Not at all. Drainage plans show the internal division, into rooms and areas, of a building and are often based on the original architect’s plans and submitted to the local Planning Authority. They are then retained by the council for a period and, if you’re lucky, archived. Who knew? Not me, certainly, until I visited Lambeth Archives last week. The friendly and helpful archivists there steered me in this direction and I am so glad that they did.
The building I was interested in was, in fact, several buildings, belonging to the South London Hospital for Women and Children on Clapham South Side, close to Clapham South tube station. The facade of the 1930s building (architect Sir Edwin Cooper) is still there, fronting a Tesco store and apartments. This has been extended to incorporate another ‘wing’ which was in the extension plans for the 1930s but never built, replacing one of the original old houses, Preston House, of which the hospital was comprised.
The Hospital was founded in 1912, following a campaign by two female surgeons, Maud Chadburn and Eleanor Davies-Colley. They both worked at what was then known as the New Hospital (now the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital, founded 1872) on the Euston Road, the first hospital in the UK to be staffed entirely by women. But by the early years of the century demand hugely outstripped the ability of this hospital to cope and so the South London was proposed. An astonishingly successful fund-raising campaign began and properties at Clapham South were purchased and converted. The hospital opened its doors in 1912.
My interest in the hospital was rather more recent. Within my own memory, the northernmost buildings were part of the 1930s building, with Preston House still standing, adjoining, to the south, ‘South London Hospital for Women’ inscribed on its frontage. This building incorporated the Chapel, mortuary, ‘dead house’ and path labs and, while these functions remained roughly the same, the inside of the buildings altered radically between 1912 and 1935 (when the Cooper building was built). The archivist provided me with an Ordnance Survey map and a large bundle of drainage plans, covering those for the original conversion of private houses to hospital, through various extensions, to the 1930s plans. I had to put them into some sort of order and understand how they fitted together. Fortunately for me they were dated (though what the plans showed, exactly, wasn’t always immediately clear).
I don’t know what I’d expected from drainage plans, lots of indications of pipework, I suppose, focusing on how the water and waste drained away to the sewers. There was some of that, but there was a lot more as well. There is water throughout a building, especially a hospital and it has to drain away, so the plans covered all the floors, even the fourth, showing all the ‘water features’ sinks, baths, sluices etc.. I was pleased to see that even the servants rooms had hand washing basins, although they didn’t have en suite bathrooms. Those were communal at the end of the corridor.
There was also a staff dining room or canteen and a School of Nursing. The grounds included gardens, a tennis court and, from the 30s again, a block providing nurses’ accommodation, including sitting rooms and a recreation area. I recall walking past the block along Hazelbourne Road on my way to and from the tube every morning when I first moved to London. How I wish that I had taken photographs, but camera phones weren’t invented then. Nonetheless, the plans gave me lots of information and I’ve begun to build a picture of what life there may have been like.
The South London Hospital for Women and Children may have become a little sad at its end, with budget cuts and an unknown future, but it was still staffed mainly by women until it eventually closed and even today stirs a great deal of affection in those who knew it. I’ll be talking with some of them soon.