One of London’s most historic buildings in the heart of the East End reopened its doors to the public today after Tower Hamlets Council brought it back into use. The former Royal London Hospital building, built between 1751 and 1757, had been derelict since it closed in 2013 when the hospital moved into a new building behind it.
The Grade II listed building was both a hospital and a medical college over four different centuries which have included treating the wounded from two world wars and being a maternity hospital.
The council saved the iconic building after buying it for £9m and overseeing a four-year project to restore, renovate and extend it, so it can continue to serve the local community for centuries to come. The new Town Hall also provides local people with a permanent and more accessible town hall compared to the council’s previous civic centre at Mulberry Place.
The old Town Hall, in East India Dock on the edge of the borough was difficult for residents to get to. It also cost the council £5m each year in rent.
The entire ground floor of the new Town Hall will be dedicated to public use with a Residents Hub to support people with housing and welfare issues; a chamber which doubles up as an event space; a soon to open café; meeting spaces; and partners including the Clinical Commissioning Group and Tower Hamlets Homes. The council has also created a multi-use public space in the Grocers Wing extension and is currently looking at potential uses.
Lutfur Rahman, Executive Mayor of Tower Hamlets, said:
“This is a great day for Tower Hamlets as the vision we had for the iconic and historic old Royal London Hospital building finally becomes a reality, and I thank everyone who has played a part in getting us here.
“With so many stories to tell, this is a building which has served local people for centuries and will now continue to do so as the new, permanent, and more accessible town hall for Tower Hamlets. It’s a town hall proven to stand the test of time and one we can all take great pride in.
“It’s also an important moment for Whitechapel, as in preserving another piece of its fascinating past and bringing more people to the area, it’s another positive step forward towards its bright future.”
The new Town Hall is part of a wider regeneration is Whitechapel which is creating a new history in one of the UK’s most historic areas.
Last year, the Elizabeth Line opened a station directly opposite the new Town Hall, and the area is set to benefit from the multi-million-pound Whitechapel Road Improvement Programme which include improvement to Whitechapel Market, along with the creation of the new, state-of-the-art Whitechapel Life Sciences Cluster, supporting 5,000 jobs.
Tower Hamlets Council has worked with Historic England to preserve the integrity of the Grade II listed building in its designs and during construction work.
Originally completed in 1757, many features of the old London Hospital building have been retained, including its listed neo-classical façade and clock overlooking Whitechapel Road. Inside the building, the internal staircases of the hospital and many features of the old chapel have been preserved, while the ceiling lamps and wall-mounted instruments of the old operating theatre have been retained as features in the new chief executive’s office.
Given the ‘Royal’ title by Queen Elizabeth II in 1990, the ‘London Hospital’ as it was known for two centuries is renowned as the home of Joseph Merrick – the subject of the 1979 play and 1980 film the 'Elephant Man' – who was treated in the attic of the hospital for four years before his death in 1890, and as the place where nurse Edith Cavell trained and worked before helping 200 allied soldiers escape German-occupied Belgium in WW1, when she was then caught and executed in 1915.
Entering the twenty-first century, the old hospital building was falling into disrepair and was no longer suited for modern medical use. The hospital completed its moved to a new state-of-the-art building next door in 2016, which is home to the London Air Ambulance.
Kate Jarman, Barts Health NHS Trust Archivist, said:
“As a hospital, the building served the communities of the East End for over 250 years. Although the building was no longer suitable for the delivery of modern healthcare, it is wonderful to see it brought back into use as a community and civic space for the people of Tower Hamlets, with historic original features retained alongside contemporary public spaces and offices.”
Tower Hamlets Council appointed Bouygues to work on designs by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris to renovate, restore and repurpose the old building, including removing significant amounts of asbestos. The work to create the new town hall employed 403 people and 19 apprentices from Tower Hamlets and the surrounding boroughs, and over £6m of goods and services from local businesses.
Gerald Farque, Bouygues UK Managing Director, said:
“It is fantastic to see this important building completed. Bouygues UK has preserved the features of the original listed building while injecting new life into it for the whole community to enjoy. I
I’m incredibly proud of the team and what they have achieved here. It has been a pleasure to work in partnership with Tower Hamlets Council on such a special project. Our partnership with the council has also brought a huge amount of value to the community with 1,160 weeks dedicated to apprenticeships throughout the project and over 30 per cent of the workforce employed from London’s growth boroughs.”
Moving Tower Hamlets Town Hall to Whitechapel means that the council has bid farewell to its Mulberry Place home, which will be handed back to the landlord following its closure to the public on Friday 24 February 2023.
Posted on Monday 27th February 2023