New Cross Hospital
Avonley Road, Deptford SE14 5ER
Medical dates:

Medical character:
1877 - 1988

Smallpox and infectious diseases. Later, general and geriatric
The Deptford Hospital opened on St Patrick's Day (17th March) 1877, a week after its sister hospital, the Fulham Hospital.  It was the fifth and final of the paired smallpox and fever hospitals to be built by the Metropolitan Asylums Board (MAB).  A smallpox epidemic was raging at that time.  

Initially the Hospital consisted of a central block built of brick and a series of wooden huts.  
It was intended to build additional huts as needed.

The central building lay on an east-to-west axis on the 10-acre site and contained the administration offices and accommodation for staff from the fever side, with the kitchen in an adjacent block.  
 Staff on the smallpox side were housed in a ward fitted up with a mess room and sleeping cubicles.

There were six wards for fever patients and four for smallpox patients (although these were soon increased to six).  The distance between the acute smallpox wards and the fever wards was 90 ft (27 metres).  Smallpox convalescents were housed in a ward 30 ft (9 metres) from a fever ward.  

There was a separate entrance for smallpox patients and staff and each side had its own laundry and staff.  No nurse or servant was allowed to enter the other side, with the exception of the Superintendent Nurse of the smallpox side, who had to visit the administration block.  The stores and food from the Steward's stores were delivered by different porters.  All the furniture, linen, etc was kept separate and nothing from the smallpox side entered the fever side without having been thoroughly cleaned.

Common to both sides were the kitchen, Steward's stores, disinfecting room, patients' own clothing store and the mortuary.  
The engineers were also common to both sides, as were the Matron and the Steward, although they did not enter the smallpox side.  The Chaplain visited fever and smallpox patients on alternate days.

By October 1877, within seven months of opening, the Hospital had treated 692 patients, of whom 83 (12%) had died.

The epidemic had lasted two years and, due to the shortage of suitable female nurses, the Hospital was forced to employ men to staff the male wards. The Medical Superintendent later declared that in fact they were preferable to women, being "better fitted to maintain order among the patients, who were from the lowest class of the population".  

At the end of 1877 the local hospital committee decided to close the Hospital temporarily and, except for a small caretaker force, the staff were dismissed.

The move proved premature as the incidence of smallpox in southeast London began to increase and the Local Government Board (the central government department responsible for MAB) urged that the Hospital be re-opened.  A gatehouse was then built and two of the wards were converted into isolation units.

From April 1878 until December 1879 some 1,634 acute cases of smallpox were admitted; 1,352 of these recovered and were discharged, while 282 died.  During the same period 142 convalescent patients were admitted from other MAB hospitals, as well as 56 patients with other infectious diseases.  Of the 1,634 smallpox patients, 1,148 had been vaccinated, 83 (7%) of whom died.  Of the 228 doubtfully vaccinated cases, 78 (34%) died and, of the 258 unvaccinated cases, 121 (47%) died.  The average stay of the recovered patients was 44 days.

In 1880 some 540 cases of smallpox were admitted, of whom 72 died.  Each surviving patient was resident for an average of 29 days.  Sixty nurses and servants were employed to look after them.  In the same year 508 fever cases were admitted - 304 with scarlet fever, of whom 43 (14%) died; 71 with enteric fever - 7 (10%) died; 18 with typhus fever - 5 (28%) died; and 55 with other fevers - 10 (18%) died.  Three nurses, 1
assistant nurse and 3 ward servants contracted scarlet fever, but all recovered.  Three nurses contracted enteric fever.  Six cases of smallpox occurred in the fever wards, but there was no occurrence of fever in the smallpox wards.

Public concern had been growing about the spread of smallpox in streets surrounding smallpox hospitals, but the Medical Superintendent noted that in Greenwich the epidemic had begun one mile (1.6 km) from the Hospital and had steadily advanced towards it.  He noted too that houses were being built on ground facing the Hospital and there was no difficulty in finding tenants for them.

