It’s time for another delve into English Edwardian history for The King’s Ginger. This time, we’re going back to a darker time, when tuberculosis was a scourge. Men, women, children, rich or poor – no one was safe, and a cure was not yet known. But the luckier (and not necessarily wealthier) victims of consumption did have more of a chance, thanks to a state-of-the-art sanatorium that bore the King’s name…
Back in my teens, all I really knew about TB was that the leading lady in La Boheme had it and I got a very painful BCG inoculation against it. But in the early 1800s, TB was the cause of an astonishing twenty-five percent of all deaths in England. By the turn of the 20th century, rates of death from consumption were still high, with a vaccination more than twenty years away and a cure, almost fifty. It was only a couple of decades previously, that the medical profession discovered that TB was infectious. It was certainly had no respect for money or class status. But it’s fair to say there was a huge difference in the treatment of poor TB victims and the wealthy ones. Both were isolated from society, but the poor went into sanatoriums that were essentially prisons or workhouses and the more well-heeled benefited from plush hospitals, relaxation, fresh air and sunlight.
It wasn’t all bad news for the TB afflicted poor though, thanks to one philanthropic Royal. A certain hospital was founded in 1901, and officially opened on the 13th June 1906 by, you guessed it, His Majesty King Edward VII. The King’s Sanatorium was the brainchild of the monarch himself, after he was given £200,000 to spend on charitable purposes following his accession to the throne in 1901. Inspired by similar TB sanatoriums overseas, Bertie wanted to found an institution which treated the poorer patients in pleasant surroundings to aid their recovery.
and the Midhurst & Petworth Observer
After a public competition to solicit ideas, the resulting hospital was the very embodiment of the latest clinical ideas (the aforementioned relaxation, fresh air and light). It was also really beautiful, designed by architect H Percy Adams in an Arts & Crafts style architecture by H Percy Adams, his then-assistant a young Charles Holden, who went on to design some of the most state-of-the-art London Underground stations in the 20s and 30s. He influenced Charles Rennie Mackintosh, among others.
The building was south-facing and featured two long wings and a central block with two bay windows. Brick, pantile, sandstone and wrought iron were all used – and there was (and still is) beautiful detail all over both the exterior and interior. From Royal crests on the drainpipes to Art Nouveau details on the tiling.
The gardens were designed by Gertrude Jekyll, who has featured on my blog before. They were specially designed to work in harmony with the architecture and to be therapeutic for the patients. Whether the layout of the grounds did much to heal TB-riddled lungs, I’m not sure, but the gardens do have huge historical significance and are listed on the English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens.
Had to bring along a bottle of King’s Ginger to show the City & Country people, of course.
On a very interesting side note, the current visitor’s centre at the Estate is a house built specifically for King Edward to stay in when visiting the hospital. It is also, strangely enough, the childhood home of Griff Rhys Jones! He’s written about it in his own book, but I found this article by Sandi Jones online, in which he describes it.
“Whenever I drive through West Sussex, I am instantly transported back into an era of cocktail parties, where women wore rustling silk dresses and ice crackled in elegant glasses filled with gin and tonic. Us children would be trussed up in itchy flannel shirts and ties, and stood, open-mouthed in wonderment, as we were offered Coca-Cola.
These weren’t scenes played out in our house, a small lodge nestled in a vast pine forest. No, these were the monthly events held at the mansion on the other side of the woods, occupied by Sir Geoffrey Todd, who ran the sanatorium that stood between our house and his.
My father was a junior doctor, specialising in diseases of the chest, and the “sani”, as we used to call it, had been specifically built and set up by King Edward VII to treat tuberculosis. It was a real showpiece, and the king was passionate about it; so much so that he would spend dirty weekends at the lodge with his mistress, Mrs Keppel. I’ve never understood quite how he managed it, as he was a rather stout fellow and the lodge was beyond tiny.
However, he loved being there, and decorated it to palace standards, adorning every surface with bright red paint and gold twiddles. I know this because when I drove my tin car too viciously at the skirting board, the white paint would chip off and a scarlet glimmer would shine through. “That’s the royal paint,” my mum would state proudly.”