Devonport Pathological Laboratory
AKA The Cooper Building AKA Greenwich University Students Union
Yes, young freshers, your friendly students’ union block used to be (cue creepy organ music) the old mortuary and path lab for Dreadnought Seamen’s Hospital and comes complete, according to Shaun, with sinister basement and a Phantom of its own.
Annoyingly for me, I can’t find any references to said Phantom in any of my local ghost/occult books but apparently they had to cart 1247 skulls and 58 boxes of bones down to East Greenwich to build the lab and Devonport House next door, so take your pick. Whether it’s Peg-Leg Pete or Captain Birdseye, I’m sure we all have a pet dead sailor we imagine when we think of the corpses buried in the Pleasaunce. (Ah. Just me, then…) One of them apparently, forgot to take his ectoplasm with him.
But I digress. The Pathalogical and Bacteriological Department was designed by Sir Edwin Cooper in 1923. He also drew up plans for the nurses’ home next door, which couldn’t be named after him as his mate Lord Devonport, who got him both jobs, called dibs. It was bang up to date, including a small museum (oh, for the days when you built a museum in a path lab) a library and even a special motor garage for visiting doctors’ cars, but the project had to be put on hold until 1925 while sundry seamen’s bones were disinterred.
There’s a good architectural description of the building in John Bold’s giant book, Greenwich, An Architectural History of the Royal Hospital for Seamen and the Queen’s House so I won’t reinvent the wheel here, but he does say that it was designed to complement the church next door; a shame since St Mary’s was demolished seven years after Cooper’s path lab was finished.
Not being a student, and not being able to pass for one either, I’ve never been inside, but Shaun tells me it’s rather beautiful, with a marble hall, an elegant staircase echoing that of the nurses’ home next door, and a tiled crucifix in the floor under some rather unlovely carpet tiles. He also tells me that the old cellar still contains cupboards with case numbers for body parts on them.
Actually, John Bold says the mortuary was in the side bits and the cellar contained the disturbing-sounding ‘heating chamber’ but perhaps that’s what they want us to think… Even Bold puts the words ‘heating chamber’ in inverted commas. Obviously was really where they burned the bodies. Just look at that chimney. Mwahahaha…
Thing is, I’ve never seen inside so I’ll never know, unless there are any students reading this (unlikely, I know) or someone who doesn’t mind pretending to be one, snakebite in one hand, camera in the other. I’d love some shots of the interior.
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