During 1881, as well as 146 fever patients, the Hospital admitted 3,185 cases of smallpox, of whom 552 (17%) died.  The pressure of the epidemic meant that
from 8th February until the end of October only smallpox patients were admitted.   The Hospital was full from mid March until the end of June and a large number of cases had to be refused admission until the temporary convalescent camp opened at Gore Farm at Darenth, when 810 patients could be transferred there gradually over the summer (another 75 were taken to Fulham Hospital). During the epidemic some 9,000 articles were washed weekly in the laundry.  In December, because of the increasing prevalence of smallpox,  it was decided to erect five temporary wooden huts to accommodate 70 extra patients, with additional dormitories for staff.  Building work began in stormy weather in January and the patients moved in on 14th March, 1882.  The Hospital then had 400 beds.

Once the facilities had Darenth had opened, the Deptford Hospital became a staging post for convalescent patients from MAB's other smallpox hospitals.  From May until the end of August 1,590 patients were sent via Deptford to Darenth, as well as the 810 Deptford Hospital patients.

Patients were transferred by coach.  A coach house and stabling
for 12 horses was built on the site and the Hospital acquired 3 four-in-hand coaches (seating not less than 10 people inside).  Each coach had a driver and, as well as the patients and an attendant inside, carried a commissionaire in charge of the coach.  All staff connected with the transfer lived in the Hospital.  Patients were given breakfast at 05.30; the coach left at 06.00 and arrived at Darenth (some 18 miles away) at 09.00.  One stoppage was allowed along the way to water the horses.  The empty coaches arrived back in the afternoon.  In 1881 the coaches made 113 journeys of 20 patients each.  Patients convalesced at Gore Farm for 3 to 4 weeks before being discharged.

In 1882 the Hospital was renamed the South-Eastern District Hospital.  It had 462 beds. In February until August the fever side was given over to smallpox patients; 947 were admitted, of whom 162 (17%) died.  Some 365 fever cases were admitted, of whom 55 died.  Of these 243 had scarlet fever (11% mortality), 84 enteric fever (24% mortality), 11 typhus fever (22% mortality) and 27 other fevers (22% mortality).   

By the following year it was known simply as the South-Eastern Hospital.  
The smallpox epidemic had abated and only 145 cases were admitted.  Of the 422 fever patients, 12.7% died; 230 had scarlet fever (8.07% mortality), 75 enteric fever (19.2% mortality), 7 typhus fever (25% mortality) and 30 miscellaneous (28.2% mortality). The smallpox side of the Hospital was closed in August until January while works and alterations were carried out.  

Because of complaints from the public, it had been decided to move the smallpox wards from the Old Kent Road side to the railway embankment side, away from the public highway.  
A quarter-acre of land on the north side of the site had been purchased to isolate the Hospital from the surrounding area and for a new entrance with porters' quarters and isolation wards for the smallpox side.  The wards on the south side then became the fever hospital with 200 beds and those on the north side the smallpox hospital with 100 beds (or 50 for severe acute smallpox).  

An ambulance station was also added and opened on 1st October 1883, the first to be established by MAB.  A nurse accompanied each ambulance; she carried a small basket containing milk, water, wine and brandy for the use of the patient before the start of, or during, the journey to the Hospital.

The new buildings on the smallpox side contained
an Ambulance Nurses' room, admission rooms, a central bathroom with 3 bathrooms and 1 dressing room, a laundry for patients' clothing and a waiting room for patients' visitors.

However, a Royal Commission which had been established in 1881 to investigate the prevailing agitation over the location of smallpox hospitals  concluded that smallpox patients should not be kept in urban areas but transferred to hospitals in isolated regions.   In 1883, when the paired fever hospitals built by MAB should have ceased to admit smallpox patients (who were then taken by river ambulance to hospital ships moored at Long Reach, near Dartford),
the South-Eastern Hospital was unable to do so.  It was compelled to receive the patients from north and west London who would normally have been taken to the Hampstead and Fulham Hospitals.  MAB sympathised with the public view that rich and powerful residents could get their smallpox hospitals closed, but their patients were then transferred to a hospital located in a poor, more populated neighbourhood.  
In 1886 the Hospital treated 1,000 patients, less than a third of the number in 1881.

