The Royal Alexandra Infirmary was built to designs by T. G. Abercrombie and was, as the recent Pevsner Guide noted, the largest and most prestigious of his Paisley buildings.It was replaced by the present Royal Alexandra Hospital in the 1980s, and whilst some of the former infirmary buildings have been converted to new uses, large parts of this fine building are in a ruinous state.
The foundation stone was laid on 15 May 1897. The building was richly endowed by the trustees of William B. Barbour who gifted £15,000 to the building fund, and by the local mill owner, Peter Coats, who additionally gifted the nurses’ home. The Clark family were also particularly generous in their financial support. In all the new buildings were to cost some £73,000, providing 150 beds and ten rooms for private patients. The plan of the infirmary is of particular interest from its incorporation of circular wards in a three storey block to the north. Another distinctive feature were the ward pavilions to the south which terminated in semi‑circular open verandas or balconies.
Whilst T. G. Abercrombie’s monumental building has been superseded, it too superseded an earlier infirmary in Paisley. In 1788 a public dispensary was founded in the town from which a House of Recovery was established in 1795. A variety of hospital buildings grew on the site at the west end of Abbey Bridge. Fever wards were provided and for a time cholera was treated here.
In 1878 grounds adjacent to the house were acquired by the parish council which built an epidemic hospital on the site for 60 patients although it was managed by the infirmary. By that time there were already calls to move the infirmary to Calside, but sufficient funds were not forthcoming.
In 1886 a convalescent home was opened in West Kilbride. The question of moving to a new site was raised again by the Revd Dr Brown, he urged the benefits of a more open site, where ‘the sound of green leaves, the song of birds, and the freshness of the country might float into the rooms’. [Glasgow Herald, 10 Feb 1894 p.9]
Still nothing was done. Various sums were offered to kickstart a building fund: Dr Fraser offered £1,000 with the condition that he would double if if a new building were erected. William Barbour added £500 to the fund. But the directors dragged their heels. Finally, in 1894 the trustees of William Barbour announced their intention of donating £15,000 to build a new hospital.
The old hospital was overcrowded, out-dated and its proximity to the fever hospital was not a point in its favour. There was not even an operating theatre, operations were carried out at the patients’ bed – merely with a curtain drawn around it. Following W. Barbour’s generous donation, a site was offered for the new hospital at Calside comprising Egypt Park and Blackland Place.
The first part of the new complex to be built was the nurses’ home, which had been funded entirely by Peter Coats. Occupying the north-west corner of the site, it was formally opened in July 1896. Now converted into flats, the three-storey building is constructed of red sandstone from Locherbriggs quarries in Scottish Baronial style.
The front entrance was set in an open porch with a broad arched opening topped by a balcony. Originally the ground floor comprised the probationer nurses’ dining-room and kitchen, cloak rooms and seven bedrooms, while on the first and second floors were a sitting and writing rooms as well as more bedrooms. It was ‘sumptuously furnished’ and provided accommodation for about 40 nurses. [Glasgow Herald, 4 July 1896, p.8]
A gate lodge with dispensary were built on Neilston Road in 1898-1900 (pictured below), and further ancillary buildings were constructed on the south-east corner of the site.
The Infirmary closed in 1987 when the new hospital was opened in Craw Road. Part of the main range of the old Infirmary was then used as a care home, the rest was converted into flats in about 1995. The former nurses’ home was converted into flats in 2005-6 by Aitken Turnbull Architecture. After the care home closed in about 2008, this part of the former Infirmary began to deteriorate and was placed on the Buildings at Risk Register for Scotland in 2010.
Inadequately secured by its owners the unoccupied parts of the old hospital have attracted the attention of urbexers, so many photographs of the derelict building can be found online. However, these areas have also suffered badly from vandals who are the main cause of the building’s rapid decline. This is such a fine building. It should be saved, sympathetically restored and converted to housing, and treasured for its fine architecture and the skill of the masons and builders who erected it. [Selected Sources: D. Dow, Paisley Hospitals, Glasgow, 1988: records at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Archives: Paisley Library, plans: Pevsner Guide, Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire, 2016. See also Renfrewshire for other hospitals in and around Paisley.]
The future of this fine old building is under threat. It has stood empty for many years and there are fears that it may be demolished, despite its important place in the local history of Grantham and in the wider history of hospital architecture in England.
A day of public celebration, parade and partying accompanied the ceremony of laying the foundation stone of Grantham Hospital on 29 October 1874. The band of the Royal South Lincoln Militia lead a procession, followed by the architect and builder, local dignitaries, and interested parties, that marched from Grantham Guildhall to the site of the new hospital on the Manthorpe Road to the north of the town centre.
Countess Brownlow, who was closely associated with the project from its inception, conducted the actual ceremony, once she had listened to an address by the chairman of the building committee, a short service by the Vicar, and been presented with a silver trowel. A public luncheon was given at the Guildhall presided over by Earl Brownlow. Tickets for this event could be purchased for 2s 6d. Earl Brownlow and his wife donated funds towards the hospital and took an interest in the plans, and the Earl of Dysart gave £1,000 to the building fund. [Grantham Journal, 24 Oct 1874, p.4]
Grantham Cottage Hospital was designed by the London architect Richard Adolphus Came (1848-1919), who went on to lay out the development of Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire where he later settled, designing many of its buildings. He appears in the 1901 census as the proprietor of the Royal Hydro Hotel there. Came freely adapted a basic pavilion plan to create a picturesque elevation. Unusually, the wards were T-shaped, an arrangement which was commended by the great champion of hospital architecture in the late 19th century, Henry C. Burdett. He thought the wards were novel, pleasing and noteworthy, presenting a cheerful and airy appearance ‘which fills the visitor with pleasure’.[H. C. Burdett, Cottage Hospitals, 2nd edition 1880 p.412]
Baroness Brownlow also officiated at the official opening on 5 January 1876. ‘As it now stands approaching completion, the building with its neatly arranged grounds, and trim Gothic porch, forms a somewhat picturesque object’, reported the Grantham Journal.
The hospital, which is Gothic in character, is constructed of local stone with Ancaster dressings, and consists of three distinct blocks of buildings. The main building, which faces the road … is composed of a central block of two stories, providing a waiting-room, entrance lobby, surgeons’ sitting-room and operating-room, kitchen, offices and store-rooms, &c. on the ground floor; convalescent and board rooms, and four bedrooms on the first floor; and two bedrooms and lumber room in attics. There are wings stretching right and left of this block, forming the wards for male and female patients, and containing seven beds each, together with nurses’ room, bathroom, and other offices. The Gothic timber porch, which certainly contributes much to the appearance of the building, has been erected at the expense of the Earl Brownlow. Some distance in the rear of the main building, the fever hospital has been erected, and will contain five beds, bathroom, nurses’ room, kitchen &c., the working of this department being kept entirely separate from the other part of the hospital. A convenient laundry is also provided, with the addition of washing and ironing rooms, drying closet, and other similar accommodation. [Grantham Journal, 8 Jan 1876, p.4]
A major extension to Grantham Hospital was built in the mid-1930s to designs by the local architect F. J. Lenton, of Traylen & Lenton. The plans were approved by the British Hospitals Association, the Ministry of Health and the County Council. It was partly as a result of Kesteven County Council’s obligation to provide hospital accommodation that Grantham Hospital was extended, and the enlarged hospital was to take patients from the county as a whole. This raised the number of beds provided in the hospital from 33 to 76 initially. A new entrance was formed to the south of the original building. New ward blocks ‘of the latest verandah type’ were built for men, women and children. There was also separate provision for private patients, a new isolation block and operating theatre unit.
