Dr Russel's dissertation, 1752
Brighton had to wait a little longer. During the early C19th, the Prince Regent popularised Brighton as a fashionable alternative to the wealthy spa towns. Even later Queen Victoria's long-standing patronage of the Isle of Wight and Ramsgate in Kent ensured the ongoing attraction of classy beach towns.
But what of ordinary working families who might have also benefited from fresh air, sea water and sunshine. Dr John Coakley Lettsom (1744-1815) was a well known London doctor. Lettsom achieved some important breakthroughs in his career but none as important as the founding of the Royal Sea Bathing Infirmary in Margate Kent in 1791.
Abandoned Britain noted that The Royal Sea Bathing Hospital was founded using funds donated by Prince regent to create a specialist hospital for treating Tuberculosis. Perhaps that is why the building was given such a grand entrance and imposing columns.
Sea Bathing Hospital, posh front entrance
The Royal Sea Bathing Infirmary would have been flooded with customers, had there not been some sort of queuing system, and some costs to the referring agencies. In the early days, patients were accepted into the hospital under recommendation by subscribing governors. And they also had to be examined by a medical board either at London Workhouse or St George’s Hospital. The Radcliffe Infirmary at Oxford paid to maintain beds for its own clients. The St Pancras Workhouse also used the Margate facility. The Hospital for Sick Children started sending its first patients to Margate in 1855.
Sea Bathing Hospital, backing onto the sand
Clearly the hospital pioneered the use of sea bathing as a treatment, at least during the summer months when the service stayed open. But it took another 50 years before indoor salt water baths were installed; only then could in-patient treatment continue all year round.
What a shame that this grand old institution was closed in 1996 and was left to fall into decay. Abandoned Britain has amazing photos of the relic, before rebuilding commenced.
What an even greater shame that the building, which once served ordinary working families, was to be converted into 272 luxurious flats exclusively for very wealthy families (although as discussed in the comments section below, the plans were not successful). I am certain Dr Lettsom’s Quaker values would have been outraged. At least the hospital building and original chapel are Grade II listed and will be preserved.
F.G St Clair Strange wrote History of the Royal Sea Bathing Hospital Margate: 1791-1991, published by Meresborough Books in 1991. Alas the vandalism to the building didn’t start until 1996, after the book was in the bookshops. Many thanks to LondonGirl for sharing her knowledge.
Sea Bathing Hospital, sun treatment programme