The Charing Cross Hospital and Medical School, London, UK Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

The Charing Cross Hospital and Medical School, London, UK

0 Conversations

A confusing aspect of life is when things, or places, are not actually in the area in which you would most likely expect them to be. One such case in point is the Charing Cross Hospital. By its name, you would expect it to be in Charing Cross, and yet, it is in Hammersmith.

So how did such a discrepancy occur?

History of the Hospital

The answer is that at one point in its history, it was actually situated in the area which it is named after.

It is the 1800s, and pretty much right in the thick of the Industrial Revolution. Many of society's poorest were flocking to the cities in order to obtain employment in the new factories, but without adequate shelter. What accommodation there was was less than sanitary and so it was the poorest who were falling foul of the infectious diseases of the day. Such observations didn't escape the newly established medical profession, or more specifically, Dr Benjamin Golding.

A graduate of the much older, St Thomas' Hospital, he wanted to set up an institution which would not only fulfil the teaching and training requirements of the doctors of the day, but also combine it with a more scientific basis of treatment, and make it available to the poor and the whole community. At a time where doctors operated privately, this was seen as a revolutionary move; how was the hospital to survive fiscally, and still operate in such good faith?

Regardless of this, Golding went along with his ideals, and set up the West London Infirmary on Villiers Street, London, in 1818. A small institution, it had room for just 12 beds, and could only provide clinical teaching1 to its students. Come 1827, the name of the hospital had changed to what we know it as today, Charing Cross Hospital, bearing a little more relation to its locale.

Golding's idea had now become really successful, attracting the attention of the Royal Family, especially Queen Victoria's mother, the Duchess of Kent. As a result of this, they became benefactors to the Hospital, raising enough money to build a new building. In 1834, the new building on Agar Street was opened, providing 60 new beds and accommodation for 22 medical students, allowing the hospital to carry out pre-clinical training. From that time, a student at the school would complete their whole course at Charing Cross.

With its success as an institute of medical training, and now cementing itself as one of London's main hospitals, it again needed more space and buildings. In 1881, a separate medical school campus was built in Chandos Place, with new lecture theatres and in 1894, more space for labs.

Come 1911, the reputation of the hospital and its teaching had grown so much that pre-clinical training had to be temporarily transferred to King's College.

While staying stubbornly put in the Charing Cross locale throughout the First World War, with the advent of the Blitz, its Central London location put the hospital, its staff and patients at high risk. With that knowledge, the staff, students, equipment and patients were moved out to the relative safety of Chaulden House, Boxmoor, Hertfordshire. In 1947, the hospital moved back to Charing Cross.

Yet the hospital continued to grow, not only in student number, but also in patient number and staff number. The advent of antibiotic technology meant that the focus of medicine was no longer on infectious disease, but longer-term conditions such as cancer and heart disease, meaning more in-patients to care for. With no more space to extend to, 150 years after it was founded on the Villiers Road site, the Charing Cross Hospital moved to a set of new buildings on Fulham Palace Road - its current location in Hammersmith2.

With more and more students applying for the medical school, a new purpose-built medical school building was built. The Reynolds Building was opened in 1976.

By this time, it had established itself as one of the best medical schools in London, and had now received an international reputation for excellence in medical training and practice.

The Conglomerate Stages

Most higher education establishments, through events now long forgotten and probably incredibly pointless and trivial, have set up vicious rivalries against other such similar establishments. Charing Cross (or 'The Cross' as it is known in affectionate and not-so-affectionate circles), is no different. They did not like the Westminster Hospital and Medical School3, which in turn spewed equal vitriol at its fellow West London medical school. Likewise, St Mary's Hospital and Medical School (which is still in Paddington), hated both the Westminster and The Cross - and both returned the favour in kind.

The irony of all this is, that due to financial advantages, the Westminster merged with The Cross in 1984 to form the Charing Cross and Westminster Medical School. At the same time, St Mary's was swallowed up by the Imperial College, with the latter changing its name to Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine4.

The final conglomerate stage occurred when in 1997, the Charing Cross and Westminster Medical School joined St Mary's to initially form the Imperial College School of Medicine, and with more recent departmental shuffling about, re-branded to become Imperial College: The Faculty of Medicine. With a new joining of forces came a new building in Imperial College's South Kensington campus, designed by Lord Norman Foster5, and officially called the Sir Alexander Fleming Building, after his revolutionary work on antibiotics.

A further irony is that, despite the triumvirate of medical schools all hating each other, they have a shared hatred of what has been described by some lecturers as 'that lavatorial block south of the river' - St Thomas', the alma mater of the founder of The Cross.

The students of St Thomas' Medical School, which is now in a similar tripartite conglomerate of Guy's Hospital and Medical School, and the King's College Medical School (GKT for short), are absolutely aware of this, and are only too happy to return the favour6.

The Current Status

As it stands, the original hospital buildings on Agar Street are now being used as Charing Cross Police Station, the largest operational police station (or having more-cells-than-any-other-police-station) in Europe. The Reynolds Building and Charing Cross Bar were refurbished and re-opened in April 2002, with added sofas, surround-sound and projector screen, making it perfect for those World Cup-winning moments.

