Royal Sussex County Hospital

Harry Gaston probably knows more about one great local institution than everyone else in Brighton & Hove put together. His book, Brighton’s County Hospital, 1828-2007, describes the journey of the "County" from a small establishment with just 72 beds to the regional health centre that it is today.

As a young architect, Charles Barry, went up against two established locals, Wilds and Busby, in a competition to design the now famous St. Peter’s Church. In 1825, they went head to head again: to design a new hospital for the poor. On each occasion, Barry got the job. His hospital, seven windows across, opened as the "Sussex County Hospital & Sea Bathing Infirmary" in 1828. Just as Charles Barry received a knighthood from Queen Victoria in 1852, royal recognition was bestowed upon the County by King Edward VII in around 1905. Thenceforth, it was officially called the Royal Sussex County Hospital.

Soon after construction, two sizeable extensions were added to Barry’s original building – the Victoria Wing opened in 1839 and the Adelaide Wing soon afterwards. Symmetry was retained but from then on, it all went downhill on the architectural front. Countless additions have taken place since including a non-descript tower-block that was completed in 1969. Of course, looking pretty is not the primary function of a hospital but calming surroundings are surely conducive to recovery. It’s not all about buildings though. A fire in 1872, two World Wars, the formation of the NHS in 1948 and the bombing of the Grand Hotel in 1984 have all provided considerable drama on top of the usual day-to-day challenges that go on inside hospitals.

Today, Brighton & Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust runs the Royal Sussex County Hospital along with the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath. The County has expanded so much though that Barry’s original building accounts for just a minute fraction of the overall floor area. The construction of the new children’s hospital, a surprisingly attractive slab with coloured stripes, may well mark a new era of quality buildings. In the past, a masterplan has clearly been lacking. If it was up to me, all or most of the extensions to Barry’s attractive and symmetrical structure would be removed; even the tasteful ones. Replacement structures would be detached, tall, orderly, efficient and amazing.

Brighton’s County Hospital is available from City Books on Western Road and all other healthy local bookshops.