Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
The All Saints Building in Austral Street off West Square is now an annexe to the Imperial War Museum and currently houses the Museum’s photography, film and video archive. The building has a memorable past and was built originally in 1875 as an orphanage and later became a hospital.
Charlotte Sharman was an extraordinary woman who is remembered today by the primary school named after her in St George’s Road. Born in 1832 in the Borough, she came from modest beginnings but, guided by strong Christian evangelical principles, she provided homes for thousands of destitute female orphans. Initially she rescued girls living on the streets and found homes for them amongst people she knew, paying for their clothes and foster care. She wrote a pamphlet about the need of a home to care for orphaned girls and, receiving donations in response, rented a house in West Square in 1867, next door to where her mother lived. Within months it was home to 18 destitute girls between the ages of three and thirteen where they received domestic training.
By 1871, two further buildings in West Square had been acquired and a further house in South Street (now known as Austral Street) just off West Square. This building which also housed a school was known as ‘The Mansion’ and rented inexpensively from the Vicar of St Botolph. A map of 1872 shows a detached house standing in a large garden. This was probably the former home of James Hedger, joint developer of West Square, local entrepreneur, former landlord of the notorious Dog and Duck and general thorn in the side of authority.
Top: Map of West Square in 1872.
Bottom: Map of West Square in 1893 showing the orphanage. South Street has been renamed Austral Street
The condition of ‘The Mansion’ had deteriorated and received an order for demolition. Miss Sharman bought the freehold for £3,500 and proceeded to build a new orphanage. The foundation stone was laid by the Duchess of Sutherland in July 1875. At this time Miss Sharman was providing a home for 206 children aged between two years old and sixteen. One of her guiding rules was never to get into debt and in May 1876 the north wing of the new building, which housed the older girls, had been built entirely free of debt. The orphanage, consisting of three wings, was completed in 1884.
In 1921, 12 houses in Newlands Park Sydenham were bequeathed to Miss Sharman’s Orphanage and, after alterations, were able to take in orphans in 1925. In spring 1929, Charlotte agreed that the orphanage in Austral Street should be closed and the girls moved to Sydenham. She died in December of that year, before the move to Sydenham was complete. She was 97 years old when she died, active to the last, and still typing her own letters. Her obituary appeared in The Times on 10 December 1929 and describes a warm and much-loved woman. The following year the orphanage in Austral Street was purchased by All Saints Hospital.
All Saints Hospital was founded by Edward Canny Ryall in 1911 as a specialist facility for the treatment of kidney and bladder problems. Named after the church in Margaret Street where he was married, the hospital was founded in Vauxhall Bridge Road. It was originally opened as a day patient centre but by the end of 1912 the hospital was able to accommodate 11 in-patients. An additional unit was opened in Finchley Road in 1920 and in 1932 the hospital moved to the now empty orphanage in Austral Street. With 52 beds, it was the largest hospital in Britain that specialised in urological diseases only.
Two years later Edward Canny Ryall died but his work continued at All Saints. The hospital was unable to continue as a hospital during the second world ward and open only one day a week as an out-patient clinic. After the war, money was raised to reopen the hospital and the first in-patient was admitted in February 1946. Nevertheless it was a struggle financially and with the foundation of the NHS imminent it was clear that small independent hospitals would find it difficult to survive. All Saints amalgamated with the Westminster Hospital in October 1946 and became part of the Westminster Hospital Group under the NHS in 1948.
In 1951 the number of urological beds was reduced and the gynaecological unit was moved from Westminster Hospital to the first floor of All Saints. In 1960, the remaining urological unit was moved to another hospital within the group and in 1961 the psychiatric unit moved into the vacated wards on the ground floor. The gynaecological unit returned to Westminster Hospital in 1971 and All Saints became a minimal care unit with 24 beds.
The NHS reorganised in 1974 and All Saints Hospital became a part of the Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster Area Health Authority. All Saints’ was now under threat of closure but continued as a psychiatric unit until 1986 when it finally closed. The Imperial War Museum acquired the building three years later when it became known as the All Saints Annexe.