Verandah wards with folding windows, usually occupying the length of one side, originated in Denmark, and were introduced to England by Charles Ernest Elcock at the County Hospital, Hertford. Beds were placed parallel to the the side walls in groups of four, separated by glass partitions, instead of the old pattern in Nightingale-style wards where the beds were placed in rows at right-angles to the side walls. Each ward had five groups of four beds and two separate observation wards. The south-facing children’s ward had a paved terrace in front of the folding windows to allow cots to be wheeled out into the open air.
Verandah wards were hailed as revolutionizing hospital planning by providing improved access to fresh air and sunshine, and the psychological effect of smaller groups of beds (‘cosy communities’). It is interesting to note that the local paper praised the hospital for its functional design. ‘Rigid economy’ was observed in order to be able to provide the most up-to-date equipment: ‘In past days Hospitals were so often designed for external effect first and foremost’… ‘present-day designers always have in mind that their building should not be monumental, but sufficient for the present, and of a type that can be readily altered or adapted to the possible requirements of the future. [Grantham Journal, 27 Jan 1934, p.5]
In the new hospital, the private wards occupied a separate unit to the west of the complex which had its own enclosed garden. It had six private wards, with bedrooms for special nurses and separate ward kitchens. A subterranean boiler house was constructed at the edge of the site to provide heating and hot-water, operating on the panel-heating system by low pressure hot water, accelerated by electric pumps. All pipework was concealed in the ceilings. This was supplemented in the wards either with conventional open coal fires or gas fires. The building contractors for the extension were Bernard Pumphrey Ltd of Gainsborough. [Grantham Journal, 22 Sept 1934, p.5]
The new buildings were completed early in March 1935, after which the old hospital was refurbished to provide accommodation for the nursing and domestic staffs. At the same time a maternity unit was created in the old south ward wing of and the old theatre converted into a special labour ward. These alterations brought the hospital’s capacity up to 100 beds. [Nottingham Evening Post, 24 March 1936.]
Further additions were made following transfer to the NHS, including a new maternity unit which opened in 1972. Grantham Hospital has retained huge local support, as witnessed by the demonstrations that took place earlier this year to protest against the drastic reduction of the opening hours of the A&E department.
Back in February this year, the local press relayed proposals to transform Woolmanhill Hospital, Aberdeen, into a hotel and homes. The scheme, submitted by the developer Charlie Ferrari, is for a 52-bed boutique hotel, 27 serviced apartments, 32 residential apartments and just 10 affordable flats. Ferrari has set up a company CAF Properties (Woolmanhill) Ltd to put in a joint application with NHS Grampian to Aberdeen City Council. The hotel and serviced apartments would be sold to the G1 Group, owners of the Palm Court Hotel in Aberdeen. Ferrari was quoted in the Aberdeen Evening Express saying that he hoped to bring the site back to life and make it a ‘vibrant addition to the cityscape’, recognising that it was valued for its heritage. The proposal is to renovate four buildings on the site, and incorporates a lighting display in the central courtyard. The original hospital building would become the hotel, the Stephen Building, would be converted into the serviced apartments while the Victoria building would be turned into flats. The affordable housing element is destined for the former archive building to the north of the site.
All four main buildings are listed at grade A. The oldest of the four was designed by Archibald Simpson and is an elegant neo-Classical granite building of 1840, near the centre of Aberdeen. Comparable to the earlier Gray’s Hospital at Elgin, it was designed as an impressive public building as much as a functional hospital. To the rear of Simpson’s block are two ranges, largely dating from 1887, which create a roughly triangular court. Just as the Infirmary at Woolmanhill was replaced nearly a century later by the Foresterhill complex, the Woolmanhill building replaced an earlier infirmary built a century before.
The Aberdeen Infirmary was founded in 1739 and the foundation stone of the first building on the Woolmanhill site was laid in January 1740. It was of simple construction, built to the designs of William Christall who had visited Edinburgh and Glasgow to view William Adam’s Edinburgh Infirmary and Glasgow’s Town’s Hospital, before completing his own plans. It opened in 1742, providing twenty beds, including accommodation for lunatics, and had cost £484. No illustration of this building appears to have survived. On the completion of Simpson’s new Infirmary the old building was demolished.
In 1887 a major extension and reconstruction scheme was begun. The site formed an awkward wedge and added to this difficulty the managers wished to avoid interfering with the existing buildings. H. Saxon Snell, the well-known hospital architect in London, was consulted and at his suggestion Simpson’s building was converted into an administrative and clinical area, with new ward pavilions built to the rear. He also recommended retaining the separate fever block at the rear as part of the new surgical block. Known as the Jubilee Extension Scheme, the new blocks opened in 1897 and provided a new surgical block, medical block, pathology and laundry blocks. W. & J. Smith & Kelly, the Aberdeen firm of architects, carried out the work.
The new administration department, formed out of the former hospital, was also to provide accommodation for nurses:
“The first thing in a good modern hospital was to have the best possible accommodation for nurses… In some of the larger hospitals such as that of Marylebone every nurse has a bedroom to herself. The committee do not propose to go to that extent but they propose that everyone of the higher nurses… shall have a room to herself, and that the others shall be accommodated two in one room.”
It is perhaps worth noting that the Marylebone hospital referred to in London was in fact a workhouse infirmary. It is a measure of the changing attitudes to hospital and nursing provision for paupers that their nurses were offered better accommodation than those in a Scottish Royal Infirmary.
Burdett classified the layout and plan of Aberdeen Royal Infirmary as ‘composite or heap of buildings’, which was his class 4, class 1 being pavilion plan hospitals, class 2 block plan and class 3 corridor plan. There is a suggestion that the ‘heap of buildings’ class was the worst type. The plans were published before works on the new buildings had been completed.
Amongst the later additions were new operating theatres (pictured above), and out-patients’ department (below)
The out-patients’ department (demolished) was opened in November 1912, situated to the east of the infirmary on the other side of Woolmanhill. A large top-lit waiting hall was centrally placed off which were situated admission rooms, dispensary, Ear and Throat, Dental and Skin clinics, bacteriological and sterilising rooms, operating rooms for minor surgery, dressing and recovery rooms etc. A basement housed stores and heating chamber, and on the upper floor were two 4-bed wards for the Ear & Throat department and some staff accommodation.
Following the opening of the new Royal Infirmary on the Foresterhill site in the 1920s Woolmanhill was retained and there were still in-patient facilities here until relatively recently alongside a number of out-patient clinics. Since the closure of the hospital was agreed in 1999, health services have been winding down on the site and gradually relocating. The last remaining clinics are for ENT and audiology, which are due to move out this year.
[Sources: Evening Express, 4 Feb 2016, online, 27 March 2016, online: British Medical Association, Aberdeen 1914, A Handbook and Guide, Aberdeen, 1914]
A year ago planning permission was granted for the redevelopment of Craighouse, Edinburgh, latterly the campus of Edinburgh Napier University. The impressive group of Victorian buildings erected in the grounds of Old Craig House were originally a private psychiatric hospital, created as an annex to the Royal Edinburgh Asylum, and possibly the most luxurious private mental hospital ever built in Britain.
