Royal Sea Bathing Hospital

Royal Sea Bathing Hospital

Margate is still waiting for the Bilbao effect to transform it to its former glory, but here and there are signs that the town is on the up – The Turner Contemporary, the old town and now The Royal Seabathing Hospital. (Previous post on Margate’s regeneration)

Views from the hospital

Views from the hospital

The old buildings which for so long were abandoned have had a face lift and repurposed into luxury seaside apartments.

Margate in the 1950s

Margate in the 1950s

Margate’s climate has much to do with its early success as a seaside town. This is how it was described in Ward Lock’s Illustrated Guide Books(1951):

“First among its natural assets is Margate’s unrivalled air, clear, invigorating and laden with ozone. All the winds except those from the south west blow as sea breezes, while the chalky soil absorbs moisture, so that the air has the same exhilarating effect as that of the Alps, intensified by the flavour of the sea.”

It was this reputation and an unquestionable belief in the curative properties of sea air that led to the foundation of The Royal Sea Bathing Hospital 1791. For two hundred years the hospital treated patients with tuberculosis and other diseases. The hospital closed in 1996 and photographs taken in 2005 can be found on Abandoned Britain.

MT. 233. Sea Bathing Hosp. 1913

The hospital was founded by John Coakley Lettsom a Quaker physician for London’s poor who would benefit from sun, sea and ozone. He was, however, lampooned:

“When my patients call on me,
I physic, bleed, and sweats ‘em;
Then if they choose to die,
Why, what care I, I Lettsom”.

The hospital was quite visionary and from the outset was designed with open arcased and verandas although it would be another century before open-air treatment for pulmonary TB was standard. Initially the hospital was only open during the summer months but in 1858 an indoor bath enabled the wards to be open all year round. Wards were only used for sleeping in during bad weather with beds more usually found on the verandah. Perhaps this is why London’s poor, not used to sleeping in the open air, questioned Dr Lettsom’s motivation.

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