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Whipps Cross Hospital began life as an annexe for the West Ham Union Workhouse. Forest House, a grand house with a landed estate was purchased and used by the Board of Guardians from 1894 while a new infirmary was being built. Following the opening of the infirmary, the Forest House annexe continued to provide live-in care for 300 elderly men, but demand for places lessened with the introduction of the Old Age Pension and Insurance Acts. 

Whipps Cross Hospital in the 1900s

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West Ham Union Infirmary

The new Infirmary opened in 1903 after three years of construction at a cost of £186,000 to the design of Francis Sturdy. The Infirmary accommodated 672 beds in 24 wards.

Paupers could not be denied admission which quickly led to overcrowding at the new hospital.

Elevation plan of A and B ward blocks,

West Ham Union Infirmary, 1903

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Gardens, pleasure grounds and meadow

In 1903, The Builder journal described the infirmary estate as 'about forty-four acres of gardens, pleasure grounds and meadow land'

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Barts Health NHS Trust Archives, RLHWX/X/1/1

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Infirmary staff

A group photo at the main entrance to the West Ham Union Infirmary, c.1910, including the Matron, Medical Superintendant and Steward of the hospital


A medical superintendent was in direct charge of patients. One of his duties was to sit in front with the driver at a pauper's funeral in the role of 'the public mourner'. A deputy, senior medical officer and five assistant medical officers supported the medical superintendent, with a staff of 28 trained and 63 untrained (or 'helper') nurses.

Barts Health NHS Trust Archives, RLHWX/P/4/2

Block Plan

In 1904 an operating theatre was opened, and in 1912, 353 operations took place, said to be the highest in any Poor Law institution.  Initially the operating theatre attracted adverse comment from the Department of Health who suggested it should be called an operating room, 'the term theatre too terrifying and lurid for an infirmary'.

Barts Health NHS Trust Archives, RLHWX/X/2/1

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