The hospital closed in the early 1990s and was subsequently bought by Napier University. With a hefty Historic Buildings Grant, the University refurbished the buildings on the site as a new campus. But in 2011 the University took the decision to close the campus. Plans were submitted to redevelop the site for housing. Despite vigorous opposition from heritage bodies and local community groups permission was granted in September 2014. Oberlanders Architects drew up plans for the development for The Craighouse Partnership, which comprise the conversion of New Craig House into 64 homes. New blocks on the site include Kings Craig, a four-storey terrace of town houses, directly to the south of New Craighouse; a similar block, West Craig, in front of Queen’s Craig villa; another on the east of the site, Burton Villa, and a lower block north of New Craighouse, name North Craig. The new buildings, in a style reminiscent to my eye of 1960s university campuses, mimic the colours of the nineteenth century buildings, in the way that always seems to pass muster these days where there is a desire to be sympathetic to the character of existing buildings. Very often a pointless exercise, as it seldom seems successful.
A year on, the campaign to modify the plans and lessen the impact of the housing scheme continues and work had not yet commenced. The Craighouse scheme makes an interesting comparison with Holloway Sanatorium, Egham – Craighouses’ nearest rival in terms of a private asylum that was highly decorative and lavishly appointed – which was converted into luxury homes in the 1990s.
When Craighouse was newly opened, the architectural photographer Bedford Lemere was commissioned to record the buildings. This photographic record – eerily devoid of people -preserved at the National Monuments Record of Scotland, provides a glimpse of the surroundings that were thought beneficial in curing those suffering from mental illness at the end of the nineteenth century. The photographs reproduced below are of the communal spaces within the hospital – the grandest of these being the Great Hall.
In 1894, the Journal of Decorative Art quoted: ‘It is one of Dr Clouston’s leading principles that in the treatment of the insane, their surroundings should be made as bright and as pleasant as possible’.
The hall was designed as an ‘uplifting’ environment for patients. It was used for social functions including musical evenings, theatrical productions and orchestral recitals.
Other interiors photographed by Bedford Lemere included the dining-room and sitting-room in one of the detached villas beside New Craig House. South Craig Villa, one of three detached villas designed in 1889 by Sydney Mitchell, accommodated 15 female private paying patients, many of whom were accompanied by their personal staff of servants and attendants. The ladies were classified as first- or second-class patients, depending on how much they could afford to pay, and were allocated a dining room accordingly.
There were less formal rooms within New Craig House, the billiard room photographed here could just as easily be from a country house, there is nothing institutional about the room.
The room pictured below may have been belonged to a patients. It is labelled as ‘McGregor’s room’ but I do not know whether McGregor was male or female, a patient or a member of staff.
Victorian asylums were notorious for their miles of long corridors, in the earlier nineteenth century these were often broad and doubled as day rooms for the patients. The subject of asylum corridors was often hotly debated amongst architects and physicians, perhaps this is why so many of the corridors at Craighouse seem to have been recorded.
Below is a short history of the site extracted from the Edinburgh page of this site.
ROYAL EDINBURGH HOSPITAL, THOMAS CLOUSTON CLINIC, CRAIGHOUSE, CRAIGHOUSE ROAD Old Craighouse dates from 1565, the date appearing over the original entrance doorway. Macgibbon and Ross noted that the house appeared to have been built by the Symsones. A new wing was added in 1746. In 1877 Craighouse estate was purchased by the Royal Edinburgh Asylum and adapted for the accommodation of higher class patients.
From 1889 to 1894 work on the new buildings was carried out to designs by Sydney Mitchell, these comprised the New Craighouse, East and West Hospital blocks, Queen’s Craig, South Craig and Bevan House. Dr Thomas Clouston was the key figure in the development of Craighouse. He had been appointed as Physician Superintendent to the Royal Edinburgh Asylum in 1873 and in his first Annual Report commented on the state of the buildings:
As regards our structural arrangements we are undoubtedly behindhand somewhat. We need more accommodation for those who wish the benefits of the institution and can pay high boards… we should be prepared to extend our benefits to the wealthiest …our poorhouses are palatial buildings and in the new asylums for paupers through the country no expense has been spared to make them cheerful and comfortable.
Once Clouston had established patients at Old Craighouse in 1878 he began planning the development of the site in a new and bold way:
Craighouse site affords ample room for many villas of various kinds, surrounding a central block for recent acute cases, kitchens, dining and public rooms. In the construction of these a principle might be adopted which has never yet been fully carried out in asylums, viz of adaptation of each house or part of house to the varied needs and mental conditions of its inhabitants … an asylum so constructed should contain all the medical appliances that would be likely to do good, it should have a billiard room, gymnasium, swimming‑bath and work rooms.
The scheme was long in the forming, in the Annual Report for 1885 Clouston comments that he has been devoting his attention to the principles of construction of hospitals for the better classes of the insane in the last years. He had visited asylums in America and other parts of Britain. In particular the Royal Asylums at Montrose, Dundee, Perth, Glasgow and Dumfries and in England the asylums at Northampton, Cheadle, Gloucester and St Ann’s Health Registered Hospital, the Bethlem Royal Hospital and two private asylums in London. By 1887 Sydney Mitchell had been appointed as architect. Work began in 1889 and the foundation stone of New Craighouse was laid on 16 July 1890 by the Earl of Stair.
There were five principal buildings. The main building or New Craighouse was situated to the west of Old Craighouse and further west again was the west hospital block, Queen’s Craig. To the south of these were the East Hospital, Bevan House and South Craig. New Craighouse was formally opened on 26 October 1894 by the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry. South Craig Villa, Bevan House and the Ladies Hospital had already been occupied for some time. The achievement was phenomenal, and on such a vast scale that it remains unrivalled in hospital architecture in Scotland. Variety was the key to the design, variety of style, colour and texture achieved through the finishes, the materials, the varied roof line and every conceivable means. Inside it was sumptuously furnished and fitted up. After 1972 the buildings became the Thomas Clouston Clinic, named after the individual whose personal ideals were embodied in the site. [Sources: Lothian Health Board Archives, Annual Reports of Royal Edinburgh Hospital: RCAHMS, National Monuments Record of Scotland, drawings collection: The Builder, 7 Jan. 1888, p.16; 15 June 1889, p.442; 10 March, 1894, p.203.]
Rummaging in the attic I unearthed some old slides of Bangour Hospital that I had taken in about 1990, though with all the appearance of having been taken a couple of decades earlier than that.
It wasn’t the finest day when I visited – dreich to say the least – but the buildings did not fail to impress. The church is the centrepiece of the large complex, though it was built later than the patients’ villas, admin and other ancillary buildings, and while the earlier buildings were designed by the wonderfully named Hippolyte J. Blanc, it was Harold Ogle Tarbolton that was the architect of the church.
The patients’ villas are a mix of these cream-painted blocks with grey slate roofs and red sandstone dressings.
And these roughly coursed yellowish sandstone blocks with red tile roofs. Both types have those distinctive round-arched dormer heads. The hospital closed in 2004, since when the buildings have slowly deteriorated – the haunt of Urbexers and film crews.
