The late Glen o’Dee Hospital, Banchory

On 13 October 2016 the former Glen o’Dee Hospital was destroyed by fire. A few days later two 13-year-old boys were charged by the police in connection with the blaze.

canmore_image_SC00813181-3Glen-o-Dee Hospital photographed in 1990 by  RCHAMS

Glen o’Dee was quite possibly the historic hospital that I most admired. The memory of stumbling across it, without knowing what to expect, has never quite lost its charm. Its future had for long been uncertain and the building lain empty since at least 1998, steadily deteriorating.

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The former Glen o’Dee hospital, photographed in 2012 © Copyright Alan Findlay and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

A new community hospital was built behind it in the 1990s, complicating plans for re-using the original building. Planning permission was granted in 2010 for redevelopment as housing, but nothing was done, and it remained on the register of Buildings at Risk in Scotland.

canmore_image_SC01166274-2Glen-o-Dee hospital photographed in 1990 by RCAHMS. The contrast with the photograph taken in 2012 is marked.

Glen o’Dee was the first Sanatorium to be built in Scotland on the fresh‑air principle. It was designed by George Coutts of Aberdeen and opened in 1900. It was constructed mainly of timber with a central tower of Hill of Fare granite. Balconies and verandas were provided for all the rooms, facing south across the Dee, and access corridors ran along the north side. The recreation pavilion added to the south‑east below the dining‑hall was built in the same style with windows running all around it.

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Extract from the 2nd-edition 25-inch OS map, surveyed in 1902 showing the newly built sanatorium. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland

Stylistically it was closer to the sanatoria in Germany than any others that were subsequently built in Scotland. But it was also very similar to Mundesley Sanatorium, in Norfolk, which had opened the year before.

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The old tuberculosis hospital at Mundesley, photographed in 2011. It originally opened in 1899. © Copyright Evelyn Simak and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Glen o’Dee was originally called Nordrach‑on‑Dee, changing to Glen o’Dee when the building became a hotel for a time in 1934. It had been founded as a private sanatorium which treated TB on the Nordrach System pioneered at Nordrach in Baden, established in 1888 by Dr Otto Walther. This treatment mostly consisted of rest in the open air. Nordrach‑on‑Dee was founded by Dr David Lawson of Banchory, who had a distinguished career, pioneering work in the treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis. Before the Hospital was built, much discussion took place as to the site. In 1899 Lawson published an article outlining the criteria and giving details of the eminent committee formed to acquire a suitable site. This committee consisted of, amongst others, Professors of Medicine from Aberdeen and Edinburgh Universities. According to their research Deeside’s record for minimum rainfall and maximum sunshine were favourable.

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The Bremer Sanatorium at Gobersdorf was one of the most influential of the early hospitals pioneering open-air treatment of tuberculosis. From F. R. Walters, Sanatoria for Consumptives, 1899. 

The site for Nordrach-on-Dee was purchased from Sir Thomas Burnett of Crathes for between £5,000 and £6,000. The building itself was estimated to cost £12,000. Initially there were 40 bedrooms though later additions were made. In 1928 Nordrach‑on‑Dee closed and was unused until its re‑opening as a luxurious hotel in 1934.

canmore_image_SC01241325-2A postcard of the sanatorium from c.1910 from the RCAHMS collection

Brochures surviving in NHS Grampian Archives from both its incarnations give a similar picture of the regimes at the Sanatoria and Hotel. In the earlier document the text describes how each room was  constructed so as to admit a maximum of pure sunlight and fresh air. ‘The windows occupy over two‑thirds of the outside wall space and are so arranged as to permit of their being kept open during all weathers.”

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An old postcard of Glen-o-Dee Hospital, when it was still known as Nordrach-on-Dee, from the RCAHMS collection

It was one of the first sanatoria to use x‑rays in the treatment of TB. In 1941 the Hotel was requisitioned by the army and at the end of the war it was purchased by the Scottish Red Cross Society, who re‑fitted it as a sanatorium for ex‑service men and women suffering from TB. It was opened as such by the Queen in 1949.

canmore_image_SC01269480-2Aerofilms photograph of Glen-o-Dee hospital taken in 1950 from the RCAHMS collection

In 1955 it was transferred to the National Health Service and was latterly devoted to the care of geriatric patients. Two  single‑storey ward blocks were constructed to the rear, the most recent on the site of the former nurses’ home. In 1990 Grampian Health Board had plans to demolish part of the original sanatorium. Whilst its timber construction made it understandable that the building presented difficulties with both maintenance and fire prevention, its undoubted historic importance makes its loss regrettable.

