A short hop from the Bluewater shopping centre is the former Stone House Hospital, built in the 1860s as the City of London Pauper Lunatic Asylum. The hospital was closed in 2005, a process that had begun some years before, and the buildings remained empty and slowly deteriorating for around seven years before planning permission was given for the redevelopment of the site for housing.
The P. J. Livesey Group carried out the development. Listed building consent was granted in 2012 for the conversion of the main hospital range, the former superintendent’s house (the Hollies), coach-house and stable buildings to provide 93 dwellings and a private gym, change of use for the chapel to offices. Consent was also given for the demolition of the female infirmary, boiler house, laundry rooms, mortuary and associated buildings. A total of 260 residences were planned for the site.
The Corporation of London dragged its heels over building a pauper lunatic asylum. They acquired a site at Stone near Dartford in Kent in 1859 from C. White Esq of Barnsfield. Plans were commissioned from the City Clerk of Works, J. B. Bunning. Arguments rumbled on over how big the asylum should be, or if it were needed at all, but after a few revisions of the plans, work finally began in 1862. Progress was painfully slow. With work still far from complete, Horace Jones replaced Bunning as City Architect in 1864. Jones supervised the completion of the building which was officially opened on 16 April 1866.
The year before the Visiting Committee reported that the furniture, bedding and general stores had, for the most part, been delivered. An arrangement had been made for the gas supply from Dartford, but the water supply was insufficient. The Committee recommended that patients should not be transferred to the new asylum until the spring, because of the ‘bleak and unsheltered situation of the asylum’. Committee members were also concerned that this bleakness also applied to the interior, where the walls were just ‘rough brickwork whitewashed from the ceiling to the floor’. They feared the contrast would make for an unpleasant change for the poor patients and called for walls to be painted or papered with a cheerful-coloured pattern.
The City Asylum was contemporary with various second county asylums: Dorset, Surrey, Staffordshire, and Cheshire, and a number of other city asylums, such as Norwich, Newcastle and Bristol. Its plan demonstrated the refinements that were being introduced to the established corridor plan, having broader corridors, large day rooms and dormitories and fewer single rooms.
The asylum was extended many times following its completion, with new wings added in the 1870s, an isolation hospital in 1885 (the cottage hospital, now demolished), and extensive additions in the late 1890s.
A detached chapel (St Luke’s) was built to the north of the main hospital range in 1898-1901 to designs by Andrew Murray. The original chapel, which was at the heart of the main building above the dining-hall, was then converted into a recreation room ‘for concerts, dancing and theatrical amusements’. Whereas the site of the asylum had been described as bleak and unsheltered in the 1860s, it was now commended as being ‘notable for its salubrity’, commanding a view of the Thames and a charming rural panorama.
Sources and References:
The surviving archives of the hospital are in the London Metropolitan Archives – ref: CLA/001: Gravesend Reporter, North Kent and South Essex Advertiser, 31 March 1860 p.4 : London City Press, 16 Dec 1865 p.3: Illustrated Times, 31 March 1866, p.205: Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, 19 June 1898, p.1: Building Design, 23 July 2010, 4: Lost Hospitals of London: P. J. Livesey Group website: Parliamentary Papers, Reports of the Commissioners in Lunacy.