The listed buildings on the site have been on the Heritage At Risk register since the 1990s. Early in 2015 NHS Lothian engaged GVA James Barr to draw up proposals for the conversion of the former hospital to form housing, to aid marketing of the site for sale, with a view to submitting Full Planning Permission later this year. There is a website marketing its development potential www.bangourvillage.co.uk.
The hospital was originally built as the Edinburgh District Asylum from 1898 to 1906, Bangour was planned on the continental colony system as exemplified by the asylum at Alt Scherbitz near Leipzig, which had been built in the 1870s.
The Edinburgh District Asylum at Bangour was begun slightly before that at Aberdeen (later Kingseat Hospital), which was also built on a colony plan, making Bangour the first new asylum for paupers to be built on this system. (The Aberdeen District Asylum at Kingseat, though begun after Bangour, was completed two years earlier). A move towards a colony system had been made at some existing asylums in Scotland, notably the Crichton Royal at Dumfries, from about 1895. The distinguishing feature of the colony plan asylum was the detached villas to accommodate the patients which aimed to create a more homelike environment.
The competition held in 1898 for the new Edinburgh Asylum specified the continental form of plan. Bangour was designed as a self-contained village with its own water supply and reservoir, drainage system and fire fighting equipment. It could be self-sufficient by the industry of able patients.
The site was divided into two sections for the medical and non-medical patients, with power station, workshops, bakery, stores, kitchen and laundry in the middle. The patients’ villas housed from 25 to 40 patients each and varied from two to three storeys. On the ground floor were day-room, dining-rooms and a kitchen with separate dining-rooms for the nurses. The dormitories were located on the upper floors. Another important aspect of the colony system was the replacement of the large common dining halls with smaller dining-rooms within the villas. This was a feature of the Aberdeen Asylum at Kingseat as well as Bangour and the later Dykebar Asylum at Paisley.
The recreation hall, also designed by Blanc, contained a hall measuring 93 feet by 54 feet, with a stage at the north end. By incorporating a lattice steel girder support for the roof, there was no need to use pillars within the hall. There was even an orchestra pit in front of the footlights which was specially constructed to allow it to be covered at floor level when the hall was used for dances.
A church was added to the site in 1924-30 designed by H. O. Tarbolton. Set in a central position on the site and in a severe Romanesque style, it is one of the most impressive hospital churches in Scotland. The dark brown stone of the church contrasts strongly with the cream-painted villas near to it.
In 1931 the nurses’ home, with its two ogee-roofed octagonal central turrets, was extended by E. J. MacRae with a large new wing, blending sympathetically with the original block. [Sources: H. J. Blanc, ‘Bangour Village Asylum’ in Journal of the R.I.B.A., Vol.XV, No.10, 21 March 1908, p.309-26: Lancet, 13 Oct. 1906, p.1031]
We visited the former Atkinson Morley Hospital in 1992 as part of the RCHME Hospitals Project. It was then still functioning as an acute hospital, specialising in brain surgery. The hospital closed in 2003 and remained empty and decaying for more than ten years. It is currently being converted into apartments by Berkeley Homes. It was designed as a convalescent home in conjunction with St George’s Hospital, Westminster, and was built in 1867 with generous funds left by Atkinson Morley, for the purpose of ‘receiving and maintaining and generally assisting the convalescent poor patients from St George’s Hospital’ in Westminster (Kelly, 1887). Atkinson Morley, the proprietor of the Burlington Hotel in Cork Street, Burlington Gardens, London, died in 1858 a wealthy man. He left a number of bequests to his relatives and friends and also for charitable purposes. These included the establishment of surgical scholarships at University College, a fund for the widows of tradesmen from St James’s parish in Westminster, and gifts of £1,000 each to Queen Charlotte’s Lying-in Hospital, the Lock Hospital, St Mary’s Hospital at Paddington, and the Royal Sea-Bathing Infirmary at Margate.
In the terms of Morley’s will, the residue of his property was to be allowed to accumulate for five years before being applied to the building of the hospital. The foundation stone was laid on 25 July 1867, and the hospital was opened on July 14 1869, the anniversary of Morley’s death. There was not the usual elaborate ceremony on the occasion, as the governors of St George’s Hospital, who acted as the trustees of Morley’s bequest, felt that it would be inappropriate to spend any of the new hospital’s funds on such an event. It is unclear which architect should be credited with the design of the hospital. Edward and John Kelly seem to have been acting as architects to the hospital from 1866-7 and John Crawley took over in 1867-70.
The hospital was built on Copse Hill, on a site which sloped gently to the south. Built of stock brick, with black and white brick string courses and white brick window heads, it was of two storeys and basement and was designed on a T-shaped plan.
The main entrance and administration offices were on the north side, linked to the patients’ wing by the kitchens in the basement and the chapel above. The patients’ wing, which formed the cross-bar of the T, had a long south elevation. The basement here was in fact at ground level, due to the slope of the ground.
A portico, since removed, sheltered the main entrance which led into a square hall with the committee room on one side and a sitting-room for the resident medical officer on the other. Two corridors extended to the south, on either side of the chapel, which gave access to the patients’ wing, with the men’s accommodation on the east side and the women’s on the west. The chapel rose up through two storeys and was lit by arched windows with geometrically patterned glazing. There was a gallery at the south end, the altar being placed at the north end. The kitchen in the basement had nothing above it so that it could be provided with a large sky-light. Directly below the chapel were the stores, larders and scullery.
The central room on the south front, with a canted bay window, was Matron’s sitting room. To either side of this was a linen room and the Matron’s bedroom. On the exterior these central three bays were slightly advanced and rose up to an additional storey with a steep pitched roof ornamented by decorative iron brattishing. To either side of this central section were four bays standing slightly advanced from the outer wings. On the ground floor this area was occupied by children’s wards, and in the single bay between this and the outer ward wings, there was a small ward containing one bed. Below the children’s wards were dining-rooms for the patients, and in the centre a dining-room and day-room for the nurses. On the first floor there were staff bedrooms over the children’s wards and the bay-windowed room was a spare bedroom.
The outer wings, lit by five tall and narrow windows on each long side, contained wards on the ground and first floors and large day-rooms in the raised basement. The wards were furnished with between 15 and 22 beds and had a fireplace or stove in the centre. The sanitary towers were on the north side, as were the stairs.
The hospital was modernized, probably under the direction of Adams, Holden and Pearson, in 1931 (Allibone, F, Catalogue of Adams, Holden and Pearson drawings, RIBA). In the early 1940s the hospital began to take head injury cases to relieve the accommodation at St George’s. After its transfer to the NHS in 1948 it developed further as an acute hospital. The buildings suffered from the usual rag bag of additions, largely obscuring the original south elevation.
Architects John Thompson & Partners (JTP) were appointed by Berkeley Homes (Urban Renaissance) to work on the redevelopment of the Atkinson Morley Hospital in Wimbledon, London. Part of the site is designated Metropolitan Open Land. The site was previously owned by Laguna Quays until April 2010 when it was purchased by Berkeley Homes.
The present Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh was built in 1996-2002 as a PFI project, to designs by Keppie Design of Glasgow on a large green-field site south-east of the city, close to the A7 at Little France, by Craigmillar Castle, in a large area of open countryside. If you follow the A7 northwards, and cross over the A701, you reach its predecessor on the north side of the Meadows, fronting Lauriston Place.
