Southlands – Workhouse and Hospital

Southlands Hospital – brief history

Southlands Hospital’s origin can be traced to the Steyning Union Workhouse that was built in a different location, at Ham Road, in central Shoreham in 1836. Later additions included infirmaries built in 1870, vagrant’s wards and a chapel. The union included parishes in East and West Sussex and the growth of population in its coastal areas meant that, despite much additional building, an enlarged site was required by the 1890s.

The Workhouse at Ham Road. This building later became the Children’s Home and finally Council Offices. 1970 © Paul Osborne
The 1836 Workhouse in Ham Road, later to be called St. Wilfrid’s Children’s Home. Only the former laundry block to the far West of the site is extant in 2020. © NLS

In 1898 a new site of 23 acres was acquired 2 miles to the North-East in Upper Shoreham Road, Kingston – this open land was to become the new workhouse and later the infirmary that became known as Southlands.

1901 The New Workhouse at Kingston

Similar design cells at St. Lukes Guildford

The new workhouse on Upper Shoreham Road was opened in 1901. Built with a conventional pavilion plan with men and women segregated into buildings to the West and East respectively. The site included large areas of market gardens stretching to the South as far as Middle Road. St. Giles Church was on an adjacent plot to the West. The main entrance to the Workhouse was through an arch in the Gate House block. This building housed a vagrants wards (segregated between male and female, as well as 14 cells of which 10 had rock-breaking facilities, and other padded cells ). These were situated in the Western arm of the Gatehouse block. A separate “Receiving” Ward permitted isolation of vagrants for a week to reduce infections.

To the South of the wards were gardens and the Airing Courts, again these were segregated. There were wooden TB Shelters constructed for those inmates suffering from Tuberculosis (there was little by way of treatment for TB in the early part of the century).

Workhouse Ward 1980s – when largely empty with Pathology Lab on the top floor
2018 former Casual Ward with cells, padded cell & vagrant rock breaking cells © Google images

Food was cooked onsite and a large dining hall / refectory was sited adjacent to the Administrative building. The hall was lofty and decorated with green glazed enamel tiles around the serving hatches. Above these hatches was a long balcony from which the Guardians to oversee the distribution of food to the inmates. This balcony was still accessible in the 1980’s when the hall was used as central supplies stores, prior to the move to the purpose built store built in the Harness Block.

To avoid the stigma of children registered place of birth being in the Workhouse it was generally recorded as 2 Upper Shoreham Road. Latterly births registered at the Hospital were recorded as 193 Upper Shoreham Road. The number of vagrants admitted reduced substantially over the years.

The Western half of the 23 acre site showing the Workhouse buildings. © NLS

1906 The New Hospital

1923: Infirmary blocks and open balconies. Note the Casualty and Bungalow and washing lines on the female side of the Workhouse.

In 1906 the site was expanded to the East by the building of the 4 infirmary blocks A,B,C and D that formed the bulk of the “New Hospital”. These were latterly known as the Nightingale wards A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 Maternity, C2, D1, D2. The workhouse wards were G & H (women) and I,J and K (male) with an unclimbable fence between.

During the First World War the Infirmaries were used to treat Army personnel – their extensive military camps were immediately opposite the Hospital on the land that is now occupied by Greenways. At the time the soldiers coined the name the Southlands Guardians, and this is the origin of the Hospitals name that was adopted 15 years later. On the abolition of Boards of Guardians in 1929 the Steyning Public Assistance Institution came under the control of East Sussex County Council and renamed Shoreham Institution. By July 1932 it had adopted the more familar name Southlands Hospital.

1914 © NLS

Between the wars

Southlands Hospital 1946: Workhouse on the left and “New” hospital on the right © Historic England
The 1930’s Children’s Ward in front of Blocks A and B © Paul Plumb

In 1923 the open balconies at the Southern end of each infirmary block were enclosed with glazed walls. A similar design was adopted in Worthing Hospital. In the decades after 1930 there was expansion with a new operating theatre between B and C blocks, a separate bungalow in the North East of the site that became a casualty department, a new Children’s ward.

Southlands in 1948. Note the balconies now glazed, the extensive tree screening between the 2 sites and the Superintendents house off Stoney Lane. The casualty is to the far right. Image from
The former Workhouse site shows the extent of the marget gardens to the south, extending to Middle Road. 1948 Image from
Wards D, C, B, A viewed from the South. Note the tree that is still there in 2020. Early 1950’s

By the 1950’s the Nightingale Wards had been linked to each other by corridors at the South end through the balcony sections.

Adjacent the main road there was nurses accommodation known as Beeding House and Thakeham House. The top floor of Thakeham was for probationer nurses and known as the “Virgin’s Retreat”.

1960’s Thakeham House – School of Nursing. Image Tony Clevett
1960’s Beeding House Image: Tony Clevett
The avenue in front of Beeding House. Operating Theatre to the left. Image Tony Clevett
Arch and Gatehouse 1960’s. Photo from Tony Clevett
Middle Road © Google Images

The extensive grounds and fields stretching to Middle Road were market gardens providing produce for the Hospital and elsewhere. Glasshouses are evident on OS maps. Piggeries were at the southern end. The tell-tale signs of the extent of the original Workhouse site can be seen in the remaining boundary walls still existing on Middle Road.

In 1948 Southalnds Hospital became part of the National Health Service.

