In the centre of Stevenage, just next to the central library with its adjoining Health Centre, stands this gem of an early NHS building. However, the building is now under threat of demolition as part of the current Stevenage Development Board’s plans to make ‘Stevenage Even Better’. (Surely a potential sequel to W1A?) There has been an outpouring of dismay at this decision on Twitter. Is it too late to hope that this building might be preserved? So many of the early NHS hospital buildings have been demolished, this is becoming an increasingly rare survivor.
It was built in advance of the new District General Hospital, the new Lister Hospital. Well in advance as it turned out, as the outpatients clinic was built in 1959-61 while the residents of the New Town had to wait another ten years or so for the opening of the Lister Hospital.
Stevenage Development Corporation reached an agreement with the North-West Metropolitan Regional Hospitals Board in about 1957 for them to build a casualty and outpatients’ clinic on a site to the south of the main shopping core of the New Town. The site formed part of the area reserved for Hertfordshire County Council, offering the opportunity of forming a close link between the clinic and the local authority’s health centre. The County Council agreed to give up part of the land to the Hospital Board in recognition of the need for hospital services in the town, which were provided by the hospitals at Hitchin. These were the former workhouse (renamed the Lister Hospital during the Second World War) and the North Hertfordshire and South Bedfordshire Hospital, the town’s long-established former voluntary hospital. Both of these hospitals had been acquired by the State on the appointed day in June 1948 when the National Health Service was inaugurated.
Plans were approved for the clinic in about 1958 at which time it was anticipated that work would begin on site the following summer. The commission was put out to Peter Dunham, Widdup and Harrison, architects based in Luton, a firm that had some experience with hospital design in Northern Ireland, but also designed some elegant private houses, laboratories and factories. It was not unusual for the NHS to place design work with private firms, especially for larger schemes. Most of the Regional Boards had architects departments, but some were small, and initially under-staffed for the large amount and range of work with which they were faced.
Peter Dunham was born in Luton and had trained at the Bartlett School of Architecture. He had started in private practice in 1933, and served in the Royal Engineers during the war, where he met MacFarlane Widdup. Widdup, a Yorkshireman who had trained in Leeds, was two years older than Dunham. According to the Architectural Review of 1953 he spent his spare time ‘cutting down trees too near his new house, admiring other people’s vintage cars and making amateur films of the kind no-one else understands’. As for the third partner of the team, Michael Harrison was a fellow Lutonian and Bartlett student, who had spent three years in local government before joining Dunham and Widdup in 1949.
Stevenage Development Corporation welcomed the development of the clinic but lamented that instead of building even the first stage of a new general hospital all that the Regional Hospitals Board were able to do were some improvements to the existing Lister and North Herts Hospitals at Hitchin. In their Annual Report published in 1959, the Corporation noted their hopes that the Stevenage Hospital would be given high priority when the country’s economic circumstances permitted new hospital building. The growing population of the area was making it more difficult for the Hitchin hospitals to meet the demands made on them. When the new clinic opened it functioned as an annexe of the old Lister Hospital at Hitchin and provided a full range of consultative and specialist clinics staffed from both the Lister and the North Herts. Since that time it has continued to have an outpatient function within the NHS, and latterly was known as the Danestrete Centre.
The most distinctive feature of the building is the gymnasium with its decorative quilted finish to the external walls. On the north side the lozenges of aggregate chips are pinned together by blue tiles bearing the coat of arms of Joseph Lister. This alluded to the Lister Hospital, which had been so-named as Lister had attended the Quaker school at Hitchin as a child.
This part of the building was specially designed as an independent reinforced concrete frame structure, to isolate it from the rooms beneath, in order to ‘avoid interference by the activities of this department’.
The remainder of the construction is of brickwork with concrete floors and timber roofs. The ceilings of the corridors and the public spaces, such as the waiting room, were lined with sound absorbent boarding for quietness. Particular efforts were made to provide a ‘homely building’ offering a ‘friendly welcome to the patients’. Accordingly materials and decorations in the waiting areas were carefully chosen to create the desired atmosphere, and a modern touch was provided by a large abstract mural at the entrance, giving a ‘strong and gay splash of colour’.
