Earlier this week, HoL member Keith asked in a post on the forum if anyone could explain this object sitting in a courtyard at the Whittington Hospital.
Fig. 1: Keith's shot of a reic from a courtyard at Whittington Hospital
I knew it looked familiar and I eventually managed to dig out a couple of photos which showed that it was a gatepost that had belonged to one (or maybe more) of the older hospitals that used to stand on the site.
There's been a hospital on the site or nearby for over 500 years. In 1473, St Anthony’s Chapel and Lazar House (hospital for lepers) were probably the first buildings. They may have been on the site now used by the Whittington, or elsewhere nearby, perhaps on the site to the north which is still today owned by the Catholic Church. (Today occupied by St Joseph's Church and St Joseph's Catholic School).
The hospital from which the gatepost originally comes was very probably the Smallpox and Vaccination Hospital built in 1848 when it was moved from its site in King's Cross for the station to be built. This new Highgate Hill hospital shown in the line drawing and on the 1895 Ordnance Survey map in Fig. 3. The building still stands today as the Jenner* Wing of the Whittington Hospital, and is now a grade II listed building. Sadly, the tower shown in the drawing below is long gone.
Fig. 2: The Smallpox and Vaccination Hospital, Highgate, Middlesex. Line engraving by C. Simms after S.W. Daukes, 1848. - Wellcome Colletion used bu CC-BY-4.0 licence
Fig. 3:1895 Ordnance Survey Town Plan (from National Library of Scotland)
Then at the end on the nineteenth century the Islington Board of Guardians acquired the hospital and its land and between In 1898 and 1900 built a new hospital for "the sick and poor". Opened by the Duke and Duchess of York in July 1900, it was called the St Mary’s Infirmary, but also referred to as the Islington Infirmary. The former Smallpox Hospital becme a nurses' home.
Fig. 4: The entrance of St Mary's Hospital c1905
Fig. 5: Another rather grainy image of the entrance of St Mary's Hospital c1905
When the NHS was established in 1948, the hospital became the St Mary’s Wing of the Whittington Hospital. As is widely understood, the Whittington name comes from the folkloric tale concerning poor-boy-made-good, medieval merchant and Mayor of London Richard Whittington. In the tale, Whittington fled London, but on hearing the sound of Bow bells which promised him he'd be mayor of London one day, he turned around. The famous Whittington Stone stands just down the hill from the hospital, supposedly marking the point at which Whittington 'turned'. On top of the stone is a cat, the sale of which to a rat-infested country is how, according to the story, he made his his fortune. Sadly, however, other than the fact that Whittington was a wealthy merchant who served as the mayor of London, none of the tale relates to any known facts and is generally considered to have originated in a ballad and a play from the early 1600's, over a century and a half after Whittington's death.
Getting back to the hospital, the western half of the St Mary's Infirmary is still standing as part of the Whittington Hospital. Only the eastern half was demolished to build the new section of the hospital with which many of us are familiar.
On the 1955 OS map below, the parts in green still stand, those in red were demolished in the second half of the last century and replace with today's building. Below it is a marked-up Google Satellite Bird's eye view (Looking from the north because it's the best view of the buildings- so you'll have to rotate in your mind's eye to match the map).
Fig. 6: Marked up extract of 1955 Ordnance Survey map, showing surviving and demolished parts of the Smallpox and St Mary's Hospitals (National Library of Scotland).
Fig. 7: Marked up extract of Google birds-eye satellite view of Whittington Hospital, showing surviving and demolished parts of the Smallpox and St Mary's Hospitals which, although reversed, correlate with those marked in the map above.
If you compare the 1955 map below with the earlier 1895 map above, you'll see that the building marked "Lodge" is showing on both maps. This is also shown in the line drawing in Fig. 2 and the photos at Fig.s 4 and 5. So, it looks probable that the whole entrance, including the surviving gatepost dates from 1848, rather than 1900. However, I suspect that all the gateposts, though originally from 1848, had the top third added when the St Mary's was built in 1900.
You can see all the old buildings in an aerial view of the hospital shot by the RAF on 10 May 1946.
Fig. 8: 1946 RAF aerial shot showing the old hospital buildings.
In the 1970s, half of the old St Mary's was demolished and in 1977 a new block opened, containing the Accident and Emergency, Out-Patients and other departments. In 1992 the Great Northern building opened on the site.
Below is an image from Google Street View showing the location of the old entrance today. (Click it to go through to Google Street View).
Fig. 9: Extract Google Street View showing the location of the old entrance to the Smallpox/St. Mary's Hospitals today. (Click it to go through to Google Street View).
This afternoon I visited the hospital to see what I've learned about but never seen in the flesh. I asked a staff member just outside the Jenner Building if it would be possible to see inside, She took me to the Comms team, based in the building. Sadly, there's little left of the original building inside, but the team were very friendly and helpful and were thrilled to see the first part of this post. Apparently no one at the hospital had any idea what the old piece of stone standing forgotten in a modern hospital courtyard was. Now they do! So, many thanks Keith for noticing it and taking the time to ask your question. Between us, we've solved a mystery for them.
My visit this afternoon is shared below in a series of phone pics.
