A Brief History of St. Helier Hospital

A very modern design

By Christine Hyatt

I started my training in September 1971. We were told during training that Lady St. Helier had donated the land for the hospital for a small sum of money, provided that the hospital was surrounded by green i.e. trees and grass. I can find no actual proof of this but she was a philanthropist and did a considerable amount of charity work. Also, she had no heir to carry on the family name. We were also told during training that the hospital was a very modern design with curves rather than corners to prevent dust and dirt collecting and to make it easier to clean. Certainly the architects Saxon Snell & Phillips were chosen for their experience in hospital design. One of their designs was the Royal Victoria Hospital Montreal Canada.

Photo:An aerial view of the hospital

An aerial view of the hospital

Sutton Local Studies and Archives

My training began just after the addition of a brand new theatre suite to A block. All the wards had numbers and letters at that time e.g. A6, A5, A4 etc. Gradually over the years some units have been named after consultants at the hospital. The Davis Unit, which encompasses the Plaster Room, is named after Mr. Davis, an Orthopaedic Consultant at St. Helier up until the ’80s. Ferguson House, the Nurses’ Home, was the exception. It was named after James Ferguson, Medical Officer for Health for Surrey County Council. To quote from his obituary “Ferguson’s visible monument was St. Helier Hospital”.* This was only part of the LCC health provision created by Dr. Ferguson for the St Helier Estate. His vision included mental health services and a school health service to name but a few.

The Nurses’ Home is a five-storey building. The ground floor contained the nurses’ dining room and a separate dining room for the sisters and other senior nurses. There was a very large sitting room and again a separate sitting room for more senior staff. The first to third floors were nurses’ bedrooms, the fourth floor staff nurses' bedrooms and the fifth floor had small apartments for the senior nurses.

The School of Nursing was a prefab at the back of Ferguson House adjacent to F Block - a four-storey building housing the children's wards, ENT and a theatre suite.

In the main hospital the wards were long with beds down each side and a window between each bed. There were also side wards at one end and a solarium at the other. G block was originally built to house TB patients and those with rheumatic heart disease - the result of rheumatic fever in childhood. The hospital was built to care for the people on the St. Helier housing estate, many of whom had come from poor housing in South London where overcrowding and disease were rife. By the ’70s most of the patients in G Block were suffering from chronic bronchitis and lung cancer.

To the left of the main building was the psychiatric wing.

Two corridors ran the length of the hospital on the lower ground floor and the ground floor. These were called the upper and lower Burma Road by a blind telephonist working at the hospital during WWII as the constant moving of baffle boards used to prevent a bomb blast made negotiating the corridors very difficult for him. The Burma Road in the Far East is known as a very long and difficult walk.

*British Medical Journal,  10 September 1942 p. 602

This page was added by Christine Hyatt on 12/06/2011.
Comments about this page

My memories of St Helier Hospital go back to when it was being built. The excavations from the site were taken across Wrythe Lane and deposited on the open ground opposite. The resulting uneven ground with its heaps, humps and bumps made it ideal later on for us boys to think of it as our battleground. How we didn't sprain or break our ankles whilst charging around I do not know. We even played there in the dark making it even harder to see where to place our feet. Another memory of the Hospital was when I was part of the crowd that waited outside the Hospital for the arrival of Queen Mary to officially open it. I have only seen the Hospital from the outside, thankfully not needing to be a patient.

By Gordon Jones
On 17/09/2011

My father was chief electrician for many years his name was William Banks sadly he passed away 2006, but we remember how big the hospital was.

By Davidb B
On 20/11/2011

I worked at St Helier Hospital in 1976/77 and have only just heard of the plans to downgrade the services there. Although I moved away from the South London/Surrey area in the early 1980s I still have a lot of affection for the place and the people I met there. On the website I now run, we are encouraging people who know the hospital to make their views heard .


Anthony Zausmer

By Anthony Zausmer
On 14/07/2012

A thrilling example of Thirties modernism! I love it. There shouldn't be a comma after "Saxon" in the first para above. Saxon Snell & Phillips were two architects, not three. Alfred Walter Saxon Snell, who was trained by his architect father, was born in 1860 and died in 1949. He's quite well known to architecture nerds like me, but deserves wider acknowledgement.

By Robert Hornung
On 13/06/2013

Thank you Robert for pointing this error out to us. This has now been corrected.

By Beverley Walker
On 13/06/2013

I recall it being opened, I didn't know it was Queen Mary....see above comment. I know that it was Royalty and we all stood there waiting for the procession.....I remember running across the road just after the Royal Person(s) had passed and I was chased by a policeman who had me by the collar and dragged me back to the other side of the road. Some years later I fell down a tree in Sutton and had a large piece of bark stick right into my wrist. I was rushed to the St Helier Hospital and straight into the operation theatre.....I remember my Mother rushing in and having a go at the staff because she hadn't been told where I was, and that they should have waited for her before operating.

