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    The Royal London Hospital Estate: a self-guided walk in Whitechapel

    By the Survey of London, on 3 November 2017

    The Survey of London would like to share a self-guided walk around the eastern portion of the Royal London Hospital’s estate, bounded roughly by Whitechapel Road north, Cavell Street east, Commercial Road south, and New Road west. Download our route map and guide for a fuller introduction to the history of the hospital and its estate: Guide to a walking tour of the Royal London Hospital Estate

    The Royal London Hospital traces its origins to a charitable infirmary established in 1740 for the working poor of east London. Initially based in converted terraced houses in Moorgate and Prescot Street, the institution secured a permanent home with the construction of a purpose-built hospital (1751–78) in open fields on the south side of Whitechapel Road.

    The hospital was built on the rectangular field east of Whitechapel Mount, an artificial hill formed as part of the fortifications built round London in the 1640s. It was bounded by open fields to the south belonging to the Red Lion Farm. (Extract from John Rocque’s map of London c.1746)

    The hospital was built on the rectangular field east of Whitechapel Mount, an artificial hill formed as part of the fortifications built round London in the 1640s. It was bounded by open fields to the south belonging to the Red Lion Farm. (Extract from John Rocque’s map of London c.1746)

    One of the attractions of the site acquired by the hospital was its healthy location, bounded to the south by meadows and pastures belonging to the Red Lion Farm on Mile End Green. The medical staff promoted the virtues of fresh air and ventilation around the hospital for the recovery of patients. By 1772 the hospital had acquired roughly thirty acres of fields on the south side of Whitechapel Road, stretching as far south as the present course of the Commercial Road. This large swathe of land protected the hospital from the threat of unwanted encroachment and presented an opportunity to raise funds through building development.

    The hospital began to offer land on building leases in the 1780s. Building development was initially confined to the west side of New Road, which had been laid out in the 1750s. The eastern portion of the hospital’s estate was developed in the first half of the nineteenth century in an orderly grid of wide, airy streets. Surviving rows of brick-built terraced houses in Walden Street, Nelson Street, Varden Street and Turner Street point to the tension between the hospital’s estate development and the watchful eye which the medical staff exerted over its vicinity to preserve ventilation.

    Aerial view of the London Hospital in the 1930s.

    Aerial view of the London Hospital in the 1930s.

    Many of the nineteenth-century terraces built to secure an income for the hospital have been sacrificed for its expansion and success, with the construction of an assortment of medical buildings such as the Outpatients Department (1900–2) and the adjacent Outpatients Annexe (1935–6) in Stepney Way. A remarkable acquisition is the former St Philip’s Church (1888–92), which was converted into a medical and dental library in the 1980s. Despite the concentration of buildings associated with the Royal London Hospital in the area, there are a few interlopers, including the bulky East London Mail Centre (1970), the Good Samaritan Public House (1937–8), and Gwynne House (1937–8). The south end of the estate has resisted the march of medical buildings, and the Nelson Street Synagogue and a former Baptist chapel in Varden Street testify to Whitechapel’s diverse patterns of immigration.

    The following photographs give an impression of the Survey’s self-guided walking tour, which is available to download here. These photographs were taken around the hospital’s estate by Derek Kendall in 2016–7; their captions include links to the Survey’s participative ‘Histories of Whitechapel’ website, https://surveyoflondon.org.

    Survey of London - Whitechapel Volume The Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel Road, Whitechapel, Tower Hamlets, London. Central entrance block View from north west.

    The former Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel Road. In the nineteenth century, the Georgian core of the hospital was concealed by a number of extensions. The Alexandra Wing (west) opened in 1866 and the Grocers’ Company’s Wing (east and donated by the Grocers’ Company) was opened by Queen Victoria in 1876; both were designed by Charles Barry Jr. Further extensions were overseen by Rowland Plumbe, the hospital’s surveyor, in the years around 1900. (© Derek Kendall)

    Survey of London - Whitechapel Volume Philpot Street, view from east.

