a house in Leicester Forest East. In 1946 the hospital acquired “Brookfield” on London Road, a spacious residence formerly owned by the Bishop of Leicester, and moved the school here. From 1947 nurses were allowed weekly study days while training, although in 1948 this was changed to a ‘block system’ where nurses returned to the training school for 6 to 8 weeks at a time for instruction. 4 clinical instructors were hired in 1958 when it was realised that busy ward sisters could not give as much time for teaching as hoped. From 1966 a 2 year course for state enrolled nurses began.
“Brookfield” came with large grounds suitable for expansion, and additional accommodation blocks (Heron House and Mallard House), an administration block and a library were added in 1975. In the same year the school was renamed the Charles Frears School of Nursing. Charles Frears (1899-1977) was a local industrialist and philanthropist, managing director of Frears Biscuits Limited but also Chairman of Leicester No 1 Hospital Management Committee, 1963-1972, President of the Leicester Rotary Club, a Justice of the Peace and a Lay Canon of Leicester Cathedral.
The Charles Frears School of Nursing merged with De Montfort University in 1995, becoming the School of Nursing and Midwifery within the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences. Teaching remained at the Brookfield site, renamed the Charles Frears Campus. One of the houses on site was refurbished and opened in 1998 as the Mary Seacole Research Centre.
The Charles Frears campus was closed in 2011 and the School of Nursing and Midwifery moved to Bosworth House on the main DMU campus in central Leicester. Bosworth House was refurbished in an £8 million project and renamed Edith Murphy House providing classrooms, lecture theatre, ICT lab, meeting rooms and offices. Edith Murphy (1916-2005) was from Birstall, Leicester, and donated funds for medical research and hospital facilities through the Edith Murphy Foundation.