Selected Sources: Grampian Health Board Archives, booklets on Sanatorium and Hotel. The Hospital, 1 June 1901, p.152‑3]; BBC news, online report: NHS Grampian archives website has a history and images of the hospital

King Edward VII Estate: Midhurst Sanatorium

Following on from the post featuring Midhurst Sanatorium chapel, I wanted to look at the main Sanatorium building. It is one of the most important former sanatoria in England and one of the most attractive. Latterly the King Edward VII Hospital, it closed in 2006 and remained empty for some years after. The sanatorium building and chapel were listed Grade II* and the gardens registered, conferring a degree of protection for these important buildings and imposing restrictions on the re-use and redevelopment of the site. Nevertheless, by 2012 the condition of the buildings had deteriorated and the chapel was placed on the Heritage at Risk register. In 2015 work began on the redevelopment of the site, turning it into a luxury estate, by the developers City and Country.

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A rather scratchy slide from June 1992 of the King Edward VII Hospital, as it then was.

As the name of the hospital implies, the origins of this sanatorium were closely linked with Edward VII. Having decided to fund the erection of a sanatorium in England for patients suffering from tuberculosis, in 1901, the year that he acceded to the throne, the king appointed an advisory committee comprising some of the leading medical men of the day to ensure that it should be of the most up-to-date design. There were six men on the committee: Sir William Broadbent Bt KCVO; Sir Richard Douglas Powell Bt KCVO; Sir Francis Laking KCVO; Sir Felix Semon; Sir Hermann Weber; and Dr C. Theodore Williams. In February 1902 the committee announced in the medical press of Europe and America that a competition was to be held for an essay and plans for the erection of the sanatorium. There was no restriction as to the nationality of the entrants, and they might be either from medical men or jointly from a medic and an architect (but not just from architects). The sanatorium was to provide for 100 patients, equally divided between the sexes, of which 88 beds were to be for the ‘necessitous classes’ the remaining 12 set aside for the well-to-do. All the accommodation was to be comfortable, with a single room for each patient, though with ‘superior arrangements’ being made for the wealthy patients. The building was to have the latest sanitary fittings and have facilities for scientific research. Entries were to be anonymous, but have a motto to distinguish them. The king was to provide £800 in prize money, awarding £500 for the best entry, then £200 and £100 for second and third place.

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Arthur Latham deposited this bound edition of his prize-winning entry in the library of the Royal College of Physicians. It has been digitised by the internet archive

There were 180 entries, and the winners were announced in August 1902. The top prize went to Dr Arthur Latham of London and William West, architect, also from London (motto – ‘Give him air, he’ll straight be well’). Second prize went to Dr F. J. Wethered with Messrs Law and Allen, architects, also all from London (motto – ‘If preventable, why not prevented?’), and third prize to Dr E. C. Morland with Mr G. Morland, architect, both of Croydon (motto – ‘Vis Medicatrix naturae’, roughly ‘the healing power of nature’, a motto associated with the nature cure movement).  On the architectural side, these were not well-known names. There were four honourable mentions, amongst whom were some better-known architects: Dr P. S. Hichens of Northampton submitted his essay in association with the architect Robert Weir Schultz, and Dr Jane Walker with Smith & Brewer. The only non-English entrant that featured in this list was the celebrated Dr Karl Turban of Davos whose architect was J. Gros. The final honourable mention went to Dr J. P. Wills of Bexhill, with Mr Wills, architect, London.

In the mean time the site had been chosen, at Midhurst in Sussex (now West Sussex). But the commission to design the new sanatorium did not go to Latham’s little-known architect William West, but to H. Percy Adams, presumably considered a safer pair of hands as he was already a well-experienced hospital architect. Since 1898 Charles Holden had been in Adams’ practice, and the final design for Midhurst Sanatorium bears the hallmarks of Holden’s characteristic style.