    1840s terraced houses at 57–69 Philpot Street. This wide, airy thoroughfare extending from the rear of the hospital to Commercial Road was planned c.1818. It was first known as St Vincent Street in honour of the Earl St Vincent, a vice-president of the hospital. Between 1820 and 1845 the street was gradually laid out with large brick-built terraced houses with round-arched windows and recesses. (© Derek Kendall)

    Survey of London - Whitechapel Volume London Hospital Students Hostel Philpot Street. View from south west.

    Terraced houses on the east side of Philpot Street were sacrificed in the 1930s for a students’ hostel for the London Hospital Medical College, a neat brick-built block designed by Edward Maufe. The Princess Alexandra School of Nursing was built in the 1960s to designs by T. P. Bennett & Son, incorporating a distinctive circular lecture theatre faced with concrete. Today the Royal London Hospital’s modern block dominates Philpot Street’s northern aspect, rising to seventeen storeys. (© Derek Kendall)

    Gwynne House from the south-east. (© Derek Kendall)

    Gwynne House, Turner Street. Built in 1937–8 to designs by H. Victor Kerr, the architect of a number of interwar buildings in east London. Of his surviving works in Whitechapel, Gwynne House is the most assertive expression of the Modernist style. The block provided twenty ‘minimum’ flats designed to attract students, social workers and professional people in east London. Gwynne House was swiftly identified as a convenient base for medical practitioners, nurses and students. By the 1980s, it had been acquired for the hospital as rented staff accommodation. The flats are now privately owned. (© Derek Kendall)

    Survey of London - Whitechapel Volume Buildings on north side of Ashfield Street, view from south.

    The Yvonne Carter Building, Ashfield Street, built in 1975–7 as laboratories in character with the stock-brick terraced houses built on eastern side of the hospital’s estate in the nineteenth century. It stands opposite the Blizard Building, a sleek glass-fronted block constructed in 2003–5 by AMEC to designs by Will Alsop as teaching and research facilities for the School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary University of London. (© Derek Kendall)

    Survey of London - Whitechapel Volume The Good Samaritan Public House, 87 Turner Street, view from south east.

    The Good Samaritan Public House, 87 Turner Street. This public house probably owes its name to the London Hospital, which incorporated a representation of the City of London as a Good Samaritan on its official seal of 1757. The earliest record of the Good Samaritan dates to 1827, yet the present building was raised in 1937–8 to designs by A. E. Sewell, chief architect to Truman’s. Soon after its completion, it was assessed by the brewery’s surveyors as a ‘nice small house, well done’. Its continuing association with the London Hospital and its medical college is commemorated by characterful street signs decorated with busts of white-coated doctors. (© Derek Kendall)

    Survey of London - Whitechapel Volume Royal London Hospital Outpatients Annexe block. New Road, View from north west.

    The former Outpatients Annexe, New Road. This substantial block was built in 1935–6 to designs by Adams, Holden & Pearson to secure a centre for the hospital’s Department of Physical Medicine and a newly established School of Physiotherapy. The building has been vacant since the building moved to new premises in 2012, and redevelopment seems likely. (© Derek Kendall)

    Survey of London - Whitechapel Volume Whitechapel Library in former Church of St Augustine with St Philip, Newark Street. View from south west.

    Whitechapel Library (formerly the Church of St Philip with St Augustine), Newark Street. A former red-brick church of 1888–92 built to designs by Arthur Cawston. The quality of the church culminates in its magnificent vaulted interior, deemed to be an ‘architectural masterpiece’ by the Gothic revivalist Stephen Dykes Bower. The church was converted into a medical and dental library for the London Hospital Medical Library in 1985–8 to plans by Fenner & Sibley. Following the assimilation of the college into Queen Mary University of London in 1995, the building continues in use as a medical and dental library. (© Derek Kendall)

    Project; Survey of London - Whitechapel. Site; Garrod Building - London Hospital Medical College, Turner Street, Whitechapel, Tower Hamlets, London. Exterior, view from south west.