The clinic was centrally heated, and apart from its gymnasium, provided a series of consultant and examination rooms, treatment rooms, dental and E.N.T. departments, and small pathological department, x-ray, and pharmacy. The original proposal to include a casualty section was not carried out, and emergency services continued to be dealt with at the old Lister Hospital in Hitchin. The total cost of the building was £95,610.
References: Stevenage Development Corporation, 11th Annual Report, 1 April 1957 to 31 March 1958 and 12th Annual Report, 1 April 1958 to 31 March 1959: Architectural Review, 1 Nov. 1953, p.282: The Hospital, March 1962, pp.147-51.
Victoria Hospital, Kirkcaldy, and Queen Margaret’s Hospital, Dunfermline, are the two main hospitals in Fife, serving the eastern and western halves of this large county. They both comprise buildings that mark significant periods in the history of post-war hospital architecture, and the Victoria has some of the earliest surviving NHS buildings in Scotland. The site is now dominated by a large, 500-bed ward block built in 2009-12 by Balfour Beatty to designs by Building Design Partnership.
As yet little studied, I have recently been looking into the development of the hospital during the 1950s and 60s, delving into the Department of Health for Scotland files, and the records of the East Fife Hospitals Board of Management. But the story begins long before the National Health Service, and at least one remnant survives of the earliest phase of this hospital.
Although not the most architecturally exciting of buildings, at the heart of the modest brick-built building pictured above is an 1890s ward block, part of the original burgh fever hospital. This was built as a scarlet fever ward. There was a larger ward block to its west that was intended for typhoid patients in one half of the building, and diphtheria patients in the other. Between these two was an administration block which also housed some staff accommodation, and there was a laundry and disinfector, mortuary, and gate lodge on the site. Plans for the hospital had been drawn up by the Glasgow architects, Campbell Douglas & Morrison in 1897 to provide accommodation for 33 patients in all.
The fever hospital was extended in 1908, with a sanatorium pavilion for tuberculosis patients (on the site of the present hospice, and possibly partly incorporated in the present building). Further additions were made in 1930 with another sanatorium building and a cubicle isolation block. By the 1940s the hospital had 124 beds, but by then the buildings were not considered up to modern standards. In the run up to the establishment of the National Health Service the plan was to use nearby Cameron Hospital for infectious diseases, and to convert the Victoria into accommodation for the aged and infirm. Cameron Hospital had been considerably extended in the 1930s, its relatively modern buildings and large open site offered the potential to develop a new general hospital there.
Difficulties over the acquisition of the additional land required adjacent to Cameron Hospital caused considerable delays. This, together with the time consuming bureaucracy of the new health service, followed by drastic cuts in central funding for new building, lead eventually to the abandonment of the Cameron Hospital scheme in about 1958. In the mean time, a new surgical ward block and other additions had been planned at the Victoria Hospital, with a view to addressing the serious shortage of beds across Fife generally. Work on this extension was nearing completion when the Cameron plan was given up, and the decision taken to build a second, larger block at Kirkcaldy. The 1950s extension therefore became known as phase one, the 1960s development phase two. The contrast in style and planning between these two phases indicates how post-war hospital architecture was developing apace at this time. Both phases are rare survivals of a key moment, demonstrating the evolution of modernist architecture as well as of hospital planning.
Preliminary plans for a 100-bed surgical unit at the Victoria site were on the drawing board of the architects’ department of the South East Regional Hospital Board in 1953. By October 1954 they had been broadly approved by the Department of Health and had been submitted to the East Fife Hospitals Board of Management based at Kirkcaldy for their consideration. John Holt, the Regional Board’s chief architect, attended meetings with the local Board of Management to explain the rationale behind the designs.
