This week, in his ongoing series, Ion Castro explores the Chelsea Hospital, which once catered for ‘distressed gentlewomen’.
He writes. West Hill, St Leonards, is the road running from the rear of the Royal Victoria Hotel along the cliff top overlooking Marina.
It descends at West St Leonards to West St Leonards railway station, which is on the right. West Marina Station on the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway (that had opened in 1846 and closed in 1967) was straight ahead.
The land between West Hill and the cliff edge was considered ideal for the construction of convalescent homes because of the exposure to healthy sea breezes and the first home appearing by 1880 was the Herts Convalescent Home at 123 West Hill Road that had been officially opened by of Queen Victoria’s daughter Princess in 1880.
This was followed by the largest and most westerly, at No 125, the Convalescent Home for Poor Children which was opened in 1882 by the Prince and Princess of Wales.
At No 121 was the Herts Convalescent Home for Children and in 1891 the Chelsea Hospital for Women opened a purpose-built convalescent home at no 119.
The homes remained open until the 1980’s when nos 125 and 123 were vacated and demolished after it was claimed that the land was unstable. The site is still undeveloped. No 121, the former Herts. County Council Children’s Convalescent Home was taken over by the Chelsea who were already at 119, and, along with 121, have been redeveloped into apartments when their health function ceased in 1988.
No 117 was purpose-built and opened in 1889, surviving until the second war with its function discreetly obscured and street directories simply listing it as ‘Westcliffe’, occupied by the doctors Newington. It was in fact an annexe of, what was called a Lunatic Asylum, or private madhouse (in the days before political correctness), based in Ticehurst since 1792 under four generations of Newingtons as doctors. After the war it was absorbed into the Eversfield Hospital complex and is now apartments.
The Chelsea Hospital for Women (1871- 1988) was established in 1871 in a house at 178 King’s Road Chelsea with 8 beds and catered for “the medical needs of distressed gentlewomen and the deserving poor”.
The hospital was quickly found to be too small and a larger site was found on the south side of Fulham Road where building work began in 1880, with the Princess of Wales laying the foundation stone and the Duchess of Albany officially opened the Hospital in 1883.
It had 63 beds and was the first to be built specifically dedicated to gynaecological disorders.
Its opening was followed by the St Leonard’s-on-Sea convalescent home in 1891 and, by the turn of the century, the Hospital in London once again outgrew their premises and in 1911 Earl Cadogan donated a piece of land in Arthur (later renamed Dovehouse) Street in Chelsea on which a larger hospital was built.
At the beginning of WW2, in 1939, the Hospital in London joined the Emergency Medical Service with 60 beds placed at the disposal of the Ministry of Health for civilian casualties and some of the Hospital’s patients were evacuated to St.Leonards until this was ended by the threat of invasion. In 1988 it closed and all services were transferred to Queen Charlotte’s Hospital and the building is now the Chelsea Wing of the Royal Brompton Hospital.
Queen Charlotte’s was originally a voluntary hospital and is one of the oldest maternity hospitals in Europe, dating from 1739, and until 1999 occupied a site at 339-351 Goldhawk Road, Hammersmith. In 1809 Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III, became its patron, having been persuaded by her son to become involved. A Royal Charter was incorporated in 1885 and when this was amended in 1924 the present name came into use. The hospital subsequently merged with the Chelsea Hospital for Women and is now based at the Hammersmith Hospital site in West London to which it was relocated in 1998.
In the days before the common availability of personal cameras, hotels and other residential institutions would supply postcards, usually for sale, for their residents featuring where they were staying.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chelsea Convalescent Home D7443.
This postcard from the ‘Norman’ series shows the sea-facing aspect of the Chelsea Convalescent Home at 119 West Hill Road, on its right can be seen no 117, Westcliffe, by this time part of the Eversfield Hospital complex.
Chelsea Convalescent Home Sitting Room.
Produced by an unnamed publisher and posted in May 1928 and somewhat spoiled by the wavy lines from the franking machine. “Queenie” writes “We are on the sea front 250 feet above sea level”. Furnishings included a piano!
Chelsea Convalescent Home South View.
An uncredited card posted November 1930. “Aunty Marie” writes “what a nice home this is, all the windows are right facing the sea” This view looking inland shows, “Westcliffe” at no 117 and operated at this time the doctors Newington as a mental health institution.
Chelsea Convalescent Home under repair.
From this 1930’s photograph it appears that new windows are being fitted by London contractors Holliday and Greenwood Ltd. In 1962 the company was taken over by Higgs and Hill Limited, but continued to trade under their original name until 1970. The photograph came from the archives of Messrs. Upfields, engineers in Hastings High Street so they must have been working there as well.
Front Entrance Chelsea Convalescent Home.
The building has been renamed ‘Senlac’ but the outer gate pillars remain and the inscriptions are still legible, unfortunately the magnificent gates and middle pillar have gone.
Library Chelsea Convalescent Home.
The big bay windows look out to sea, and notice the writing table with privacy screen.
Sitting Room in Nurses Home.
Notice the piano and one nurse, in uniform talking to her ‘off duty’ colleague resting on the settee and to the left of the piano there is what appears to be the horn of a gramophone.
West St Leonards Convalescent Homes.
This pre-first-war postcard shows, behind the large houses of Grosvenor Crescent, from the left, the very large Convalescent Home for Poor Children, Hertfordshire County Council Convalescent Home, Hertfordshire County Council Children’s Convalescent Home, Chelsea Women’s Hospital Convalescent Home, set back and just visible is the Westcliffe (Mental Institution) and Eversfield Chest Hospital. Out of shot the line of institutions continues eastward.