|Atkinson Morley Hospital Grounds||Merton|
Atkinson Morley Hospital was built near the former site of the C18th Prospect Place, which had gardens laid out by Humphry Repton in the late C18th/early C19th. Later known as Cottenham Park, the estate was sold for development in the early 1850s. Part of the site was acquired for the new hospital in 1863, which opened in 1869; the old house was pulled down and the hospital laundry built on its site. The wooded grounds are on a sloping site, with an area of lawn levelled south of the hospital and the north-east woodland developed on an abandoned orchard and garden. Some trees from the former planting remain.
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The area around Copse Hill was once extensive woodland from Wimbledon Village to Coombe Lane and in 1481 the area was described as 'from ancient times, arable, but for many years overgrown', possibly due to de-population following the Black Death. Prospect Place was built in 1757 on 6 acres by London goldsmith Peter Taylor; in 1767 it was purchased by Moses Isaac Levy, Vice-President of the Board of Jewish Deputies and a wealthy man, who laid out fine gardens here. The topographer John Edwards, in his book 'A Companion from London to Brighthelmstone' published in 1787, praised the 'handsome villa' as well as the 'judiciously laid out gardens' and 'extensive view to the south', and its hot house produced 'the earliest, largest and finest fruits in the county'. Levy sold the estate to Parliamentary Agent James Meyrick in 1789 who extended the house, adding a new porch and stories onto the wings of the house. He increased his estate from 60 to 250 acres, taking over woodland and meadows stretching from Copse Hill south to Coombe Lane. By 1816 what would be the site of the hospital was part of the grounds of Prospect Place. Meyrick engaged Humphry Repton to lay out 'decorative gardens' near the house, with hothouses and fine trees, a few of which survive near Atkinson Morley Hospital including a large cedar. The remaining land was used for wheat or grazing cattle.
The estate was sold by auction in 1825 to the Hon. John Lambton, Whig MP, Lord Privy Seal and later Earl of Durham, Governor-General of Canada. He passed it on in 1831 to Charles Pepys, a distant relative of the famous diarist, who became Lord Chancellor and took the title Lord Cottenham. He made further changes, added new drives and an experimental farm and replaced the south-western woodland with arable land that was later used for allotments. The 250-acre estate was sold for housing development in the early 1850s after the Earl's death in 1851, and developers used the name Cottenham Park as a means of attracting buyers of the new houses. Much of the area between Cottenham Park Road and Cambridge Road remained largely undeveloped until the end of the century, building accelerating when trams began to serve the area in 1907.
The house, Prospect Place, initially survived with 40 acres of land and for a few years was occupied by the 2nd Duke of Wellington. Empty in 1863, it was purchased by William Sims who demolished the house and sold 28 acres to St George's Hospital of Hyde Park Corner for building a new convalescent hospital. The remaining 12 acres were used to build two large private houses, one being Cottenham House, which was close to the site of Prospect Place; this house was extended by the owner in 1899. Mr Atkinson Morley of Burlington Gardens was a wealthy hotelier with a lifelong interest in medicine and a governor of St George's Hospital. When he died in 1858 he left a number of charitable bequests, including £5,000 to found the Atkinson Morley Surgical Scholarship; the interest on £3,000 was to be divided among 10 widows of tradesmen of the parish of St James Westminster, which became Atkinson Morley's Widows Fund, as well as other sums for Queen Charlotte's Lying-in Hospital, Lock Hospital, St Mary's Hospital and the Royal Sea Bathing Infirmary at Margate. The residue of his property was to accumulate for 5 years and then be applied to building and endowing 'a hospital or house of reception with suitable gardens and grounds . . for convalescent patients from St George's Hospital, to be called Atkinson Morley's Convalescent Hospital'.