The footprint of the ward block adhered to pre-war pavilion planning in its arrangement, if not its internal layout, comprising a three-storey T-plan building divided into three ward wings with the main entrance hall and stair at their meeting point. A single storey range on the north side contained the main out-patients’ department, and another at north-west corner housed a chest clinic. The entire building is flat-roofed, steel framed, and faced in buff-coloured brick and glass curtain walling. The flat roof of the north-east wing had a solarium and roof garden, its reinforced concrete pergola remains a distinctive feature of the building. Roof terraces and solaria were more common in the interwar period, and even then roof gardens were a rare feature in a Scottish hospital.
Inside, clinics, offices and the children’s ward were on the ground floor, wards and accommodation for medical staff on the first floor, and further wards and twin operating theatres on the second floor. According to Holt, ward planning was based ‘on the continental practice’ of having wards sited on one side of a central corridor and ancillary rooms on the other. This was known as the Rigs model (referring to the Rigs Hospital, Copenhagen), and was also the basis of the Nuffield Provincial Hospitals Trust’s widely publicised experimental ward built at Greenock in the early 50s.
Unusually, the operating theatres faced south. This met with surprise from the Board of Management committee, as it was traditional for theatres to be on the north side to benefit from even northern light. Holt explained that the trend was now against providing large theatre windows, rendering their position unimportant, and the theatres here would be air-conditioned, combatting heat from direct sunlight and providing effective bacteriological control.
When work on the surgical block was nearing completion in 1959, it was discovered that the ward doorways were too narrow to allow beds to be wheeled through easily. The standard hospital bed, without mattress, sheets and blankets, was 36 inches wide, and the new ward doorways were fractionally under 40 inches wide. Various suggestions were made for easing the beds through the doorways, but widening them was dismissed as too costly. Metal strips were proposed to be added to the door frames to protect the woodwork, narrower beds were rejected, but narrower mattresses would be used. The matter was also to be ‘kept in mind’ when plans were drawn up for the phase two ward block.
Nurses’ Home, Hayfield House
The nurses’ home, now Hayfield House, has some more overtly modernist features: its upper floors resting on slender pilotis, originally with an open space in the centre. It was constructed in a novel way, using a method that until that time was only used on tall silos. The concrete frame of the building was constructed from shuttered concrete made using continuously sliding forms operated by hydraulic jacks. The timber forms were constructed in situ on the first floor, and given a slight batter to ensure that they were self-clearing. Work was carried out continuously for four days, with 54 men on the day shift and 51 on the night shift. This experimental construction method was recommended by the consultant engineers, Blyth and Blyth, because of the ground conditions. The presence of historic mine workings favoured a concrete frame, being lighter than steel, particularly for a building of this height. Nevertheless, the modernist aesthetic was tempered by the warm tones of the brick facing, pale blue tiles and random-rubble stonework at the entrance.
In 1958 the Department of Health approved a second extension at the Victoria Hospital. Trial borings had to be made on the site once more, to check for underground mine workings, but as soon as the site was deemed suitable detailed planning was begun in the hopes that building work might start in 1961. The architect in charge of phase two was Eric Dalgleish Davidson, who had taken over from Walter Scott on phase one when Scott had left to set up in private practice late in 1957.
A model of phase two was made in 1962, and plans had been finalised by November that year. The annual report of the Scottish Home and Health Department recorded that the second extension to the Victoria was in progress at the end of the year. Officially opened in 1967, phase two is in marked contrast to phase one in style and scale: high rise rather than low rise, uncompromisingly modernist, and adopting a deeper, double-corridor ward plan.
An eleven-storey tower sits atop a two-storey podium – in the matchbox-on-a-muffin manner, demonstrated clearly in the model pictured above. The extension housed twice the number of beds as phase one (240), three operating theatres, a new out-patients’ department, A&E, X-ray, sterile supply, physiotherapy and occupational therapy departments, as well as a conference hall, and libraries for patients and medical staff. Eight ward units, each with 30 beds, were located in the tower; the beds were mostly in four-bedded bays, supplemented by single rooms. Various labour-saving devices were introduced making the most of technical innovations.
In addition to the main ward tower, some of the phase one buildings were extended to meet the demands of the large increase in patients and staff. The kitchen and dining-room building was one that had to be enlarged, but the Board of Management’s hopes for greatly expanded staff recreation facilities (including a swimming pool) proved too expensive.