    The former London Hospital Medical College, Turner Street. The hospital’s medical college has been based at its present site since 1854, yet the building has undergone successive alterations spurred by a rising volume of students and the need to modernise teaching facilities. Its principal elevation was built in 1886–7 by Rowland Plumbe, the hospital’s surveyor. Now known as the Garrod Building, it continues in educational use as part of Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry. (© Derek Kendall)

    (© Derek Kendall)

    In 2012 the Royal London Hospital transferred to an assertive purpose-built block designed by HOK, located behind its historic base in Whitechapel Road. The former hospital is set to be converted into a new civic centre for Tower Hamlets Council. (© Derek Kendall)

    Gwynne House, Turner Street

    By the Survey of London, on 9 June 2017

    Gwynne House stands at the north-west corner of the Turner Street and Newark Street crossing in bold contrast to its contemporary neo-Georgian neighbour, the Good Samaritan public house. This block of flats was built in 1937–8 to designs by H. Victor Kerr, the architect of a number of interwar buildings in east London, including Commerce and Industry House in Middlesex Street (demolished), 67–75 and 101 New Road, 9–17 Turner Street and 47 Turner Street (demolished). While there is no known professional association between Kerr and the London Hospital, his designs repeatedly found favour on its Whitechapel estate. Kerr practised as an architect during the interlude in his military career between the world wars, in which he ascended to the rank of Major (Hon. Lt. Col.). Of his surviving works in Whitechapel, Gwynne House is the most assertive expression of the Modernist style. This five-storey block has a sleek white-painted façade with a curved staircase tower and a rhythmic succession of slender balconies with rounded edges. Gwynne House bears a resemblance to Wells Coates’s Isokon Building, which set a precedent in style, configuration, and the provision of ‘minimum’ flats intended for professionals.

    Gwynne House and the Good Samaritan Public House from the north-east in 2016. © Derek Kendall

    Gwynne House and the Good Samaritan Public House from the north-east in 2016. Gwynne House was built in 1937–8 to designs by H. Victor Kerr. © Derek Kendall

    Gwynne House replaced five early nineteenth-century terraced houses at 75–83 Turner Street and 23a Newark Street on the London Hospital Estate. By the 1930s this piece of ground had been earmarked for future hospital expansion. Despite initial reluctance to part with the site, the hospital agreed an 80-year lease with Lloyd Rakusen & Co. of Leeds in 1935. After their plans to build a biscuit factory were rejected by the LCC, Rakusen & Co.’s interest in the lease was transferred to a developer for a block of flats. Construction was by Moore & Wood, working as general contractors in association with specialized subcontractors. The reinforced concrete frame was enveloped by smooth external walls filled with cork insulation, and capped with a flat timber roof coated with asphalt. At its completion in 1938, Gwynne House provided twenty modern flats that were designed to attract ‘students, social workers and professional people in east London’. An additional rooftop flat was allocated to a caretaker. Each floor was divided into four small flats built to a standardised rectangular plan with a hallway, two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchenette and a bathroom. The elegant ‘tower feature’ encased an electric lift and a staircase, lit and ventilated by angular slits in the exterior wall. It also concealed a rubbish chute, a telephone kiosk, a switch room, and service ducts that communicated with a basement boiler room. [1]

