All Saints' Hospital - Why Photograph It?
One of the memories of my late grandfather which sticks with me the most was when my mother and I visited him in hospital after he'd had a heart attack. Thanks to the Maidstone and District Bus Company we had to walk about a mile to the "Top Road" (Watling Street) to get to the right stop for a bus to take us down Chatham Hill. (There's still a bus stop there now, but now instead of woods and fields owned by the MOD, there's a business park and B&Q).
After the bus stopped at the bottom of Chatham Hill, the next thing I remember was walking up a very steep hill that just kept going on and on, and a huge brick building that seemed to loom over you at the top. This, it turned out, was the main block of the hospital, and we eventually reached it and went in to see my Granddad.
The hospital building stayed in my mind, but only vaguely. It wasn't until I was older that my Nan heard me talking about the hospital and said "That used to be the workhouse, you know. It was in Oliver Twist.". That remark was what started off my interest in All Saints'. I looked into it as much as you can when you're at school, which wasn't much. However, years later when my wife had our first baby there I was really bitten by the bug. Looking around at the buildings it was easy to imagine what the hospital would have looked like when it was a workhouse, especially as most of the buildings were original. After a few more years, and having another baby born there, the stories started that the hospital was to be shut down. It was that news that spurred me into actually doing something, and it was purely by chance that I happened to ring the hospital on the day it closed down. I grabbed my camera and some film, and drove there.
When I got to the hospital, there were plenty of removal men around, taking equipment from the site to the new extension at the Medway Maritime Hospital, on the other side of the valley at the top of the Great Lines. I found the reception desk with the few remaining staff organising where everything was to be taken. I told them that I'd phoned earlier and I'd been told I could take photos of the buildings. They said that they'd be told that was alright, but that I wouldn't be able to actually go into any of the buildings for "Health and Safety" reasons. Although this was a bit of a disappointment, I took it to mean that the health authority didn't want to risk getting sued if I fell down some stairs or something like that.
I wandered round the hospital for a few hours in the summer sun taking photographs, which was pretty tiring. I didn't want to risk going into the buildings as I was worried about being thrown off of the site before I'd taken all of the photos I could. I still took a few photographs through some of the windows - they didn't say I couldn't do that!
When I'd finished I went back to the reception to ask if they had a map of the site that I could have. They said that they didn't have a map, but gave me the fire alarm plan - a big (about A2) framed plan of the site with the fire alarm details on it which would have been thrown into the skip if nobody took it. I keep meaning to either digitise it in some way or just redraw it (it's far too big for a scanner) and put it onto this site. Looking back and seeing the photograph I took of the map of the site that was attached to one of the lamp posts, I should really have taken a couple of screwdrivers in case they said I could take one of those as well.
A few weeks after I'd had the photographs developed, I decided to go back and ask the security people at the, now boarded-up, hospital whether I could get into the buildings and take a few more photographs. Unfortunately he wouldn't let me into the buildings, especially as his colleague was off chasing vandals who thought it was fun to set fires in the buildings.
Looking back, I'm glad I finally managed to record what the buildings looked like. Not long afterwards almost all of them were demolished and there's now a new estate, "All Saints Gardens", on the site. However there is some sort of continuity there, with the roads on the estate being named after the wards of the hospital they replaced.
It's all come a long way from when the Medway Union Workhouse on the site was listed on many official documents as 42 Magpie Hall Road, Chatham, so that people didn't have the shame of being registered as being born or dying in the workhouse.