The Royal London Dental Hospital

Block occupied by the Royal London Dental Hospital. Site of the former Alexandra Wing, built in 1864–6 to designs by Charles Barry Jr.

The Alexandra Wing, 1864–6 (demolished)
Contributed by Survey of London on Dec. 8, 2016

As east London expanded into Essex, the London Hospital was inundated with increasing numbers of patients arriving from the local area and remoter parishes such as West Ham. Working families were not the only people who descended on the hospital in need of medical care; labourers with injuries incurred in accidents at nearby docks and factories frequently arrived at its doors.1 Since the completion of the wing extensions of 1830–42, the volume of patients had more than doubled: by the 1860s, over 30,000 people were treated each year as inpatients and outpatients.2 Overcrowding was not confined to the wards, as medical officers and nurses endured cramped conditions with little promise of rest. Due to prolonged shifts and a lack of dormitories, nurses were frequently seen to be ‘overcome with sleep’ and the matron insisted that her staff could not be expanded without additional sleeping accommodation.3 By 1862 the situation had become untenable and a report on overcrowding pronounced ‘a very serious defect in the arrangements of the London Hospital’.4

The hospital turned to its surveyor, Charles Barry Jr., to prepare plans for an extension to the outpatients’ department. Barry had acted as hospital surveyor since 1858, the same year that he succeeded his father as surveyor to the Dulwich College Estate. He approached his responsibilities in an efficient manner from his offices in Sackville Street, proposing to attend committee meetings for an extra charge in addition to his nominal salary and commission. Barry designed a long single-storey building that would run parallel to the existing surgical and physicians’ outpatients’ departments housed in the west wing. Yet plans for this extension were stalled as the House Committee contemplated a long-term solution. The matter was delegated to a building committee, which promoted substantial alterations and argued that ‘the entire system is one of undue pressure, subversive of sanitary arrangements, inconvenient to the professional staff, [and] unfair towards the patients and the servants of the hospital’.5

The proposed solution was to build a five-storey wing with a basement and attic, extending west parallel to Whitechapel Road. Barry’s plan promised room for about seventy beds, with separate wards allocated for children, obstetric cases and Jewish patients. The new wing was roughly split into two parts. A three-storey maisonette with bedrooms and servants’ quarters was carved from the west end of the wing for the House Governor, a resident ‘economiser’ who managed the daily workings of the hospital and its expenditure.6 Each floor of the eastern side of the building comprised a spine corridor flanked by wards or offices. The basement secured a new centre for the surgical outpatients’ department, with an extensive waiting hall to make the customary ‘lengthened detention’ less onerous, and a consulting room flanked by dressing rooms. An attic dormitory for night nurses, for whom there had previously been no accommodation, addressed fears that a lack of supervision compromised their efficiency and ‘quality’. The intermediate floors were given over to wards, with the exception of a new committee room and secretary’s office positioned on the ground floor.7

Early twentieth-century view of the London Hospital from the north-west, showing the north and west elevations of the Alexandra Wing.

The exterior of the west wing reflected its disjointed plan: on its brick- built north elevation facing Whitechapel Road, a staid succession of evenly spaced bays was interrupted by a projecting bay capped with a pediment to mark the junction between the wards and the House Governor’s residence. The tiled mansard roof was punctuated by pedimented dormer windows to admit light into the attic dormitories. The west elevation was adorned with a raised entrance porch to the House Governor’s maisonette, which overlooked a private walled garden at the south. A sanitary tower capped with a pyramidal lead roof projected from the south elevation, containing a water tank at its peak and water closets below. At Barry’s insistence, the building was constructed with fireproof concrete floors and staircases. The House Committee initially hesitated over the additional expense, yet was persuaded by the surveyor’s warnings that the hospital could be criticised for failing to introduce fireproof floors, which also possessed soundproof and ‘verminproof’ qualities.8

The new wing was constructed in 1864–6 by contractors Hill and Keddell, based in Whitechapel Road. It was financed by hospital funds and charitable donations, including substantial gifts from local businesses and local brewer Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, Chairman of the House Committee. Many of the hospital’s staff and supporters were recognised in the naming of the wards: one was named ‘Buxton’ in gratitude to the Chairman, and ‘Davis’ commemorated the present and former Vice Presidents. A ward was named ‘Blizard’ in memory of the hospital’s eminent long-serving surgeon, and another named ‘Victor’ to celebrate the birth of Queen Victoria’s eldest child. The foundation stone was laid in July 1864 in a jubilant ceremony which saw Whitechapel awash with crowds and decorated with bunting. Immediately after, the building was bestowed with the first name of the new bride of the Prince of Wales, an association intended to inspire ‘respectful admiration’.9 The opening of the Alexandra Wing was not accompanied by such celebration; formal inauguration had to be abandoned due to an outbreak of cholera. In July 1866, patients were moved into the new wing to liberate two wards and the east attics in the older part of the hospital for cholera patients.10

