The Royal Alexandra Children's Hospital

By Steve Myall

Photo:The Children's Hospital

The Children's Hospital

as illustrated in 'The Graphic' on July 30th 1881

Richard P.B. Taaffe, M.D., qualified in London, was one of the founders of the first children's hospital in 1868, taking over a private house at 178 Western Road, and was one of its first two acting physicians. He was also one of the surgeons to the Sussex and Brighton Eye Infirmary in Queen’s Road. Due to increasing demand the unit in Western Road had to buy the house next door in 1870, then later that year the governing body of the hospital purchased the one and a quarter acres of land referred to as the ‘Church Hill School House Estate’ (where the Royal Alexandra Hospital for children stood until 2007, on the south eastern corner of Clifton Hill and Dyke Road). The school house building was officially opened as a children's hospital by the Bishop of Chichester on July 14th 1871. Then new foundations were laid in 1880, and the RoyalAlexandraHospital on Dyke Road was opened in July 1881. The hospital building was designed by Thomas Lainson (1825-1898), a prolific local architect who was also responsible for the Middle Street Synagogue, the house that became HoveMuseum, and the large red-brick warehouse in Holland Road, together with many private homes in the city. Richard Taaffe gave his name to Taaffe ward on the ground floor. His photograph was published in the Brighton Times of 23rd June 1882 in that paper’s monthly series of ‘Local Celebrities’.

Photo:'The Prince and Princess visiting one of the wards'

'The Prince and Princess visiting one of the wards'

Wood-engraving from 'The Graphic' - 1881

This article also included some interesting details of the opening of the hospital. The ceremony was performed by Their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Wales, accompanied by the young princesses, on July 21st 1881. During the ceremony Dr. Taaffe "presented the Prince with a gold key which accurately fitted the lock of the principal door of the building". The key was in the Queen Anne style, about three inches long. The report goes on:-

"It is believed that this was the first instance of presenting a gold key to Royalty at the opening of a building, and the example has since been followed in Leicester and Yarmouth . . . Before leaving the hospital Dr. Taaffe asked permission to be allowed to name the hospital the ‘Royal Alexandra Hospital’, to which request a most gracious assent was accorded. This was the first occasion on which the Young Princesses appeared at a public ceremony".

Naming the hospital thus not only celebrated the visit of the Princess of Wales herself, but two of the three princesses also had a Christian name of Alexandra. When the hospital finally left its site in 2007, this triangle of land, that started life as a soap manufactory, had been associated with the welfare of Brighton’s children, in their education or their health, for 185 years.  The hospital records are the only documents found giving the name of the piece of land as "Church Hill School House Estate". There are no maps with this piece of land so named, but on the maps available, dating from 1822 onwards, there is always an un-named building on this triangle of land.

This page was added on 15/04/2011.

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