Fig. 10: South and east fronts of the old Smallpox Hospital. This is the view as you walk up from the 1970s A&E building
Fig. 11: East Face of Jenner building (Smallpox Hospital).
Fig. 12: South front of the old Smallpox Hospital. The original stone name plate still survives below the clock.
Fig 13: Old name plate below the clock on the South front.
Fig. 14: The hospital comms team told me that this basement entrance used to be set up as a slide for easily moving bodies into the morgue which was in the basement. The space later became a staff bar. Apparently if you visit, you can still see old Guinness signs and the like and toward the back, through a heavy iron door, the shelves for stacking bodies are still in situ.
Fig. 15: One of the surviving entrances to the old St Mary's Infirmary. Above the door the carved sign says "Female Receiving Ward".
Fig. 17: Female Receiving Ward entrance interior with original stained glass preserved above the door. The entrance-way is now in use as a chapel.
Fig. 18: Surviving elevated walkways from the St Mary's infirmary. Now only in use as fire escapes.
Fig. 19: Commemorative stone still in situ by the "Jenner Entrance' in the St Mary's wing.
Fig, 20: South and west fronts of the old St Mary's Infirmary (now St. Mary's wing). From this perspective, the building looks to me every inch the solid Victorian institution for the "poor and sick" that it was designed to be.
* I assume that the Jenner Wing is named after Edward Jenner (1749–1823), surgeon and pioneer of the smallpox vaccination. Jenner's former home was set up as the Jenner Museum in 1985. It is based in Berkley between Bristol and Gloucester. REad Jenner's own account of the development of the vaccine here.
Very interesting, Hugh. Thanks for this.
Fig.s 10 - 20 added after my visit today.
I always wondered about all those other buildings around the hospital and was worried that they'd be torn down. Glad to know they are listed.
I love the fact that there was some kind of infirmary in the area in the middle ages. It was common to have leper houses situated at a 'safe' distance from villages, towns and cities. These were usually dedicated to St Giles, who was patron saint of lepers, disabled people and beggars. I wonder if there was a monastic house nearby. St Joseph's displayed on a main road like that could have only come to be following Catholic emancipation, which began in earnest in the latter part of the 18th century, but I wonder if there was something there in the middle ages. Probably not.
I will view the whole place at my next Whittington appointment with new eyes :)
Thank you for fleshing out what was previously an anonymous, rather sad, collection of buildings. it will certainly make the next Whittington appointment move interesting!
Great article Hugh. Thanks.
How did the Archway Wing fit into this?
Thanks. Can I just check what you mean by the Archway Wing? I’m familiar with the Highgate wing, which is at the far end of the hospital along Dartmouth Park Hill.
Thanks Hugh. I’ve just checked the NLS map site and the 1938 OS edition shows it on the north east side of Highgate Hill between the Hill and Archway Road. I always knew it as the Archway wing. Was it a former Workhouse perhaps?
When I was researching the St Mary's site, I avoided getting dragged too deeply into the wider history. Essentially, the hillside where the Whittington now stands was selected by three different Boards of Guardians for building their hospitals in the nineteenth century.
The building that you referred to as the Archway Wing, between Highgate Hill and Archway Road, was built as the Holborn Union Infirmary between 1877 and 1885. It included a workhouse and hospital comprising a main building and two wings for patients.
Later called the Archway Road infirmary, it was renamed again in 1921 as the Holborn and Finsbury Hospital. Then it was taken on by the London County Council and renamed Archway Hospital in 1930. When the NHS was founded, the site was merged with St Mary's Infirmary and Highgate Hospital on Dartmouth Park Hill, to create the Whittington Hospital. It was at this point it became the Archway Wing.
In 1998 it was jointly purchased by University College London and Middlesex University to form the Archway campus. The teaching and research facility closed in 2013 and the site was sold to the Peabody Trust for redevelopment.
The third hospital in the vicinity, built as the St Pancras Infirmary on Dartmouth Park Hill, was opened in 1866 by the St Pancras Board of Guardians. It was taken over by the London County Council in 1930 and renamed Highgate Hospital. It became the Highgate Wing of the Whittington Hospital on the establishment of the NHS in 1948. Latterly a psychiatric hospital, in 2004, most of this building was taken on by Camden and Islington Community NHS Trust as the site for Highgate West Mental Health Centre and the consolidation and development of community mental health and adult social care services. However, the easternmost range running along Dartmouth Park Hill is now called the Highgate Wing and is formally part of the Whittington, but it is used for education ratgher the for the delivery of services.
So, whilst all three became one after the NHS was formed, things evolved and, to the best of my knowledge, the Whittington now provides all of its services on the site between Highgate Hill and Dartmouth Park Hill.
Hope that helps. Below is the set-up on the 1914 OS map (surveyed 1912-13).
Thank you so much Hugh for researching this. It was obviously an area in the 19th century for siting hospitals! Maybe the air was clearer up the hill!
Those walkways are often found in older hospitals. They are a probably a result of the Florence Nightingale belief in the hygienic properties the circulation of fresh air - since forgotten in hospital design but to which the Covid epidemic has rather redrawn attention!
Great work Hugh!
I just came across some mainly Harringay memories contributed by Bob Oseman last year who was born in the St Mary's Wing in 1936.