Wanstead Hospital was built as the Merchant Seamen's Orphan Asylum in 1861 in an elaborate pseudo-Venetian style. The Asylum buildings were extended over the years and by 1883 housed 270 orphans but in 1920 it moved to Bearwood. It was purchased for a hospital in 1938 by Essex County Council and in 1948 became Wanstead Hospital when it joined the new NHS. The hospital eventually closed in 1986 and in c.2000 the gothic buildings were largely converted into flats, a scheme named Clock Court after the hospital's prominent tower. The hospital once had well laid out flowerbeds but there is little evidence of the gardens as part was lost when the hospital site was developed. The old Asylum fronts onto Hermon Hill between Makepiece Road and Victory Road, and the site is surrounded by a red brick wall.
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The Merchant Seamen's Orphan Asylum was originally established on 25 October 1827 at St George in the East (q.v.) in Wapping, later moving to Bow in 1834 and eventually to the current site in Wanstead in 1862, where the rural surroundings provided a healthy environment for the orphans. The objectives of the charity were to board, educate and maintain the 'children of British Merchant Seamen deceased from all parts of the world'. The foundation stone of the new asylum was laid in 1861 by Prince Albert, the Prince Consort, and the Venetian-Gothic style buildings were designed by George Somers Clarke, with red brick, bands of black brick and white stone dressings, and a tall tower and spire. Over the doorway is a relief carving of a ship at sea, which along with other carvings with a maritime theme found in the asylum was the work of Thomas Earp (1828-93). The asylum was built in stages, the south range for boys and the west range for girls completed in 1862, with classrooms on the ground floor and dormitories above. The chapel, designed to match the asylum, was built in 1863, paid for by Lady Morrison of Snaresbrook, and was inaugurated by the Prince and Princess of Wales. The buildings were extended over the years, with the Dining Hall added in 1866 and by 1883 it had been enlarged twice and the number of inmates was 270. In 1901 an Infirmary was built, designed by Arnold Mitchell, who was Surveyor to the Asylum from 1898-1913. The orphanage had long had royal patronage and in 1902 Edward VII allowed the word Royal to be added to the name, which became the Royal Merchant Seamen’s Orphanage.
The orphanage moved to Bearwood House in Berkshire in 1921; by 1935 the name was changed to the Royal Merchant Navy School and in the 1960s became Bearwood College. In 1921 the old Asylum in Wanstead was purchased by the Convent of the Good Shepherd and it was then acquired in 1937 by Essex County Council and converted as a hospital with 202 beds. Wanstead Hospital became part of the National Health Service in 1948. The old Infirmary was converted as a Nurses Home. Wanstead Hospital was damaged during WWII and later repaired, but a plan to develop a larger hospital on the c.2.84 hectare site never materialised. It had 195 beds in 1961 but in 1975 the maternity service here ceased and Wanstead Hospital finally closed in 1986 when its services were transferred to Whipps Cross Hospital. It is now almost entirely re-developed for private housing, with some premises at the back of the site used for Outpatient Physiotherapy Services provided by Whipps Cross NHS Trust.
By c.2000 the gothic hospital buildings had been converted into private flats, the scheme named Clock Court after the Hospital's prominent clock tower. The chapel was eventually purchased by Buckhurst Hill Reform Synagogue in 1995 and refurbished by Ronald Wylde Associates as the Sukkat Shalom Reform Synagogue, with fittings and stained glass from the Jewish Hospital in Tottenham.
Arthur Mee 'The King's England: London North of the Thames excluding the City and Westminster' (Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, 1972); Ian Dowling and Nick Harris, Images of London: Wanstead and Woodford, (Tempus Publishing 2003); Edward Walford, 'Village London, the Story of Greater London, Part 2 - North and East', first published 1883/4 (1985 ed., The Alderman Press); Bridget Cherry, Charles O'Brien, Nikolaus Pevsner, 'The Buildings of England, London 5: East', Yale University Press, 2005; John Hann, 'Orphans at Bearwood - the Merchant Seamen's Orphan Asylum (Berkshire Family Historian, December 2002). See Lost Hospitals of London website: http://ezitis.myzen.co.uk/wanstead.html.