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History of Doncaster Gate Hospital, Rotherham 
Line drawing of Doncaster Gate Hospital Rotherham
Above is a line drawing of Doncaster Gate Hospital included in the Rotherham Hospital and Dispensary Annual Report 1903 (from VM Thones book; Health of Rotherham)

Doncaster Gate’s Architectural Heritage Confirmed

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In March 2007 the English Heritage’s ‘Heritage Protection Department’ produced its Health and Welfare Buildings Selection Guide. In the History section of the Guide there is a chapter that deals with the ‘Post-1840 hospitals and the pavilion plan’. It has this to say; “the earliest true pavilion-plan general hospitals were Blackburn, Lancashire [designed 1857, built, 1859-61, James Turnbull] and Ashton-under-Lyne, Staffordshire [1859-61, Joseph Lindley]. The earliest large-scale pavilion-plan general hospitals include Leeds [1864, George Gilbert Scott] and Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire [ 1866-9, G B Nichols and C Lynam], both closely modelled on the Lariboisiere hospital in Paris [1846-54]….p.p. 6”  It then goes on to explain that  “Variants of the pavilion plan abounded. Early [pre-1868] pavilion hospitals are very rare. After 1868 the only general hospitals likely to be listable are those with novel plans [such as the radical University College Hospital London [1897-1906, Alfred Waterhouse], features such as circular wards [which enjoyed a brief vogue in the 1880’s, as at New End Hospital, Hampstead, London] or those which have exceptionally fine architectural detailing, such as Brumwell Thomas’s West of England Eye Infirmary of 1898-1901 in Exeter”.  

Although Doncaster Gate Hospital (originally The Rotherham Hospital and Dispensary) was erected as a pavilion-type hospital in the years 1869-72, on the cut-off point for automatic listing eligibility, there is expert evidence that suggests it comes into the category of ‘novel plans and exceptionally fine architectural detailing’.

Jeremy Taylor is an architect and research consultant who was Research Director at the Institute of Advanced Architectural Studies, University of York, from 1974-84. His publications include Hospital and Asylum Architecture in England 1840-1914 and Building for Heath Care [1994]  His ‘The Architect and the Pavilion Hospital; Dialogue and Design Creativity in England 1850-1914’ was published in 1997.   

The writers stated aim is to “look at the most powerful [and recognisable] by-products of British buildings in the Victorian and Edwardian eras: the ‘pavilion plan’ hospital. As a design format it proved to be one of the great and enduring architectural typologies-with a longevity and influence that stretched from the late 1850’s to the 1930’s”.  

Taylor goes on to outline “the considerations that both architects and doctors had to addresses in order to meet the sanitary demands of that period. The result was the development of this new architectural type; the ‘pavilion hospital’. The first completed of which the Royal Hampshire County Hospital, at Winchester, was built in 1862, by the architect William Butterfield”. The architectural principles of the Pavilion type hospital was championed by George Godwin, the editor of The Builder, probablythe most influential architectural and building magazine in the country. In order to understand these principles one of the great names of Victorian architecture George Gilbert Scott accompanied by Dr Charles Chadwick had toured the most important European hospitals.

This search was given an extra sense of urgency by the horrors experienced during the Crimean War. The unnecessarily high number of deaths underlined the need for a better architectural and sanitary answer to combat decease within medical institutions. Of particular importance was the campaign launched by Florence Nightingale, who had famously nursed in the Crimea, and the publication of her “Notes on Hospitals”.  “Notes” was published in 1863 and had a huge influence on the public and the authorities alike. The Lady of the Lamp came firmly down on the side of the ‘pavilion’ architectural model. The best example of which, for her, was the Lariboisiere Hospital in Paris. She joined Godwin, and Manchester surgeon John Robinson in campaigning for this design.

In the section of his book headed Development and Diversity, Dr. Taylor selects four town hospitals, built under competition rules in the early 1870’s, to look at in more detail. Rotherham is one of them, the other three being Macclesfield, Wigan, and Lincoln. Drawing attention to the unusual speed with which Rotherham Hospital was built Dr Taylor explains that “despite being an open competition, with 92 different designs submitted, the wining scheme [by Mallinson and Bakewell] was completed in 1872. He goes on to report that “The display of all this creativity and the ability to make any fair judgment” had called forth comment in the Rotherham Advertiser 24.4.69.

Later, referring to the way in which the ‘pavilion type’ could be transmuted differently to suit he states “At Rotherham the administration /dispensary and the kitchen/operating areas are in a two-part block to the north side of the cross-corridor; on the south side are three parallel single-storey pavilion blocs (with different ward sizes of 8, 20 and 12 beds) the main one in the centre opposite the service block; expansion is indicated by extending the corridor east or west with further pavilions”.     