In 1889 medical students were allowed to visit the wards.  The Hospital also began to accept non-pauper patients with fever.

A Nurses' Home was built in 1893 and, in 1895, two more ward pavilions.

In 1901 an architect was appointed to prepare a scheme for permanent buildings on the very restricted site.  The plan included the erection of staff quarters, receiving rooms, isolation wards and 4 new 2-storey pavilions at an estimated cost of £76,000.

The Hospital closed in 1904.  The 70 members of staff were laid off with a month's notice, and only the Medical Superintendent, Matron and Steward retained.  Building work began and was completed in two years.
 The Hospital reopened in July 1906 with 496 beds.

 A telephone system had been installed and an operator was eventually engaged to run it, thus releasing the Charge Nurse whose duty it had been.  The operator was on duty from 10 o'clock in the morning until 8 o'clock in the evening, with an hour off for lunch.

In 1907 a boundary wall collapsed.  In view of a possible rail strike, extra coal had been ordered but there had been nowhere to put it.  The Medical Superintendent ordered it to be dumped against the wall, which was later found to have been bowed.

The Hospital continued as a fever hospital with some smallpox beds until the end of WW1, when ex-servicemen with TB were admitted (they remained until 1921).

In 1926 MAB began to employ married women (single women had been required to leave their jobs on marriage).  The tennis court, 20 years in the planning, was finally laid and proved very popular.  A study room was built for the nurses.  In 1927 the cubicles in the central block and the adjacent ambulance station were converted into bedrooms.

In 1930, after MAB had been abolished, the Hospital came under the control of the LCC.   The LCC made no improvements or alterations until 1937, when it decided to build two new blocks on the site.  Work had begun on the first one - a 60-bedded isolation block - when WW2 broke out.

At the beginning of WW2 the Hospital joined the Emergency Medical Service as a Class 1A Hospital under the control of Guy's Hospital.

In September 1940, at the beginning of the Blitz, a high explosive bomb fell on the kitchens of Ward Block 1, killing four nurses on the ground floor and injuring the Night Sister and patients in the adjacent ward.  A nurse who had been in the ward kitchen on the first floor fell through the collapsed floor.  She was seriously injured and trapped by a block of masonry across her legs.  People rushed to free her, including a 44-year-old porter, Albert Ernest Dolphin.  As they worked a wall was heard to crack; all the workers jumped clear except Mr Dolphin, who flung himself over the nurse to protect her from the falling bricks.  His body was recovered later and the injured nurse was subsequently extricated, still alive.  (Four months later, in January 1941, Mr Dolphin was awarded the George Cross posthumously for his selfless act.  After the war a small garden 
was dedicated to the memory of the five people killed.  This civilian memorial also contained an oak seat with an engraved plaque).

The Ministry of Health decided to withdraw the Hospital from the Emergency Medical Service and, by December 1940,
the patients from the fever and casualty wards had been evacuated. The Hospital closed in early 1941.

In March 1941 the Assistant Nurses' Home was destroyed by bombs, as was the front half of the administration block.  On the following night 36 incendiary bombs fell on the Hospital.

Various empty ward blocks were put to other uses during the remaining years of the war.  Ward Block 3a (Garrod Ward) became a day nursery for the Deptford Borough Council, while Block 5a (Anderson Ward) was a day nursery for the LCC.  Ward Block 8b (Eckhoff Ward) was used as a Regional Preliminary Training School for nurses run by the LCC and the remains of Block 1a became a bathing centre run by the Borough Council.  However, the Hospital was kept in a state of readiness with a small staff getting their meals at the ambulance station.

