I am an insomniac. It’s not that I can’t get to sleep, just that most every night I wake up at about 3.00am having had some dream (not exciting enough to be a nightmare, just something odd) and then spend the next two hours with it running through my head. It’s a real pain in the proverbial, and it means I’m nearly always tired in the morning, but it is often responsible for posts here, so I guess it’s not all bad.
Last night’s nuit-blanche wasn’t one of my better ones. I woke up having spent my dream wandering through the labyrinthine corridors of the old Greenwich District Hospital. Why, I have no idea – it’s not like it had any more in the way of labyrinthine corridors than any other hospital and I’ve got myself lost at QEH far worse.
But who can explain dreams? I’m sure Mr Freud would be very interested that mine started out with the hospital open and working and, by the time I got deep inside it was closed and I was alone in the empty building, with only yellowed net curtains billowing from open windows, rusting trolleys and broken oxygen tanks to keep me company.
When I woke up and got to the dull bit – the bit where I spend two hours thinking about bloomin’ Greenwich District Hospital – two things occurred to me. First, that it’s going to be – perhaps already is – a building that the majority of people in Greenwich will know nothing about very soon – it lasted only a very short while in the grand scheme of things and, I suspect, eventually the Heart of East Greenwich, when it finally begins (whenever that may be), will be known as the development built on the site of the old Union Workhouse, not a hospital that lived less that thirty years. It will effectively disappear from history.
The second thing that hit me was – brilliant! I can share with you my favourite-ever Greenwich Christmas card (see above.)
Actually, it’s a good thing I have that or I wouldn’t be able to illustrate this post – I never took a photo of the place – aw-c’mon – why would I? I never even got a pic of Philippa Threlfall’s mural that’s now in Sinister Glenister Gardens though our very own Darryl over at 853 has a wonderful set of pics from the hospital’s sad (though short), dead days here. I don’t know of any photos of it when it was actually a hospital.
The great thing about Pevsner’s London South edition not having been updated for some time is that old buildings now demolished are still in it and it was the only book I managed to find anything about the old hospital.
It was the product of a rash of post-war hospital building and Pevsner quite liked it, mainly because it was only three storeys high and generally stayed out of sight (the poor old Vanbrugh Health Centre, one of my favourite modern buildings, and also living on borrowed time, doesn’t get off so lightly.)
It was planned in 1961 and because the site wasn’t big enough for what they needed (800 beds in under 8 acres) they first hived off all the awkward external services to a central supply unit in Hither Green and, second, got W. E. Tatton-Brown, the chief architect for the Department of Health and Social Security, and the man ultimately answerable for one of Greenwich’s least-loved buildings, to house everything in one giant shell in what Pevsner calls ‘an experimental compact design’- wards on the outside to catch the light; consulting rooms and operating theatres in the middle, all artificially-ventilated.
It was completed in 1976. And although it wasn’t the prettiest building in Greenwich it did have one BIG thing in its favour. Convenience. Anyone who’s had to get the 386 and then sit there for what feels like four hours as it trundles round every housing estate in the borough (just when you know Queen Elizabeth Hospital is just round the corner to the left, off veers the 386 to the right to bimble its way round yet another set of houses…) will know that if you don’t have a car QEH is an utter bugger to get to.
And it did have modern (for the time) equipment. I remember having one of those funky new microscopic cameras-on-a-string shoved down my throat to try to find out why I’d lost my voice, and being all-agog at what today is pretty standard kit. BTW at least some of the consulting rooms were on the outside as the room I was in had a window. Blimey – how the hell do I remember that - when I can’t remember what I did yesterday? Actually, that might have something to do with the snowballs I was drinking in a non-ironic way last night – I love ‘em…
But I’m digressing again.
It all closed in 2001. The Council, presumably fearing mass-squattage, only took a couple of years to demolish. It’s spent a lot longer as an empty site than it did as a closed hospital. This year marks the tenth anniversary of our losing an important amenity and gaining eight acres of unused soil.