    Gwynne House from the south-east. © Derek Kendall

    Gwynne House from the south-east in 2016. © Derek Kendall

    Gwynne House was quickly identified by the hospital as a convenient base for medical practitioners, nurses and students, though rents were judged to be ‘somewhat high’. [2] One of its first tenants was a young (Sir) John Ellis, who was later appointed physician to the London Hospital and Dean of the Medical College. Other prominent residents included Edith Ramsay MBE, a local social campaigner, and the nurse educationalist Dr Sheila Collins OBE. By the 1980s Gwynne House had been acquired for the hospital as rented accommodation for staff from all departments. Barts and the London Charity sold the block to a private developer in 2011. The exterior has seen minimal alterations, aside from the replacement of the original Crittall windows and the recent insertion of jaunty porthole doors. The original metal fence at the front of the block survives, characterised by sinuous lines echoing the projection of the tower. A narrow rear garden shelters a sycamore tree, a lime tree, and an ‘ancient’ mulberry tree. [3]

    Survey of London - Whitechapel Volume Gwynne House, Turner Street, view from south east.

    Gwynne House in 2016. © Derek Kendall

    Do you have any memories of Gwynne House? The Survey of London has launched a collaborative website titled ‘Histories of Whitechapel’ and welcomes contributions. Please visit at https://surveyoflondon.org.

    References 

    1. The Builder (19 May 1939), p. 948.
    2. Royal London Hospital Archives (RLHA), RLHLH/A/5/64, p. 209.
    3. The Gentle Author, ‘The Whitechapel Mulberry’, Spitalfields Life, 30 March 2015 (online: http://spitalfieldslife.com/2015/04/30/the-whitechapel-mulberry).

    The Grocers’ Company’s Wing of the former Royal London Hospital

    By the Survey of London, on 3 February 2017

    The long former Royal London Hospital complex on the south side of Whitechapel Road has its origins in the hospital built in 1752–78 to designs by Boulton Mainwaring. Its eastern section was constructed in 1873–6 as part of the Grocers’ Company’s Wing, built at the same time as a Post Mortem Department and Nurses Home. Their completion secured the hospital’s status as the largest general hospital in the country, with almost 800 beds. The only remnant of this building programme is the north range of the Grocers’ Company’s Wing, which presents an orderly 120ft frontage to Whitechapel Road terminating at its junction with East Mount Street. Two bays of the south part of the wing survive; the rest was cleared in the 1960s for the construction of the Holland Wing (demolished).

    At the time of writing, the north range of the Grocers’ Company Wing lies empty as the former hospital awaits conversion into a civic centre for Tower Hamlets Council. Despite 140-years of hospital use, the surviving portion of the Grocers’ Company’s Wing retains its back-to-back ‘Nightingale’ wards and neat brick frontage overlooking Whitechapel Road.

    Survey of London - Whitechapel Volume The Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel Road, Whitechapel, Tower Hamlets, London. Central entrance block View from north west.

    The main front of the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel Road, with the Grocers’ Company’s Wing in the background. Photographed by Derek Kendall in 2016

    This significant wing extension was catalysed by rising numbers of inpatients. Despite the completion of the Alexandra Wing in 1866, the hospital struggled to keep pace with demand for beds. In 1870 the House Governor, William Nixon, recorded an ‘extreme pressure of inpatients’, averaging at over 500 at any one time. Despite the opening of quarantine wards in the old medical college, the hospital failed to secure a long-term solution to overcrowding. A few years later, Nixon reported an alarming ‘state of repletion’ in the wards. He declared that the hospital was ‘not large enough’ to fulfil the demands of the surrounding district, despite its strict policy of admitting only urgent cases. [1]

    The proposed solution was to extend the hospital to provide 200 additional beds. A public fundraising campaign was launched with the aim of securing £100,000 towards new buildings and the operating costs of an enlarged hospital. A new wing extending east from the front block was deemed preferable to ensure the proximity of new wards to the ‘working centres’ of the hospital, namely the lifts, the staff offices, the laundry, the kitchen, the operating theatre, and the depository. The intended site was occupied by the old medical college and a carriage shed fronting Whitechapel Road, along with various workshops, sheds and stables in East Mount Street.

    Survey of London - Whitechapel Volume The Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel Road, Whitechapel, Tower Hamlets, London. East block, View from north west.

