Buildings of the Essex County Hospital

Kyle Cameron-Symes

Following on from Deb’s brilliant blog post. It seemed appropriate to further discuss some of the key buildings which really help to tell the story of the hospital.

ECH Portico #4

Perhaps the most iconic of the buildings is the main hospital frontage;  it is probably the building that most people have in mind when they think of the Essex County Hospital. This is the earliest structure on the site, built in 1820.  In 1825 it had a portico added, which includes neoclassical columns which stand proudly. It is, to this day, an impressive structure. It is a testament to the great care and importance  that the hospital founders placed upon it.

Nurses Home Circ 1932 cropNurses Home with extension, 1932

Another beautiful building is the Nurses Home – originally from 1897. It was made possible through a fund created for Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee.[1] It was later extended in 1932. The home was built to accommodate the increasing number of nurses joining the hospital and was considered to be a great way of promoting the hospital as a place to work as can be seen in recruitment advertisements for student nurses:

“The modern Nurses’ Home provides really comfortable accommodation, while separate and quiet quarters ensure rest for the night staff. The dietary* receives careful attention, and there are adequate recreational facilities.” [2] 

DSC00203Nurses Home today, 2017

The nurses home today has long been out of use but the exterior of the extended building can still be viewed from Oxford Road. It gives a glimpse of the past to anyone walking by.

Another intriguing building is the former Children’s ward, today part of the Wheelchair Services Department. The building still has evidence of its past with many bricks engraved with the initials of sponsors. The ward had a grand opening in which many from all around Essex attended. The scale of support and sponsorship for the ward, was also quite extensive, including support from royalty. This report from 1908 described the opening of the ward:

“The new buildings having been completed, H.R.H. Princess Louise (Duchess of Argyll), accompanied by the Duke of Argyll, graciously opened the Ward in June. On that occasion a large number of those interested in the Hospital availed themselves of the opportunity of visiting the Institution, and it is believed that many coming from distant parts of the County have since become supporters of the Charity… The Committee hope to receive additional annual subscriptions towards the maintenance of this Ward.”[3]


We are still looking for more information regarding the sponsors, but we have already uncovered artefacts from this time including a poster promoting the laying of  the foundation stone ceremony, which took place the previous year on 27th November and record cards which relate to individual sponsors, but not organisations.

Laying_Foundation_Stone_CroppedLaying the Foundation Stones promotional poster from Great Eastern Railway, 1907
20170627_163410 (1)Foundation Stone, Children’s Ward, Essex County Hospital. Laid 1907

One of the major cornerstones of the development of the hospital comes from the development of the Radiotherapy department, built during the NHS era, in 1964. The idea for this building can be traced back to at least the 1950s. There was an increasing concern over patients who could not receive adequate treatment locally, Dr Rhys Lewis, a consultant radiologist working at ECH, specialising in the treatment of cancer with high doses of radiation, said:

“In 1957 the Consultant in Radiotherapy was asked to undertake the treatment of patients from the Chelmsford group. This added burden was accepted partly to save the patients the additional suffering of travelling long distances and also in order to co-ordinate more closely the treatment of local patients near to their homes and families. It was also hoped that this would expedite the provision of the new Department.

Now what of the future?

Not only is a larger Department long overdue, to cut down the waiting time for urgent treatment, but also modern equipment such as Radio-cobalt or Radio-caesium Isotope sources  should be supplied if the patients of the Colchester and Chelmsford Groups are to continue to be given treatment which is of the highest quality. Furthermore, additional medical and ancillary staff are necessary to enable the patients to be adequately followed up and to cut down the waiting time before being seen.”[4]

The Radiotherapy department came at an interesting time in the hospital’s life. Admittedly, it may not be as iconic visually when compared with the other buildings. However, it is nevertheless a crucial part of telling the story of the hospital’s development. Both the embracing of new medical advancements as well as the new era of the NHS would allow for such investment and developments to be possible which the older, albeit noble, subscriber model simply could no longer provide.

The NHS has undoubtedly left its mark on the Essex County Hospital. Most people nowadays are unlikely to remember it during the pre-NHS era. However it is still an iconic site that many can still appreciate with the varying styles and periods of architecture evident throughout.

Perhaps you remember when the Radiotherapy Department was launched or maybe have other memories of the hospital. If so, please do let us know by using the contact form or if you prefer you can e-mail us at

*Diet, spelling is as appears in advertisement
[1] John B. Penfold, The History of the Essex County Hospital, Colchester: Previously the Essex & Colchester Hospital 1820-1948 (1984) The Lavenham Press, Sudbury. p.123
[2]  Essex County Hospital Final 128th Annual Report 1947 p.36
[3]  Essex County Hospital 89th Annual Report 1908 p.1
[4] Colchester Group Hospital Management Commitee Report (North East Metropolitan Regional Hospital Board)→ 31 March 1958  p.26

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