In February 1993, Robert Taylor from the Cambridge team of the RCHME Hospitals Project, produced his eleventh newsletter. Here are snippets on prefabricated hospitals by Humphreys, early prison infirmaries, provision of accommodation for tuberculosis in workhouses, the Metropolitan Asylums Board, Portal Frames and Wimborne Cottage Hospital (with a few digressions from me).
More Humphreys’ Hospitals
Another advertisement for Humphreys’ Iron Hospitals lists places where hospitals have been provided, but this time of 1895. All but three of the hospitals are also on the list published in 1915. As Humprheys provided buildings for the Metropolitan Asylums Board, is there any chance that they made the iron buildings of about 1894 at Colney Hatch asylum that burnt with such dramatic effect in 1903?
The three mentioned on the earlier list but not on the later one were: New Calverley, Romney, and Nottingham. ‘London’ is also listed. There are 102 places listed altogether.
Howard and Prisons
That a shortened version of John Howard’s The State of the Prisons should have been considered a sufficient work of literature to be added to the Everyman Library in 1929 is almost as amazing as the record of cruelty and discomfort contained within the book. The Everyman edition is taken from the third edition of Howard’s book, published in 1784.
By 1784 few prisons had an infirmary. The impression gained from skipping through Howard is that there were normally two rooms, one for each sex, but that these rooms were commonly on an upper storey and that they were not very large. At the Manchester County Bridewell, built in 1774, there were two rooms 14ft by 12ft. The Chelmsford County Gaol, completed in about 1778, had only one room, described by Howard as ‘close’ and therefore not used. The two rooms at the recently built Southwark County Gaol were also described as close, with only one small window each, and they too appear to have been little used because of this unsuitability. Whether the infirmaries were on the upper floor to get superior ventilation above the noisome cells is not clear; it could be that they were less convenient and so devoted to a less important function.
Howard himself considered that dryness and ventilation should be the principal factors. Howard also paid attention to the extent to which building were lime-washed. This he regarded in keeping with contemporary theory, as the one remedy for both infectious diseases and ‘bugs’ (vermin). Lime-washing as often as twice a year would kill disease and infestation. Many years later, in 1832, lime-washing houses was often tried as a precaution against cholera.
Howard listed the most important features of an infirmary or sick ward in a prison as: 1. It should be in an airy part of the court 2. It should be detached from the rest of the gaol 3. It should be raised on arcades 4. The centre of the ward floor should have a grating for ventilation, 12 to 14 inches square 5. Perhaps there should be hand ventiltors
Some of these features can be seen in his model plan for a county gaol published in the 1792 edition of the State of Prisons.
TB in the Workhouse
By the beginning of 1904 some 27 English Poor Law Unions admitted to having adapted wards in their workhouse for consumptive patients, so that they could be separated from the rest of the occupants. Until then consumptives were mixed indiscriminately with the rest of the inmates, and remained so mixed at other workhouses for some time. Just how little work this involved will only emerge from further investigation, but my suspicion is that a French window and a balcony was probably a generous amount of alteration. At that time, open-air treatment for tuberculosis at Sheffield Royal Infirmary consisted simply of leaving half of the windows in the ward permanently open, and it seems that many or most unions took the same approach.
The unions are as follows: Chester – two rooms in the hospital block Plymouth – wards (unidentified) South Shields – 1 ward Portsmouth – 2-storey south-facing wards adapted by insertion of French windows and balconies. Electric fans were installed but little used. Southampton –wards (unidentified) Bishops Stortford – 1 ward in infirmary Medway –wards Blackburn –men have 2nd storey of infirmary, women to have new wards then building Prescot –ward for 20 men Camberwell –infirmary wards City of London –south block of infirmary Fulham -2 infirmary wards Hampstead – south facing wards Kensington – 2 wards adapted St Mary Islington –top floor of infirmary Wandsworth –iron buildings at Tooting annex Atcham –top ward of infirmary for 20 men Axbridge -4 dayrooms and 4 bedrooms Bath –two 10-bed wards adapted, windows altered, shelters and dining-room built Frome –wards built Stoke – 2 wards with balconies Richmond (Surrey) -2 wards Brighton – 3-bed ward and balcony for men; women under consideration Stourbridge –wards with end verandas adapted Ecclesall – wards Sheffield –small 20-bed block being adapted
Source: L. A. Weatherley, ‘Boards of Guardians and the Crusade against Consumption’ in Tuberculosis, 3, 1904-6, p.66
(The mention of shelters at Bath put me in mind of this photograph of the King George V military hospital, for more on this hospital see the excellent Lost Hospitals of London website.)