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Aerial perspective of the ‘King’s Sanatorium’ as designed by H. Percy Adams and Charles Holden in 1902, published in Academy Architecture, 1903

To assist them in drawing up the design Adams and Holden had the benefit of Latham and West’s essay and plans, but they also visited sanatoria in Germany and Switzerland – Edward VII had been particularly impressed by the sanatorium at Falkenstein in Germany. The aerial perspective above shows the arrangement of the building. The patients were to occupy the shallow-V-shaped range to the right, which faced south, behind which was a U-plan administration block. These two ranges were linked by a central corridor. The admin block contained suites of offices, the committee room and service rooms, as well as an operating theatre, X-ray and casualty rooms, laboratories, a medical library, and the patients’ dining hall.

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Plan from Latham and West’s essay. Their preferred scheme was to provide separate blocks for the wealthy and necessitous patients, this plan being the block for the more wealthy patients. 

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This was Latham & West’s alternative plan, which housed the wealthy and necessitous in one building. Both plans have elements in common with the designs drawn up by Adams & Holden.

Edward VII retained his interest in the progress of the sanatorium, laying the foundation stone on 3 November 1903. Delays in construction, in part over the water supply, caused the king some vexation, but it was finally opened on 13 June 1906.

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The main front of the sanatorium, photographed in June 1992

The patients’ wing to the south was symmetrically arranged with a taller central block of three storeys. The ground floor breaks forward, its flat roof providing a terrace for the rooms on the first floor. Within were two spacious recreation rooms on the ground floor, one either side of the central corridor which marked the division of the sexes (males on the west, females on the east side). There were also hydro-therapy rooms flanking the garden entrance. Each patient had a separate room, as the original competition rules had required.

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Photograph of the sanatorium taken c.1950. (Image kindly supplied by W. Parker.)

The rooms faced south and opened on to a terrace or balcony. Bathrooms and WCs were provided in sanitary towers to the north of the patients’ corridor that ran along the back of their rooms and at the far ends of the building. The wealthier or higher class patients had slightly larger rooms with private balconies situated in the central range, while the lower-class patients occupied the wings.

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Detail of the central gabled bay, June 1992

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One of the stone alcoves on the south front, which provided a secluded shelter

The furnishings and fittings combined hygienic and aesthetic requirements. Washable wallpaper was used in the patients’ bedrooms, an early use of this new product in England, and the floors were of wood blocks. Moulmein teak was used for the staircases which was less susceptible to fire than other, coarser grained wood. The dining-hall and kitchen walls were lined with Doulton’s Carrara tiles.

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Postcard with aerial view of the sanatorium. (Image kindly supplied by W. Parker.)

A formal garden was designed for the area to the south of the main building by the horticulturalist Gertrude Jekyll. Her layout, of gardens built on terraces on several levels, with buttressed stone walls separating one level from another, follows closely the scheme indicated by Adams in his perspective drawing. Lawns and flower beds were laid out on the terraces, and various shrubs, flowers and aromatic herbs were planted, many supplied personally by Jekyll. She also designed small gardens to fill the spaces between the administration block and the patients’ wings, again following closely Adams’ original designs. The work was carried out under Jekyll’s direction by two gardeners aided by some of the patients.

Sources
A. Latham The Prize Essay on the erection of a sanatorium for tuberculosis… 1903
Academy Architecture, 1903, ii, pp.116-9
F. Allibone, typescript notes to collection of drawings by Adams, Holden & Pearson in RIBA Drawings Collection
The Builder, 23 May 1903, pp.531-2; 22 April 1905, pp.440; 23 June 1906, p.707
Building News, 27 May 1904, p.761
Kelly’s Directory of Sussex 1934, 1934, p.243
S. E. Large, King Edward VII Hospital Midhurst 1901-1986, 1986
I. Nairn & N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Sussex, 1965

see also urbexer’s exploration of the site from 2012 on 28dayslater

A mysterious coded message from Midhurst Sanatorium

hospitals182Recently I bought this post-card of the chapel at the King Edward VII Sanatorium, Midhurst, and was both surprised and puzzled to find what I assume to be a coded message on the back. The postmark is Aldershot, 7 August 1912, another puzzle as it suggests that the postcard was not sent from the hospital. If anyone has any idea how to translate the code I would be very grateful for any clues or explanations.

