Sunday, 25 November 2012

Whipps Cross....

This rather impressive looking building is Whipps Cross hospital in Leytonstone, East London. It was our local hospital when I was growing up, and as a child who enjoyed things like gymnastics, and horse-riding, I did spend a fair amount of time feeling bored in the A&E department there. I've always loved the architecture of the building and it featured in several projects I did at school, including taking centre stage in one section of my "History of medicine" project and being drawn for an art & design module.

Construction started in 1900 and was completed in 1903 - initially  it was a Work House Infirmary, however the name Whipps Cross Hospital was used from 1917 after it had been used to treat injured WW1 soldiers.  David Beckham, Jonathon Ross, and Graham Gooch were all born there, as was renowned photographer David Bailey. I remember being told some years ago that Whipps was the first hospital in the South East to be built to the pattern recommended by Florence Nightingale, and certainly the design of the part pictured above would fit with this theory - the wards are large, open plan, with large windows to let in lots of natural light and air. I've been unable to find anything to back up this suggestion though so shall have to leave it as simply a possibility.

The first time I can remember being at Whipps was when, aged about 6, I tripped and headbutted a doorpost in the passageway of our house in Walthamstow. A trip to A&E with my longsuffering Dad followed - we waited AGES to be seen and the eventual verdict of concussion was no surprise to anyone. I was more upset about having to miss the last day of term at school than about the bash on the head though, and it never stopped me running up the passageway either! Visits for various other reasons followed through the year - at least one more with concussion I think, and a quite thoroughly broken elbow when I was 13 (Too swollen to put in plaster much to my annoyance - I did have fun getting other people to write rude things on my sling though!). My final visit there on my own account would have been a mysteriously sprained ankle when I was about 20 - I went to bed and it was fine, by the following morning I was unable to put it to the ground and spent a week on crutches.

Injuries and illnesses weren't the reason I spent the most time at the hospital though - from aged 14 I spent most of my school holiday time doing "duty hours" there as a St John Ambulance cadet. Based in the Connaught Day Hospital, a day centre for elderly and disabled people, doing everything from just sitting chatting to people, to helping them with their meals, answering the telephone and running errands around the hospital, it was all great fun and I got to know almost all of that wonderful old building (and in chilly weather got to borrow one of those fabulous warm swishy nurses cloaks like they used to wear in "Angels"!) I learnt all sorts of things, not least that much as I enjoyed it, I didn't want to take up nursing for a career, and that most ambulancemen have a filthy and irreverant sense of humour. I also learnt the entertainment value that the A&E staff found in dispatching a new student nurse off for a "neck tourniquet for the head injury patient" (think about that one) - we used to get at least one of those every time there was a new rotation of students down there!



Historian said...

Nice combination of architectural history and personal reminiscence. Comfortingly enjoyable on this wet and windy morning! Thanks Robyn.

Robyn said...

Thank you! It's one of those buildings that just speaks to me...a bit like St Pancras station which you may have noticed I am also obsessed with!