A brief paragraph in Paul Davies’ book The Old Royal Surrey County Hospital tells us that ‘the Metropolitan Asylums Board designated King George V Hospital, Godalming, and two other of their hospitals as ‘plant propagation centres’. This is a change of use that does not appear in any of the directories, and suggests that the M. A. B. operated a very successful cover-up. Presumably they also ran a very successful and profitable business, far more profitable than curing Londoners of their physical and mental ills.
Robert Taylor succinctly described the portal frame as ‘a modern version of a jointed cruck’ but was struggling to date this type of construction until stumbling over an article in The Builder from the 1940s.
The Ministry of Works and Planning carried out experiments between 1939 and 1942 to design a cheap, quickly erected hut that was largely prefabricated, infinitely adaptable, and durable. By 1942 they had developed the M.O.W.P. Standard Hut with reinforced concrete jointed crucks (two bracketed posts bolted to a pair of rafters, for the benefit of readers who are not members of the Vernacular Architecture Group) as its main feature. The trusses at each end were different, having two posts carrying a tie-beam with a wooden frame above to which corrugated asbestos was nailed. The corner posts are of a distinctive shape, with a quarter-round hollow. The trusses are usually at 6-foot centres, and the building is just under 20 feet wide overall. Wall panels and roof covering are whatever is available.
These huts crop up on every type of hospital site, usually as ancillary buildings such as laboratories, if indeed any function can be ascribed to them. At Ipswich workhouse they were used to create an H-shaped addition to the infirmary with operating theatre in the central range. It seems therefore that they are unlikely to be earlier than 1942. How late this design, with concave corner posts, remained in use is not known.
This answers an old question, where the name portal frame came from. The minister of Works and Planning from 1942 to 1944 was Sir Wyndham Portal, 3rd baronet, created a baronet in 1935 and viscount in 1945. Like an earlier minister of transport he gave his name to something he did not invent, but unlike Mr Hore-Belisha’s beacon the invention took place before he became minister.
Whilst the idea that the Ministry of Works named its design after their minister, Sir Wyndham Portal, it has been gently pointed out to me that the term ‘portal frame’ was in use long before 1942. Indeed, a very quick search on the British Newspaper Archive provides evidence of its use in 1902. An article from Engineering News reported on a novel suspension bridge constructed in Freiburg, Switzerland, designed by the Swiss engineer M. Grimaud. The bridge was supported on a timber portal frame. (Source: the article was covered in the Irish News & Belfast Morning News, 4 Oct 1902, p.6)
In 1892 the committee of Wimborne Cottage Hospital in Dorset discussed the propriety of treating pauper patients. One of the doctors said that they should not be admitted because the workhouse infirmary was better equipped to deal with operations.
The hospital historian’s comment on this in 1948 was that as neither the cottage hospital or the workhouse infirmary had any equipment for operations, this probably meant that the workhouse had a bigger kitchen table. We should also remember that at this time the theatre doubled as a bathroom.
Mike Searle’s photograph above from Geograph.org.uk, is captioned with this brief account of the building’s history:
The hospital was built in 1887 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. The land was owned by Sir John Hanham of Deans Court who leased it at a peppercorn rent on condition that the poor would be treated there. Many local people donated money towards the cost of the building including Sir Richard Glyn of the Gaunt’s estate who gave £700. It opened initially with only thirty beds, and was limited to accepting local parishioners only, but as it grew, this was extended to outlying villages. It came under the authority of the NHS in 1947 when it ceased to be a voluntary hospital.
