With the remaining wards under threat on the site of the old Wanstead Hospital, reporter Douglas Patient looks into the history of the old building and grounds.

Built in 1862, the old building of Wanstead Hospital, in Makepeace Road, was originally home to the Merchant Seamen's Orphan Asylum, which moved to Wanstead after leaving its former home in Bow.

Prince Albert laid the foundation stone as the building's construction began in 1861 and the orphanage had a capacity for 300 children of merchant seamen who had been orphaned.

After the charity moved to its current home in Berkshire in 1921, the building became a nun’s convent called the Convent of the Good Shepherd.

It was bought by Essex county council in 1937 and converted into Essex County Hospital with 202 beds, and in 1948 became part of the NHS.

At this time there were maternity and accident and emergency units in the hospital, but from this point onwards services began to diminish at the site.

The number of beds was reduced to 195 in 1961, the A&E service closed down in 1971 and the maternity unit was withdrawn in 1975.

The Grade-II listed hospital was then closed in 1986 and the rest of its resources were transferred over to Whipps Cross in Leytonstone.

The old chapel is now being used as by the Sukkat Shalom Reform Synagogue after being converted in 1995.

The hospital building itself was converted into luxury apartments and the Heronwood and Galleon unit, named to reflect the history of the site as an old seaman’s orphanage, was built on the grounds with around 100 rehabilitation beds.

It will be decided next month by Redbridge Clinical Commissioning Group whether to go ahead with plans to move the services to King George Hospital in Goodmayes.

This would mean that only blood testing and physio will be available on the site.

Beryl Thornton, 74, of Carlton Terrace, Wanstead, worked at the hospital as a nurse for about five years in the 1970s.

She said: “I have very fond memories of the site, Wanstead Hospital really was a lovely building which served the community, and I remember when it closed down as a really sad time for everyone in the area.

“One day when builders were knocking down a wall I saw what looked like four prison cells there which was intriguing, the building had a really interesting history.

“I was involved in protests against the hospital being closed in 1986 but we couldn't stop them making the decision.

“There might be no medical services at all on the site in the future which would be a sad day and the loss of positive community services and local nursing is happening across the country.

“When I worked at the hospital, I knew my patients and they knew me, the nurses lived in Wanstead and catered for Wanstead residents.

“Now people have to travel for miles to get to hospital and it is such a shame.”