Eversfield Hospital served the community for more than 100 years

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This week, in his continuing series, Ion Castro takes a look at the history of the Eversfield Hospital in West St Leonards.

He writes: In its final days in the late 1980’s what is remembered as The Eversfield Hospital was the group of four buildings on top of the cliff, numbers 111, 113,115 and 117 West Hill St.Leonards.

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It overlooked the sea from above Marina, benefitting from the healthy sea air but this hospital had started its life in 1891 at No 115 as the Eversfield Hospital and Home for Consumption and Diseases of the Chest run by Dr Gambier.

It was on land given by the Eversfield Estate, which owned most of the area west of Hastings and had, some 50 years earlier, sold part of the estate to Burton to build St.Leonards. In latter years No 111, the former Railway Mission Convalescent Home, was known as ‘Gambier House’ in his memory.

The Eversfield had its origins in the Hastings and St Leonards Throat and Ear Dispensary (1882- c.1884) in Trinity Street and the Friedenfels Home (1884-1891) in Upper Maze Hill.

After locating to West Hill in 1891 it was known as the Eversfield Hospital and Home for Consumption and Diseases of the Throat and Chest, although signage on the seaward side, on the gable ends (visible from Marina), of the building reminded us that it was founded some seven years earlier - ‘The Eversfield Hospital Est 1884’. The reference to ‘chest’ was added later.

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Originally a private hospital attracting wealthy patients, it was taken into the National Health Service in 1948 as the Eversfield Chest Hospital until it was absorbed into the Conquest Hospital in the 1980’s.

Thomas Gambier was of Huguenot origin. He was born in Canterbury in 1838 and, having lost a brother and sister to consumption, became a doctor to help people suffering from the disease. He was admitted to the Medical Register in 1863 and began his career in Devon returning to London by 1871, but in 1882 he opened the Hastings and St Leonards Throat and Ear Dispensary in Trinity Street in Hastings.

In 1884 Friedenfels Home, in Upper Maze Hill, was opened for in-patients including those suffering from chest diseases and this is listed as his home address in the 1891 Census, he and his wife Ellen sharing their home with seven male inpatients and at least eleven female inpatients. Interestingly, the patients were mostly working class doing a wide range of jobs including domestic servant, tailor and concertina maker.

Dr Gambier died on Christmas Day 1921 but a Mrs E S Gambier is listed as Secretary in 1939.

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As far back as 1565 The Eversfield Estate based on ‘The Grove’, a large house about 2½ miles from Hastings, was owned by one Laurence Levitt. When he died in 1585 the estate was inherited by his sister Mary who married Thomas Eversfield of Uckfield.

The Eversfield family later acquired the Manor of Gensing from Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, in 1612, when their estate amounted to some 600 acres, and the family grew in local prominence for the next three centuries.

Their son, Nicholas Eversfield, was Member of Parliament for Hastings from 1623 to 1628 and Thomas Eversfield in the Long Parliament of 1640 until, in the 1950’s Hastings Boro’ Council acquired ‘The Grove’, demolished it and replaced it with a secondary school of the same name. The school suffered the same fate and was demolished in 2014.

By 1939 the ‘Eversfield Hospital for Consumption and Diseases of the Chest’ had expanded to include 113 (that had been the gardener’s cottage for the Herts Children’s Convalescent Home at No 121), 115 and an annexe at 111 that had been the Railway Mission Convalescent Home.

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The enlarged hospital was described as: ‘The Hospital with Annexe contains 100 beds, and has a beautiful sunny aspect with sea view.. Open-air and all modern forms of treatment. Bankers, Lloyds Bank Limited. St. Leonards. Applications for admission must be made to the Secretary, Mrs E. S. Gambier (B.A.). Inclusive terms: 25s. (£1.25) per week with a subscriber’s letter; £2 10s. (£2.50) without. Visiting days: Sundays, ‘Wednesdays & Saturdays from 2 to 4 p.m. Board of Management meetings quarterly; House Committee meetings monthly’.

In the early 1930’s the former Railway Mission Convalescent Home at no 111 had been taken over by the Eversfield and was later known as Gambier House with the original building, 115, known as West Building.

After the war and formation of the NHS ‘The Eversfield’ expanded and took in the unlisted private mental health institution, Westcliffe, at no 117, while the former gardener’s cottage at 113 became a chest clinic.

With the building of the district general hospital, ‘The Conquest’, on The Ridge functions were transferred there and the Eversfield complex declared redundant.

At the end of 2012 the vacant Gambier House (no 111) and West House (no 115) had been acquired by ‘Eversfield Regeneration group’ with the plans to restore, refurbish and enhance the existing features of the building and convert to the buildings into between 55 and 70 apartments, targeted at the over-55 age group. They are still vacant and undeveloped. No 113, the cottage had already been demolished to make way for a car park.

In 1890 the Railway Mission opened its first convalescent home for railway men in Hastings, and this then moved to 111 West Hill Road in 1897. The Railway Mission was founded on November the 14th 1881 at Mildmay Park, London when it merged with the Railway Boys Mission. It did not have a personal membership, membership being organised around local secretaries responsible for providing a location for meetings. By 1890 there were 6,000 members and approximately 250 local missions around the United Kingdom and the majority of railway communities had a Railway Mission Hall. An early activity was as part of the temperance movement. To combat the threat of drink, which was of great concern within the railway industry, the Railway Mission established coffee houses near railway stations as alternatives to public houses. The Railway Mission currently has 20 chaplains working as part of the National Rail Chaplaincy Service.

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All illustrations throughout this series are from Ion Castro’s own collection and he can make available copies of many of the historic images used in this series. There’s more local history on Ion’s website, www.historichastings.co.uk or contact him ion@1066.net.

Captions:

Eversfield a.

A view taken around the first war era, “The Eversfield Chest Hospital Est 1884” was designed to be seen from the seafront and the word ‘chest is included.

Eversfield Hospital and Cabins.

To obtain the maximum benefit from fresh air patients would stay in these cabins in the grounds, the cabins could be rotated to catch the sun, the breeze or whatever was considered healthy at the time. A fire escape has been added on the left.

Eversfield Hospital.

The legend “The Eversfield Hospital Est 1884” on the gable ends, the word ‘Chest’ will be added later. On the left, notice the house on the horizon, this is probably ‘Craiglea’ at the junction of Branksome Road with Filsham Road, and on the right the houses are probably those in Albany Road indicating how little development there was north of West Hill.

Eversfield Hospital from the road.

Posted 1912 to Birmingham. The name of their neighbours, the private Lunatic Asylum t No 117, ‘Westcliffe’ can be seen on the gate but no indication as to what went on there. Westcliffe would eventually be absorbed into the Eversfield complex.

Grosvenor Gardens and West Hill.

This postcard from the late 1950’s shows, from the right on the clifftop, the Eversfield, No 115, Westcliffe, No117, Chelsea Convalescent Home no 119, Herts CC Convalescent Childrens Home at 121, Herts Convalescent Home at 123 and the Convalescent Home for poor children at 125.

Railway Mission Convalescent Home

The Railway Mission Convalescent Home at 111 West Hill Road had been taken over by the Eversfield in the early 1930’s

Railway Mission Convalescent Home Front.

Seen from West Hill Road in the 1920’s the building is easily identifiable today.

Revolving Sleeping Shelters.

These cabins in the hospital grounds were rotated to provide the greatest benefit to the patient. The Seaward side of Westcliffe, no 117 can be seen on the left and the back of the Eversfield on the right. The Chelsea Women’s Convalescent Home is on the far left.

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