Happy International Women’s Day from King’s Cross Story Palace

Here at Story Palace HQ, we can think of no better way to celebrate the contribution of women to society than to take a closer look at some of the wonderful women of King’s Cross.

Last week, as part of our regular programme of Older People’s Activitywe visited the Elizabeth Garret Anderson Hospital Gallery.

Even the snow couldn’t stop us!

The hospital was opened in 1890 as the New Hospital for Women, and was the first purpose-built hospital devoted to the treatment of female patients by women doctors, run by Elizabeth Garret Anderson – a pioneer for women’s medicine. Elizabeth had to overcome many obstacles on her journey to opening the hospital, including having to teach herself French in order to get her medical degree in France as women had been banned from doing so in England.    

Not only was the hospital run by women, for women, but there was also a strong focus on education. The hospital featured a Women’s Medical Institute on the ground floor just off the reception. The hospital design itself was influenced by Florence Nightingale, and would have been at the cutting edge of medical technology at the time it was built. 

During our visit, the group enjoyed discovering what the history of the building and it’s architecture said about the women that ran it.  The original site combined teaching hospital provisions with it’s 42 beds alongside the Women’s Medical Institute, and the interior would have decorated in the popular Queen Anne style to give a pleasing domestic character.  Many of the original features of the interior can still seen including the only existing fireplace designed by Agnes Garrett, Elizabeth’s sister, one of the first women in Britain to train as an architectural decorator. 

The hospital was thought of affectionately in the local area. In the 1970’s £900,000 was raised by the public to save the hospital, however in the early 00’s the decision was taken to close the hospital.  During this time the hospital site became dilapidated but in the mid 2000’s the hospital site was given a new lease of life when UNISON took over the site as their new headquarters. 

It was the fantastic work of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson for Women which campaigned to have the former hospital site recognised as a place of architectural and historical significance and the site is now Grade Two listed.   The original facade of the hospital site has been retained and restored and the former entrance hall and  Women’s Medical Institute has been restored and now features a dedicated museum and gallery detailing the life and work of this inspiring women, if you do have time then it really is worth a visit. 

As well as taking a closer look women of the past who have made a contribution it is important to recognise the contribution of the women living and working there today. Listen to Val Henney talk about the work she is doing with Help on Your Doorstep on the Priory Green Estate, or Queenie telling us about what ‘The Cally’ means to her.

To hear about some of the other inspiring women we have spoken to, check out our Instagram _@storypalace

For more information on upcoming talks and tours contact Aimée Taylor, aimee.taylor@buildingexploratory.org.uk