The puzzling message on a 1912 postcard to Miss Goddard of Ufton Green from ‘J’. A search in the census found a Georgina Goddard, born about 1887, who grew up on her Grandfather’s farm at Ufton in Berkshire and was living at the farm with her parents in 1911.

I had no idea about the message when I bought the card, it was the photograph of the chapel that I was interested in. The former Midhurst Sanatorium is one of the finest examples of this type of hospital. It was designed by H. Percy Adams and Charles Holden and was opened by Edward VII in 1906. The King had founded, and funded, the sanatorium which was for paying patients suffering from tuberculosis not wealthy enough to seek treatment abroad. Edward VII had been impressed with sanatoria on the Continent and their open air regimes.

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Not the best snap, but it gives an idea of the unusual V-shaped plan which created two naves stretching out from a central chancel under the squat tower. At the centre is an open-air pulpit – seen more clearly in the photograph below.

In 1901 the King formed an advisory committee comprising eminent physicians and authorities on the treatment of tuberculosis. It was decided to hold a competition, not for the design of a sanatoria, but for an essay on the subject, and was aimed at members of the medical profession as much as, or even rather than architects. The competition was won by Dr Arthur Latham and the architect William West of London, Robert Weir Schultz gained an honourable mention, but the commission went to H. Percy Adams. Adams was able to consult the winning entry before drawing up his plans and also visited several sanatoria in Germany and Switzerland.

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Open-air pulpit at the Midhurst Sanatorium chapel, from which the chaplain could address a garden congregation. The arcade in front of the arched windows lighting the nave provided shade or shelter, as the windows originally were unglazed. 

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Looking across from one arcade to the other. The main sanatorium building can just be glimpsed to the right of the photograph.

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Looking down one of the arcades

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The entrance to the west nave, off-set from the nave behind. It has a commanding and solid presence, faced in stone with a chequerboard band below the parapet.

The idea of designing an open-air chapel did not come from Adams and Holden, it had been suggested by the Advisory Committee, but without any clear indication of what form it should take. The twin naves Adams and Holden designed allowed for the division of men from women, and the V-shaped or half-butterfly plan is common to sanatoria and some country houses as it produced a sun-trap.

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The tall arched openings leading out to the arcade were originally unglazed and open to the elements, so that even while attending a chapel service patients could continue their open-air regime. The glazing was added in 1957 designed by Brian Poulter, the hospital’s consulting architect.

In an open-air chapel, heating was important and here a system of under-floor heating was provided. It comprised steam pipes which warmed the stone floor, and was similar to that used at Eppendorf Hospital, Hamburg.

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The chancel is octagonal and domed, the pulpit, lectern and altar have carved teak and inlaid ebony detailing.  

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Another view of the chancel. The walls of Bath stone are finely jointed ashlar and the floor is of York stone.

Sir John Brickwood, brewer of Portsmouth, provided the £25,000 to build the chapel, which opened at the same time as the hospital in 1906. His wife, Lady Jessie Brickwood, embroidered an intricate altar cloth that had a central figure of Christ flanked by the emblems of the four evangelists set against scrolling foliage. (There is a picture of the altar with its altar cloth on Brickwoods.co.uk, with much more information on the family)

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The rear of the chapel. Although the later extension to the right detracts a little from the impact of this elevation, the tower is still impressive with its graded stripes and patterns in the brickwork and the boldness of its composition, suggestive of the talents of Charles Holden.

Sources

RCHME Report on King Edward VII Hospital, NBR No. 101270, written by H. Richardson and C. Thom November 1992, for which the following sources were used:  Academy Architecture, 1903, ii, 116-9:  Allibone, F, typescript notes to collection of drawings by Adams, Holden & Pearson in RIBA Drawings Collection: The Builder, 23 May 1903, 531-2; 22 April 1905, 440; 23 June 1906, 707: Building News, 27 May 1904, 761: Kelly’s Directory of Sussex 1934, 1934, 243: Large, S E, 1986. King Edward VII Hospital Midhurst 1901-1986: Nairn, I & Pevsner, N, 1965. The Buildings of England: Sussex: Recent English Ecclesiastical Architecture, 2nd ed, 212-6

 

 

 

 

Pine Trees

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.