With the shift from Cameron Hospital to the Victoria as the new general hospital for East Fife, the central laboratory which had been established at Cameron was now in the wrong place. A new laboratory was therefore included in the phase two scheme. Different in style again from either phase one or the ward tower, this distinctly industrial-looking building occupies the north-east corner of the site. The laboratory is square in plan, arranged around an internal courtyard.
The phase two extension of the Victoria Hospital is particularly significant in Scottish hospital history because of the involvement of Eric Davidson in its design. Whilst it is difficult to ascribe a single designer to the phase two buildings, Davidson was the architect in charge. In 1960 he had been made Assistant Regional Architect to the South Eastern Regional Hospital Board and also Chairman of the Scottish Hospitals Study Group (1960-4). Following the re-organisation of the NHS in 1974 he became Assistant Director and Chief Architect of the Scottish Health Service Building Division (from 1974 until he retired in 1989). John Holt, likewise, is a key figure in the earlier decades of Scottish hospital design. As the chief architect to the Regional Board, he headed up a department that designed many remarkable buildings extending from hospitals in the Borders, across the Lothians and into Fife.
In the more recent additions to the Victoria Hospital, major architects or architectural firms are also present, with Building Design Partnership for the newest development (completed 2012) and Zaha Hadid for the Maggie’s Centre (2006). Each phase, from the 1890s onwards, encapsulates in built form the ideas, hopes and aspirations of the different times in which they were designed.
The view above looks south across the double-curved front of the new wing, with its paired entrances sheltered by distinctive, up-turned, curved canopies. The nearer entrance leads to the out-patients’ department and main wards, the farther entrance to the maternity wing. Just visible on the right is the corner of the diminutive Maggie’s Centre.
National Records of Scotland, Department of Health files: Fife Archives, East Fife Hospitals Board of Management, Minutes; Plans, DG/K/5/121: Department of Health for Scotland, Scottish Hospitals Survey, Report on the South-Eastern Region, 1946: PP, Scottish Home and Health Department, Annual Report for 1967, p.76: The Hospital, Jan. 1960 p.67; December 1960, pp 995-1004; Jan. 1961, p.54; July 1961, p.474; May 1962, pp 303-4; March 1964, p.163; Sept 1967, p.353: AJ, 22 Nov 1956, pp 746-7: Urban Realm, 24 Aug 2012.
There have been three hospitals on Islay: a poor law institution that provided medical care for paupers and in the early decades of the National Health Service became the island’s general hospital; an infectious diseases hospital, established in the 1890s, and provided with a permanent small building in 1904; and the present Islay Hospital built in 1963-6, pictured above.
The earliest of these was the poorhouse, built in 1864-5 on the outskirts of Bowmore on land owned by Charles Morrison. The local Parochial Board decided to get their plans from an Edinburgh architect with experience in such buildings, J. C. Walker. As can been seen from the map above, the building comprised an H-shaped complex. The main north wing was of two storeys, the rest single-storey. (For a photograph of the poorhouse see the Islay History blogspot)
To comply with the Public Health Acts the local authority had to provide accommodation for cases of infectious disease and so a fever hospital was established at Gartnatra, to the east of Bowmore. Although the building pictured above was built in 1904, there had been a hospital hereabouts since at least the mid-1890s. The local Medical Officer for Health, Dr Ross, reported on an outbreak of measles in 1895, the patient being removed to the hospital. However, as there was no nurse employed by the local authority to attend the hospital, the patient’s mother went to nurse her daughter. Dr Ross had no authority to confine the mother to the hospital, and she went in to the village on many occasions. In a short time the disease spread rapidly throughout Bowmore.
The situation was finally remedied with the erection of a new building for which the plans were approved by the Local Government Board for Scotland in 1902. To cover the cost of construction a loan of £1,100 was secured from the Public Works Loan Board. The building is dated 1904, and the Local Government Board sanctioned it for occupation in February 1905. It was built by James MacFayden. The building survives, though the interior has been completely refurbished and a large extension built to the rear. It is now in use as a cultural centre. In the photograph below, the old hospital is the gabled block on the left, with the short bay attached (the former sanitary annexe). The rest has been added to form the new cultural centre and cafe.