By Ray Crawley
On 18/06/2013

My memories of the hospital was having to go there to the school dental clinic and also to have my warts cut out under general anaesthetic. Sadly my Mum died in 1949 of TB either at home in the prefab or as soon as she got to the hospital. She had been in a sanitarium for a few years and was sent home for a few months before she died...

By Maureen Hurt
On 10/09/2013

St. Helier Hospital was a great hospital in the 1950/60's when I grew up around there. I remember going there for a number of ops. and investigations and always found it a pleasant experience. I especially remember one of the nurses putting cornflakes in my bed whilst I was out and coming back to a rather 'prickly' bed. Laughs all round though. If she's reading this, she knows who she is!!! What was more of a pleasant experience was going out with the nurses there in Ferguson House. I was invited a few times to the Xmas ball and a few other 'under-cover' assignations!! Avoiding the Matrons was a real pain in the neck though. Hey Ho, good times. I bet It's not like that now though!!

By Tony Rivers
On 14/09/2013

I trained at St Helier in the eighties and it was a wonderful place. The training I received was fantastic and I have had a long and varied career. I still miss the people of Rosehill friendly and kind and I am a northerner!

By Alison Henshaw
On 12/05/2014

My daughter Samantha was born on the 24th June 1970 at St Heliers, I remember being transferred to the general part after she was born as I was quite sick, and she was being spoilt by the nurses as they were not used to having a newborn baby on their ward. I seem to recall being trollied under ground I think through the hallways to the birthing place. Saw the hospital again in 2000. now living in Australia.

By Elaine Buchanan nee Wallis
On 27/01/2015

I've been looking through some of my late fathers home movies. He had just completed his polytechnic certificate in architecture around the time the hospital was being designed. I have some 8mm film of the model together with SS&P staff, they are all wearing smocks and one has an impressive collection of tobacco pipes. I will be taking this film to Film London for archiving and preservtion later this month.  I hope it will be of interest to you.

By Jeremy Symes
On 14/05/2017

I heard that the hospital was originally planned to be built on the other side of Wrythe Lane, so it's actually back to front! Is that true?

By Tim
On 12/10/2018

I had an appendectomy in this hospital in 1951 when I was eleven. At the time I thought the building  looked very modern.

By Bob Ford
On 23/08/2020

I was born at St. Helier and later trained at St. Helier. A wonderful hospital so full of good memories of friends and colleagues. St. Helier looked after my mum's mother until she died on C5 ward, in 1944. I later worked as a staff nurse on that ward. St. Helier looked after so many of my mum's and dad's family over the years, as well as my own. St. Helier will always be a great Hospital. One of the best.

By Patrick Brock
On 17/12/2020

Hi Phil How come you have the same name as my mother's maiden name, Rochford but I grew up with the name Caesar I went to Green Wrythe Lane girls school in the 60s

I remember St Helier it was at the top of our road, Titchfield Road 53s-late 60s Thornton Rd There were playground swings and things.

I had my tonsils out St Helier the nurses brought Molasses around every day gave us a spoon full. I hated it and when the nurse left I took it out of my mouth and put it under the mattress or pillow.

What fun days we had.   

By Shirley Caesar Hollonds
On 05/04/2021

I did some of my surgical training at St Helier in 1969.  It was a wonderful experience working with Mr Harry Kidd and his registrar, Allan Waterworth (if I remember correctly).

One of the stories told to me related to the Battle of Britian.  Apparently, as the hospital was tall for the times and on a hill, the old fashioned diathermy machines were taken to the roof and turned on at a particular time.  The pilots could use the hospital as a beacon and, by triangulation with other beacons, work out their position over a foggy English Channel.

Dr Waterworth had a great sense of humour.  One night, up in the doctors' rest room, he gently raised the window and reached out to grab a pigeon.  He then poured blue or black ink on the bird before taking it down to Matron's office and throwing it through the door.  That has remained a secret with me until now although I have occasionally told it to a patient I'm operating on under local anaesthetic here in Sydney.  This is the first time I've written about it

By Paul O'Keeffe
On 11/10/2021

I was born in Winchcombe Road, Carshalton and lived there until I was in my 30s. I was one of five children. I went to the school there from nursery to secondary.  We would play in the road as kids as there were few cars and our garden backed onto the field between Muschamp and Winchcombe roads, so we could climb through the garden fences and have a great time on the field with the line of trees at the end of the gardens. There were lots of children in the area, some families had up to ten children so no shortage of friends. Does anyone else remember all this?

By Linda Meader
On 10/02/2024

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