Birmingham Children’s Hospital, built as Birmingham General Hospital 1893-1897 by William Henman, extended and altered during the C20.
Reasons for Designation
Birmingham Children’s Hospital, originally Birmingham General Hospital of 1893 – 1897 by William Henman, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* for the intricate quality of its original architecture, with a remarkable degree of brick and terracotta detailing carried out on a grand scale;
* for the careful handling of such a large site, with varying scale and massing to differing areas of the building showing its considered composition;
* for the degree of survival of historic fabric, including high quality interior spaces with good quality materials.
* for its association with William Henman, a well-known architect who is well represented on the List;
* as an example of a late-C19 general hospital on a grand scale, reflecting the growth of the city of Birmingham throughout the C19;
* for the interest of the original plenum ventilation system, which is expressed through the physical architecture of the site.
* the hospital buildings have good group value with surrounding civic buildings, most notably the Victoria Law Courts, the Police Station Cells Block and the Methodist Central Hall. Together, these form a remarkable collection of terracotta buildings.
The idea for a general hospital in Birmingham had first been proposed in 1765 by Dr John Ash, a practitioner in the city, which then had a population of around 30,000. A committee was set up to investigate establishing a hospital, and eventually the new hospital was opened in 1779 on a site in Summer Lane. Demands on the hospital grew as the city's population expanded, and towards the end of the C19 the situation was such that it was agreed that an entirely new site and building were required to accommodate the needs of a modern hospital.
An architectural competition was held for the new building, with Alfred Waterhouse as the overseeing architect. The successful design was produced by William Henman, an architect who had designed a number of hospitals as well as other works primarily in the Birmingham area, and who went on following this to design the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. The architectural style adopted for Birmingham was described in the Building News as a 'free classical style conceived in a Gothic spirit', and there appears to have been a clear intention to harmonise with the adjacent law courts.
The hospital was designed around a pavilion plan, whereby each ward was contained within a pavilion which projected from a central axial corridor. The development of the pavilion plan in hospital design had come about in order to ensure maximum cross-ventilation throughout the hospital to prevent 'hospital disease' and this approach to designing hospitals had arrived from the Continent and had essentially become ubiquitous for general hospital design by the second half of the C19. At Birmingham, Henman closely followed the Continental model, with a central administration block linked by an axial corridor to projecting wings; this layout had first appeared in England at Blackburn in 1857. After producing this design, Henman visited Glasgow where he saw the new plenum system of mechanical ventilation developed by William Key, and decided to adopt this at his new hospital in Birmingham. The system was effectively retrofitted to the existing pavilion plan design, and meant that all windows throughout the building would remain sealed. Ventilation was controlled by machinery in the basement and passed around the building through ducts and flues which were incorporated into the design, both internally and externally.
The new building was extensive, and was accessed from Steelhouse Lane through a gateway containing a porter's lodge and office on one side, and an infectious waiting room on the other. The main entrance was set back behind a wide forecourt, with projecting porte-cocheres over the entrances to the administration block and the outpatients' department. These had figures carved in terracotta by J Wenlock-Robbins, and showed the Science of Medicine and Art of Surgery holding the lamp of life, with the serpent of death under their feet. The administration block contained offices for surgical and medical staff, a committee room, governor's quarters and staff dining rooms. The top floor contained the hospital kitchens.
To the right of the main entrance, another porte cochere, connected to the other by a cloister, gave access to the outpatients' department. Given the size of the hospital, each department had its own space within the building, and there were six ward blocks projecting from the central corridor. There was a large lecture theatre, operating theatres and a chapel. The chapel and operating theatres were lined with alabaster and marble, and the outpatients' hall, stair cores and principal public areas were decorated with tinted faience-ware and glazed majolica from Stoke on Trent. The hospital also had a detached block of nurses' accommodation, which housed 100 bedrooms for nurses. Between this and the main hospital was a conservatory for the nurses' use. Conditions for nurses had gradually improved during the C19, and by the 1880s it was usual for them to be provided with their own accommodation.
The foundation stone of the hospital had been laid on 8 September 1894 by the Duke and Duchess of York, and a sealed vessel deposited beneath it containing official accounts of the building of the hospital and contemporary coins and newspapers. The hospital was opened on 7 July 1897 by Princess Christian, on behalf of Queen Victoria. On opening, the hospital had 346 beds, and some patients were transferred from the old premises on Summer Lane.
As with most hospitals, the building was very soon required to accommodate growing and changing practices, and it has seen many alterations and extensions. These primarily include an extension at the northern end of the nurses' home added in the early-C20 and a large 1940s block at its southern end. The main entrance was substantially altered in the mid-C20 and its present appearance is the result of early-C21 alterations which also involved the demolition of the rear portion of the central administration block and the infilling of that space with a new building. There are numerous other extensions around the building of various C20 dates. Internally, the layout of the hospital survives substantially along with much of the internal decoration, principally in the chapel and outpatients' hall and around the stair cores and central public areas. In the 1990s, the General Hospital relocated and the building became Birmingham Children's Hospital.
Birmingham Children’s Hospital, built as Birmingham General Hospital 1893-1897 by William Henman, extended and altered during the C20.
MATERIALS: the original hospital is built of brick and terracotta with slate roofs.
PLAN: the hospital is laid out on a pavilion plan with a central administrative block and six ward wings projecting from the central corridor. To the west is the connected block of nurses' accommodation. Multiple additions have been made to the hospital building.