At the end of May 2004 The Scotsman reported that demolition work had begun on the old Edinburgh Royal Infirmary complex in Lauriston Place to make way for the £400m development. Contractors moved on to the site earlier that week to begin knocking down the Florence Nightingale nurse home, the boiler house and the dermatology ward (known as The Skins). The original developer was Southside Capital, which bought the site from Lothian University Hospitals Trust in 2001, and comprised a consortium with the Bank of Scotland, Taylor Woodrow and the Kilmartin Property Group. Planning permission was granted in December 2003, ‘after a battle with heritage watchdogs’, which included formal objections by Historic Scotland. By 2009 the development was being undertaken by a joint venture of Gladedale Capital and the Bank of Scotland.
Quartermile is a mixed development, combining residential and commercial premises over the 19-acre site. The design team was headed by Foster + Partners as the masterplanners and Architects working with Richard Murphy Architects; Hurd Rolland Architects; CDA – Architects and EDAW – Landscape Architects.
After years of adapting itself to the needs of modern medicine, and having enjoyed decades of Crown immunity which enabled additions to be made to the buildings without deference to the usual planning procedures, the Infirmary was a bit of a mess. All these accretions have been cleared away and the ranks of ward pavilions are as imposing and uncluttered as the day they were first completed. But much more than just the clutter of late twentieth century lift towers and sundry infill buildings have been removed, other casualties include the listed Simpson’s Memorial Maternity Pavilion, the Queen Mary Nursing Home and the George Watson’s wing of the Surgical Hospital.
Walking round the site in April this year (2015), there are positive aspects to the works that have been done. Clearing away the accretions around the ward pavilions allows them to be appreciated, with open balconies once more, where residents can sit out and take the air, and communal gardens laid out between the pavilions. The unity of style of the new glass curtain-walled buildings acts as a foil or counter-balance to the stone-built Victorian hospital blocks, retaining the Simpson Pavilion might have interrupted Foster’s flow, but as it was on the edge of the site it could have provided an impressive termination, and provided a gentler transition between the new development and the tenements beyond.
Perhaps the most surprising loss is the eighteenth-century William Adam school building, George Watson’s Hospital, that had been retained by Bryce and about which he had designed his large infirmary complex.
It was not demolished without comment or protest. Even after the protests had failed to keep the building on the site, James Simpson made a plea for the building to be taken down stone by stone so that it might be rebuilt at some distant time.
The OS map of 1882 shows what was then the recently completed Royal Infirmary on that site designed by David Bryce and built between 1870 and 1879.
It was one of the first in Scotland to adopt the pavilion plan, widely adopted for new hospital buildings from the 1860s. Though it was pipped to the post by the Western Infirmary in Glasgow by John Burnet senior, designed in 1867 and built in 1871-4, Edinburgh’s infirmary was far bigger. The Western Infirmary in Glasgow was hampered by a lack of funds, which both delayed building work and reduced the scale of the project, so that it could only provide 150 beds at first. The new Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh had 600 beds, placed in eight 3-storey ward pavilions, with one large ward per floor.
At the heart of the new hospital, Bryce incorporated a part of William Adam’s school building, George Watson’s Hospital, built in 1738 the same year that the previous royal infirmary building was begun to Adam’s designs. It is easily identified on the ground plan below at the centre, being the range that is slightly askew in relation to the alignment of the rest of the buildings. It was adapted to house some of the administrative offices and the hospital chapel. To its north and south the ward pavilions were disported, linked by single-storey corridors, with surgical wards to the north facing Lauriston Place, and the medical section on the south side. What the pavilion plan enabled were the primary requirements of separation and classification. Each ward was a self-contained unit, its occupants having no connection with any other ward, and thus hopefully preventing the spread of infection.
The ward itself featured windows placed opposite each other to promote the all important cross-ventilation, there were single rooms at the corridor end, which could be fitted up for a patient, the supervising nurse, a ward kitchen and sluice room.
The turrets at the opposite end were to contain water-closets and a bath. These sanitary towers evolved over the second half of the nineteenth century to become ever more separate from the ward itself, with the introduction of a small lobby, again, cross-ventilated, between ward and water-closet. Often a balcony was strung between the towers, offering a small space to sit out for ambulant patients.
Each pavilion could serve a different classification of patient. As mentioned, here Bryce located the surgical cases to the northern pavilions and the medical cases to the south, further classification allowed men and women to be separated, but the possibilities were endless. It was this adaptability of the plan which made it ubiquitous for almost all types of hospital for decades: in hospitals for infectious diseases the separation was made more complete between the pavilions by omitting the connecting corridors.
Despite the apparent vastness of the new Infirmary it was not long before additions and alterations were necessary. Sydney Mitchell & Wilson added a nurses’ home in 1890, the laundry in 1896, and the Diamond Jubilee Pavilion in 1897. In 1900 they designed two new pavilions for ear, nose and throat and ophthalmic patients.
The photograph above is of Sydney Mitchell’s Nurses Home of 1890, fondly known as the Red Home. A courtyard plan, offered an internal garden where the nursing staff could escape for some peace and quiet. It was originally intended to retain this handsome building, but the developers were given permission to demolish. It was argued that the building did not make a positive contribution to the local townscape, as its design, scale and form were out of keeping with neighbouring buildings, including the retained listed buildings. It was also considered to be ‘not a particularly good example of a building by Sydney Mitchell’, the neighbouring Ear, Nose and Throat pavilion being thought ‘a much better example’. More credibly it was claimed that it was not commercially viable to convert it. Demolition was permitted on the grounds that what would replace it would be of high quality and create a local public space at the heart of the site.
The major addition of the twentieth century was the Simpson Memorial Maternity Pavilion constructed in 1935 to designs by Thomas W. Turnbull, with James Miller acting as consultant. An imposing steel framed building faced with concrete, as was the Florence Nightingale Nurses’ Home which was built at the same time. The Pavilion was officially opened on 1 March 1939.
The Simpson Memorial had its origins in the Edinburgh Lying‑in Hospital which opened in Park Place in November 1793. This was financed by Professor Hamilton and then by his son, James, until his death in 1839. It moved in 1843 and occupied five further sites before becoming the Edinburgh Royal Maternity and Simpson Memorial Hospital, in commemoration of the achievements in obstetrics of Sir James Young Simpson who died in 1870. The resultant building, designed by D. Macgibbon & T. Ross, opened in May 1879 and later became the School of Radiology, at No.79 Lauriston Place. The first ante‑natal clinic in Britain was opened there in 1915 as a result of the work of James Haig Ferguson. After the First World War buildings in Lauriston Park and Graham Street were acquired to try to combat overcrowding but this was not satisfactorily overcome until the new Pavilion was provided in the 1930s.
Repton Park at Woodford Bridge in Essex is a large housing estate that has been created on the site of the former Claybury Hospital, using many of the former hospital buildings and keeping the new buildings to a minimum, so as to retain the open southern aspect and the original south elevation of the main hospital complex. (The aerial photograph above shows the western half as it appears in 2015 on Bing.com) The hospital closed in 1997 and it was originally intended to build much denser housing on the site.
Claybury Hospital was recorded as part of the RCHME’s Hospitals project and was visited in August 1991 by three of the project team (myself included) together with our photographer, Derek Kendall, and a student who worked with us over the summer.