The completion of the Alexandra Wing allowed various improvements to be effected elsewhere in the hospital, as rooms were modified and reassigned. The alterations were executed by Hill and Keddell and continued to 1868. In the basement, an ophthalmic ward was set up and the physicians’ outpatients’ department extended into rooms formerly occupied by its surgical counterpart. On the ground floor, additional space was secured for the arrival of patients with the extension of the entrance vestibule and the formation of a large receiving room at its west. Water closets were moved to the side of a porch built beyond the back door of the central block. Bedrooms, sitting rooms and offices were provided to improve conditions for medical officers and their pupils.11

Rowland Plumbe and Joseph George Oatley, hospital surveyors, oversaw various alterations to the Alexandra Wing into the twentieth century, including an extension to the south tower (c.1890), the formation of a Coroner’s Court in the basement (1904–5) and a single-storey extension at the west (c.1913). An endowment by James Hora, a Vice President of the hospital, led to the opening of the Marie Celeste maternity department in 1905, which included wards and an obstetric theatre. The facility was named in memory of Hora’s wife.12 A few years later, south-facing balconies were added to the first- and second-floor wards. With persistent pressure on vacant space for hospital expansion, the House Governor’s private garden south of the wing was not destined to survive. By 1960 it had been converted into an ambulance station, with a covered parking bay and ramped entrance into the hospital. This in turn was short- lived, as the Alexandra Wing and the adjoining ambulance station were cleared for redevelopment in 1974.

  1. Royal London Hospital Archives (RLHA), RLHLH/A/5/31, p. 110; General State of the London Hospital (London: School Press Gower’s Walk, 1854), p. 8. 

  2. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/32, p. 30. 

  3. Ward visitors and Mrs Nelson, matron, cited by A. E. Clark-Kennedy, London Pride: the story of a voluntary hospital (London: Hutchinson Benham, 1979), p. 110. 

  4. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/31, p. 200. 

  5. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/31, p. 200; RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/32, pp. 30, 257–8. 

  6. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/15. 

  7. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/32, p. 30. 

  8. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/32, pp. 143–4; RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/32, p. 30. 

  9. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/32, p. 104. 

  10. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/32, p. 78; ‘Laying the Foundation Stone of the New Wing of the London Hospital’, Medical News, 9 July 1864, p. 61; RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/33, pp. 46–7. 

  11. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/33, pp. 128, 164, 197. 

  12. ‘For East End Mothers’, London Daily News, 19 July 1905. 

'The London Hospital: Laying the Foundation Stone of a New Wing', The Essex Standard, 8 July 1864
Contributed by Amy Smith, Survey of London on Aug. 17, 2016

Excerpt from The Essex Standard, 8 July 1864:

The London Hospital 'has found its increased accommodation more than outstripped by the rapid growth of population around it, particularly in the large parish of West Ham, in our own county, where year by year acres of marsh land bordering upon the Thames have been absorbed for railways, docks, ship yards, iron works, and factories of various kinds, each employing its hundreds of thousands of hands, and necessitating the provision literally of miles of new streets for the accommodation of this vast aggregation of artisans and of the trading classes following in their wake. Nor is the number of the population the only cause of the increase of applicants for admission: the manufacturing and commercial operations of the neighbourhood are constantly resulting in accidents to life and limb, and so strongly marked is this characteristic that the serious casualties treated within its walls outnumber those of the three other largest hospitals of the metropolis.'1

  1. The Royal London Hospital Archives, RLHLH/A/5/32, p. 110. 

'Laying the Foundation Stone of the New Wing of the London Hospital', Medical News, 9 July 1864
Contributed by Amy Smith, Survey of London on Aug. 17, 2016

Excerpt from Medical News, 9 July 1864:

The ceremony of laying the first stone of the new west wing of this Hospital was performed on Monday last by the Prince of Wales. Whitechapel wore a holiday appearance on the occasion, crowds of people welcomed their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess, and the thoroughfares were decked with bunting of all colours. Their Royal Highnesses were received at the principal entrance of the Hospital by His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge, the President, the Vice-Presidents, and the members of the Committee of the Hospital, who conducted them to the place where the stone was to be laid. When the Prince and Princess had reached the marquee under which the stone was suspended, and had taken their places facing it, His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge read an address detailing the operations of the charity, which, since its establishment, has aided 1,300,000 persons, and which is now greatly at a loss for additional room. His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales said that it gave him great pleasure, to join in such a work, and to assist his illustrious relative, who was ever foremost in works of charity, in commencing what, it was to be hoped, would be even a more successful career for that admirable Institution, the London Hospital.

