The Dispensary

1858–9, converted 1997–8

19A Leman Street (former Eastern Dispensary)
Contributed by Survey of London on July 31, 2020

The Eastern Dispensary was one of the oldest institutions of its kind in London. Founded in 1782 to provide free healthcare to poor local residents, the dispensary was first housed on the north side of Great Alie Street (in a shophouse on the site of Central House). It was supported by an ‘on-call’ midwife, able to care for women in their homes, and a resident medical officer alongside visiting surgeons and physicians of standing, including Thomas Southwood Smith in the 1820s and ’30s. By the 1850s, against the backdrop of growing demand from a swollen local population, the Alie Street premises were inadequate. Livery companies, local merchants and sugar bakers underwrote the building project. G. H. Simmonds, the secretary of the dispensary and a surveyor, prepared designs and John Jacobs, a builder on Leman Street, submitted the lowest tender in January 1858. The new Eastern Dispensary opened in February 1859. Simmonds, whose confident if staid architectural hand was active elsewhere in Whitechapel, followed the adjoining parochial school in deploying an Italianate palazzo style for a broad seven-bay façade with channelled rustication to its lower storey, pedimented first-floor windows, and loquacious explanatory courses and panels of incised inscription.

The Eastern Dispensary remained popular until the 1930s. Many of its clinics, which drew patients from around London and surrounding counties, were held in the evenings to ensure patients did not lose income, nor employers manpower. Alterations to the façade in 1929 may have included removal of the cornice which was still present around 1910 but gone by the 1960s. Improved general health caused attendances to drop shortly before a loss of staff caused by the outbreak of war precipitated the dispensary’s closure in 1940. Governors hoped to re-open, but the establishment of the National Health Service in 1946 rendered the dispensary finally redundant.

The building had been briefly occupied by the Jewish Hospitality Committee in 1944. Substantial renovation was undertaken to adapt the interior for a canteen and social club for allied forces. Thereafter the lease was transferred to the Association for Jewish Youth. The property was sold in 1952, and thereafter used for several decades by S. Turner & Co., second- hand clothes merchants. By 1980 the building was vacant and a period of neglect followed, punctuated by listing in 1986. It was refurbished and adapted to use as the Dispensary pub in 1997–8, the interior once again greatly altered to designs by Ronald S. Hore. Part of this work was restoration of the missing cornice and other repair that was necessarily reliant on a view of the building published in the Illustrated London News in 1859. The pub closed in 2019 leaving the building once again vacant.1

  1. Barts and London Health Trust Archives, RLHED/A/1/1; RLHED/A/2/2; RLHED/A/3/2; RLHED/A/3/5: Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives, cuttings 022, Morning Chronicle, 25 Sept 1782: The Builder, 2 Jan 1858, p.19: Illustrated London News, 19 Feb 1859, p.172: East London Observer, 19 Feb 1859, p.3: London Metropolitan Archives, District Surveyors Returns: Historic England Archives, London historians’ file, TH75: Evening Standard, 17 Oct 2000: Derek Morris, Whitechapel 1600–1800, 2011, p.146: Bridget Cherry, Charles O’Brien and Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England, London 5: East, 2005, p.435 

Conservation and Restoration 1997
Contributed by cliveraymond on Feb. 19, 2018

In 1997 I was working on a self-employed basis with a conservation company which was a sub-contractor on the project. We were responsible for all the exterior work to the former Eastern Dispensary, but to get to our scaffold we had to climb out of a window on the first floor, and therefore we had a good view of the original decoration within the dispensary dating from the 1940’s when it was an entertainment centre for the armed forces and others. Having previously studied History of Medicine at the Wellcome Institute, I was particularly concerned when alterations were carried out to the building during the restoration. These would result in a different aspect to the building from what the patients would have known when the dispensary was in use. We were told that the exterior alterations would reflect the nineteenth century engraving in "The Illustrated London News". However, nobody could say whether this design, which predated the building's construction, was fully realized.

During restoration in the late 1990s, the heavy cornice was added to the exterior. Careful examination failed to show any archaeological evidence of there having been a cornice. If it fell off, or was taken down during the war, there were no signs of this. Quoin stones were supplied on pallets and affixed to all available corners on the upper storey. Also, mouldings were supplied as per the upper left window in the 1967 photo, and fixed around all the remaining unadorned windows on that level. In effect, details that existed on the original private residence which was the core of the building were repeated all around.

To begin with, my work consisted in the mechanical cleaning off of deep deposits of black sulphation prior to an overall Joss clean. Sulphation was very deep and solid in the scrolls around the windows and the scallop shell above the side door. We had to we had to cart the bags of powder up the inside and out of the window. After cleaning, my job was to repair cracked and missing cement render, including building up of missing letters/ numerals at the top of the building.

I remember one particular day when a passing off-duty building safety inspector looked in and was so horrified by the health and safety issues with work inside the building that he closed it down. We were all turned to for a general clean-up and hazard removal, while some people were sent away to get safety boots.

A few years later, I went in to the building after its conversion into a pub and recommended to the staff in charge that some sort of story board was needed. Otherwise the significance of the building would be totally lost on people who came in from outside East London. Needless to say, the layout of the interior was greatly altered to create the pub.

The former Eastern Dispensary in 1967
Contributed by Survey of London on Dec. 16, 2016

A digitised colour slide form the Tower Hamlets Archives collection:

The former Eastern Dispensary detail
Contributed by Derek Kendall

The former Eastern Dispensary in context
Contributed by Derek Kendall

The former Eastern Dispenary
Contributed by Derek Kendall

The former Eastern Dispensary in context
Contributed by Derek Kendall