Orchard Hospital, Dartford
The Orchard Hospital was erected by the Metropolitan Asylums Board in the spring of 1902 to provide temporary extra accommodation during the smallpox epidemic which was then taking place. It was located on the banks of the Thames at Long Reach near Dartford, on a site to south of the MAB's hospital ships complex where another temporary smallpox hospital, the Long Reach, had opened earlier the same year. At the same time as the Orchard was being erected, a much larger permanent hospital, the Joyce Green, was under construction on an adjacent site to the south-east.
The Orchard was named after the former use of the land on which it was erected. Like the Long Reach, it was designed by MAB's architects A & C Harston. It could accommodate 664 patients who were accommodated in long rows of detached single-storey ward pavilions constructed from wood and iron and linked by a covered walkway. The hospital's location and layout are shown on the 1910 map below.
Patients were brought to the hospital by the MAB's river ambulance service which terminated at the Long Reach pier. A tramway was used to transfer patients between the pier and hospital in horse-drawn tram-cars purchased from the Harrow Road and Paddington Tramway Company.
After the 1902, the incidence of smallpox declined in London and the Orchard was little used. The Orchard site was lent to the War Office from 1915 to 1919 as a convalescent hospital for the use of overseas troops, mainly Australians.
After the War, the Orchard mostly remained empty. It was then almost completely destroyed by fire-bombs during World War Two. The few surviving buildings were then converted to agricultural use.
The bed of the old ambulance tramway can still be discerned.
Land to the north-west of the hospital site contains derelict huts reminiscent of the ones used at the Orchard. However, these are remains of the Unwins fireworks factory that was once based in this remote spot.
Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals. Before travelling a long distance, always check that the records you want to consult will be available.
- London Metropolitan Archives, 40 Northampton Road, London EC1R OHB. Has virtually all the surviving records for the Metropolitan Asylums Board and its instititutions. Search their catalogue at https://search.lma.gov.uk/.
- Ayers, Gwendoline, M. (1971) England's First State Hospitals and the Metropolitan Asylums Board (Wellcome Institute of the History of Medicine, London).
- Powell, Sir Allan (1930) The Metropolitan Asylums Board and its Work, 1867-1930. (MAB, London)
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