In January 1993 Robert Taylor wrote the tenth in his series of newsletters for the RCHME Hospitals Project team. The text below is primarily his, I have just updated the information in places and added the illustrations. At least two of the hospitals that he and Kathryn Morrison visited back then – Highfield Hospital, Droitwich and the Corbett Hospital, Stourbridge – have since been demolished. The ‘letter from Dorset’ is an account of the fieldwork undertaken in the county, further research was then carried out and reports of the sites written. These reports are deposited at Historic England’s Archives in Swindon. A list of the sites and their site record numbers is appended to the post, and I have added a brief note on their current status if they are no longer in use as a hospital or have been demolished.
Cruciform Observation Wards
During discussions with the Local Government Board in 1908-9 over the design for a new observation ward for the Croydon R.D.C. hospital, Christopher Chart of the firm of E. J. Chart of Croydon, came up with the idea of a cruciform block. His aim was to avoid structural problems met with in the design preferred by the L.G.B., with back-to-back wards, as well as to extend to hospitals the same principles that led to the prohibition of back-to-back houses. The resulting design was accepted, and the ward opened in 1911. It had a central octagonal duty room, and four arms each with three cubicles separated by plate-glass partitions and entered separately from external verandahs. The verandahs are against the East and West sides of the arms.
In 1913 Cambridge Borough Council inspected a number of isolation hospitals before enlarging their hospitals, and decided to adopt a cruciform observation block like that at Croydon. Perhaps this is why they employed the same architect. The Cambridge ward was begun in 1914 and opened in 1915. Like the Croydon hospital, it had three cubicles in each arm, and the verandahs faced East and West. Several improvements were introduced. In the angle of the arms is a small sanitary block, entered only from the verandah.
How many cruciform wards were designed by Chart is not known, but his firm was described in The Hospital of 29 May 1915, pp 179-80, as having ‘specialised in this design of isolation hospitals’.
At Portsmouth two cruciform wards were built, one shortly before 1922 and the other probably completed in 1938. They have longer arms than the early wards, and the design is perhaps improved by having the verandahs on the south sides of the arms, and the sanitary blocks at the outer ends where they do not obscure the light.
References: C. Chart, ‘Observation Wards in Isolation hospitals’ in The Hospital, 26 June 1915, pp 277-9: H. F. Parsons, ‘Report on Isolation Hospitals, Supplement to the Annual Report of the Medical Officer of the Local Government Board’ PP, 1912-13, XXXVI, pp 76-7.
Highfield Hospital, Droitwich was founded by the Birmingham Hospital Saturday Fund as a convalescent home in 1917 (see Best of Healthfor more information on the Birmingham Hospital Saturday Fund, and for an old postcard showing Highfield Hospital see robmcrorie’s flickr page). Following the construction of the new Worcestershire Royal Hospital (a PFI hospital which opened in 2002), Highfield closed and has since been demolished.
In the early 1990s, a visit to the Highfield Hospital at Droitwich revealed some unexpected benefits enjoyed by the patients. The hospital then specialised in ‘rheumatic and locomotor disorders’ and patients who were used to hobbling around at home as best they could, had their movements more strictly controlled on the wards. Coded messages above the beds informed staff of the restrictions to be placed on the patients’ mobility: CTB = confined to bed; WTT = walk to toilet. Under these conditions the nurse who provided a messenger service between the wards and the local betting shop was doubtless maintaining a necessary service. Those patients who were mobile were allowed to walk in the meadow behind the hospital. One of the amenities of this field was the back door to a nearby public house.
The original Corbett hospital in Stourbridge stood on top of a hill with a magnificent view that included the glass works and before it was turned into a hospital it had been the home of the glass manufacturer, George Mills. Mills, who suffered from mental illness, committed suicide in November 1885, and his house (The Hill) was acquired by John Corbett, a salt producer. Corbett converted the house into a hospital, which opened in 1893.
Nearly a hundred years later, it was still functioning. At that time there was a cardiac recovery ward on the first floor of the main pavilion of the grand rebuilding scheme of 1931. The ground floor had been designed as the entrance to the hospital but had been put to other uses. Above the entrance porch was a sun room, then a ward, and the usual service section with bathroom and toilets, duty room, private ward and so on. The entrance had been moved to an insignificant position in the main corridor, and was difficult to find. The ironwork of the staircase was pleasant, but it was the ward itself that proved to be a surprise. Instead of the usual Nightingale-style room with windows on either side, a cross-wall divided the space into two, with the sixteen beds in the ward arranged parallel to the outside walls. This was the original arrangements, not a response to the high incidence of cardiac trouble in Stourbridge. It was an up-to-date arrangement at the time, though not one that Miss Nightingale would have approved of, nor would she have liked the small cubic space per patient, the result of low ceilings, or the bustle of a busy ward with much coming and going, and doctors on continuous duty. The sun room at the end of the ward was the only quiet place, as the patients weren’t well enough to be able to use it – and once they were well enough to do so, they were discharged.
The hospital was demolished in 2007, having been replaced in 2005 by a new building erected in the grounds. There are photographs and a full history of the site on the Amblecote History Society website.
A letter from Dorset, January 1993
Dorset proved an attractive but disappointing county. The landscape was on a larger scale than expected, and the hospitals on a smaller scale than anticipated. Poole and Bournemouth provided an urban contrast to this rural county, but their major hospitals had been demolished or were being demolished at the time of our visit.
Workhouses here in the 1830s did not have any physically separate infirmaries as did those further West, but had the infirm in the main building. Only at Poole did a separate infirmary seem to have been added, and that was all that remained of the workhouse. Wareham was the only workhouse where we know that an isolation block was built, and at Weymouth the V. D. block was the only building to have been demolished in what looked through the scaffolding like a very thorough remodelling. Perhaps the only pleasure came at Cerne where we saw the giant lying deep in the shadows of this grassy hillside.
As usual isolation hospitals were elusive, except at Poole. Weymouth had a large iron hospital of 1902 that had unfortunately been reclad in 1984, and the holiday camp at the same town was almost as bad. In its days as a hospital it had belonged to the Port Sanitary Authority but the wards had been given an extra storey with cantilevered balconies to house the holidaymakers, who had to try and sleep above the pool tables and other delights installed in the wards below.
We managed to get the car completely covered in mud looking for the Sherborne hospitals, but sadly a farmer had beaten us to it and converted the site into a yard for vehicles that managed like us to get through the mud. The architects of the general hospitals appear to have been unusually keen to disguise their buildings and hide any wards. A classic pavilion hospital at Bournemouth was destroyed with a ball and chain as we watched, although another at the Naval Hospital at Portland survived our gaze. In contrast the county hospital at Dorchester was heavily disguised as a Jacobean country house, and its counterpart at Weymouth was taller and almost as inscrutable. Only a huge inscription told us what the building was.
Most of the cottage hospitals were so small that it seemed that the architects did not bother to make them look like anything at all. By contrast the Yeatman Hospital at Sherborne was a magnificent exercise in Gothic, and the Westminster Hospital at Shaftesbury was fairly good, but neither looked much like a hospital to start with, and both were smothered in modern additions. Bridport had a pretty little hospital that looked like a hospital, was cottagey in scale, and ought to have been listed; it was a rare ray of sunlight. (The hospital has since been demolished, a housing development stands on the site, and a new community hospital has been built on the north side of Bridport.)
Portland Naval Base gave us a first that we did not really appreciate at the time, an underground hospital. The presence of some subterranean installation was obvious from the clutch of old concrete vents and single small access ramp, but it was not apparently very large, and seemed to be something like an air-raid shelter serving the above-ground hospital. Drawings at Acton showed that it was in fact a small hospital, attached to the main institution. (There was an out-store for the National Monuments Record at Acton, these plans should now be at Historic England’s archives at Swindon. The plans may have been part of the Common Services Agency collection. For photographs and more information on the underground hospital see the urbanexplorer.)
Bournemouth was full of convalescent homes, and the problems of identification and investigation finally defeated us’ most were hardly worth chasing, and the difficulty of distinguishing between purpose-built and converted buildings made the exercise unfruitful. St Anne’s was the exception, a great curve overlooking the sea and designed by Weir Schultz for convalescing lunatics. (This was the seaside branch of the Holloway Sanatorium, built in 1909-12)
The Dorset lunatics were first cared for at a house at Forston given to the county in the 18th century; it was in the bottom of a narrow valley, the sort of site that was never used for asylums or hospitals. In the middle of the 19th century a more conventional hilltop site not far way was bought, and the new asylum went through most of the usual processes of enlargement. This included about 1900 a large and separate block for paying patients. Although we did not get inside because it had since changed function, the entrance hall and the exterior appearance declared that this was not for the common or pauper madman, but for someone with more refined taste. The exterior was an elaborate riot of terracotta ornament, rather like Digby’s at Exeter, but here there were no workshops or laundries for toiling patients, and the whole resembled a country house set in its gardens.
