Brighton General Hospital – last intact workhouse left in Britain

Brighton General Listed Building Curtilage Map-page-001Kitchener hospital Brighton workhouse Peter Higginbotham Beighton general 7 Brighton general 6 Brighton general 34 Brighton general 19 Brighton general 24 Brighton general 25
Brighton General Hospital 2 Brighton General building 2 Brighton general 35 Brighton general 13 Beighton general 7 Brighton general 17 Brighton general 10 Brighton General building 2


A small delegation of us decided to walk around the Brighton General Hospital site at the weekend in response to the plans to redevelop it (included are just some of the photographs we took above, along with some more historical images and a map).

Despite the overcast conditions, we found ourselves blown away by the sheer size of the site and wealth of buildings on it of historic interest, not just the one Grade II listed building (Arundel), but pretty well all of them outside a few unsympathetic 20th Century additions. The quality of many of the buildings and the curving stone walls is outstanding. Some buildings even retain the original Victorian bollards on the corners to protect them against carriage wheel collision.

Why on earth does the site need to be redeveloped? we found ourselves asking.  It would probably be possible to get a good 2000 flat conversions out of what is already standing, and much more characterful homes into the bargain, with the odd cottage or individual house for good measure.

Furthermore the site is already laid out in village-like configuration and already geared up for ‘mixed use living’ with industrial/work spaces, green spaces and car parking liberally dotted around with a network of roads connecting all. All that would be needed would perhaps be a convenience store and some community spaces. Many groups of buildings are already sensibly constructed around sheltered internal courtyards – presumably for former patients to recuperate and staff to have their breaks in. This would work equally well for parents seeking safe spaces for their children or adults seeking a sun trap out of the wind on Elm Grove hill. Moreover large picture windows offering light and space and high ceilings abound. One of the most common complaints regarding modern flats is the lack of light and space in many and the low ceilings.

If any new buildings were to be built (ie a proposed ‘heath hub’), it would be better to sacrifice a car park for the purpose than most of the existing buildings or gardens and green spaces.

Brighton General hospital is said to be the last intact workhouse in Britain. Moreover it was converted into Kitchener Indian Hospital during WWI and later officially became a municipal hospital in 1935 – joining the newly-formed  NHS in 1948. It is surely worthy of an imaginative and sensitive scheme which honours its history whilst making it fit for today’s standard of living.

Sadly the wonderful Nurse’s Home on the right hand side of the hospital has already been demolished in 2011 (a rather splendid 6-storey Edwardian building on the famous steps of which generations of Brighton nurses were photographed after qualifying – the Brighton General even issued its own nursing badge.) What has been built it in its place is not a pretty sight, commanding an undeserved hillside location with sweeping views to the sea with scores of somewhat brutalistic flats, which probably do not accommodate any more people when all is said and done, and certainly not affordably.

BHHC believe a sensitive conversion of this valuable historic site would not only be more appropriate heritage-wise but greener and considerably cheaper too. It is certainly the case that today’s new-builds are nowhere near of the same quality or appearance as the heritage which is all too often swept away to facilitate them, with many newbuilds not intended to last more than 50 years, making them little better than pre-fabs.

Do take the time to walk around the site yourselves and drink it in. It is well worth your time, and even more stunning on a sunny day!

Brighton general 15

8 thoughts on “Brighton General Hospital – last intact workhouse left in Britain

  1. It’s a disgrace that a prime, 10-acre city-centre site belonging to the public is set to go to the private sector for profit, with no social housing in a mix of private, “shared-ownership”, and “affordable” homes, with a “Health Hub” (detail as yet unspecified), and a vanity project of a Trust HQ. How many of our fellow-citizens on the housing waiting list will be able to afford the proposed homes? None!

    Brighton General Hospital Action Group is mobilising local people to protest, and lobbying prospective Council candidates to declare their intentions with regard to the hospital site, which we are determined will remain a public benefit. We demand action from our elected representatives against opportunistic managers and builders. Keep an eye out for our demonstrations, petitions and other events that will help us achieve the goal of ensuring the site remains in public ownership for public good.

    • Thanks very much for the comments folks. All is not lost just yet. There are plenty of avenues to explore and they are being explored.

  2. Wonderful building so much History, all the buildings of character are pulled down and horrid glass and metal cheap looking houses put up I cant say built as they really are not.Look at the polystyrene Lego houses built on the back garden of Baden rd houses cheap and extremely nasty.

  3. My self with my mum and two younger brothers spent some time in this work house in the early 60,s I would have been around 6 years old, remember it well and the smell. it was a dark wet winters night when we was put there.

  4. the hospital should be saved & reused by the over stretched nhs.
    my mum & uncle worked there for years , i helped install the modern heating system in the old nurses building back in the late 80 s . the walls & floors were over 2 feet thick !
    it was a beautiful building now sadly destroyed for an ugly box on the hill flat complex.
    its time buildings & areas like this are now kept for the people of the local area to use as we are stretching the nhs to breaking point.
    this area can be re modelled & be brought up to date for future use very easily
    but hey MONEY & PROFIT thats what its all about in the end !

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