With the establishment of the National Health Service in 1948 the administration of Gartnatra Hospital and the poorhouse, latterly known as Gortanvogie House, passed to the Campbeltown and District Hospitals Board of Management, under the Western Regional Hospital Board (WRHB). Under the terms of the National Health Service Act responsibility for the elderly remained with local authorities, so the presence of elderly as well as the sick at Gortanvogie posed problems. In the opinion of the Board of Management, although Gortanvogie left much to be desired, the conditions were probably better than most of the patients enjoyed at home.
Given the list of improvements that the Matron had requested, this makes for a depressing view of those conditions. She had asked, without success, for: electric light – the Hydro Electric Board’s supply reached the front door, but the building was not wired; hot water on the ground floor; a bathroom directly off each main ward on the ground floor; a linen cupboard; wooden or other suitable flooring instead of stone floors; a brick side screen with steel windows along the outside of a covered way between the front and back of the building to stop the inmates from passing through the staff dining-room; essential repairs to the structure of walls and ceilings, and re-slating a large part of the roof. Neglect of building maintenance during the war, common throughout Britain, had left many of the inner walls damp and rotten, with plaster having fallen from many of the ceilings.
Gartnatra, on the other hand, was described as well-built with no serious trace of damp except in two W.C.s at the back on either side which were below a flat part of the roof where the rain water had forced a way in during stormy weather.
‘The site of Gartnatra is bleak and exposed to the prevailing westerly wind coming off the bay; there is nothing “cosy” about the building, but Matron remarked that the islanders are used to hearing the wind roar about their houses. Our visit was on a day of cold rain. A shelter belt of trees would obviously be desirable, but we were told that owing to the wind and the salt spray from the sea, there would be little chance of trees growing.’
When the question of modernising the hospital facilities was under discussion, a small team from the mainland visited Islay in May 1952 that included Mr Guthrie, the Regional Hospital Board Architect, Dr Guy, the Medical Officer of Health, and representatives of Argyllshire County Council. The Secretary of the Board of Management for Campbeltown & District Hospitals favoured an extension to Gartnatra but the local doctors argued for a new hospital on a more convenient and sheltered site. Funding was the main problem, but the Department of Health were conscious that spending money on upgrading inferior accommodation was not the best long-term policy.
Plans for extending Gartnatra were drawn up by the WRHB architects, only to be rejected by the Board of Management. With patient numbers dwindling to none, Gartnatra closed in April 1955. The following year the tide had turned towards using Gortanvogie as the hospital and turning Gartnatra over to the local authority as a home for the elderly, and in 1958 sketch plans were drawn up by the WRHB for a new hospital building on the Gortanvogie site. By May 1959 these plans seem to have evolved into something like their final form, encompassing the demolition of Gortanvogie and building in its place two separate buildings, a hospital and a home for the elderly. This was certainly the case by the following May, when some of the problems of shared staff and services were beginning to be discussed.
By July 1960 detailed plans had been drawn up by the WRHB and submitted to the Department of Health. Forbes Murison, Chief Architect to the WHRB, had been building up a central staff of architects with some success, and did not want to have them sitting around doing nothing. The Islay job was one on which he was keen to let them cut their teeth. In 1960 Douglas Gordon McKellar Adam had joined as Principal Assistant, (he became Assistant Chief Architect in 1962).
In the hopes of gaining the necessary approbation from the Department of Health, the WRHB stressed that Gortanvogie was one of the few examples of an old poorhouse still used in the hospital service in the Western Region. It not only had 12 beds for the sick, but 8 for the old and infirm under the charge of the local authority. Despite the nature of its original purpose, the hospital had in recent times been fulfilling the functions of a cottage hospital by the admission of general and maternity patients. The fabric of the building was so poor as to make reconstruction unviable. Many of the floors were laid directly on the ground, and there was practically no sub-floor ventilation. The intention was to provide all the services of a general cottage hospital and make the island as independent of the air services as practicable. Argyll County Council wished to arrange for the provision of a 20-bedded Eventide Home as part of the scheme, and it was agreed that the one architect should design both, and that this should rest with the Regional Board’s architectural staff.