List of Hospitals in Dorset
Hospital sites recorded as part of the RCHME Hospitals Survey, with grid references and the National Buildings Record number. The files for these sites can be seen at Historic England Archives, Kemble Drive Swindon. See also Dorset
ALLINGTON Bridport Isolation Hospital In the 1960s this was North Allington Hospital for chest diseases. It has been demolished and a new community hospital built on the site SY 456 939: 100478
BLANDFORD FORUM Blandford Community Hospital (Blandford Cottage Hospital) ST 884 069: 100466
BOURNEMOUTH Herbert Hospital (Herbert Memorial Convalescent Home) SZ 065 903: 100452 Kings Park Community Hospital (Bournemouth Sanitary Hospital; Bournemouth Municipal Hospital) SZ 118 924: 100403 Royal National Hospital (Royal National Sanatorium for Consumption) Now a gated complex, providing ‘assisted living’ accommodation, or retirement apartments. SZ 083 914: 100243 Royal Victoria and West Hampshire Hospital, Shelley Road Branch (Boscombe Hospital; Royal Boscombe and West Hampshire Hospital) Demolished SZ 111 923: 100401 Royal Victoria and West Hampshire Hospital, Victoria Branch (Royal Victoria Hospital) Converted into flats – Royal Victoria Apartments, tile panels moved to the new Royal Bournemouth Hospital SZ 076 915: 100402
BRIDPORT Bridport General Hospital demolished SY 459 932: 100419 Port Bredy Hospital (Bridport Union Workhouse) Converted into housing SY 469 931: 100477
CHARMINSTER Herrison Hospital (Dorset County Asylum) Converted into housing SY 678 947: 100244
CHRISTCHURCH Christchurch Hospital (Christchurch Union Workhouse Infirmary) The workhouse was latterly known as Fairmile Hospital The infirmary partly survives but the former workhouse buildings have been demolished. SZ 148 939: 100461
CORFE CASTLE Wareham Council Smallpox Hospital Converted into housing SY 941 843: 100670
DORCHESTER Damers Hospital (Dorchester Union Workhouse) Original workhouse largely demolished, new district hospital built on land to the north in the 1970s-80s SY 687 903: 100475 Dorchester Isolation Hospital demolished, Winterbourne Hospital built on site in the 1980s-90s SY 689 891: 100418 Dorset County Hospital converted into flats SY 691 906: 100417 Royal Horse Artillery Barracks Hospital This may actually still be standing – or was in 2014, now within a trading estate SY 686 909: 100476
LYME REGIS Lyme Regis Hospital Seemingly a nursing home in 2015 SY 336 921: 100422
POOLE Alderney Hospital (Poole BC Isolation Hospital; Alderney Isolation Hospital) Most of the original ward blocks have been demolished SZ 042 943: 100465 Poole General Hospital (Cornelia Hospital; Cornelia and East Dorset Hospital) rebuilt in the 1960s-70s SZ 020 913: 100464 Poole Hospital (Poole Union Workhouse) rebuilt as the Harbour Hospital, the former workhouse infirmary incorporated into St Mary’s Maternity Hospital SZ 018 914: 100404 St Anne’s Hospital (St Anne’s Sanatorium) SZ 052 888: 100463
PORTLAND Portland Hospital (Royal Naval Hospital) SY 685 741: 100481
SHAFTESBURY Westminster Memorial Hospital (Westminster Memorial and Cottage Hospital) ST 860 228: 100487
SHERBORNE Coldharbour Hospital demolished ST 643 176: 100066 Sherborne Isolation Hospital demolished ST 622 173: 100425 Sherborne School Sanatorium extended ST 635 166: 100424 Yeatman Memorial Hospital (Yeatman Hospital) extended ST 636 167: 100483
ST LEONARD’S AND ST IVES St Leonard’s Hospital (104th US General Hospital) largely demolished, just a few or the EMS huts were extant in 2015 SU 102 020: 100468
STURMINSTER NEWTON Sturminster Union Workhouse partly demolished – the front range survives with new buildings to the rear, used as a day centre and a centre for adults with learning disabilities ST 787 148: 100426
SWANAGE Dorset Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital extended and converted into private housing SZ 033 782: 100467 Swanage Cottage Hospital SZ 028 784: 100406
