The Hospitals Investigator 2, part 1

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

Pest Houses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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



I bought this postcard on ebay the other week, and ever since have been footling about on the internet trying to find out something of the buildings shown here. Marianbad, or Mariánské Lázně, is in the Czech Republic, and was a fashionable spa town in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth – frequented by Edward VII (who opened the town’s first golf course in 1905) and many of his relatives, as well as wealthy Americans.

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from The Washington Post, 18 August 1907, p.11
Marianske Lazne CZ Anglican church, by Jim Linwood (Anglikansky Kostel), Marianske Lazne (Marienbad), Czech Republic. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 

Amongst the exuberant Rococo hotels and buildings where the health-giving waters could be taken,  there were numerous churches catering for the many visitors of different faiths. Amongst these an Anglican church was designed by William Burges and built in 1879. It was there that after the death of Edward VII a memorial was to be placed, designed by William Lethaby.

It is rather small. But recognisably British, and Burges. I haven’t discovered whether or not the memorial was made and is there. The church was founded by Lady Anna Scott in memory of her husband who died at Marinaded in 1867. The church is now a concert hall.

After the Second World War most of the native German inhabitants were forced to leave, under the terms of the Potsdam agreement. After 1989 many of the buildings were restored and it has once again become a popular tourist destination.  In its heyday it was visited by Goethe, Chopin, Wagner, and Thomas Edison, as well as Prince Friedrich of Saxony, Czar Nicholas II and Emperor Franz Joseph I.

The postcard identifies the buildings as the Sanatorium Kavkaz, (or Maison Balneaire) and seems to date from the 1950s or 60s. More research is required to find out about the architects, and landscape designers (the landscaping was an important aspect of the town) who worked here. Any information would be most gratefully received.

Moorhaven Village, Devon, (formerly Plymouth Borough Asylum)

Moorhaven Hospital by Nick photographed in July 2012, detail of the water tower. Image is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Via twitter, an article caught my eye that appeared in The Telegraph on the former Plymouth Borough Asylum, latterly Moorhaven Hospital and now a housing estate called Moorhaven Village.

Ugborough, Moorhaven Village, photographed in 2010 © Copyright Martin Bodman and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

The hospital closed in 1992, ninety-nine years after it had first opened to receive patients. It was sold in 1994 and some four years 120 homes had been created from the old buildings. The project was praised by SAVE Britain’s Heritage as a model of property enterprise and preservation. Jonathan Mathys and Andrea Peacock carried out the development, having already converted a convent and an abbey. They were guided by different principles from most commercial building developers, aiming to save and restore the historic fabric and create desirable homes. The central range of the hospital was turned into terraced housing, and the water tower has become a detached house, with one room per floor, the bedrooms occupying the lower floors and the reception rooms the upper floors, making the most of the views.

The former hospital, Moorhaven, Bittaford, photographed in 2010 © Copyright Ruth Sharville and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

The conversion stands out amongst many former asylum site redevelopments where the original buildings have been less respectfully dealt with, if not entirely demolished. Somerset County Asylum, later Tone Vale Hospital, in Taunton, for example, was largely demolished to make way for the housing development there in 1995, while St Lawrence’s in Bodmin was pulled down in 2014.

Moorhaven Village, photographed in 2009 © Copyright Guy Wareham and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

A competition was held for the design in 1886, and it was the local firm of J. Hine and Odgers, placed third in the competition, that was given the commission (their design was the least costly). James Hine was the cousin of George Hine, one of the most prolific asylum designers in England.


Above is the plan of the asylum published in 1890

Plymouth Borough Asylum was built in 1888-91, initially for 200 patients, later expanded to twice that number. It is a good example of a small echelon-plan asylum, where the patients’ accommodation was arranged in an arrow or echelon formation, here in a flattened form. The random rubble walls make it rather more attractive than some of the plain brick versions built around this time.

 In 1901 Hine and Odgers were recalled to design extensions including a new wing on the male side, commenced in 1903, a second storey on each side, an isolation hospital and an extension to the administrative section. The British Architect reported in June 1906 that recent additions and improvements had quite altered the appearance of the institution. This may have been because the additions were of brick rather than stone – constructed with hollow walls, Pinhoe bricks were used for the facings. Two wards were added to either side of the main block providing additional accommodation for 110 females and 90 males. Each ward contained associated dormitories, day rooms, single rooms, attendants rooms, store rooms ward scullery and larder with bathrooms, lavatory and sanitary arrangements separated from the main buildings by cross-ventilated lobbies.

Later alterations on the site included, in 1912, additions to the farm buildings, TB shelters in the early 1920s, a nurses home, designed by J. Wibberley in 1929, and an admission hospital c.1932, also by Wibberley. In 1936 two detached villas for convalescent patients were built and a house for the medical superintendent.