EXTERIOR: the hospital is built in a Romanesque gothic style and is characterised by its steep sloping roofs and the large towers which stand at the junctions between the administrative block and the wings, and which are repeated on a smaller scale at the ends of each pavilion wing. The central towers are square at their lower levels and octagonal at their upper levels; they have large windows which light the main stairs within with tracery in terracotta. The square sections are surmounted by ornately decorated finials at their corners, and between these projecting piers rise up through the upper levels with smaller finials in the same style. Between these are ventilation openings in deeply recessed surrounds and rows of oculi at cornice level. The steeply sloping roofs are surmounted by ornate ventilation caps.
Fenestration throughout the original building is in a variety of sizes but consistent in style. There are large windows which generally light the corridors, public spaces, and original non-medical spaces. These are typically of two or three lights with round tracery and occasional carved decoration to the spandrels; some windows have ballflower decoration to the mullions and transoms. All windows throughout the building generally have some carved detailing to their surrounds and cills; this in places has hints of the Art Nouveau style, and there are windows throughout the building which retain sections of stained glass.
The main entrance to the hospital is through the centre of the original administration wing. The original façade of this block has been hidden beneath a later extension in brick; its central gable and finials are visible above the roof of the extension and more may survive within. The tall chimneys from the original top floor kitchens are visible behind. The extended façade is plain in character with windows in cambered heads.
The pavilion wings have rows of tall, single windows down their long elevations and between these there are piers which rise the full height of the building and break through the parapet. These are ventilation shafts and each is surmounted by a flue in carved finials with small domed caps. The ends of the wings have towers which are smaller variations of the two principal towers. They are treated in a slightly less ornate manner, and have rainwater goods which rise full height and are incorporated into the design, rising centrally through the carved pediments which surmount the towers. Between the towers there are arcaded balconies and loggias at ground floor level, these are now largely filled in. Between the towers there are gables with ornate terracotta and brick work. Those to the front of the hospital have a central large oculus with two smaller ones to either side, each with ornate tracery. The rears of the pavilions wings and the wings away from the principal entrance are in the same general style but with less ornate treatment.
At the hospital’s eastern end there is a polygonal projection which houses the lecture theatre and where there were originally operating theatres at the upper level. This has blind windows at the lower level, and the mullions to the windows here have a slight barley twist effect. This treatment is repeated occasionally around the building. West of the main entrance, between two of the wings, the exterior of the chapel has a large rose window at its western end, traceried side windows and deeply corbelled eaves.
At the west end of the hospital is a single storey conservatory in timber and iron which connects the main hospital to the nurses’ accommodation. This is housed in a large block of three storeys in the same style as the hospital generally and has two gabled sections at its centre; these have canted bays at ground floor and recessed balconies above. Between the two gabled sections there are carved terracotta panels between the floors. There are five bay wings to either side which each terminate in a further gabled end block in the same manner as the central pair. The northern end of this block has an early-C20 extension which projects east and is in much the same style as the original building. It is of five storeys with four central bays flanked by gabled blocks at each end.
INTERIOR: the original layout of the hospital largely survives, with the central axial corridor connecting all the principal areas on each floor. The character of the interior is largely modernised and utilitarian, although historic decorative schemes of glazed tiles survive at stair cores and central public spaces, where there are large arches with tiled surrounds. There are arches which cross the central corridor at intervals and which have sections of stained glass above; these denote the original locations of ducting for the plenum ventilation system. The two principal stairs survive in each of the main towers; these have wide, open-well stairs with decorative iron balustrades with timber handrails. As the stairs rise, there are continuous leaded windows with slightly cusped heads in wide reveals. The walls are tiled to dado height and the ceilings at the top of the staircases are of plaster with decorative cornicing. There are arched lobbies to each floor, with tiled decoration on the main floors.
The outpatients' waiting hall also largely retains its original interior, which has a wide central space with aisles to each side and original decorative tiling, all now painted white. The aisles are divided from the central space by tiled columns with decorative plaster capitals. There are arched grills between the columns and above these are rows of clerestory windows with stained glass. At the northern end of the hall there are two plaques commemorating the laying of the foundation stone and the opening of the hospital, and a bust of Queen Victoria mounted on the wall.
Beyond the outpatients' hall, at the eastern end of the hospital, is the lecture theatre, which is accessed at basement level and rises through two storeys. It has galleried seating separated from the stage space by simple columns, and there are arched balconies at each side with tiled handrails.
On the first floor, the chapel has two entrance doors off the central corridor, which have carved terracotta surrounds. The chapel has walls lined with light brown alabaster, which is also used for the altar rail and pulpit. It has a wide timber roof supported on carved corbels with carved panels between, and timber pews. There are several commemorative stained glass windows and a rose window at the western end, above a row of small single windows each containing commemorative stained glass. The 1952 Second World War memorial windows is by AJ Davies of the Bromsgrove Guild.
At the western end of the hospital, the conservatory is now a cafe space and the former nurses' accommodation now contains offices but appears to retain many of its original doors, door surrounds etc. and a central open well stair.
SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: the Steelhouse Lane side of the hospital is enclosed by boundary walls in brick and terracotta, with regular piers with highly ornate carved decoration to their octagonal upper dections. At the western end, the sections between the piers are in brick; in front of the main entrance forecourt they are in cast iron. The Whittall Street elevation has a similar but less ornate boundary wall adjacent to the nurses' accommodation block.