When the succeeding applause had subsided, the Bishop of London offered up a prayer for the success of the work, and then a choir, formed of the gentlemen and boys of the Chapels Royal and of Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's, under the lead of Mr. Francis chanted a selection from the Prayer-book version of the 107th Psalm; after which the Prince, taking a silver trowel from Mr. C. Barry, the architect of the new wing, proceeded to lay the mortar. A bottle containing current coins of the realm, and a copy of the last annual report of the Hospital, was deposited in a cavity in the lower stone; and then the stone was lowered to its bed, the Prince giving it, after the architect had tried and found it true, three taps with a mallet made of a thorn tree as old as the Hospital, which grew upon the very spot where the stone now stands. Great delight was manifested by the spectators when the Princess, stepping forward, received the mallet and repeated the taps, giving at the same time one of those happy smiles which so well become her genial face — never, we are glad to say, looking better. The Old Hundredth Psalm was then sung in unison. The bishop gave the benediction, and then, conducted as before by the president and the committee, their Royal Highnesses re-entered the Hospital, and the Prince paid a visit to the principal wards.

The following are some particulars concerning the new building:

The proposed new west wing will be 140 feet long by sixty feet wide, and will contain in the basement story a large waiting hall for out-patients, Surgeons’ and Physicians’ rooms, laboratory, dispensing, and other offices. The ground and one and two pair floors will contain large wards for men, women, and children, together with separate wards for Jews, and suitable offices adjoining thereto. On each of the several floors will be the requisite rooms for nurses and other attendants. The dormitories will be fitted up exclusively for the sleeping apartments of the nurses and domestics connected with the institution, and it is expected that there will be accommodation for 200 additional patients, exclusive of the requisite offices for the attendants. The contract has been taken by Messrs. Hill and Keddell, contractors, of Whitechapel Road, for the sum of £23,000 under the superintendence of Charles Barry, Esq., the architect. At five minutes past two their Royal Highnesses, conducted by the Duke of Cambridge, entered a very large marquee, in which a dejeuner was laid for 1000 persons, and taking their places at the high table from which the others radiated — the Princess on the Duke’s right, the Prince on his left, and the Bishop of London next to the Princess — were welcomed by the company just as heartily as they had been greeted by the throngs of East End charity children, who, with their banners, were drawn up in the pretty gardens through which the Royal guests passed to reach the marquee. When justice had been done to the luncheon, the Duke of Cambridge, in a few words, proposed the toast of the Queen, which was duly honoured, and was followed by that of the Prince and Princess, given also by the Commander-in-Chief.

The Prince said: ‘After the kind and flattering manner in which my illustrious relative has proposed the health of the Princess and myself it would ill become me if I did not warmly return thanks for  the honour you have done me. To encourage the great national institutions, in which myself and the Princess naturally take a deep interest, will ever give great pleasure to us. I have walked through the wards of the Hospital today, and I can bear testimony to the great general efficiency of the charity. I hope the new wing, which will be called after the Princess — the Alexandra wing (cheers) — will do much to relieve the necessities of the district. I wish that the wing may never be full. (Great cheering) I beg to propose to you “Prosperity to the London Hospital”.’

The toast having been drunk with enthusiasm, Mr. T. Fowell Buxton, chairman of the house committee, then announced the subscriptions towards the special object. Among the sums given these were some of the principal ones: J. Barclay, Esq., £1000 per annum for three years, £3000; Sir T. P. Buxton, Bart., £500; T. Fowell Buxton, Esq., chairman of the house committee, £3000; Charrington and Co., £500 per annum for two years, £1000; Octavius E. Coope, Esq., £500 per annum for two years, £1000; John Davis, Esq., V.P., £315; East and West India Dock Company, £500; Hoare and Co., £300; John Hodgson, Esq., £500; Ind, Coope, and Co., £500; Hon. Rustomjee Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy, per R. W. Crawford Esq., M.P., steward, £2000; Andrew Johnston, Esq., £100 per annum for three years, £300; Mann, Crossman, and Paulin, £600 ; Lady Morrison, Three per Cent. Consols, £1000; Henry W. Peek, Esq., £315; Truman, Hanbury, Buxton, and Co., £1000. The total amounted to the enormous sum of £30,621.

The present Hospital professes to afford accommodation for 320 patients only, but from the numerous accidents and the number of severe cases occurring amongst the dense population in the neighbourhood, that number has often been exceeded. The Jews' ward, with the separate kitchen attached is a special feature of interest in the charity.1

  1. Medical News, 9 July 1864, p. 61 (online: m/medicaltimesand16unkngoog/medicaltimesand16unkngoog_djvu.txt) 

The Alexandra Wing of the London Hospital, as depicted in The Illustrated London News on 11 March 1876
Contributed by Historic England

Postcard showing the London Hospital
Contributed by Amy Smith, Survey of London

The west elevation of the Royal London Dental Hospital from Mount Terrace in 2017
Contributed by Derek Kendall

The Alexandra Wing of the London Hospital in the early 1970s (photograph by Dan Cruickshank)
Contributed by Dan Cruickshank

The Alexandra Wing of the London Hospital (its west end) in the early 1970s (photograph by Dan Cruickshank)
Contributed by Dan Cruickshank

Recalling the animal testing laboratory in the Alexandra Wing of the London Hospital

Gemma O'Connor, who worked in the department of oral microbiology associated with the London Hospital dental school, recalls that there used to be an animal testing laboratory in the Alexandra Wing of the hospital

Contributed by Shahed Saleem on Sept. 14, 2016