Claybury was built as the fourth County Pauper Lunatic Asylum for Middlesex. It was designed on an échelon plan by G. T. Hine in 1888 and built in 1889-93. The site included the modest country house, Claybury Hall, of c.1790, which was retained and extended for private patients. It was an extensive complex of largely two- and three-storey asylum buildings linked by single-storey enclosed corridors, constructed of red brick with terracotta ornament, dominated by the central water tower.
A competition was held for the design in 1887 and Hine was selected from among seven specially invited architects. A notable and prolific designer of asylums, he had been responsible for planning the borough asylum for his native Nottingham (1877). It was following his success in the Claybury competition that Hine moved to London and subsequently was appointed consulting architect to the Commissioners in Lunacy for England. [The Builder, 5 May 1916, 331]
In 1888 the plans for the Asylum were approved by the Lunacy Commissioners and in June 1890 the memorial stone was laid over the principal entrance of the administration block by Lord Rosebery, the first Chairman of the London County Council (LCC). The asylum was formally opened on 17 June 1893.
Whilst Claybury had been begun as the fourth County Pauper Lunatic Asylum for Middlesex, it was opened as the 5th LCC Pauper Lunatic Asylum, following the Local Government Act of 1888 and the inauguration of the LCC. The LCC took over Hanwell, Colney Hatch and Banstead Asylums from Middlesex, and Cane Hill from Surrey. In June 1889 the Asylums committee was authorised to provide a fifth asylum for London by completing Claybury and a new building contract was drawn up in the following October. The building contractor under the LCC was E. Gabbutt of Liverpool. George Wise, who had been appointed Clerk of Works by the Middlesex Justices, was retained, as was Hine. A tramway was constructed to link up with the Great Eastern Railway for transporting building materials. In 1891 Hine was obliged to modify his plans following a decision to install electric lighting. This involved providing three additional boilers.
The site had been selected by the Middlesex Justices in 1886. It comprised the house and estate of Claybury Hall. The mansion of c.1790 was probably designed by Jesse Gibson (c.1748-1828), the District Surveyor of the eastern division of the City of London. [Essex Review, xxxvii, pp.99-108, cited in H. Colvin, Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 1978] The house was a relatively modest two-storey building. The principal façade, facing south, was symmetrical with a central bow flanked by two outer bays, slightly advanced and contained beneath a shallow pediment. The bow at ground floor level was further defined by a semi-circular portico with coupled columns. The grounds extended to 269 acres and were landscaped by Repton. Burdett gave a description of the site, although at the time of writing the asylum buildings had not yet been completed.
‘Part of the land is charmingly wooded, affording shaded walks for the patients. No better site could be found for such a building, and although only 1½ miles from Woodford Station, and 6½ miles from Tower Hamlets, from which district it is expected most of the patients will be sent, the asylum will be perfectly secluded, and comprise in its own grounds all the beauties of an English rural district’. [H. C. Burdett Hospitals and Asylums of the World, 1893, vol.iv, p.345).
The asylum was placed on the summit of the hill rising to the north of the mansion house. The hill was levelled to provide a plateau of 12 acres giving a largely uniform ground-floor level from which some of the outer main corridors sloped to the outside blocks. Hine emphasized the importance of a flat site arguing that the additional cost was justified compared with ‘the perpetual inconvenience and extra cost of working a building filled with feeble, irresponsible patients, which has numerous steps on the ground-floor, up and down which food trolleys as well as patients have constantly to be conveyed’. [G.T. Hine ‘Asylums and Asylum Planning’ in Journal of the Royal Institute of British Architects, 23 Feb. 1901, p.16]
Claybury was designed on an échelon plan. This was a development from the pavilion-plan asylum which comprised a sequence of pavilions or blocks, each designated for a different class of patient. Each pavilion contained a combination of wards, single rooms and day rooms, together with provision for staff and sanitary arrangements. The pavilions were generally linked by single storey corridors, either enclosed or as covered ways. The échelon plan differed from the pavilion plan only in its general layout, which, as the term suggests, consisted of pavilions arranged in an arrow head or échelon formation. This allowed Hine to provide all the patient blocks with day-rooms that had a southern aspect and uninterrupted views.
At the heart of the asylum was the recreation hall. It was particularly finely ornamented, was 120 feet long, 60 feet wide, and 40 feet high, and was capable of seating 1,200 people. At one end there was a gallery supported on iron columns and at the other the stage, with an elaborate proscenium arch in Jacobethan style, topped by a bust of Shakespeare. The high quality of decoration in the hall was integral to the philosophy of asylum planning and design at this date, as The Builder noted:
‘The modern treatment of lunacy demands also more provision for the embellishment of the asylum than is to be found in the barrack like interiors of our older institutions. Hence the interior of Claybury Asylum is almost palatial in its finishings, its pitch-pine joinery, marble and tile chimney pieces, and glazed brick dados, so much so that some of the visitors rather flippantly expressed a desire to become inmates. The recreation hall, for example, is lavishly decorated with an elliptical ceiling, richly ornamented with Jackson’s fibrous plaster work, while the walls are panelled in polished oak, and the floors are to be finished in a similar manner.’ [The Builder, 30 July 1892, p.88]
It is notable, however, that the majority of the fine interior work was reserved for the more public areas, such as the recreation hall, the chapel and the administration block.
Above is one of a series of photographs from the Wellcome Library which look to have been taken when the asylum was newly completed. It shows a large dormitory of the type provided for chronic cases. Acute cases were housed in small wards with a large allowance of single rooms.
This view of a dining hall, presumably for patients rather than staff, although it is not so easy to tell as some of the decorative elements, such as wallpaper, curtains, potted plants, pictures on the walls, a hearth rug and the bird cage might seem a little luxurious for a pauper institution. However, homeliness and comfortable surroundings were recognised as important factors in treating mental illness. There is an almost identical photograph in Historic England Archives collection taken in 1895 by Bedford Lemere.
The photograph above is labelled as showing a ‘social room’. Wallpaper, pictures, rugs, and potted plants are all in evidence again along with the piano, and the shawls draped over the backs of the chairs might suggest that the patients have just stood up and moved out of view. The ceiling has the same fireproof vaulting seen in the previous photograph. It creates a slightly less institutional feel to the room than the exposed iron beams in the dining hall.
The caption for these two photographs (above and below) suggest they might have been a day rooms for the nurses. The one below looks more like a staff room perhaps, particularly with the stained glass in the end window.
The snap above was taken in 1991, and shows similar stained glass, with the coats or arms of the local borough councils. It was in the administration block, in the main stair window. This block also contained the board and committee rooms and offices for staff as well as sitting and bedrooms for three assistant medical officers. The corridors were floored with mosaic tiling, and a faience panel marked the entrance to the board room, which had oak-panelled walls and an enriched plaster ceiling. Amongst the collection of photographs at the Wellcome Library are views of the service areas, the laundry and kitchens etc. These blocks, to the north of the water tower, have all been demolished, along with the blocks for the attendants and nurses which originally flanked the recreation hall.
This shows the linen room, and below is the ironing room. The work was strictly segregated for men and women. At this date patients would have assisted with many of the duties involved in the daily running of the asylum.
While the women washed and ironed, the men worked in the kitchens. I think this might be my favourite of the photographs of the working side of the hospital. Except perhaps this last one. These must be some of the senior staff, I think, though they are not identified and look very young.
Issue 4 of Robert Taylor’s Hospitals Investigator was circulated in July 1992 and in his editorial he wrote that the theme for this issue would be lunacy, in particular, baths and fire precautions. It concluded with a report on the Cambridge team’s trip to Cornwall and what they found there.
