Hackney Hospital, January 1988

By Chris Dorley-Brown

As artist-in-residence at the nearby Homerton Hospital I was given priveledged access to what remained of the recently decommissioned Hackney Hospital. Over two sunny winter days the Gothic workhouse infirmary buildings and Modernist maternity block were sharply illuminated and completely deserted. The overwhelming atmosphere was one of melancholy tinged with a faint menace. The contact sheets from the seven rolls of colour negative film, now heavily annotated , show a forensic approach as I recorded the dereliction and collected evidence of past attitudes to ‘health and social care’.

The brisk, orderly, maternal efficiency alongside a paternal scientific wisdom was a powerful,  tangible residue. Pools of cold light on heavy linoleum peeling back – the glue stinking of decay. I tried not to breathe too deeply, this was the era of Legionnaires' disease. The corridors blocked by piles of broken furniture. Solitary wheelchairs, their sagging seats cradling a toxic-gravy as if their last passenger had expired unable to escape this apocalyptic scene.

High-ceilinged wards, devoid of beds. Abandoned operating theatres with their huge mirrored lamps still hung from the ceiling conjured up scenes from Carry on Nurse or Doctor in the House, doleful post-war dramas with their obligatory bedside scenes. A brass plaque declared “HACKNEY HOSP MORTUARY HOURS 1.00–2.00 DINNER”. This seemed willfully comic. A laminated sheet with pictograms for ‘doctor’, ‘nurse’, ‘minister’, ‘bed’, ‘smoke’ lay disused on the floor. Doors – their enamel plates denoting Sisters, chapels – was this place the remains of a religious order?

I moved through wards and corridors, systematically photographing, afraid that the opportunity would be snatched away, or that I would awake from a dream. People were born here, people died here, an endless sequence of traumatic "events". I was overloaded by emotional memories. I thought of Mum and Dad, my own birth, my own death.

Twenty-two years later the photographs still resonate with the strange atmosphere of those two days. If nothing else, the images seem to bear witness to the detritus of an age where hospitals shifted their emphasis away from faith and towards science in search of a cure.

Photo:Blocked corridor, 'E' Block, 1988.

Blocked corridor, 'E' Block, 1988.

© Chris Dorley-Brown

Photo:Mortunary sign, 1988

Mortunary sign, 1988

© Chris Dorley-Brown

Photo:Pictograms, 1988.

Pictograms, 1988.

© Chris Dorley-Brown

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Hackney Hospital, January 1988' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Hackney Hospital, January 1988' page
This page was added by Lisa Rigg on 22/12/2009.

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