Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
Walworth Clinic is a grade II listed building, next door to Newington Library and Walworth Old Town Hall, also both Grade II listed. The latter two buildings are currently (January 2016) behind hoardings while extensive remedial works are undertaken in the wake of the devastating fire in March 2013. The Clinic was unaffected by the fire but looks uncared for and with signs advertising offices to let, it is hard to imagine how pioneering the Clinic was when it was built over 70 years ago. The plaque over the door echoes Cicero in proclaiming in carved letters that “The Health of the People is the Highest Law”. When the clinic opened in 1937, it was still 10 years before the formation of the NHS which would care for the populace from cradle to grave.
After 1929, the provision of primary health care became the responsibility of local borough and county councils, having previously come under the ministrations of the Poor Law. Walworth was a very deprived area with the accompanying bad health that poverty and poor housing brings and had one of the highest death rates in London. Southwark Council were rightfully proud of their achievement in building the clinic and claimed to be the first borough to have the whole of its health services in one building in a facility that beat Harley Street. The Lancet applauded the council for wisely deciding that the building had a “pleasing appearance and by the brightness of its interiors give a cheery welcome, so that the inhabitants may be encouraged to make full use of an institution devoted to the improvement of their health. “ (quoted from http://municipaldreams.wordpress.com/category/healthcare/).
Costing £50,000, the clinic reflected the needs of the age and included a solarium where children were exposed to artificial sunlight, a TB clinic, an X-ray department, a maternity and child welfare centre, a dispensary, a dentist and doctor’s surgery. There was a chemical and bacterial laboratory where the Public Analyst tested foodstuff and, amazingly, there was a special clinic “for women from 45 years of age who are subject to illness and disease peculiar to this age group.”
Showing art deco influences that were not unusual in public amenity buildings of the time, it features a sculptural group on the roof that depicts a mother and three children of different ages. The mother holds a rod entwined with serpents, a symbol associated with the Asclepius, the Greek god of healing and medicine. More parochially, one of the few remaining badges of the coat of arms of the now obsolete Metropolitan Borough of Southwark is mounted above the entrance.
Today the services the Clinic offered have been incorporated into the NHS and are delivered in other ways. It houses a Foot Care Clinic and a Reproductive and Sexual Health facility for Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust but it seems most of the building today is now let as offices.
Walworth Clinic, 159-167 Walworth Road, (at junction with Larcom Street) London, SE17