During the war, between the years of 1940 and 1941, the Hospital received 16 direct hits from high explosive bombs and 300 incendiary bombs.

In 1948 the Hospital joined the NHS under the control of the Bermondsey and Southwark Group Hospital Management Committee, part of the South East Metropolitan Regional Hospital Board, but it remained closed.  It was used as nurses' quarters for Guy's and other hospitals.  

In 1950 a Mass Radiography Unit was based at the Hospital site (these mobile units were used as a measure of control of respiratory tuberculosis through radiological examination of volunteers from the general public).  In 1951 it became a transit camp for patients recuperating from TB on their way to Switzerland under a short-lived NHS scheme.

In 1952 the Hearing Aid Centre opened and became one of the most popular and successful departments at the Hospital.  

The Regional Health Board made plans to rebuild the Hospital, including the Nurses' Home started by the LCC in the 1930s, as well as the erection of  a small Out-Patients Department with Casualty Unit, an X-ray Department and
an operating theatre.

 When the Hospital officially reopened on 1st January 1953, after twelve years of closure, 
it was on the direct initiative of the Hospital Management Committee and in the face of opposition from the Regional Health Board.

Now named the New Cross General Hospital, it had a much reduced base - in fact, only one ward opened at first, followed gradually by four other wards, all for chronically sick patients.  The patients and staff originated from the Bermondsey Medical Mission, also part of the Bermondsey and Southwark Group.  However, the beds in the renewed wards remained at fever spacing.

Built as a fever hospital, the seven 2-storey ward pavilions were 70 ft (21.4 metres) apart and were not connected to each other.  The Hospital also had no lifts, making it difficult to transfer chronically ill patients on stretchers to and from the X-ray Department or to bring food up to the wards.  A lift was installed in one wing and first floor bridging corridors were built, connecting three ward blocks together.

In 1953 a new Out-Patients Department and X-ray Department opened, staffed by consultants from Guy's Hospital.  The Hospital then had 102 beds, including 48 beds for recovering patients from Guy's Hospital.

By 1957 the Hospital had 325 beds.  Work began on the building of a Refreshment Pavilion at a cost of £1,400 - a much needed facility for patients' visitors as all nearby cafes were closed on Sundays.

In 1958 the Hospital had 341 staffed beds, 158 of which were run by consultants and nurses from Guy's Hospital.  A new operating theatre opened, at a cost of £30,000.  It was located in the wing which had the lift and was used only for patients referred from Guy's Hospital.  The surgical wards were located in this wing also.  (When Guy's Hospital gave up its facilities at the Orpington Hospital, some orthopaedic and ENT wards moved to New Cross.)

In 1959 a School for Dental Auxiliaries was established in one of the isolation blocks built in 1939.  Managed independently by its own committee, it provided training for whose wishing to work in the School Dental Services.  (It closed in 1983.)

In 1961 the Hospital had 433 beds, of which 125 were for the chronic sick.  A new policy was adopted for suitable chronic elderly patients, who were admitted for six weeks and then discharged for six weeks (1 in every 5 in-patients of the Hospital was elderly) - the "6 weeks in, 6 weeks out" policy.  Another 150 beds were reserved for the use of Guy's Hospital.

The commitments with Guy's Hospital gradually increased and, in 1965, the Governors of Guy's Hospital took over control of the New Cross site, which became known simply as the New Cross Hospital.

In 1967 the National Poisons Information Service and Unit Laboratory moved from Guy's Hospital to a new building on the New Cross site.  The service had initially started in the Department of Forensic Medicine in 1963 as an emergency service for doctors, funded by the Department of Health and Social Security.

The Hedley Atkins Unit, named after the surgeon who had founded the breast clinic in 1936, opened on the site in 1970 (it had closed during the war but reopened in 1946 at Guy's Hospital).

