The Ducker House, American prefab of the 1880s

While hunting for Doecker portable hospital buildings I came across its American counterpart, including an illustrated catalogue advertising their wares published in or after 1888. Ducker 23 Founded by William M. Ducker of Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A. who had patented his invention, the Ducker Portable House company had offices in New York and London. The catalogue showed a variety of uses for their buildings, ranging from the utilitarian hospital hut to more elaborate garden buildings. Ease of transportation was also emphasised. Ducker 22 Here one of their portable buildings is neatly packed onto a horse-drawn wagon. While below the image shows the mode of transporting a Ducker building in mountainous countries. Ducker 2 The buildings were ‘light, durable, well ventilated, warm in winter, cool in summer, healthful and cheap’. From reading the description of the buildings they seem to be almost indistinguishable from the Danish Doecker system, the components being wooden frames, hinged together, and covered with a special waterproof fibre. The same claims are made for both that they could be assembled without skilled labour. Ducker 4This example was said to be at Wellington Barracks in London. Another was erected in Blackpool; Henry Welsh, the local Medical Officer of Health, noted in August 1888 that the recently erected building ‘gives great satisfaction, and answers its purposes admirably’. The cost of this model was given as $600. The German War Department bought one, and they had been adopted by the United States Naval and Marine Hospital Service, and several Departments of Charities and Correction. In 1885 the Red Cross Society had organised an exhibition in Antwerp of portable hospitals at which the Ducker buildings (and Doecker prefabs) had been shown. Ducker’s was awarded a special medal by the Empress of Germany and, so it was claimed, garnered the ‘warmest encomiums from civil and military surgeons, engineers, architects and philanthropists from all parts of the civilised world’. Ducker 3 Wards are suitably Spartan, the interior here measured 18 x 34 ft. The Department of Public Charities and Correction, Randall’s Island Hospital erected a Ducker house. Of the many pest houses, generally for smallpox cases, erected in America, it seems likely that if they were not actually Ducker houses, they were of a similar design, as is suggested by an early photograph of a pest house put up at Storm Lake, Iowa, photographed in 1899 (see University of Iowa libraries)
Ducker 5 Temporary buildings were widely used at large construction sites to house migrant workers. Above is an administrative building, suitable for ‘Contractors and Construction Companies’ or for a private residence. It comprised a main building 16 x 30 ft and a separate kitchen and store-room connected by a covered passage. ducker 9 The workforce would be accommodated in huts such as this one. ducker 10 This is its interior, with simple iron bunk beads, it put me in mind of the description of the bunk house in Of Mice and Men. These huts were bigger than the hospital buildings, at 30 x 30 ft, and cost just over twice as much at $1,250. ducker 7 Versatility was key to healthy sales figures, so the catalogue demonstrates a variety of different uses for the Ducker portable building. Sports pavilions were an obvious use; above an athletic and bicycle hall, others illustrated were a racing stable, a boat house and a bowling alley. A photographer’s studio could be constructed for just $375, or a billiard room for $400 (billiard table not included). ‘The attention of hotel men is called to the fact that for annexes to hotels, to be used for sleeping apartments during the rush of midsummer, these building just exactly answer the purpose’. Ducker 14 For the domestic market there was a range of summer cottages (above), lawn pavilions (below) Ducker 13and camping houses. Ducker 12 The Norton Camp House could have been yours for $150 (and upward), measuring a cosy 9 x 12 feet and weighing 450 pounds. It could accommodate four people, and opened out on all sides. Camping was not necessarily a leisure pursuit, and this camp hut was also touted for cattle ranchmen, miners, prospectors, surveyors and contractors. If you were on vacation, however,  you might have considered a bathing house. Ducker 11‘The portability of these buildings make them simply invaluable… At the end of the season they can be taken down and stored until the opening of another season. They can be constructed in any form or style desired and can be made to comfortably accommodate more people than any other building known’. Ducker 15 The Lawn pavilions were the most decorative, being intended for ornament as well as usefulness, aimed at owners of large summer residences. ‘They are constructed in decidedly artistic style.’ Ducker 16 ‘and will be found useful and delightful for ladies’ sewing, reading and painting rooms, children’s play rooms, tea and lunch rooms, tennis purposes, and sleeping rooms as well if required’ Ducker 17 If you didn’t run to summer residence with large grounds in need of a lawn pavilion, then don’t worry, you could have an entire summer cottage or camping cottage. The latter pretty much the same as the hospital huts, but the former comprised the most ornate in the Ducker range. Ducker 18 This example seems to be giving a stylistic nod towards a Chinese pagoda or an Indian bungalow. As I am heading to Fife in Scotland later in the summer, I was particularly tickled to read the testimonial on the back cover of the catalogue which was furnished by one George C. Cheape, of Wellfield house, Strathmiglo in Fife, master of the Linlithgow and Stirlingshire hounds.  ‘No country house should be without one’  he wrote: ‘It was put up in one day by the village joiner and my gamekeeper.’ He continued to effuse about the merits of the building:  ‘In wet weather the children quite live in it, and play all day. I have gymnastic apparatus put up in it, swings, etc; the consequence is a quiet house, whilst the children are enjoying healthy exercise and games to their heart’s content, where they disturb no one, and their tea-parties in the Ducker House are enjoyed by all.’ Cheape was a Captain in the 11th Hussars, Justice of the Peace and Deputy Lieutenant of Fife. He was also widely travelled, had served in India, and had visited America on three occasions, having business interests in Texas, Colorado, Arizona and California. While in America he also travelled to Canada and Mexico, and worked to promote the interests of the International Company of Mexico, of which he was a shareholder. Sources: The catalogue for Ducker Portable House Co. can be found online from archive.org, information on George Cheape was from the census, marriage records, passenger lists etc and there is a brief biography in David Pinera Ramirez, American and English Influence on the Early Development of Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico, 1995 pp.99-100

The Hospitals Investigator 2, part 1

In July 1991 Robert Taylor produced the second edition of The Hospitals Investigator, the newsletter he wrote and circulated to his five colleagues working on the RCHME survey of historic hospital buildings. Here he pondered Pest Houses, discussed deposited plans, and thought about (operating) theatres. In part 2b I will relay his discussion of ridge lanterns, sanatoria, and sewage works – we really knew how to enjoy ourselves.

