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.


the attachments to this post:

Students Union building Greenwich low
Students Union building Greenwich low


10 Comments to “Devonport Pathological Laboratory”

  1. Chris says:

    TGP – You obviously carry yourself with great dignity and bearing and your essays are scholarly.

    Surely you could pose as a visiting professor?

  2. I guess I could fashion the tricorn into a mortarboard and pretend the cloak is a gown. Then I’d blend right in…

  3. capability bowes says:

    All you need to do is write to the Principal asking them if you can go in and have a quick poke around, or find yourself a student who will be able to take you in as a guest.

    “John Bold” is the name of the doctor in Anthony Trollope’s book “The Warden”. Wonder if there is a connection?

  4. I’m so glad you noticed that, CB – I thought I was the only one.

    Thing is, if I write as a potential student and then break away from the gang to poke around the creepy cellars I’ll either look like an episode out of Buffy or a potential terrorist…

  5. Capability Bowes says:

    No, no, you misunderstand.

    Write to the Principal as yourself and say “I write a highly respected and widely read blog about Greenwich and I would very much like to come have a quiet poke around your building (accompanied by a member of your staff or a responsible student so you can be sure I won’t run off with any of the light fittings) and take some pictures and post them on my blog so we can all appreciate your lovely building”

    Or perhaps contact the Chair of the Student Union and ask them if someone will show you round.

    “Shaun” knows that there is a beautiful staircase etc – who is he? Can he take you round? Or would that entail your going in disguise?

    When was John Bold’s book written?

  6. Jay says:

    As someone who has been in the basement of Cooper Building (a long time ago), believe me it is very sinister down there!

    Especially since a ‘colleague’ of mine decided it would be amusing to switch off the lights and lock the door, leaving me to navigate a rickety spiral staircase in almost pitch black to escape!

    PS for reference it’s “University of Greenwich”, not “Greenwich University” – I’m surprised at you Phantom for making such an elementary error!

  7. Capability Bowes says:

    @ Jay

    Stop nit picking. Its a university. Its in Greenwich. So “Greenwich University” is accurate, even if that’s not what the organisation involved calls itself.

  8. Mark says:

    I’m a student and have been in there, but only around rooms on the ground floor (meeting room, pool room, bar and a few other little ones). To get into the basement and the other mentioned areas you would need to contact the SU I would think as just having a student sign you in wouldn’t get you to those areas. The website is http://www.suug.co.uk

  9. RogerW says:

    Erm.
    Actually, it’s it’s.

  10. capability bowes says:

    @ Roger

    I would counter with “ptttthhhhh!” but the Phant doesn’t like verbal scrapping on the comments thread.