Long Reach Hospital, Dartford
The Long Reach Hospital was erected by the Metropolitan Asylums Board at the end of 1901 to provide temporary extra accommodation during the smallpox epidemic which was then taking place. It was located on the banks of the Thames at Long Reach near Dartford, on land adjoining the shore base of the MAB's hospital ships Atlas, Endymion, and Castalia, and near to the permanent Joyce Green smallpox hospital which was still under construction.
The new hospital buildings, which opened on 27th February, 1902, were designed by A & C Harston. Up to 300 patients were accommodated in a long row of detached single-storey ward pavilions constructed from wood and iron. The hospital's location and layout are shown on the 1910 map below.
Patients were brought to the hospital by the MAB's river ambulance service which terminated at the Long Reach pier. A tramway was constructed in 1897 to transfer patients between the pier and hospital in horse-drawn tram-cars.
All staff on duty at Long Reach were vaccinated and checked every two to three years, before being issued with a pass with which to enter the hospital. Staff wore uniform the whole time on board and "mufti" was not allowed. day nurses worked an eight-hour split-shift day, and the night nurses twelve hours. Before leaving the ships, staff had to undertake a thorough bathing, wash their hair, and have a complete change of clothing.
Another temporary smallpox and fever hospital, the Orchard, was opened nearby in 1902. The following year, the permanent Joyce Green hospital opened and the old hospital ships were disposed of shortly afterwards, with the pier-side buildings being retained as a small self-contained hospital for sporadic cases of smallpox.
Despite its temporary origins, the Long Reach Hospital continued in use, mostly with a skeleton staff, 'in a condition of instant readiness for smallpox'. The original huts were replaced in 1928-9 by seven permanent ward blocks providing 252 beds, together with isolation blocks, a dispensary, three nurses' dormitories, two dormitory blocks for domestic staff, kitchens and stores. It saw a small flurry of activity in 1931-4 when there was a small outbreak of smallpox.
In 1953, the hospital was nearly submerged when the Thames flooded the area. The final smallpox patients were treated in 1973 and two years later the buildings were demolished to make way for the building of a new flood barrier.
- London Metropolitan Archives, 40 Northampton Road, London EC1R OHB. Has virtually all the surviving records for the Metropolitan Asylums Board and its instititutions. Search their catalogue at https://search.lma.gov.uk/.
- Ayers, Gwendoline, M. (1971) England's First State Hospitals and the Metropolitan Asylums Board (Wellcome Institute of the History of Medicine, London).
- Powell, Sir Allan (1930) The Metropolitan Asylums Board and its Work, 1867-1930. (MAB, London)
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