In 1974, following a major reorganisation of the NHS, the Boards of Governors were abolished.  The Hospital joined the Guy's Health District in the Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham Area Health Authority (Teaching), part of the South East Thames Regional Health Authority.  The clinics were run by consultants from Guy's Hospital - rheumatology, orthopaedics (cold cases), breast surgery, general medicine, geriatrics and chest disease.  The Chest Unit opened in 1977 when the Deptford Chest Clinic closed.  The Hume Kendall Unit (named after Patrick Hume Kendall, Consultant Physician in Physical Medicine at Guy's Hospital) provided physiotherapy for rheumatology patients and rehabilitation services.

In 1982, after another NHS reorganisation, the Hospital was transferred to the control of the Lewisham and North Southwark District Health Authority.  It had 183 beds for acute cases and 155 for long stay geriatric patients.  

Eight acres of land were sold in 1984 for housing.

The Hospital was gradually run down from the mid 1980s and it finally closed in 1988.  Services were transferred to Guy's Hospital.

Present status (December 2007)

Nearly all the original building have been demolished, but some original Grade II listed Victorian buildings remain.  The Nurses Home has been converted into luxury accommodation.  

The 1.36 hectare site still retains a medically-orientated purpose and contains buildings of varying ages.  The Medical Toxicology Unit is in a purpose-built 2-storey building.  The old mortuary has been converted into a Nicotine Unit and a Drugs Research Laboratory is housed in one of the old blocks.  Beckett's House for the elderly mentally ill and the New Cross Clinic for prenatal services are also on the site.

The southern part of the site is now known as Wardalls Grove.
One of the original buildings
One of the original hospital buildings, now Heathfield Court.

Original building at back
An original ward block and the mortuary remain at the southeast of the site.  The Medical Toxicology Unit, built in the 1960s, is seen on the left of the image.  Signage for Lewisham PCT remains by the entrance to the site.

New forensic building
The Medical Toxicology Unit was part of the Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust.

The old gates  Part of old wall
The old gates on Avonley Road  (left).   Part of the old wall, now the entrance to Avonley Village (right).

nurses home
The Grade II listed Nurses' Home in Avonley Village is now luxury accommodation.

more new housing  new housing
New housing on the site of the former Hospital.
During the year March 1882 to March 1883

the KITCHEN prepared:
39,915 diets of meat and vegetables
8,327 pints of beef tea
204 pints of chicken broth
164 chicken diets
889 fish dinners
18,864 milk puddings

the LAUNDRY washed:
4,849 items of patients' own clothing
(clothes worn by patients on admission was washed and mended before being placed in store)
344,274 items of patients' hospital clothing
92.133 items of staff clothing
2,000 blankets

the WORKROOM made:
334 uniform dresses
896 uniform aprons
161 uniform petticoats
3,142 articles for patients

Most staff worked 12 hour shifts, beginning at 7 o'clock in the morning (6.30 for porters) and finishing at 7 o'clock in the evening (8 o'clock for the Nursing Superintendent).  The regulations stated that staff must retire to their bedrooms at 10 o'clock and put out the gas (light) and go to bed at 10.30.

Senior staff were entitled to 14 days annual leave, the rest of the staff to 10 days.  Additionally, staff were allowed a leave of absence from the Hospital of between 8 to 12 hours a week.
The Hampstead Smallpox Hospital was the first of the infectious diseases hospitals established by Metropolitan Asylums Board.  It served the northwest of London, while the Eastern  Hospital in Homerton served the northeast, Stockwell Fever Hospital the southwestFulham Hospital (later renamed the Western) the west of London and Deptford Hospital the southeast. They have all now closed.
(Author unstated) 1880 The Deptford Hospital.  British Medical Journal 2 (1023), 231.

Bosanquet A 1977  In:  The Centenary of New Cross Hospital 1877-1977.  London, Guy's Health Division.

Mortimer PP 2008 Ridding London of smallpox:  the aerial transmission debate and the evolution of a precautionary approach.  Epidemiology & Infection 136, 1297-1305.

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