The new hospital was also originally to provide 20 beds (an additional maternity bed was added later), as well as X-ray, casualty and treatment room, mortuary, boiler-house, kitchen etc, accommodation for the matron and six nurses – considered essential given the location on a ‘remote island’. From the start, the hospital was to be linked to the eventide home by a covered way, and the heating, hot water services and kitchen were to be shared. This raised the question of who should fund what. It also required authorisation from the Treasury as sharing facilities was not authorised by the National Health Service Act. Although combining a hospital with a home for the elderly went against government health policy, as well as introducing the complexity regarding shared funding, mixed institutions were thought to have a place in the more remote parts of the Scottish Islands and Highlands.
At this point the estimated cost was £146,000. At the end of October the Department forwarded their comments on the plans. Within the Department of Health these were circulated to a team of advisers on the different elements of hospital design, function and administration, each of whom submitted comments, criticisms and suggested alterations. The list of criticisms was lengthy, ranging from concern over the position of the maternity unit below the staff residential quarters (as babies’ crying was liable to cause disturbance), to suggesting that the entrance to the visitors’ viewing room into the mortuary should be placed opposite the doctor’s room rather than in the main hall. Some rooms they thought too small, others too large.
Treasury approval was granted in November 1960, and the following month the Department was able to give the Regional Board approval in principle to enable planning to proceed. In June 1961 the WRHB sent in revised plans, and raised the issue that the scheme would need to be carried out in two phases, the first phase being the provision of the hospital which could be done without demolishing the existing building, and the second phase being the eventide home following demolition. The revised plan for the eventide home had by then already been agreed to by the County Council, but one of the Department of Health’s architects, R. L. Hume (presumably Robert Leggat Hume, 1899-1980), also discussed the plan with the Regional Board, which seems to have resulted in further revisions.
Some of the criticisms revolved around room allocation, others around safety. The home was designed around a garden court with a pool in the centre – and so there were concerns that the old people might fall in. Hume discussed the plans with Mr Ellis (Kenneth Geoffrey Ellis), one of the Regional Board’s architects who confirmed that the points raised had been attended to, and that the pool was intended to be shallow with low shrubs or flowers planted around it to keep old people away from the edge. (The plans submitted to the Department were drawn by Ellis, and are dated January 1962.)
Although it had been hoped that building would start in the financial year 1961-2, the already complex bureaucracy was exacerbated by the apportionment of costs between the Department and the County Council. It was not until June 1962 that the Department sanctioned the preparation of final plans.
Revised plans were submitted in April 1963, and circulated yet again to the Department’s professional advisers for comment. As comments trickled in they were relayed back to the Regional Board, but the Department was at pains to stress that they would not expect drastic alterations to the proposed layout at this stage. The main delaying factors were not difficult to identify: the amount of scrutiny that the project was given had led to ‘a good deal of adverse comment on the plans’; the architectural staff of the WRHB were under pressure to cope with the wider building programme; and the awareness of the shortage of capital funds had generated a reluctance to embark on a relatively expensive project for its size. Once the plans were agreed and the costing completed, work began towards the end of 1963.
Caution over the estimates was well founded. Within the three years since the original probable costing of around £100,000, it had more than doubled to £236,816. The revised figure took into account the special prices that might be expected to be charged for building on Islay. But everyone involved was aware that costs might still creep up. The main difficulty was attracting a sufficient number of contractors even ‘reasonably interested’ in building on Islay, in order to avoided inflated prices.
The hospital was built first, then Gortanvogie House demolished and the home built on its site. In 1966 work on the hospital was completed. It had cost about £180,000, and provided 12 chronic sick beds, 6 beds for general medicine and 3 maternity beds.
National Records of Scotland, HH101/1491: Dictionary of Scottish Architects