phot0 of Queen Square by Julian Osley

Queen Square: a medical miscellany

Queen Square (note singular and no apostrophe) is a peaceful garden, a delightful place to visit, a little off the beaten track, and today surrounded by buildings many of which are hospitals.  It was laid out by the Curzon family of Kedleston in the early 1700s and was initially planned for the rich and wealthy.   Initially named Devonshire Square, it was renamed in favour of Queen Anne (although the unusual 1775 lead statue in the square is now believed to be Queen Charlotte).  This post focuses on medicine – a later post will look at the many other aspects of interest in the Square. 

Photo of Queen Square Gates by David Brown
Queen Square Gates (c) David Brown


London’s initial medical centre from the early 1800s was in the area around Finsbury Square and Finsbury Circus in the City of London.  But as the rich moved out of the City and into the West End, and as railways delivered clients from further afield into the West End, doctors and the associated institutions moved west.   Doctors and hospitals arrived in Queen Square and the surrounding area by 1850.  The hospitals and medical institutions remained, while many individual doctors moved further west and started to practise in the Harley Street area. 

The Water Pump

The Water Pump at Queen Square (c) David Brown

There is a delightful old water pump dating to 1840 (converted into a lamp) surrounded by four bollards at the south end of the square, reminding us that the availability of clean water was (and still is) crucial to the health of Londoners. If you stood at this spot in 1885 you could have seen seven hospitals. At the time, this was more than at any other place in the world.

Today, standing at the pump, the square is still dominated by three first- class medical institutions:

  • Most of the northern half of the square is occupied by buildings from the world-leading UCL Institute of Neurology – the largest building is the massive terracotta Grade II-listed National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, which started at number 24 in 1860 as the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases.
  • Great Ormond Street (the road leading off to the West) is the home of the renowned Great Ormond Street Hospital for children – and behind you the building known as the Italian Hospital (founded in 1884) is currently being refurbished and will reopen as a wing of the Great Ormond Street Hospital.
  • Opposite, on the corner of Queen Square and Great Ormond Street, is the UCH Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine  (formerly the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, at Golden Square since 1849, which moved here in the 1890s).

The Garden

Photo of Sam the Cat - monument by David Brown
Sam the Cat – monument (c) David Brown

The gardens in the square are a quiet place of retreat – used in the warmer weather by patients and their families as a place of relaxation. Appropriately the gardens include a number of medical memorials. If you look carefully you can see a memorial showing Sam the cat – by sculptor John Fuller, 1996 – a memorial to nurse, cat lover, and local activist Patricia Penn. There is also a lovely sculpture of a mother and child, by Patricia Finch, 2001 – gifted in the memory of Andrew Meller (a past Director of the Friends of the Great Ormond Street Hospital). The third memorial is a bust of business and philanthropist Lord Wolfson of Marylebone by Nick Roberson 2017 – it commemorates the gift of £20m from the Wolfson Foundation to open the Leonard Wolfson Experimental Neurology Centre. Some of the benches and plants in the square also have links with the surrounding hospitals.

The Queen’s Larder

photo of the Queen's Larder pub in Cosmo Place by Mike Quinn
The Queen’s Larder, Cosmo Place, Mike Quinn, Geograph, CC BY SA 2.0

The Queen’s Larder is a 1710 Grade II-listed pub on the corner of the square which predates most of the other buildings in the square. The unusual name is based on a story that Queen Charlotte rented a cellar here for provisions to be provided to King George III, who was treated for madness by Dr Willis in a house in the square. It’s a nice story, but sadly unlikely to be true. Dr Willis’s detailed notebooks from the 1788/9 round of treatment still survive, and make it clear that the King was treated in the White House at Kew. The Alan Bennett play and subsequent film The Madness of King George was based on this episode.

Medical history for buildings around the square

West side:

  • 1 The Queen’s Larder pub.
  • 7 the UCL Institute of Neurology Education Unit.
  • 8-11 Sir Charles Symonds House, which now houses houses the Dementia Research Centre and the Centre for Neuromuscular Diseases, was built in 1909 as the joint examination halls of the Royal Colleges of Surgeons and Physicians. Sir Charles Symonds was a well-known Neurologist. 
  • 12 St John’s House, which houses The Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, was originally a Church of England training institute for nurses – the building has a fine statue of St John the Evangelist on the facade.
  • 17-19  Alexandra House (1899) houses the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience.  Number 19 was originally known as the House of Relief for Children with Chronic Disease of the Joints from 1867, later becoming known as the Alexandra Hospital for Poor Children with Hip Disease.
  • 20 (now replaced by a 1960s block of flats) was the largest house on the western side of the Square, originally occupied by Nathaniel Curzon, and was sometimes referred to as the King’s House (possibly linked to the story of Dr Willis and King George III). In more recent days this building was as a Turkish Bath for Ladies until 1960.

North side:

  • 23 was the HQ of the Royal Institute of Public Health and Hygiene (moved to E1), and is now the Queen Square Private Consulting rooms.  
  • 22 Behind and to the East is Queen Square House – the modern brutalist building at the north end of the square which holds the large Queen Square Medical Library and archives.

East side :

Photo of National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery Queen Square by Robin Sones
National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery Queen Square, Geograph, Robin Sones, 2007, CC BY SA 2.0
  • Dominated by the massive Grade II-listed National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, which started at Number 24 in 1860 as the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases, the current terracotta building was built in 1883-5. 
  • 31 (demolished) was the Aged Poor Society and the Society of St Vincent de Paul – this religious order provided the nursing staff for the Italian Hospital. 
  • 33 is the Clinical Neurosciences Centre.
  • 35-39, the remainder of the east side of the square, is the home of the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine, now part of UCH Trust (formerly the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, started at Golden Square since 1849, moved here in 1890s).
  • 37 (demolished but completed 1921) was the home of the National Deposit Friendly Society who had formerly invented the idea of an “old age pension”, first introduced in a limited form by Lloyd George in 1909.

South side:

Photo of Italian Hospital, Queen Square by Robin Sones
Italian Hospital, Queen Square, Geograph, Robin Sones, 2007 CC BY SA 2.0
  • 41 was the home of The Italian Hospital, opened in 1884 by an Italian businessman to cater for the many fellow countrymen living in the surrounding areas, expanded to 40 and rebuilt in the current building by T W Cutler in 1898/99. The building is being refurbished and will reopen as a wing of the world-famous Great Ormond Street Hospital for children. 

Tours

If you want a group or personal tour of the Queen Square/Great Ormond Street area, then please contact info@camdenguides.com

Sources

Featured Image at the top of this page is Queen Square, by Julian Osley Geograph CC BY SA 2.0

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