By the Survey of London, on 4 March 2016
The southern part of this building (to the right in the picture above) was erected in 1915 to house the General Medical Council (formally the General Council of Medical Education & Registration of the United Kingdom). The Council had begun to investigate a move to larger premises from its offices at 299 Oxford Street in 1903, during the presidency of Sir William Turner. The initiative was seen through a decade later by Sir Donald MacAlister, the Council’s President from 1904 to 1931 and a physician and administrator renowned for his great intellect, probity and firmness. In 1912 a committee was formed to oversee the move. MacAlister was joined by Dr (Sir) Norman Moore, representing the Royal College of Physicians, (Sir) Charles Sissmore Tomes, the Council’s treasurer and chairman of its dental committee, Sir Henry Morris, a recent past President of the Royal Society of Medicine, and Sir Francis Champneys, an eminent obstetrician. An enquiry to the Howard De Walden Estate in 1914 elicited the offer of a development site at 44–48 Hallam Street. The northern part of the building, always intended, was not added until 1922–3. The Dentists Act of 1921, seen through by the Liberal politician Francis Dyke Acland, had established the Dental Board of the United Kingdom to take on the GMC’s oversight of dentists and to deal with the scourge of unqualified dentistry. To maintain good communications with the Council, the new Board, chaired by Acland, built the interconnected premises next door.
The architect at both stages was Eustace C. Frere, of South African origins and Beaux-Arts trained, and the builders Chinchen & Co., of Kensal Green. Robert Angell had prepared plans in 1914, but Frere was preferred, probably because of family connections. The building is distinctive in Hallam Street for its clean Portland stone elevation – Frere was able to steer the Council away from a cheaper brick alternative by saving money in other areas. It is more widely unusual for its synthesis of neo-Georgian form and proportion with Neo-Grec ornament. Above the original entrance in what was at first an otherwise symmetrical front elevation, a once fine but now weather-worn lintel bas-relief by Frederick Lessore follows the suggestions of Dr Richard Caton, a member of the council, in depicting the cult of Asklepios (seated, left) and his extended family whose members represent aspects of medicine. This ‘frieze’ has a Greek-fret continuation across a full-height bow bearing more relief sculpture by Lessore and his assistants. Diminutive caryatids grace the tops of mullions, symbolising the Council’s functions, and the bowl of Hygieia is at the centre of the bow between the upper storeys where a council room was placed under a dining room. These spaces were laid out between separate staircases for members and the public and in front of committee rooms. The extension has similar external detailing, its tall windows lighting a board room. A second entrance was formed in its south bay around 1960 when the Medical Protection Society took the building’s northern parts. Since 2010 No. 44 has been a conference centre, Nos 46–50 three duplex apartments.