Sources and further reading: Historic England Archives, file NBR No. 100330: Bridget Franklyn ‘Monument to madness the rehabilitation of the Victorian Lunatic Asylum’ in the Journal of architectural Conservation Nov 2002, pp.24-39:

Stratheden Hospital

Stratheden Hospital from the south, photographed in October 2014 by MacKlly (image reproduced under CC0 1.0 Universal)

Stratheden Hospital is administered by NHS Fife as a community hospital caring for patients with mental health issues. Most of the patients’ accommodation lies within the grounds of the Victorian hospital complex (pictured above), which was originally built as the Fife and Kinross District Asylum for Pauper Lunatics. The old buildings, deemed no longer fit for purpose, have been lying empty for the last three years or more, and are not designated as listed buildings.

Photograph taken in May 2001 © RCAHMS Aerial Photography

The aerial photograph from 2001 shows the site as it was then, with the historic core on the top right. New buildings added to the site in recent years have been built in the open space to the east – just below the original buildings on the photograph. The newest addition to the site is an 8-bed Intensive Psychiatric Care Unit (IPCU). On 6 July 2015 work was officially commenced on its construction, with Nicola Sturgeon joining the NHS Fife chief executive Paul Hawkins in a sod-cutting ceremony.

25-inch OS map of 1893, reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

The oldest buildings on the site were designed in 1860 by Peddie and Kinnear, as the district pauper asylum for Fife and Kinross. The site had been acquired from a Mr R. Wilson of Cupar, comprising a large estate around a house named Retreat – rather apt. But the house seems to have been demolished to make way for the farm steading. The architects were awarded the commission following a limited competition in which Brown and Wardrop were the only other architects invited to submit plans. Peddie and Kinnear had themselves unsuccessfully competed for the design of the Inverness District Asylum the year before, and in 1860 produced plans for Haddington District Asylum. Earlier they had designed a number of poorhouses, and so were well versed in the complex requirements of such large institutions.

 elevations and sections

Building work suffered various delays and only began in 1863, with the foundation stone being laid in August 1864. The delays were largely due to Lord Kinnoul whose amendment to the Lunacy (Scotland) Act allowed pauper lunatics to be accommodated in poorhouses. He was energetic in lobbying the Lunacy Board in an attempt to dissuade them from proceeding with the Fife asylum until the Bill was passed in 1863. However, the accommodation for lunatics generally provided in poorhouses was unsuitable and insufficient. As soon as Stratheden was completed the Commissioners in Lunacy withdrew the licence to keep lunatics in Dunfermline Poorhouse.

Extract from the 6-inch OS map, revised in 1938, reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland. The map shows the original block on the north side of the complex which by this date had been considerably extended.

The asylum was described in the Commissioners’ annual reports as being of ‘plain and economical construction’ with a separate house for the Medical Superintendent and a porter’s lodge. In 1865 it was noted that: ‘the whole of the main building is roofed in excepting the centre block, containing the dining‑hall, amusement room, etc, the roof of which has been delayed in consequence of the iron beams required for its support having been lost at sea.’

Stratheden Hospital was opened without ceremony on 4 July 1866 for 200 hundred pauper lunatics; the Fife Herald noted that the first patient to be admitted was a woman ‘who stared considerably at the sight of the palatial display and who had ultimately to be forcibly introduced to a home in everything but name’. Just before the asylum opened it was inspected by two of the Commissioners in Lunacy, an event that was reported in the Fife Herald with considerable local pride. The warm sunshine and strong breeze of wind on that late June day meant that the means of ventilation were well exercised, ‘imparting to the asylum a fresh and delightful odour, such as is only to be found in green fields and rural scenes’. [Fife Herald, 21 June 1866]

Upper-floor plan by Peddie & Kinnear, one of a set of plans by the architects in the NMRS collection

Fife and Kinross asylum was up-to-date in its provision of a mix of single rooms and larger dormitories and day rooms for the patients. It boasted no architectural display, efficiency with economy being the requirements of the Lunacy Board. With a frontage of 410 feet, the main building was symmetrical, males occupying the east, the females the west side. The end wings were for infirmary and refractory patients on the ground floor with quiet and convalescent patients above. At the centre was the dining-hall and a recreation hall that was also to serve as a chapel, the usual arrangement at this date. On the north side, the two-storey range at the centre contained the main entrance, reception rooms, a laboratory and staff offices.

