Thank You For Smoking

Today marks the second anniversary of the ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces, but smoking was always sore point at Greenwich Hospital.

Of course it was all pipes then, (someone was telling me recently that he keeps digging up bits of clay pipe in his West Greenwich garden) but smoking by the old gaffers was by no means universally allowed in the hospital, albeit mainly for fire-risk reasons.

The Hospital’s fire-proofery was a shining example of Forethought from the start. Hawksmoor congratulated himself that if one area should catch fire, it was “so guarded and separated with stop-fires, turrets and party walls” that there was no chance of “total devastation.” Of the eight heated social halls available to the old pensioners (their own cabins were unheated…) just two of them were smoking areas, and the Nelson Room in the Painted Hall was originally designated as the smoking room, to keep fire risk at bay.

The pensioners seemed to have got the point, but their enforcing the rules didn’t always make for a comfortable life. In July 1733, John Bold tells me, one old boy, Adam Friendship, was given the job of preventing anyone enter the gate with a lighted pipe.

He was ‘abused and thrown against a stone’ by John Mitchell, a waterman who liked his tobacco more than the rules – so hard his thigh was broken. The Hospital was going to sue, but Mitchell’s wife pleaded so mournfully that it was all going to be settled out of court. At the last minute, though, the pipe-smoking curmudgeon “continued insolent.” The prosecution went ahead as planned…

Despite the odd concession, though, the powers-that-be really weren’t keen to have smoking indoors. Quite apart from the fire risk, it would only encourage it – and, even worse, spitting would inevitably follow such a foul act…

So this rather beautiful colonnade was built between 1854-9, designed by Philip Hardwick (who, incidentally, also designed Bellot’s Obelisk.) It was originally even longer than this – it was cut short a few years later to build a raquet court.

It has to be one of the earliest – and best-looking purpose-built outside smoking area in Britain. Not a patio heater in sight – but just look at that beautiful woodwork in the ceiling (I daresay it’s not original but it’s lovely all the same) and those cute columns (are they Doric or Tuscan? I get the two muddled but think the latter…)

I daresay when the brewery reopens next year, it will rediscover its original purpose, but for now its shady benches are virtually unused and a fine place for the odd coffee…


One Comment to “Thank You For Smoking”

  1. [...] fabulous smoking arcade which has to be one of the earliest purpose-built smoking shelters in England looks lovely at the [...]