diamond geezer

 Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel

the Royal London Hospital, photographed on its 250th birthdayExactly 250 years ago today, on 20th September 1757, the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel opened its doors to the public. This doesn't make it the oldest hospital in the country, but a quarter of a millennium is still a very long time to have been serving the medical needs of some of the poorest communities in the country, and well worth celebrating. If you live in East London this'll be a hospital you'll know well. It's huge, for a start, and the hospital's benefactors also had the sense to build right next to a busy main road. None of this modern greenfield miles-from-anywhere rubbish, where every hospital visit means hopping in your car or catching two buses. The Royal London is where the capital's Air Ambulance service is based, so you've probably seen their big red helicopters either in real life or on a TV documentary. And later this year the BBC will be bringing you Casualty 1907, a historical drama series based on genuine Royal London medical records of the era. Alas infamous hospital resident Joseph Merrick (the "Elephant Man") won't be appearing in any of the stories because he died two decades earlier.

As part of my continued commitment to report back to readers on important London events, I paid a special 250th anniversary visit to the Royal London back in May. It's ever so easy to gain free admittance - just dial 999 from any home in the neighbourhood and a kindly chauffeur will arrive at your front door within minutes to whisk you off to the main entrance. I arrived at half past six in the morning, when admission queues were at their quietest, and was given exclusive access to the A&E department's resuscitation room. This is a long off-white gallery with three separate trauma bays, each with various screens, scanners and gadgets hanging from the walls and ceiling. Most visitors only ever get to see the ceiling. As I waited on my trolley for the day shift to arrive it was sobering to reflect that more people have probably died here, four feet off the ground in this windowless room, than in any other location in the whole of Tower Hamlets. Mine, thankfully, was always going to be a two-way visit.

My grand tour next took me to one of the nearby wards, in a desirable location overlooking the snooker club and McDonalds in Whitechapel High Street. I was one of eight special guests taking advantage of the 24 hour full board experience, although not everyone was enjoying the experience (or even conscious of it). Here the courteous staff attended to my every need with a smile, perhaps because I wasn't the moaning one-legged bitch in the corner repeatedly demanding that the nurses remove his catheter, lift him out of the bed and wheel him to the toilet. There was a genuine tropical atmosphere in the ward, due in no small part to the air conditioning having irrevocably broken down some weeks earlier, and those of us tethered to our beds were forced to endure permanent sweaty steam-room conditions.

Brief respite came when I was offered a wheeled excursion of the hospital's lower levels. Naturally I leapt at the opportunity to explore more of this fascinating building. My tour guide pushed me straight through the main entrance hall, past the little shop that sells flowers, chocolates and souvenir model helicopters. On along the main ground floor corridor, its dour architecture somewhat reminiscent of a crumbling Victorian asylum. Then down a level in the spacious silver lift, avoiding the spiralling institutional staircase with its shiny stone steps and curly iron banister. And finally along a grim basement corridor, deftly avoiding oncoming electric vehicles transporting their cargoes of pristine bedlinen, stained gowns and discarded swabs. As I rose from my chair to wait for my two o'clock appointment, I stared out of the back entrance towards the vast building site at the rear of the hospital. 250 years on, the Royal London is being almost completely reborn. A twin-towered 17-storey glass block is being erected immediately behind the existing main building, and within a few years it'll completely dominate this part of East London. My local hospital will be the biggest, most cutting edge, gleaming-est hospital in the whole wide NHS, so they promise. Let's hope they fix the air conditioning as well.

I enjoyed my anniversary visit so much that I've booked to go back again at regular three monthly intervals. It's lucky I'm not sick or anything.

A history of the Royal London Hospital
The Royal London Museum (open weekdays 10-4:30) [hmm, I must go]
Attend the Royal London's annual Open Day [damn, sorry, that was yesterday]
Proposals, siteplan and images of the new Royal London redevelopment


<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream