Brighton General Hospital

‘THIS STONE WAS LAID BY LIEUT. COL. ROBERT MOORSON – CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS AND GUARDIANS OF THE POOR OF THE PARISH OF BRIGHTON’. The Brighton General Hospital started its life, not as a hospital, but as a workhouse for the poor.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, parishes built workhouses to house and look after the needy and in doing so, put them to work. A workhouse in East Street was recorded as early as 1690. Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist is a boy born in a workhouse in 1797 who has no idea of his parents’ identities.

The Brighton General Hospital was built by George Maynard on seven acres of land in 1865-7 and was originally known as the Brighton Workhouse. The work regime was hard and ‘inmates’ were allowed just two outings per year. Professional nurses were first introduced in 1902. In 1914, the establishment was renamed the Brighton Poor Law Institution but in 1915, the 1,050 inmates were housed elsewhere when, the building became the Kitchener Hospital in which wounded Indian and British soldiers were treated. It reopened again in 1920 as the Poor Law Institution and in 1930, the name was again changed when it became the Elm Grove Home. The Brighton Municipal Hospital was established in 1935 which took over most of the buildings and by 1939-40 it occupied the whole site. The remaining dependents were again housed elsewhere. The Ministry of Health took over in 1948 following the National Health Service Act and that same year the building received the name that it has today – the Brighton General Hospital.

The main building on Elm Grove has four storeys and four gables. At a distance it looks like stone but is in fact rendered. It is grandly proportioned at 318 feet wide and 50 feet high. The inscription ‘1866’ may be seen on the building’s principal feature – a central clock tower with a fine cupola and weather-vane. The infirmary was originally at the rear and the chapel was on the top floor. A cesspit was used until the building was connected to the Lewes Road sewer in about 1876 and water was taken from the Warren Farm well until 1878. The large blocks at the rear were added in the 1890s.

When it comes to such symmetrical, grand and imposing architecture, a single phrase springs to mind – ‘Please, sir, I want some more’.