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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.

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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.”

The Hospitals Investigator 2 (part 2)

The rest of Robert Taylor’s newsletter from July 1991 considered the richly varied topics of ridge lanterns, sanatoria, sewage works, pine trees, lunacy, and the grisly discovery of a body in a former hospital. I’m going to save the pine trees for a separate post, as I’d like to expand on the subject, (always leave the customers wanting more). For the rest, read on.

Ridge Lanterns

“At several hospitals there are buildings with rectangular lanterns on the ridge of the roof, giving light to the room below. These ought to have some diagnostic significance, but so far the Suffolk examples have given only rather vague guidance. The following uses have been noticed.”

(1) Laundries. Large examples, on big structures, usually close to the boiler house. Part of their function will have been to release steam and heat, but for that a normal louvred lantern was often adequate.

(2) Post-mortem rooms. These are relatively small examples, on small structures, and usually next to a mortuary… The function is to give top lighting to the dissection table. Curiously we have not yet observed them over an operating theatre. [see below]

(3) Store rooms. These are generally square or nearly square rooms, the equivalent of two storeys high, with racking or shelving inside on both ground floor and on a gallery defining a central light well. This well is lit by the lantern, as side windows would reduce the amount of shelf-space available, and so are generally absent. The only examples of this type of room so far seen appear to be of the twentieth century.

(4) Butcher’s shop. This is an unexpected building at the Suffolk County Asylum, dating from about 1902. Perhaps the top lighting is for similar reasons to that over a dissecting table. This stray example points to the fact that such top lighting is absent from all of the observed workshops at Suffolk workhouses and asylums.

Operating theatres at most hospitals did not have roof-ridge lanterns, but,for most of the 19th and early 20th centuries, large north-facing windows, with an element of top-lighting as they usually continued a little way into the roof.

Teaching hospitals, where there was a large operating theatre in which demonstrations could be made before students, or anatomy theatres, were sometimes lit by a roof lantern, such as William Adam’s Royal Infirmary at Edinburgh. A surviving example that has become a museum served the original St Thomas’s Hospital (before it moved to its present site opposite the House of Commons to make way for the expanding railways at Southwark) http://www.thegarret.org.uk.

Sanatoria

“Amongst the Blue Books [Parliamentary Papers] is a Supplement in Continuation of the Report of the Medical Officer for 1905-6 on Sanatoria for Consumption and Certain other Aspects of the Tuberculosis Question  (1907.XXVII). Part Two of this breathtakingly-titled work is a survey of public sanatoria, with some illustrations. The following list gives the page number, and also the date of foundation. Those marked with a * have a published plan.”

265 Jewish Sanatorium, Daneswood 1903
274 London Open Air, Pinewood 1901
275 Manchester Sanatorium, Bowden 1885
277 Heswall Sanatorium 1902
343 Delamere Forest 1901
348 Crossley Sanatorium * 1905
358 Blencathra Sanatorium 1904
373 Durham County Sanatorium 1901
394 Benenden Sanatorium 1907
404 East Cliff, Margate 1898
405 Royal Sea Bathing Hospital, Margate 1791
409 Victoria Home for Invalid Children, Margate 1892
409 Clayton Vale Smallpox Hospital, Manchester n.d.
410 Liverpool Hospital for Consumption 1863
412 Moor End, Sheffield n.d.
447 Barrasford Sanatorium * 1907
450 Nottingham Sanatorium 1901
465 Brompton Hospital Sanatorium, Heatherside * 1904
474 Eversfield Hospital, St Leonards 1884
475 Fairlight Hall Convalescent Home, Hastings n.d.
476 King Edward VII Sanatorium, Midhurst * 1906
484 Millfield 1904
490 Westmorland Sanatorium 1900
524 Knightwick, Worcs. 1902
530 Skipton * 1903
540 Leeds 1901
543 Armley House n.d.
544 Hull and East Riding 1902

This report of some 800-plus-pages not only has plans, but photographs, including interiors, and line drawings. As a group these sanatoria are some of the most attractive hospital buildings. One of the best known, the King Edward VII Sanatorium at Midhurst in West Sussex, designed by Adams, Holden and Pearson and with Gertrude Jekyll gardens, was fairly recently converted into luxury apartments. The chapel there is a cracker.

Another sanatorium with a great chapel and fine main building is at Northwood, Middlesex (in Hillingdon Borough, Greater London), part of Mount Vernon Hospital. The main building is on the Heritage at Risk Register. It was built as the country branch of the original hospital in Hampstead.

Sewage Works

“There is a strange association between isolation hospitals and sewage works. It is not common, but frequent enough to be noticeable. Both share the ‘not in my back yard’ approach to siting and so are usually near the edge of the parish or, better still in the next parish. A splendid example of this is Peterborough, with a cluster of two isolation hospitals and a sewage works just over the border in the next county. Some time before 1898 the Aldershot Urban District Council built a galvanised iron smallpox hospital at the sewage farm, and by the end of the century had put a sewage workman in the building. Clearly smallpox presented less of a threat to human life than the sewage. In 1906 at Sheerness there was an interchange of buildings between the two types of institution, with the implication that the hospital was of less importance.”

Thorn Hill isolation hospital was in an enviable location, near the military cemetery and the gasworks, also handy for the railway, and that’s the edge of Mandora Barracks on the left. The quadrangular range of buildings just above ‘Round Hill’ formed an Army supply depot. This, the cemetery, barracks and government gas works all pre-dated the hospital.

Lunacy

“In the Suffolk Record Office at Ipswich is preserved from 1889 a sheet of paper from the archives of the County Asylum described succinctly in the catalogue as ‘Chart of daily rainfall and epidemic cases to show connections between monthly rainfall and cases of lunacy’.[ID407/B18/1] The idea that rainfall has a determining effect on madness has serious implications for our project. Should Cumbria have more or fewer lunatic asylums than rain-starved Cambridgeshire? Have the geographers missed something of crucial importance about the climate of Middlesex and the Home Counties? Perhaps our project will be able to make a valuable contribution to knowledge.”

Despite the well-known depressing effect of a grey and rainy day, and conversely the uplifting effect of sunshine, we never ‘did the math’ to see if there were higher numbers of certified insane per population in Cumbria than Cambridgeshire. The mere sight of some of the grimmer asylum buildings in the rain or otherwise would be enough to sink the spirits of even the most stout hearted, especially some of the earlier more prison-like institutions, such as Hanwell.

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Hanwell was designed by William Alderson in 1828 as the Middlesex County Asylum, with accommodation for 300 patients. The hospital later became the St Bernard’s Wing of Ealing Hospital. It can be seen from the canal and from the railway line heading out from Paddington. That towering gateway seems particularly oppressive, it was added in 1839.

 

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St Bernards Gatehouse 2008  by P. G. Champion, Licensed under CC BY 2.0 uk via Wikimedia Commons

L0051389 General Plan of the Pauper Lunatic Asylum for Middlesex

Wellcome Library, London, General Plan of the Pauper Lunatic Asylum for Middlesex, 1838  (licensed under CC BY 4.0)

Man’s Body Found in Former Hospital

“The Cambridge Evening News has at last caught up with the nefarious activities of Harriet and Colin. Under the above heading the newspaper reported on 18 July: ‘Police have launched a murder enquiry after finding the body of a man hidden beneath the floor of a disused London hospital, Scotland Yard said today… It was hidden under an aluminium air conditioning duct in a tiled cavity below a trap door in the Belgrave Hospital, Clapham Road, Kennington. A man and a woman each made anonymous calls alerting the police to the body. Det Supt John Bassett, leading the inquiry, issued an appeal for them to come forward.’

I must clarify, that it was not the London team that discovered the body at the Belgrave Hospital. Because of its condition at the time, we didn’t get access to the building at all, which was a great shame.  I think it is one of the finest hospitals, architecturally, of the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It was designed by Charles Holden and begun in 1899.

Listed grade II* in 198,  the hospital closed in 1985 and was in a poor state when we began fieldwork in 1991. It was converted into flats not long afterwards. More information and photographs can be on the Vauxhall Civic Society website http://www.vauxhallcivicsociety.org.uk/history/belgrave-hospital-for-children/ and at the Lost Hospitals of London site http://ezitis.myzen.co.uk/belgrave.html