‘One of the many criminal economies practised in public institutions in the 19th century was the sparing use of bath water. At the Suffolk Asylum at Melton the male attendants used a single filling of the bath for five men, but on the opposite side of the same institution the female attendants managed to make a single filling serve ten women. This amazing achievement gives a new and unexpected meaning to sexual discrimination. At some asylums things were managed differently, and they put two lunatics at a time into the same tub, thereby ensuring that all and an equal chanced to enjoy hot water. Oxford, however, held the record and regularly managed to bath three at a time, thereby beating Cambridge by a factor of three. We have yet to see the size of the Oxford baths.
Considering that the water was frequently delivered at such a high temperature that patients were in real danger of scalding themselves and the taps could only be controlled by the attendant, one wonders at the temperature of the bath water at Melton when the first woman got in, and when the tenth got out.’
While looking for an illustration of bathrooms in asylums, I searched through the Wellcome Images collection which has this photograph taken around 1930 of Long Grove Asylum, Epsom in Surrey. Shared bath water was no longer acceptable, and a modicum of privacy was afforded by the fixed screens.
Fire Precautions in Asylums
‘Methods of preventing the start and avoiding the spread of fire in hospitals have developed in stages, usually one set of ideas at a time.’
‘The first fire precautions in the 18th and 19th centuries were purely structural, along the same lines as the various contemporary local regulations and the London Building Acts. The aim was to make buildings unlikely to catch fire or to burn, in other words, fireproof construction. Most of these techniques had become standard best building practice by the beginning of the 18th century, and included such things as not having timbers let into chimneys. This particular concern can be seen in an obvious form at the workhouse at Tattingstone in Suffolk, where ceiling beams are skewed in order to miss the fireplaces. The use of masonry for walls, and slates or tiles for roof covering were standard from the beginning; timber frame and thatch are not used for purpose-built hospitals.’
‘At a later date non-burning floor structures were used, called ‘fireproof’ and depending at first on the use of iron beams and shallow brick vaults. This system had the disadvantage that it relied on exposed iron girders, which were liable to buckle in a fire. Later in the 19th century, devices such as hollow bricks forming flat arches, sometimes strengthened by steel rods cased in concrete, were used to avoid this problem and produce a lighter structure. Perhaps the most common fireproofing device is the use of stone for staircase treads, almost invariably combined with iron balusters.’
‘Despite all of these precautions, fires broke out and even spread. Limiting the damage done by a fire was an important consideration, and it is interesting to learn that in asylum building in the middle of the century it was considered desirable to restrict patients to two storeys, for greater ease of escape or rescue in case of fire, as well as to reduce the amount of building that might be damaged. [The Builder, 27 Nov 1852 p.754] This is a contrast with the earlier practice at workhouses, where three-storey main ranges to accommodate the inmates were common. The Commissioners in Lunacy seem to have been particularly concerned by the fire at the Cambridgeshire Asylum in 1872. No lives were lost, and damage was limited, but the general opinion was that the fire very nearly destroyed the whole asylum.’
‘The boilers and pumps were in the basement of the central block, and as the call for steam and hot water had increased, the size of the boilers had been increased, well beyond the capacity of both the basement and the flues. It seems that this situation was very common, and it was this that led to a new wave of precautions in asylums during the 1870s, particularly after 1875. In that year the reports of the Commissioners on their annual visits to asylums pay great attention to fire prevention, and include descriptions of a number of devices.’
‘The major new concern of this decade was with the provision of a sufficient quantity of water at high enough pressure to extinguish any fire that should break out. Water mains with hydrants were installed both inside and outside the buildings and examined during visitations, when the Commissioners hoped to see an efficient fire drill and a jet of water that toped the highest roofs of the asylum. The pressure was usually produced by a steam engine. A sufficient quantity of water to extinguish a fire was essential and the problem was underlined when the Commissioners visited Ipswich Asylum on the day when each week the water company did not supply water. Under such circumstances a large reserve supply was essential. Tanks at a high level, thereby providing a head of water without recourse to a steam engine that would take time to get going, were favoured. There was a water tower on each side of the establishment at Herrison, Dorset, in 1863.’
‘A new concern with the structural side of fire prevention is shown in 1874 by the visit to the Leicester and Rutland Asylum of Captain Shaw of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade. He suggested a system of intersecting walls with iron doors to prevent the spread of fire. From the way in which the Commissioners in Lunacy reported this visit, one senses that they wished that more asylums would follow the same course and obtain professional advice. The extent to which this was done is not clear.’
There is a fascinating set of photographs of the asylum from the University of Leicester Archives and the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester & Rutland which can been seen on the website expresseumpoetics.org.uk
‘In the 1880s the major concern of the Commissioners in Lunacy was with the escape of patients from an asylum should it catch fire. Every ward had to have a second means of getting out, an alternative exit. As many rooms seem to have had only one entrance, this sometimes tested the ingenuity of those responsible. By 1885 the provision of external fire escape staircases was in full swing. The stairs had to be suitable for both infirm and deranged patients to use, and it is interesting to see how many still meet these requirements. It was necessary to have sufficient space a the top of the stair for patients to be prepared for the descent, and the stairs themselves had to be wide and easy. The time scale of this development is shown by the second Birmingham asylum at Rubery, opened in 1882 without fire escape staircases, which were provided in 1886.’
‘References to fire escapes should, however, be interpreted carefully, for not all were fixed to the building. In 1888 Cornwall Asylum bought a fire escape and built a house to put it in; the two similar contraptions at the Norfolk asylum in 1896 were of wood. At Norfolk the Commissioners were more concerned with their inadequate number than with their material. The introduction of fire escapes at asylums continued into the present century. It seems that in workhouse infirmaries the similar provision of fire escapes was about a decade later than in asylums, only getting under way in the 1890s’.
‘The fire at Colney Hatch on 27 January 1903, when 51 patients lost their lives in a fire in temporary buildings of 1895, brought a new realisation of the problems associated with fire. Rescue had been hampered by smoke, and a new urgency was now given to the containment of smoke in large asylums, particularly on staircases. In that same year, smoke doors were called for at the heads of certain staircases at Knowle in Hampshire, and at the Buckinghamshire asylum the doors with bars that opened onto the staircase had to be made solid. Smoke doors had already appeared in some institutions, as at Northampton in 1901, but are rarely mentioned.’
‘Immediately after the Colney Hatch fire, the Commissioners in Lunacy enquired after other temporary buildings, and tried hard to have them removed. They continued to accept timber framed buildings clad in corrugated iron, particularly it seems when the interiors were plastered rather than clad in boarding.’
A Letter from Cornwall
‘Five days of fieldwork were allotted by the Cambridge Office to investigate … the hospitals of Cornwall… The first that we visited, Truro workhouse, introduced us to the intractable nature of granite and the most informed attempt at Grecian style so far. The granite was so hard and difficult to work that the mason could do no more than produce a blocky outline of what was wanted but the result was still striking.’
‘Much of the county is swept by high, wet, winds, so that most of the early settlements hide in hollows or the lee of hills for shelter. The windward side of a building is often slate-hung to give extra protection. Although rendering houses is not as common as in some other exposed communities, the fashion for rendered walls in the 1920s was welcomed here. The textures are not always interesting, and when the paint is not renewed the effect is usually sombre.’
