Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Local and Community History Month: the move to Bloomsbury, 1919

Hospital for Tropical Diseases and London School of Tropical Medicine at 23 Gordon Street, 1921. Image credit: LSHTM Library & Archives, ref: LSHTM Buildings/04/06/08.

As May is Local and Community History Month we have chosen to focus the regular Archives blog post on the School’s longstanding connection to the Bloomsbury area and particularly the initial move of the School to Bloomsbury in 1919.

At the end of 1918, Sir Havelock Charles, Dean of the London School of Tropical Medicine (as the School was then called), made the decision that the School would move from the London Docks into central London. The School had largely outgrown its premises and there was concern that as a result of the end of the First World War there would be an increase in patients returning to Britain suffering from tropical diseases. There was also a general desire to be closer to, and enhance the Schools standing with, the University of London.

At the same time the decision was made to move into central London, the former premises of Endsleigh Palace Hotel, 23 Gordon Street in the Endsleigh Gardens area of Bloomsbury became available for occupation. The building had been used as an army hospital during the First World War and so was suitably equipped to house both the Hospital for Tropical Diseases and the School. It also had the added benefit of being located close to the proposed new site of the University of London and the Wellcome Institute. Plans for the move of the School and Hospital to the site were approved and the building was adapted accordingly.

The move began late in 1919, the School occupied the four lower floors which included a lecture room, departmental offices, library, museum and refectory. The Hospital occupied the four upper floors which included public and private wards and a surgical block.

The new building was officially opened on 11 November 1920 by HRH The Duke of York. The Hospital was at first fully occupied by pensioners of the First World War and funds from charities including the Royal Red Cross Society and Mesopotamian Comforts Fund were donated to aid the provision of care for ex-servicemen. The first case to be admitted was one of bilharziasis in an ex-serviceman from Egypt, but many soon followed with malaria, amoebic and bacillary dysentery, liver abscess, kala azar, trypanosomiasis and other tropical diseases.

The School however was not to remain at Endsleigh Gardens for long. In 1929, following the reorganisation of the School as the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a generous grant of $2m from the Rockefeller Foundation the School moved to its current location in purpose built premises in Keppel Street. 23 Gordon Street is still standing and is now part of University College London, there is a blue plaque on the wall to commemorate its history. The School has occupied other buildings in the Bloomsbury area over the years including sites in Bedford Square and Tavistock Place.

If you are interested in finding out more about the history of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine visit our historical timeline or visit the Archives website. A selection of images of the School’s past and present buildings can be found on our image library, PhotoLibrary.

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