Pest Houses

“Pest houses have been emerging from the Suffolk countryside at an alarming rate. The name indicates a house, usually an ordinary farm house, which was used by the local authority as an isolation hospital in the event of an outbreak of infectious disease, usually smallpox but in some early cases the plague as well. Details of the arrangements must have varied, but it seems that the tenant had an obligation to either nurse the victims or to move elsewhere for the duration of the sickness. The latter was perhaps the more common practice in the seventeenth century. The possibility of such an arrangement was taken for granted in the 1875 Public Health Act, although the Local Government Board did not like ad hoc hospitals very much and put pressure on local authorities to provide specialised buildings. A very few pest houses remained in use in the first years of this century.”

“So far the Cambridge office has seen only three surviving pest houses, at Halesworth, Framlingham and Bury St Edmunds. The first was a standard three-cell two-storey farmhouse of the late seventeenth century, and remained the centre of a working farm until the land was sold away recently. That at Framlinhgam was an early seventeenth century two-cell house with central stack, and similarly showed no sign of specialised planning. Although reputedly built in 1665, the Bury pesthouse displayed nothing earlier than the eighteenth century, and was  a three-cell, single-storey house with internal stack. Other pest houses remain to be located at Eye, Nayland and Huntingdon, as well as a few less certain cases.”

I couldn’t find any photographs of these particular pest houses, though there will be photos taken by Robert and Kathryn in the relevant files in Historic England Archives. Here is a much smaller version in Hampshire at Odiham, where presumably, a small population did not require anything bigger.

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This 17th Century Pest (or Plague) House in Odiham, Hampshire is one of only five remaining in the country. Photograph by Anguskirk and licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Patrick Stead Hospital continues to function as a community hospital, and was designed as a cottage hospital by Henry Hall. It opened in 1882.

Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 17.28.19Above is a postcard showing the hospital, and below an elevation and plans produced in The Builder in 1880. Originally it provided a dispensary, outpatients’ clinic and accident ward, all on the ground floor, with further wards above. Patrick Stead set up a maltings business in Halesworth, and bequeathed a generous £26,000 to establish the hospital.
Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 17.29.04 Deposited Plans

“Recently one of us was reading a letter written by an official of the Ministry of Health in 1926 when it suddenly became clear that the writer of the letter had in front of him a set of plans for an isolation hospital that had been sent to the Local Government Board in 1888 in connection with an application for sanction to raise a loan. Plans of isolation hospitals were deposited when an authority applied for permission to borrow money for hospital building, and also when the more responsible authorities voluntarily sought approval of their proposed hospital. The Local Government Board was replaced by the Ministry of Health, whose archive should contain these immeasurable riches, along with similar material for workhouses. Unfortunately most of the material dating from after about 1902 was lost in the blitz, and what survived that seems to have been mostly destroyed in a fire in Brighton. All that survives is at [the National Archives, at] Kew, hidden behind the catalogue code MH. The three main groups seem to be MH.12, MH.14 and MH.34.”

“MH.12 consists of Poor Law Union Papers, of which 16,741 bound volumes, arranged under Unions, survive from between 1834 and 1900… MH.14 is called Poor Law Union Plans, and there are 38 boxes of them dating from between 1861 and 1900. They have reference numbers linking them to MH.12… MH.34 is a register in 11 volumes of authorisations on workhouse expenditure between 1834 and 1902.”

Reading this today, it is a reminder of how much researchers now gain from online digitised archive catalogues, and perhaps a lesson not to grumble about them (as I frequently do) when we can’t find what we’re looking for, they crash, they change, or they assault ones aesthetic sensibilities.

Theatres

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The Hopgood operating theatre at the Royal Free Hospital, 1895, Royal Free Archive Centre on Flickr. Imaged licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

“One of the problems met in small hospitals is the identification of the jumble of buildings behind the main block. As in a mediaeval house the identification of the hall acts as a key to understanding, or at least knowing the rough layout of, the entire house, so one might expect that the operating theatre might stand out and give some help in finding a way through the maze. Unfortunately this does not always happen. Plenty of light was necessary, so a roof light is an important indicator. A large North-facing window is another but less reliable sign, and far too often the windows appear to be ordinary ones, the lower parts filled with obscured glass, as at Southwold. At Felixstowe the theatre has a semi-octagonal North end, like a sitting room, with ordinary-sized windows that are now blocked. The Beccles Hospital of 1924 has a magnificent but sadly un-photographable theatre with a North wall and roof of glass. Sometimes it is possible, if we are very tall or can manage to balance on tip-toe or on a convenient upturned bucket, to glimpse through the windows the white-tiled walls, or even the upper parts of lighting equipment.”

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Students from the London School of Medicine for Women watching an operation at the Royal Free Hospital.  Students observing an operation c.1900 Royal Free Archive Centre on Flickr. Imaged licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0