The hospital proper is a 15-storey building, imaginatively built in the shape of a cross. The front entrance is all beech and glass, with a giant circular tropical fish tank in front of the Friends of the Hospital Shop. Do not be alarmed if you find that there is at least one dead fish in the fish tank - this is not representative of how patients are treated within the hospital walls.

If you are lucky enough to get a lift when you call one, then you may notice on the wall a guide to what's on each floor. You will then notice that the 14th and 15th floors are labelled with 'No Public Access'. This is because these are the anatomy labs - the 14th floor with more than likely have half-naked medical students being prodded and poked in various locations, whereas on the 15th floor are the more macabre dissection labs. Both floors are probably deemed too foul for public viewing, hence the restriction on access. Indeed, as many anatomy lessons are held for some bizarre reason, before lunch, finding 20 formaldehyde-scented medical students crammed into one lift after a hot and sticky session in the dissection labs is certainly not unusual.

On saying that, the very height of the labs is what makes it a beautiful vantage point. 15 floors above the ground makes for a fantastic view over the west of London, with everything from Imperial College's Queen's Tower to the oddly ship-shaped Seagram Building, appropriately called 'The Ark'; the urban landscape contrasting sharply with the sparkling blue River Thames, snaking away below you. On a really clear day, you can see as far as the London Eye can.

How to Get to Charing Cross Hospital

With all the confusion about its locale, you must remember that it is not in Charing Cross, but in Hammersmith.

Tubing It

The best thing to do if you are unfamiliar with London is to take the Tube. You can take either the Piccadilly Line (the dark blue one), or the Richmond/Ealing Broadway District Lines (the green one). Either way, you need to end up at one of two tube stations; Barons Court or Hammersmith. From either location, you will have to walk to the hospital.

From Hammersmith

There should be signs of which exit to take out of the Hammersmith Broadway, but if you can't find them, head toward the Tesco Metro, and turn left. Go under the subway, and you should emerge on Fulham Palace Road. The hospital is about 15 minutes walk down the road.

From Barons Court - The Graveyard Route

It is surprising how many hospitals are situated near graveyards - this again, should not be taken as a sign of the hospital's performance.

When exiting out of Barons Court station, turn right down Margravine Gardens, and then right again. The graveyard entrance should be a short walk away on your left.

Cross the road and enter the graveyard, walk along the footpath until you come to a T-junction, and turn left. Ahead of you should be a roundabout of sorts. When you reach this, turn right, and the back of the hospital should be in front of you.

This should take about 10 minutes, but the graveyard is only open for daylight hours only. There is another route...

From Barons Court - The Other Route

Enter Margravine Gardens in the same way, but carry on walking down it instead of entering the graveyard. You should then come to St Dunstan's Road. Turn right up it, and keep on walking. You should pass the Accident and Emergency Department on your left. Then, you should reach Fulham Palace Road; turn left, and a short walk away should be the main entrance.

Bussing It

If you are more familiar with navigating London Transport, the buses 190, 211, 220, 295 and the night buses N10, N11 and N97 all stop outside the Fulham Palace Road entrance of the hospital. All routes are correct at the time of writing, but some may change over time

1Then, the medical degree was divided into a clear pre-clinical course; where during the first three years, medical students would study natural sciences, and then a clinical course, where with little or no previous patient contact, the students were let loose on the wards to be tormented by the ward sisters and consultants alike.2To add to further geographical confusion, the Hammersmith Hospital is in fact in White City.3Which is where the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital is today.4With this, the medical students of the newly formed Charing Cross and Westminster Medical School and St Mary's Medical School still had regular 'offal fights' across Margravine Road, the road which runs behind the Charing Cross Medical School. These 'fights' would involve a stand-off either side of the road, with the students being pre-prepared with much drinking, and taunting with much chanting. Then, at a given signal, various bits of cow (the bovine heart was a particular favourite, due to its handy size and bloody contents) would be thrown at the people on the other side. This carried on regardless of any traffic wanting to use the road. The end result was a bloody mess, in every sense of the word. Thankfully, this doesn't occur any more.5The man most famous for designing London's only footbridge across the Thames, linking St Paul's Cathedral to the Tate Modern art gallery, the previously shaky Millennium Bridge.6The potential of such heated feeling has not been lost on some enterprising students. One such case occurred during GKT's Raising And Giving, or RAG week, 2001. For an undisclosed donation to their RAG fund, they deposited the head of their RAG committee, tied up in cling-film, drunk to no stretch of the imagination, and absolutely in the buff, in the main lecture theatre of the Sir Alexander Fleming Building, and therefore at the mercy of 320 vitriolic rival medical students. For the record, the person in question was removed from the cling-film, given a large t-shirt to cover his modesty, taken to South Kensington tube station so that he could go home, then taken back by some others who wanted to really rough the poor guy up, had the t-shirt taken off while he was placed in a bin for all to pity or ridicule, then eventually locked in the Student Union office for his own safety. In the end, he was sent back to GKT safely and without any additional incident.

Bookmark on your Personal Space

Conversations About This Entry

There are no Conversations for this Entry

Edited Entry


Infinite Improbability Drive

Infinite Improbability Drive

Read a random Edited Entry

Categorised In:

Written by

Write an Entry

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been compiled and recompiled many times and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travellers and researchers."

Write an entry
Read more