Charing Cross Hospital Convalescent Home Limpsfield 1896

Both Passmore Edwards and his wife were actively involved in the Charing Cross Hospital. When the hospital were finding difficulty in raising all of the money they needed to build a Convalescent Home, Edwards, as usual, stepped in to say that he would fund it.

History

The Charing Cross Hospital was founded by in 1821 by Dr Benjamin Golding, who first opened his home to treat the poor in 1815. Initially called the Royal West London Infirmary & Lying in Institution the title was changed to the Charing Cross Hospital in 1827 and the purpose built hospital and medical school opened in 1834. The hospital had treated over 370,000 patients by the time of Golding’s death in 1863 and continued to prosper and expand over the years to reflect both the growth of the area and scientific advances in medicine. As a charity the hospital depended on subscriptions and donations and the ‘Roll of Great Benefactors’ is lengthy. It is not known when Passmore Edwards first became involved with the hospital but by 1896 he had given £11,749 towards their work. But Edwards did not only give his money. Both he and his wife, Eleanor, were to take an active part in the support of the hospital over a number of years. It was usual that local ladies were the backbone of many of the hospitals that existed at that time, working not only to provide the funds to construct or maintain the hospital but also to produce much needed linen for the hospital’s use. Eleanor was a member of the Ladies Guild at Charing Cross, which apart from fundraising held soirees, where the ladies gathered together to sew garments and the other linen necessary for use in the hospital. In 1890 it was the task of making a hundred flannel garments for patients that occupied them. Around the same time Passmore Edwards, who was on the Board of Governors, gave books to form a library for the Nurses apartments.
In 1888 an appeal was launched to finance a Convalescent Home but Edwards was dismayed at the slow progress. At the Triennial Festival Dinner of 1891, the Lord Mayor, who was presiding, read a letter from Passmore Edwards asking for ‘the privilege to be allowed to build and furnish at his own expense a convalescent home to accommodate fifty beds’. As evidence of his sincerity he enclosed a cheque for £5,000 and an undertaking to send the remainder of the estimated cost when the foundation stone was laid. Initially it was proposed that the Home would be built at Clacton but this was thought to be too bleak during the winter months and an alternative site was looked for within 30 miles of London. When the local gentry heard of their interest in a site at Reigate they put pressure on the landowner and effectually prevented the sale. The next site they looked at was at Sevenoaks but again the negotiations were defeated by collusion amongst the local landowners, as were negotiations for a site near Limpsfield. The well to do clearly felt that the poor and needy of London should ‘know their place’ and that was not as their country neighbours. It was at this stage that Edwards stepped in once more to take an active part in the negotiations. Learning of a similar site, a farm at Limpsfield, he attended the auction, arriving early and sitting at the front, daring not to look right or left in case he was recognised. The farm was the last lot to be auctioned so after sitting for two hours Edwards bid for and purchased it for £4,100. Even then, when it became known who had made the purchase, and for what purpose, the landowners gathered around to try to persuade him to surrender his bargain.
The landowners’ actions were, perhaps, understandable, as Limpsfield became a favourite place for the building of schools and institutions. As well as the Charing Cross Convalescent Home there was the Caxton Home, built by Passmore Edwards in 1894 for the members of the printing trade, a Convalescent home for women and children, a home for boys on the edge of the village and a school and home for children of missionaries working abroad.
The Charing Cross Hospital Home was opened by the Prince of Wales, accompanied by the Princess of Wales and Princess Victoria, on 12 July 1896. The presence of the Prince was enough to ensure a large company of other worthies attended, with the potential for being signed up as contributors and supporters, and a special excursion train carried the guests from London. Designed by J J Thomson, the Home stands on an escarpment with fine views for many miles around as the land drops quickly away just a few yards from the front elevation.
A copy of an Ordnance Survey map that appeared at auction in 2006 suggested that the Convalescent Home was earmarked to play a vital role during the Second World War, as a secret command centre for use by Churchill at a time of invasion, but there was little additional evidence to support this suggestion.

Current Use

Although Edwards’ one condition in providing the Home was that the Hospital should remain in perpetuity under the control of the Governors and Council of Charing Cross Hospital, this was not to prevent them selling the home to The National Sailors and Firemen’s Union in the 1920s and eventually, in 1959, it to the Marie Curie Cancer Care Charity. The building was used as a research Institute for the Charity, with more than 70 world class scientists publishing groundbreaking work on bladder and skin cancer. However, a reorganisation at Marie Curie resulted in the closure of the centre putting the Passmore Edwards building at risk. After standing empty for some time it was sold and redeveloped as housing.

Architect

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