Above: One of the Doulton tile panels which have been removed from their original location and put on show on the walls of the main corridor of St Thomas’s Hospital.
St Thomas’s Hospital stands on a very large site and some of its buildings have very long corridors within them. One such corridor links the main entrance of the adult hospital to the new Evelina Hospital which is a specialist wing for children. If you have to walk down it, the corridor seem to go on for ever. On the walls, at regular intervals are a series of beautiful murals made of tiles, depicting familiar scenes from children’s story books. They are a joy to behold for ‘children of any age’. They are now well over 100 years old and certainly add points of interest along what it otherwise a rather boring walkway.
The collection of nursery rhyme and fairy tale panels were originally situated in the ‘Lilian’ and ‘Seymour’ wards which opened 1901 and 1903 respectively. They were the two original childrens’ wards in St Thomas’s Hospital. The panels were produced by Doulton, Lambeth (now known as Royal Doulton) by designers Margaret Thompson, William Rowe and John H McLennan. Each of the panels was was hand-painted. A number of different artistic styles and palettes evolved during production.
The panels were produced in response to the extensive hospital rebuilding and improvement schemes which started in the late 1870s. The creation of special children’s hospitals and wards led to a number of hospital commissions. The tiles were recognised as being hygienic and the picture on them could be used to both amuse and cheer up the young patients.
As we all know, art is still being used to enrich the environment of many hospitals even today. Having shiny surfaces makes photography of the Victorian panels very difficult because the lighting on the walls of the corridor reflects off the tile-work. Because the walkway is so busy – with the general public constantly walking along it – taking pictures is not really a very appropriate activity anyway. However, the picture at the top of this article will show a sample of the fine artwork is on the walls. You can hardly get better panels than Doulton whose famous pottery was once less then a quarter of a mile from the site of the hospital. Doulton’s moved from their London site in the 1970s and are now situated at Burslem, in Staffordshire.