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The Metropolitan Convalescent Hospital, Walton-on-Thames, Surrey. View of the yellow stock-brick rear elevation from the grounds. Coloured wood engraving, 1854, after the architect himself, Joseph Clarke (1819-1888) of Oxford Street, London. Source: Wellcome Collection.

The first convalescent home

A useful "Lettering Note" accompanying this image explains that the institution's purpose was to provide for "that state of general weakness usually termed convalescence, which, though short of actual disease, equally with disease incapacitates for labour." It was, in fact, specifically intended for the "labouring poor," who could, at that time, "resort to hospitals and dispensaries when sick, but not when recovering from sickness." Hence the need for this "refuge," described in the note as the only one of its kind in existence. The note goes on to say that the project started in 1840, but was now (in 1854) about to open these purpose-built premises in Surrey — "a noble asylum, just erected, at Walton-on-Thames," on five acres of ground at Oatlands Park given by the Earl of Ellesmere.

More detail about its origins are given in the listing text for this Grade II listed building. The doctor who initiated the project was Theodore Monro, then a medical student at St Bartholomew's Hospital, London. He had been struck by the plight of a poor woman from the slums, who had no chance of making a full recovery if she returned there after being discharged from hospital. Munro convinced others too that provision needed to be made for such cases. At first, arrangements were made for such patients to be discharged to an old workhouse in Carshalton, at that time also in Surrey, but about closer to the metropolis (it is now in Greater London). As the new charity's president, Ellesmere gave some of his own extensive land in Surrey, about fifteen miles away, so that better accommodation could be provided.

Hosanna Krienke confirms that this was "the first institution in Britain dedicated to convalescent care," and reports that the movement took off, with many more such homes being established in the Victorian period. During the next seventy years, she says, "at least 350 convalescent homes were founded across England, Scotland, and Wales" (28).

Building history

The red-brick front elevation of the building today, seen from the main gates.

Joseph Clarke was a young up-and-coming architect who built a number of schools early in his career, later serving as a diocesan surveyor for several dioceses. The Grade II listed building is in a neo-classical style and looks more impressive from the front, with the stone quoins and entablature making a lively contrast with the red-brick frontage.

Giving more details about the interior, the Illustrated London News reported shortly before its opening:

It is built fire-proof, and contains every convenience and arrangement for the comfort and re-instatement to perfect health of the inmates. The dormitories are large, open, and airy; and so divided that no inconvenience can take place. An infirmary for both sexes is provided, and, both in the day-rooms and general arrangements, perfect isolation and the wants of each are considered. The dining-hall is at the rear, and is a large and well lighted apartment — which will be used as well for a chapel, till the means are raised for this addition to the completeness of the building, which, it is hoped, some day may be accomplished — a wide corridor extends the whole length of each division, which forms an excellent ambulatory in wet weather. The ventilation has been carefully considered, and every means provided for the heating of the building; the kitchens and offices are as ample and satisfactory as can be well imagined, considering how materially they are necessary to the recovery of the poor inmates, who very soon, with the good living and the fine air they enjoy, are restored to robust health and fit for their daily toil. [150]

The wings of the building were later extended, and it continued to be used for its original purpose until 1963, after which it provided more general public health services, such as physiotherapy, until 1998. It has since been sold and handsomely converted for residential use. The (?) ironwork on the central projecting entrance bay has been removed, or is not visible from this vantage point. No doubt there have been many much more radical changes to the interior since the building was first listed in December 1998.

Left: Close-up of part of the preserved lettering. Right: one of the two lodges before the gated entrance.

In its restored state, and seen from the front, the building looks much less bland, and happily retains the original lettering on the stone entablature: "Metropolitan Convalescent Institution/Instituted AD MDCCCXLI/ Supported by Voluntary Contributions." According to the listing text, the left hand wing is inscribed: "Enlarged AD MDCCCLXI"; right hand one is inscribed "The Marner Wing Erected AD MDCCCLXVIII" — these could not be seen from the gates (it is a gated development).


"Architects & Artists C." Sussex Parish Churches. Web. 20 May 2022.

"Ellsmere Hospital" British Listed Buildings. Web. 20 May 2022.

"The Metropolitan Convalescent Hospital." The Illustrated ondon News Vol. 24. 2 February 1854. Internet Archive. Web. 20 May 2022.

Enfield, Lizzie. "The Lost Art of Convalescence." Web. 20 May 2022.

Krienke, Hosanna. Convalescence in the Nineteenth-Century Novel: The Afterlife of Victorian Illness. Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 2020. [Review]

"The Metropolitan Convalescent Hospital, Walton-on-Thames, Surrey." Wellcome Library no. 2005788i. Wellcome Collection. Web. 20 May 2022.

Created 21 May 2022; last modified 31 October 2023