WAREHAM TOWN Christmas Close Hospital (Wareham and Purbeck Union Workhouse) some of the ancillary buildings have been demolished, and it has been converted into housing – Robert Christmas House – with the hospital moved into the c.1960s block adjacent SY 918 874: 100407
WEYMOUTH Portway Hospital (Weymouth Union Workhouse) converted into housing, some parts demolished SY 675 785: 100479 Westhaven Hospital (Weymouth Corporation Isolation Hospital) seems to have been completely rebuilt in about the 1980s SY 660 795: 100421 Weymouth and District Hospital (Princess Christian Hospital and Sanatorium) original buildings demolished, hospital largely redeveloped in about the 1960s SY 682 803: 100480 Weymouth and Dorset County Royal Eye Infirmary now a hospice SY 683 803: 100423 Weymouth Port Sanitary Authority Hospital the wards still extant in the midst of Chesil Beach Holiday Park SY 666 762: 100420
WIMBOURNE MINSTER Victoria Hospital (Victoria Cottage Hospital) numerous additions and alterations, but still in use SU 004 002: 100405
Below is the brief gazetteer entry of 1990, with additional notes in italics below. Airthrey Castle survives at the heart of University of Stirling
AIRTHREY CASTLE MATERNITY HOSPITAL, BRIDGE OF ALLAN The hospital opened c.1941 in the mansion house, a daring design by Robert Adam in his castle style. However, it had closed by 1969 when the new maternity unit opened at Stirling Royal Infirmary. The estates of Airthrey Castle were built on to form Stirling University.
Adam drew up designs for Airthrey Castle in 1791, but was not involved with its construction. Building work was supervised by Thomas Russell of Seton. The entrance front was rebuilt in 1891 to designs by David Thomson for Donald Graham, the chief partner in the firm of William Graham & Company, East India Merchants, of Glasgow. The interiors were fitted out with rich carved panelling, still in situ. He had purchased the estate in 1889, but died in January 1901 of erysipelas. After his death the house remained in his wife’s ownership, but in 1924 the shipowner Charles Donaldson took a five-year lease of the estate. He died at the castle in December 1938.
At the outbreak of the Second World War the Estate was acquired by the Ministry of Health as an Emergency Maternity Hospital administered by Stirling County Council, taking patients from Stirling and Clyde. It remained in the ownership of the Graham family until after the war, having been put up for sale in November 1944. With the foundation of the National Health Service the hospital passed to the Western Regional Health Board. A nurses’ home was built in 1953 to the south-east of the house. This L-shaped, two-storey, flat-roofed building appears to have survived and was in use as a surgery/health centre for the University in the 1980s.
In 1965 arrangements were made for the transfer to the new University of Stirling of the Airthrey Castle Estate, although it remained in use as a maternity hospital until 1968-9. It was replaced by new maternity units in Paisley and Stirling. The castle was listed in 1973 category B.
sources: Edinburgh Evening News, 23 Jan 1901: Dundee Courier, 1 Jan 1924: Western Daily Press, 8 Dec 1938: Dundee Courier, 15 Jan 1940: Dundee Evening Telegraph, 21 Feb 1944: PP ‘Report of the Department of Health for Scotland…’ 1953 c.9107: PP ‘Scottish Home and Health Department Review of the Hospital Plan for Scotland’ 1966 c.2877: OS maps.
Further Reading: N. Reid, ‘Airthrey Castle Maternity Hospital 1939-1948’, and E. Rose ‘Airthrey Castle Maternity Hospital 1948-1969’ in Report of Proceedings of the Society of the Scottish History of Medicine, 1988-9, pp.14-17
I have just come across a conservation plan for Stirling University by Simpson and Brown which includes a history of the Castle and the landscaping, it can be accessed here.