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 Health for 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
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 Community Hospital (Blandford Cottage Hospital) ST 884 069: 100466
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 General Hospital demolished SY 459 932: 100419
Port Bredy Hospital (Bridport Union Workhouse) Converted into housing SY 469 931: 100477
Herrison Hospital (Dorset County Asylum) Converted into housing SY 678 947: 100244
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
Wareham Council Smallpox Hospital Converted into housing SY 941 843: 100670
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 Hospital Seemingly a nursing home in 2015 SY 336 921: 100422
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 Hospital (Royal Naval Hospital) SY 685 741: 100481
Westminster Memorial Hospital (Westminster Memorial and Cottage Hospital) ST 860 228: 100487
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 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
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
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
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
Victoria Hospital (Victoria Cottage Hospital) numerous additions and alterations, but still in use SU 004 002: 100405