‘Despite the winds, workhouse were built on hills just as everywhere else in England, although the thick jungle around some of them shows that they are on the sheltered side. Palm trees were an unexpected impediment to photography at Truro and elsewhere. The usual Cornish workhouse consists of three parallel ranges. First comes an entrance range, often single storey; then comes the House, sometimes with short cross-wings but always a linear building with a single-storey kitchen behind. Finally comes either a row of workshops with the infirmary in the middle, or just the infirmary in large workhouses. There is almost no variation on this pattern. Bodmin had a rectangular infirmary, but several including Truro and Redruth had a small U-shaped block usually with a lean-to on the workhouse side There were always two doorways, but the internal arrangements could not be discovered.’
For images of Liskeard Union Workhouse, built 1937-9 to designs by Scott & Moffatt, including a postcard from around 1915 see workhouses.org.uk
‘Many workhouses also had a small isolation hospital placed close to the main building. Few are dated, including Falmouth of 1871, and that at Bodmin could be 1842. They have a standard arrangement of two wards flanking a central duty room or set of central rooms, and all are uniformly plain. Some may by chance respect the 40-foot cordon sanitaire that was required by at least 1892, but they probably all date from before about 1880. It is interesting to compare them with Suffolk, where the only isolation hospitals associated with workhouses respected the quarter-mile cordon required for smallpox hospitals, and none was recognised closer to the workhouse except at Semer.’
‘Apart from these workhouse examples, surviving isolation hospitals were prominently absent from the cornish landscape, and one of the two that we did manage to find was occupied by such a desperate character that we did not approach too closely. …’
‘The Cornish cottage hospitals were frankly disappointing, for they had been savagely treated by enlargements. A curiously high proportion had a main range and cross-wings type of plan, or appearance, for the plans did not always accord with the outside. Our greatest joy was to discover that the Falmouth hospital, built in 1894 and replaced by a new building on a new site in 1930, survived intact and unaltered…’
Images of Falmouth Hospital, designed by H. C. Rogers and built with funds from J. Passmore Edwards can be seen on the web site passmoreedwards.org.uk
‘Two hospitals, at Redruth and St Austell, and been established with the needs of accident-prone miners in mind, but the buildings told us nothing about these needs.’
‘Cornwall has a large number of ports, and had a corresponding number of Port Sanitary Authorities in the late 19th century. In general they provided makeshift hospitals of no size, and only a fragment of the Falmouth hospital, which also served the local urban population, was discovered. Fowey, constituted in 1886, had a corrugated iron building with a duty room and four beds by 1899; it got its water from a nearby spring, and although last used about 1920 it was still being maintained in 1943. The Truro hospital was near the centre of the town and has not survived. Perhaps because the provision in the county was so small the Truro workhouse was converted into a 110-bed isolation hospital in 1940, mainly for the benefit of evacuees. We did not notice any evidence of pest-houses to either explain or supplement this poor provision of isolation hospitals.’
The subject of pine trees formed a digression in the second issue of the Hospitals Investigator, and it put me in mind of earlier research that I had done in Scotland where Sanatoria were set amongst pines so that the patients might benefit from terabinthine vapours. Nordrach-on-Dee was one such, later Glen-0-Dee Hospital, near Banchory.
Forests, Woods and Trees in relation to Hygiene was published in 1919, by Augustine Henry. Here he discussed the latest research into the effects of pine trees in a chapter on ‘Forests as sites for Sanatoria’. Even Pliny, it seems, considered that ‘forests, particularly those which abound in pitch and balsam, are most beneficial to consumptives or to those who do not gather strength after a long illness; and are of more value than a voyage to Egypt’.
In New York patients with tuberculosis were sent to the Adirondack Forest, where they might benefit from the pure and invigorating air. In England the earliest experiments with fresh-air treatment for consumption were made in 1840 by Dr George Boddington, at Sutton Coldfield in Warwickshire and in Ireland by Dr Henry MacCormac of Belfast in 1856. Dr Walther systematised and popularised open-air treatment in the Black Forest with his Nordrach Colonie Sanatorium, which was hugely influential in Britain. Treatment in an alpine sanatorium in Switzerland was beyond the financial reach of most invalids, but pine woods could easily be planted, and already existed in abundance, allowing this form of treatment to be widely replicated.
I particularly like this dramatic architectural perspective of the West Wales Sanatorium, at Llanybydder, Carmarthenshire, with its fringe of pine trees on the hillside behind. It was designed by E. V. Collier and treated women and children. As built in about 1906, without the side wings, it didn’t look quite so romantic, and the regime within the hospital was equally grim. In 1923 complaints were made that sick girls were made to go out into the surrounding pine forest to saw trees while kneeling in the snow. [ref: Linda Bryder, Below the Magic Mountain quoted in the New Scientist 14 July 1988 p.63] The Pevsner Guide for Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion published in 2006 describes the building as ‘originally a cheerful Neo-Georgian with red-tiled roofs and green shutters, now very decayed’.
By the early twentieth century the value of the ‘exhalations of turpentine etc’ from Scots Fir trees was being questioned, and instead it was as shelter belts that pine trees continued to play an important role at hospitals. In the second issue of Robert Taylor’s Hospitals Investigator he drew attention to these surviving shelter belts of pines around many of the sites that the Cambridge team visited. It also brought back memories of his own experience of being interned in an isolation hospital as a small child. I remember him telling us that parents were not allowed on the wards, so they would remain outside and could only see their children through the window. At one former isolation hospital he found a shelf under a window, provided so that a parent could kneel on it and see inside.
Here are Robert’s remarks on pine trees:
“In the very first day of fieldwork in Suffolk it was noticed that there was an association between hospitals and pine trees. Tuberculosis sanatoria, cottage hospitals and isolation hospitals all appear with shelter belts; indeed the site of one isolation hospital was completely inaccessible because of the fallen conifers and evergreens. The Beccles War Memorial Hospital appears from amps to have had new planting, and the surviving trees confirm this. Even the isolation hospital where one of us spent a month in 1944 has a belt of pines. It was obviously considered that a shelter belt of conifers afforded a perceptible improvement in the quality of the air. The reasoning behind this seems to smack of black magic and the symbiotic theory of disease, physicians had relatively few methods of cure, and little reliable theory with which to evaluate those methods. A belief in the specific effect of climate was harmless and must have appeared plausible. The first practical application of the theory was at the Royal Sea Bathing Infirmary at Margate in 1791, where consumptives were treated. Nothing more seems to have been done until 1854 when Brehmer believed that he could cure tuberculosis by living in high mountains, and opened an institution in Silesia. The general theory was given a more specific interpretation in 1862 when Dr. L. C. Lane of San Francisco considered that the fragrant smell from the resin of the Sierra Nevada pines was salutary: ‘in chronic pulmonary affections the breathing of such an atmosphere must be productive of a highly salutary influence’. At the same time many people thought that some leaves, particular pine and balsam, are disinfectants, and this idea still lingers with the toilet cleaner industry. In America patients were encouraged to take holidays in areas of differing air; in England that air was brought to the patient by means of sanitary plantations around the hospital, the resinous smell of the trees contribution to the recovery of those within the building. In some cases the hospitals are on such poor soil that birch and conifers are the only sensible trees to plant, as at Ipswich Sanatorium.”