The 280-acre site was acquired for £3,500 in 1863, the foundation stone laid on 25 July 1867 by the Earl of Cadogan, Vice President of St George's Hospital and the new hospital opened on 14 July 1869, the 11th anniversary of Morley's death. It was the first ever purpose-built convalescent sanatorium associated with an inner city hospital. For at least the first 45 years horse-driven vehicles would transfer convalescent patients between Hyde Park Corner and Wimbledon every Wednesday afternoon, later taken over by motorised transport. The main building was designed by architects Stephen Salter, Edward Kelly, John Kelly and John Crawley in Second Empire style, with a high central block containing offices and a first floor chapel flanked by three-storey ward blocks to either side. The laundry of the hospital was built on the site of the old Prospect House. In the early 1940s the hospital moved from convalescence to nurse training and a lease was taken on neighbouring Cottenham House in 1942, which was then sublet to the medical school and used for bacteriological, pathology and bio-chemical laboratories. Cottenham House was purchased in 1950 and later used for a variety of purposes. The hospital changed its role in the 1940s, becoming a world-class centre for neurosurgery until it closed in 2003 and moved to St George's Hospital Tooting.
In 1967 nurses' accommodation comprising 3 modern blocks was built on the site of The Firs, a house built in 1854, which had been an experiment in communal living for the families of two young barristers, one of whom was Thomas Hughes who wrote 'Tom Brown's Schooldays' based on his son Maurice's experiences at public school. After Maurice's death aged 11, The Hughes left The Firs, which now held tragic associations for them. Their social circle included famous writers of the day, including Charles Kingsley and Elizabeth Gaskell. The hospital bought The Firs in 1950 for £5000 and it was used to provide accommodation for junior medical staff and students, as a sports pavilion and as an outpatient clinic.
The wooded grounds are on a sloping site, with an area of lawn levelled south of the hospital and the north-east woodland developed on an abandoned orchard and garden, this latter within the grounds of Cottenham House, which was later taken into the hospital grounds. Trees that remain from the former planting include London plane, lime, dawn redwood, weeping willow, sweet and horse chestnut, oak, holm oaks and false acacia and an avenue to Copse Hill. Some sweet chestnut and crab apple trees have been cut back at Copse Hill. In front of the hospital's main entrance is a magnolia and there are six mature cedars that probably pre-date the hospital are on the site.
St George's Hospital moved from Hyde Park Corner to Tooting in 1980 and due to the opening of a new wing at Tooting in 2003, the Atkinson Morley Hospital was then closed. The site including the Firs accommodation was eventually sold in 2006, the property initially purchased by Laguna Quays, a company based in the Virgin Islands, but then sold on to Berkeley Homes in 2010.
The former Cottenham House and its original coach house/stable block had been part of the hospital site until 1995 but were sold and became part of a neighbouring private residential estate with new landscaped gardens, named Prospect Place. The Healthcare Trust had been keen to develop the grounds and dispose of part of the land to Merton Council, who wished to keep it as open land. The C19th hospital building and the 1967 Firs nurses' accommodation are awaiting redevelopment, although the Wolfson Neurological Rehabilitation Centre that opened in 1967 remained in the ownership of St George's NHS Trust, although plans to close this were announced in 2011. Also within the Copse Hill conservation area are Cottenham Park Allotments, which date from 1893, Oberon Playing Fields dating from 1931 and the new private estate, Prospect Place (q.v.).
T Gould/D Uttley, 'A History of the Atkinson Morley's Hospital 1869-1995', The Athlone Press, 1996 and 'A Short History of St George's Hospital and the Origins of its Ward Names', The Athlone Press, 1997; K Hayward, 'Who was Atkinson Morley?', Friends of Atkinson Morley's Hospital; P Loobey/K Every 'Wimbledon in Old Photographs', Alan Sutton, 1995;. Ian Yarham, Dave Dawson, Martin Boyle, Rebecca Holliday 'Nature Conservation in Merton, Ecology Handbook 29', London Ecology Unit, 1998; R Milward: 'Early and Medieval Wimbledon', The Wimbledon Society, 1983, 'Wimbledon Two Hundred Years Ago, History of Wimbledon Part V', The Milward Press 1996, 'Cottenham Park', Wimbledon Society Museum of Local History Notes 2, 'Historic Wimbledon' The Windrush Press, 1978, 'Wimbledon, a Pictorial History' Phillimore, 1994; 'Wimbledon Past', Historical Publications, 1998; R Milward/C Maidment, 'The Lull before the Storm: The last years of Rural Wimbledon', 2002.
LPGT Volunteer Research by Tony Matthews, 2009