    The Grocers’ Company’s Wing from the north-west. Photographed by Derek Kendall in 2016

    The centrepiece of this wave of hospital expansion was the Grocers’ Company’s Wing, named in recognition of a donation from the City livery company. Their ‘princely gift’ was accompanied by numerous conditions, including that the proposed wing should be completed within three years. Whilst the House Committee had intended to postpone work on the new east wing until the fundraising campaign had realised its target, the Company stipulated that construction should begin immediately.

    As the projected cost of the wing exceeded £25,000, it was reasoned that sole responsibility for its design should be entrusted to Charles Barry, Consulting Architect to the hospital. He planned an L-plan three-storey wing with basement and attics, composed of two blocks; a north range extending east from the front block in line with Whitechapel Road, and a south range running along East Mount Street. This arrangement preserved a yard between the extension and the main building, with the benefit of supplying light and ventilation to the inward-facing wards. The plan of the principal floors of each block followed the pattern of the earlier ward wings, comprising paired back-to-back wards separated by a central spine wall with fireplaces. On each floor, the north range was accessed from its south-west corner via lobbies connected with the long corridors of the front block. Partitions at the west end of the wards formed linen stores and areas for water closets, kitchens and sinks. The attics provided dormitories for seventy nurses.

    Survey of London - Whitechapel Volume East block, The Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel Road, Whitechapel, Tower Hamlets, London. View from north.

    The Grocers’ Company’s Wing from the north side of Whitechapel Road. Photographed by Derek Kendall in 2016

    A foundation stone was laid on 27 June 1874. Construction by Perry & Co. was complicated by the intended route of the East London Railway, set to curve beneath the north-east corner of the new wing. As a precautionary measure, the foundations nearest the railway line were excavated to a depth of thirty-five feet and filled with concrete. The outward appearance of the new wing matched the austerity of the Alexandra Wing, with plain brick elevations decorated by a string course and a dentil cornice of Portland stone. The tiled roof was punctuated by pedimented dormer windows that admitted light into the attic dormitories, and tall brick chimneys with oversailing tops and stone string courses. Two rear towers rose above the roofline of the wing, displaying louvered openings and steeply pitched roofs; one contained a water tank and the other was fitted with a ventilation shaft. There were fireproof floors. At street level, a wooden carriage shed built in 1876 occupied the narrow stretch between the north front of the new wing and Whitechapel Road.

    The Grocers’ Company’s Wing was formally opened by Queen Victoria in March 1876, in a grand celebration reported to have lent ‘an attractive and joyous aspect to (an) ordinarily dull and dingy but busy quarter’. [2] In the following months, patients were gradually moved into the new wards, which were praised for their ‘light and pleasant aspect’. [3] The wards were fitted with specialised ventilation systems devised by T. Elsey and George Jennings. Two rows of evenly spaced beds extended across the long walls of each ward, facing inwards. This utilitarian arrangement was relieved by potted flowers and pictures on the walls amongst formal plaques bearing the name of each ward. At the time of writing (January 2017), the appearance and plan of the north range of the Grocers’ Company’s Wing had survived with only minor alterations, despite changes in room use. By the 1930s an operating theatre was located on the north side of the ground floor, lit by a large bay window overlooking Whitechapel Road. On the ground floor of the south range, wards were converted into isolation rooms. The X-Ray Department was housed in the basement of the north range and later extended to accommodate a suite of rooms, including several X-Ray rooms, dark rooms, a film store and offices. The building closed in 2012, when the hospital moved into its new premises.

    References

    [1] Royal London Hospital Archives & Museum (RLHA), RLHLH/A/5/35, pp. 58, 86, 110–1, 123, 208, 425, 439.

    [2] ‘London: Saturday, March 11, 1876’, Illustrated London News, Issue 1911, p. 242.

    [3] ‘The Queen’s Visit to Whitechapel, Reynolds’s Newspaper, Sunday 12 March 1876.