Amongst later additions, a hospital block was added by Kinnear and Peddie in 1891 and a large new nurses’ home, designed by Andrew Haxton was built in 1929. [Sources: Commissioners in Lunacy, Annual Report, 1865: RCAHMS drawings collection]

King Edward Memorial Hospital for Women, Perth, Western Australia

The original home of the King Edward Memorial Hospital for Women, Perth, in a former Industrial School designed in the ‘Federation Free Style’ by Robert Haddon (c) State Library of Western Australia

This caught my eye earlier in the week, a piece that was written by Emma Wynne, based on research by Richard Offen from Heritage Perth, on a Women’s Hospital in Australia. [ref 1] The photograph shows the newly opened hospital around 1916. It was the culmination of years of effort to have a dedicated maternity hospital for Perth. In 1909, the women’s service guild held a meeting in the Government House Ballroom attended by 400 people to discuss the establishment of a such a hospital, and a committee formed to work towards that end. The committee included Edith Cowan, Mary Molloy [the wife of the Lord Mayor], Deborah Hackett and James Battye.

In 1913, the Public Health Annual Report noted the suggestion that rather than building the proposed hospital, a new ward should be added to Perth Public Hospital [now Royal Perth Hospital]. This was rejected by the committee, and  Edith Cowan suggested that if finances were the delaying factor, then perhaps the Government Industrial School building in Subiaco should be used. With the backing of the Minister for Health this was agreed. With accommodation for 20 patients and staff the Hospital was officially July 1916.

There was still a need to increase ward accommodation at the hospital, and early on a galvanised shed was brought to the site from Coolgardie, formerly a TB ward. After the First World War additions  were made to the building to cope with increasing number of patients. patients.

The New Art Deco Building 1939, designed by A E Clare of the Public Works Department (c) state library of Western Australia

In the 1930s planning began on the art deco expansion to the hospital, which still forms the main entrance to the hospital today. The state heritage register documents state that the hospital’s matron travelled overseas to research the design. Among the noteworthy features incorporated in the new building were a central heating system, air conditioning, sound absorbing ceilings, a reserve auxiliary for electrical lighting and power, controlled lighting, and a public address system for paging doctors. It was officially opened on December 6, 1939 by the minister for health, Alexander Panton, who said it was part of what was intended to become the best maternity hospital in Australia.

King Edward Memorial Hospital for Women – Block A, Main Entrance by Kollision (Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons)
The Nurses Home, 1952, designed by Len Walters (c) state library of Western Australia

In the 1950s new nurses quarters were built and in 1979 the multistorey B block was also built. In 1988 the hospital’s first building, the old industrial school, was renamed Harvey House in honour of the hospital’s first matron Eleanor Harvey. It is now used as the WA Medical Museum. The nurses quarters have since been converted to clinics and offices, as staff no longer live on site. In 2002 the whole site was placed on the state heritage register, but continues to operate as Western Australia’s only tertiary women’s hospital.

former Murthly Hospital, Perthshire


MURTHLY HOSPITAL   Built as the Perth District Asylum, it was designed by Edward & Robertson, of Dundee and opened in 1864. It was the second district asylum to open in Scotland. Five architects submitted plans from which the Dundee architects were chosen. David Smart designed the Italianate administration block at the centre. In 1885 a cottage hospital was added on the site which later became the nurses’ home. In 1894 two villas were built which were an early attempt at providing accommodation for pauper patients on the colony system. They were named after the pioneers in psychiatry Pinel and Tuke. The hospital closed in 1984.

aerial photograph taken in 2001  © RCAHMS

Now largely demolished and the site developed as a housing estate called Druids Park (inspired by the stone circle on the eastern side of the site).

south front photographed in 2001 © RCAHMS ref SC 785510

A few of the old hospital buildings have been retained. The administrative block on the north side of the asylum , though considerably altered, which is the only part to be listed (at grade C). Although I previously stated that this was designed by David Smart, and elsewhere it has been dated to 1871, I have been unable to find – or re-find – any evidence of such an addition at that time, and the wing seems to appear on the first edition OS Map, so I am inclined to conclude that it is a part of the original building. (A possible caveat is an advertisement for tenders for the erection of additional offices at the asylum but this is not until 1893) Also surviving are the two villas, Pinel and Tuke, built in 1894 and of similar design by David Smart.

These are historically of great significance, being particularly early examples of detached villas for patients added to asylums. The medical superintendent’s house, to the east of the site, appears to have survived, if so this is also one of the earliest buildings on the site, being part of the first phase of building. Lastly the nurses’ home, added in 1885 by David Smart, which has been incorporated into Stewart Lodge, on the south-west side of the site.

Staff houses photographed in 2001 by RCAHMS

Perthshire Advertiser gave a list of the contractors for the original building, and noted that the stone for the rubble work was from Arbroath, while the hewn stone, used for dressings and quoins, was from Bannockburn. 

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