HomeNewsletters ArchiveSummer 2004Dulwich Hospital Closure

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Timetable For demolition

All the wards and ancillary buildings surrounding the main entrance block of Dulwich Hospital will begin to be demolished in the latter part of this year when contractors take over the entire site. Once cleared, work will first begin on building Dulwich Community Hospital.

Rosemary Dawson who represents the amenity societies as a lay person on the Community Involvement Communication Group writes:

During the past year Brenda Jones and myself with our Community Development worker, Ann Thanes, have been to meet small groups and held public meetings. Sadly, one of our members, Rhona Churchill died suddenly last November. We have given presentations, handed out information and answered questions. Our aim is to make contact, inform and interest people in the development of the site so that their ideas might be incorporated into the plans.

We know that when the hospital closes in December 2004 Kings College Hospital will be taking the acute medical beds to the new wards now being prepared at Denmark Hill in the Ruskin Wing. After the clearance of the site in East Dulwich Grove, subject to planning permission, work will commence on the building of the Primary Care Centre, Intermediate Care Beds and a Well-being Centre. The dialysis unit will transfer to King's but some 'satellite' beds will still remain at Dulwich in temporary accommodation as well as the Out- Patients services currently in use until new premises are ready. The Public Health Laboratory will move permanently off the site.

Although tree preservation orders are in place for many of the trees and the railings fronting East Dulwich Grove will be retained no decision has been made at the time of writing on the future of the remaining two acres of the site, although some form of housing is likely. The French chateau-style centre-block will be retained. 

History of Dulwich Hospital

The hospital in East Dulwich Grove was built by the Guardians of the Poor of the Parish of St Saviour, Southwark in 1887. The existing infirmary for Southwark's aged poor was at Newington, near the Elephant & Castle and was seriously over-crowded. It served one of London's most densely populated and insanitary parishes. Earlier, the vestry had negotiated to purchase land in Peckham for a new infirmary but the cost of the site was too great. In the event, a site of almost seven acres was purchased in East Dulwich, on the edge of the Dulwich Estate, at a cost of £14,000. Despite stiff local opposition to plans to build the new infirmary, led by the Estate's surveyor Charles Barry (who was concerned that local property values might fall, thus reducing income for the College) and prominent local resident, Sir Henry Bessemer, whose house looked down towards the proposed infirmary, the project went ahead.

The sum of £50,000 was then expended in building the hospital, the wards being constructed in what was termed the 'Nightingale' design. The building incorporated many up-to-date ideas such as high connecting walkways between the wards which also offered patients the opportunity of taking fresh air. At its opening it had a capacity of 723 beds. For the next forty years or so it relieved pressure on local voluntary hospitals by accepting some patients. 

The Infirmary becomes a military hospital.

However, in 19l5, during the First World War, it was requisitioned by the War Office as a military hospital. With the high losses then being sustained in France, the number of beds was increased to 800. It is estimated that 14,000 - 15,000 wounded soldiers were treated in the hospital during the war. Of this number, 119 died, a remarkably low figure. The base of the memorial to them remains near the front entrance. At the abolition of the Poor Law in 1930 the Southwark Union Infirmary was renamed Dulwich Hospital and it began its new life as a general hospital. However it was to be many years before what was seen as the stigma of being a Poor Law institution was finally shaken off. 

St. Saviour's Union Infirmary becomes Dulwich Hospital

One of the first changes under the new administration was the opening of a new operating theatre in 1931 and gradually the ground floor wards became converted to other uses such as pathological laboratories and out-patients clinics. These changes reduced the number of beds to 423. During World War 11 it coped with the numerous Dulwich inhabitants injured in air-raids. Although bombs and V1's exploded close by, miraculously the hospital was not hit. In the 1950's the League of Friends of Dulwich Hospital was launched, mainly through the efforts of the Dulwich Rotary Club and spearheaded by the hospital chaplain the Revd. Donald Strudwick who was also a Rotarian. The League has continued to provide outstanding support for Dulwich Hospital, not only in furnishing a wide range of amenities but also in fostering a strong local affection (see below).

In 1964 Dulwich was designated as a District Hospital and became part of the King's Group. Although it had lost its A & E department it would soon become a centre of excellence for renal treatment. Local support was so strong that in 1988 a new renal ward, designed by Sir Terence Conran opened, paid for from the £1million raised locally over five years.

In 1996 the final chapter of Dulwich Hospital began to be written when plans for a new community hospital were first drawn up. After a number of years of consultation the final plans revealed that apart from the entrance block, the remainder of the site would be cleared and transferred to a private company who would lease it back to the NHS for a period of 25 years and who would require NHS permission at the end of this term to sell the site.

Dulwich Society Local History Group invited to conduct historical survey of Dulwich Hospital

This summer the Group will carry out a survey intended to provide a record of the buildings, architecture, inscriptions and fixtures and fittings of historical interest. It is hoped that the information collated will provide some of the source material for a booklet.

Dulwich Society members interested in assisting the Local History Group in this project by means of recording or photography are invited to contact the Bernard Nurse (Local History Chairman) 18 Ruskin Walk, SE 24 9LZ tel:020 7326 1786.

'On the Air - Just for You'

Dulwich Society member Arthur Dodd recalls memories of Dulwich Hospital Radio

My original contact with Dulwich Hospital was as a patient. In 1984 I was admitted on three occasions and received the most marvellous treatment for major ailments and thanks mainly to Dulwich Hospital was restored to pristine vigour. In 1987, by which time I had taken early retirement, my wife saw a poster from Dulwich Hospital Radio who were having a 'Bring and Buy' at a hall in Lordship Lane. They were seeking presenters and it occurred to us that here was a way of both saying 'thank you' and also sharing my love and I believe informed enthusiasm of popular music from the 20's until the early 50's.

I had built up a considerable collection over the years and was acquainted with survivors from those times. For some while I had reviewed reissues and had written for specialist magazines dealing with that era. Could I now bring presentational skills to a programme featuring this material? My standard bearers in this respect were John Watt's 'Songs from the Shows', Alan Dell's 'Dance Band Days' and the recently deceased and irreplaceable Hubert Gregg with 'Thanks for the Memory'. Eventually I was asked to attend at the studio of Dulwich Hospital Radio when I was asked what it was that I had to offer. I indicated my wish to share with contemporaries, music from happier times. This was agreed but I had to read a test paper. This was found to be acceptable by the committee whose 'big wheel' was Vic Short who had professional experience and had worked at The Whittington Hospital in North London.

My first programme was entitled 'From Arthur's Archives' and the very first number played was 'The March of the Movies' by Louis Levy and the Gaumont British Symphony Orchestra. The remainder of my hour included items by the Lew Stone Band, Jessie Matthews and Bobbie Howes. Incidentally I was all at sea with the equipment but this was overcome with time as I developed a confidence and style. Other presenters skilfully assembled programmes to include country music, news on the hour and request programmes. These were interspersed with interviews with local celebrities and recorded programmes hired from British Telecom.

Most of the staff were volunteers and we were sustained by voluntary contributions, some of which, in a most touching way, indicated the value of what we were doing. The studio was re-equipped and there was talk of moving to King's when Dulwich Hospital closed down. It was not to be. Our administrator, Vic Short became ill, key workers left and by the mid 1990's the ship had foundered.

For around six years I presented my programmes and shared my love of popular music and song at its peak and I hope these helped patients to recover and enjoy.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 March 2012 02:28

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