Dr. Taylor underlines the unique architectural diversity of these buildings further, by contrasting Wigan’s ‘simplified Gothic palette’ and ‘central Gothicised entrance porch and a steeply roofed central clock-tower’ with Rotherham’s ‘domestic Tudor vocabulary for the main entrance block with mullion and transom windows, buttressed walls and tall, dominant, chimney clusters’

“Taken together, the competitions for Macclesfield, Rotherham, Wigan and Lincoln (i.e. for hospitals of between of between 60 and 120 beds) are more revealing of the diversity and permutations possible for the pavilion general hospital than of any tendency towards convergence that might have been expected as the principles became better understood from the mid-1860’s on. Architects, while keeping within the detailed rules of the typology and ensuring a free circulation of air around the component building blocks, found that there was considerable scope for design manipulation.  So at Wigan a Gothic front faced the main road with a trefoil of ward pavilions behind; at Lincoln a large four-storey Queen Anne centre was flanked by pavilion wings with a cupola’d end sanitary towers, the whole providing a rather mansion-like image; at Macclesfield the formal Italianate front looked more like a civic building , and even attracted talk of conversion to such a use; while at Rotherham the concealed rear-facing pavilions were fronted by a long asymmetrical , stone –faced block that might well have been an expensive new country house. So foe competition entrants and hospital architects of the 1870’s, such designs must have mad it clear that there was, after all, much room for individuality ands imagination, even if the new pavilion principles had appeared so closely proscribed in the pages of The Builder or Notes on Hospitals. Despite a difficult site, a demanding programme or tight budget, questions of style, image and form could still be seen as firmly under the architect’s control”.     

Among these four 1870 pavilion-style hospital buildings Rotherham’s is the only one left unprotected. Macclesfield Hospital is listed. In 1994 the Wigan Infirmary chapel was listed and in 1999 the entire building became listed. Lincoln Hospital has been designated a ‘Building of Structural and Local importance’ because it is an “Impressive example of early hospital buildings, main nucleus by Alexander Graham in 1878 in the Hatfield House style’.

It is clear from Dr. Taylor’s complimentary remarks that the architects, Mallinson and Bakewell, 140 years ago, answered the call of ‘A worker’ who wrote to the Rotherham Advertiser 24.4.1869 about the proposed new hospital in the town;
“I cannot help hoping that the Committee will decide upon some plan which, having helpful requisites will also be an architectural credit to the town, and not a gloomy uninviting building. Our Town Hall and Union Workhouse are good specimens of the latter. Trusting that they will avoid such mistakes in the coming building, but make it the building par excellence of our modern erections …….
‘A Worker’ [Ibid p.p.25]

Whatever the final decision on listing by English Heritage we know that many people in Rotherham would like to see this building par excellence preserved and protected for the enjoyment and use by this and future generations.  

A Short Introduction to the history of Doncaster Gate Hospital

Why is it so important to keep the Doncaster Gate Hospital site intact?  
It’s because of its unique social and architectural place in Rotherham’s history. Built in the mid-Victorian period and spanning three centuries it has been a central part of the town’s life through two World Wars, the 1926 General Strike, the Great Depression, and the nationalisation of the health service with the introduction of the NHS.

It may seem strange that the main hospital in Rotherham for over a century appears to carry the name of a neighbouring town. Earlier proposals in the 1860s for a hospital to be built on the Masbrough side of town had been turned down. When it was finally agreed that a hospital was desperately needed it was decided to situate the new building at Doncaster Gate, so-named because historically it marks the major gateway out-off Rotherham and linking the towns High Street to the Doncaster Road going south.

Its mock Tudor/Gothic architecture was the wining design from among over ninety entries in a competition run by The Builder magazine in 1869. The architects were Mallison & Bakewell of Dewsbury and Leeds.  Notable for its beauty and elegance the factory owner and local historian, John Guest, was moved to describe the building as ‘this noble edifice’ when officiating at the opening ceremony.    

Opened to patients in 1872 it was the first purpose built hospital in the town. At the cost of just over £9,000 it was only able to be erected and maintained as a result of subscriptions donated by every section of the community - encompassing fine ladies living on Moorgate to the workers in the surrounding factories. There had been a dispensary in Rotherham since 1806. This was initially situated on Wellgate before a new dispensary was built on College Street in 1828.  Forty five years later this institution along with its finances was incorporated into the new hospital at Doncaster Gate.      

Coming at the time of a rapidly growing population, infectious diseases spreading and mounting industrial accidents the hospital was to play an increasingly crucial role during the last thirty years of the 19th century and throughout the whole of the 20th.  It was still performing a useful medical purpose in the early years of the 21st century. During its early decades a new Children’s Ward and Women’s Ward was added which again was the result of public subscriptions.     

The founding of the hospital coincided with the Incorporation of Rotherham in 1871. These two events enhanced the town’s status and marked a significant new stage in its public health and civic development.    

In recent years a tendency has emerged called ‘façadism’. This calls for the original façade of a historic building to be maintained while the rest is demolished or renovated. It is claimed this is a way of keeping history alive while raising much needed finances. This is favoured by some councils and developers as a means of suppressing popular opposition to the destruction of a much loved building.       

But having been gutted or demolished what is left is not the original historic building but simply its frontal exterior. When this happens the town losses something whose value can not be measured simply in terms of money. Because decades, centuries even, of the town’s social history and fine architecture have been destroyed never able to be replaced. No longer accessible to the public at large it often becomes private property comprising luxury accommodation for the better off.     

Given the importance of its social history to Rotherham as well as its overall architectural elegance, both internally as well as externally, this cannot be allowed to happen to Doncaster Gate Hospital.

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