1960’s expansion of the hospital

Children’s Ward c 1960’s

Major expansion occurred in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Already the hospital had grown in the services it provided alongside its sister hospital at Worthing. The nurses teaching school operated out of the former Workhouse Admin buildings. A new suite of operating theatres was built to the East of the Nightingale Wards – known as the Twin Theatres that was in operation even after a larger suite of 4 operating theatres was built in the 1970’s.

The short-lived A&E entrance

The Outpatients department was built to the far East of the site, sweeping away the Superintendent;’s House on Hammy Lane. The Outpatients wing incorporated the new X-Ray, Medical Records and Pharmacy departments whilst the “cottage” Casualty was removed and later incorporated into the North part of the Outpatients wing alongside the Twin Theatres. A&E was a short term ambition and those services soon moved to Worthing leaving an imposing entrance at Southlands with no emergency services behind.

The old orchard looking North East to Children’s Ward and Outpatients. Image Tony Clevett

The beautifully designed suite of 4 operating theatres on the 1st floor were supported by the CSSD (Central Sterilising Service department) on the ground floor.

The Children’s Ward of the 1930’s – which won design awards at the time, was demolished in the 70’s and replaced with a less impressive flat roofed temporary building.

Southlands East 1969: A: Former operating theatre (c1930), B: Twin Operating Theatres (c1960s), C: newly constructed 4 new theatres and CSSD, D: Superintendents house, E : on-call bungalow (built c.1930’s), F: Children’s Ward, G: Out patients in construction. © Historic England.

1970’s The era of Harness

The 1978 Harness Block not long after opening. Looking East view from above Boiler House chimney. Demolished 2016 © Paul Osborne

The 1976’s saw a massive expansion into the open space to the South of the site with the building of the Harness Block. This £4.7m 4 storey block was built by Higgs and Hill and named after the “harness” principle of hospital design whereby the wards and medical departments were linked to services by a harness of communicating corridors and a vehicular ramps to all floors.

The Harness Block housed wards (293 beds) on the upper floors as well as the new central storage department, a loading bay, porters lodge, electric tug charging bays, mortuary, kitchens, staff canteen, admin offices, robotic auto-valet system, patient radio studio and chapel.

Outside C-Ward in the Harness extra wide corridors. This was a 1980 publicity photo showing the electric tugs that accessed all floors via ramps. © Paul Osborne

It was a radical design that looked splendid on paper but had a few design quirks in operation. The wards on 4 floors were split into small 5 bed bays and nurses stations at strategic positions. For the patient it appeared to be much more private than the previously austere Nightingale dormitory style wards where nurses could see every patient from a single position. However the bay layout would mean patients felt isolated and reliant on the call buzzer. All wards were carpeted – but that soon took its toll on Nurses feet – and complaints followed. Carpets were also difficult to clean and whilst spill resistant they still smelt. The wonderful courtyards in the centre of the harness block looked great – but they were rarely used by patients and the powered fountain was so noisy that patients could not sleep and it was switched off after a few weeks of the grand opening in 1978.

The tug access ramp to all floors Photo: M Fisher

The much heralded fire system was also troublesome. When the fire alarm was triggered all the connecting doors were magnetically closed – providing a fire break. This hampered evacuation and a bed-ridden patient would need 4 staff to hold doors open. Porters routinely carried spoons in their pockets to wedge doors open to allow them to single-handedly bring a bed through the many doors to safety.

The Harness block also relied on electric tugs to move materials around the building and the wider hospital site. All laundry, patient meals, refuse, and medical supplies were moved by the 4 Lansing-Bagnall tugs towing large trailers or upto 5 articulated trailers. These could also use the ramp to get to the upper floors and travelled along pedestrian corridors. This enabled two or three tugs to bring food in heated trolleys to all the wards in quick succession. The alternative would be to use the passenger lifts to manually move single trolleys at a time.

The hospital’s vintage Electricar looked similar to this. © Paul Osborne

An electric ambulance of 1960’s vintage was still in use in the 1980’s – a rare Morrison-Electricar. It was used to transport children on stretcher trolleys to the operating theatres that were a 5 minute drive away from the Children’s Ward. The Electricar had a top speed of 15½ mph and a range of 30 miles… if charged overnight at the gatehouse.

As a consequence of the new accommodation being available many of the old buildings on the Workhouse site were vacated and left largely to ruin. Pathology was one of the few departments that stayed – isolated on the top floor of the old Male wards – accessed by a lift from the 1950’s. Engineering operated out of the old ancillary buildings near the gatehouse. Likewise the old 1900’s Mortuary and chapel became used as back ups. Rose Cottage – formerly the chief engineers home (and to Southlands’ famous son Leo Sayer), was also demolished.

The Queen Mother with Senior Administrator Pat Marshall at Southlands
1980: Mental-handicap villas: the St. Nicholas Unit and The Ridings, Doctors’ accommodation, Children’s Ward, Path Lab, Storrington House © Paul Osborne

The far South West of the site was formerly market gardens and latterly a sloping grassed area where the hospital fetes were held. That land was later developed to build the two single storey villas that housed the Mentally-Handicapped Unit.

Southlands Harness Block in background with first operating theatre (1979 / 1999). It was demolished along with the Nightingale Wards in the 90’s. Note the large tree that is still extant in 2020. © Paul Osborne

Southlands was rationalised in the late 1990’s to 2000’s and gradually services were reduced and moved to Worthing. Maternity facilities closed in 1996 and the geriatric, medical and surgical wards were later closed and specialisms like Maxilo-Facial departments were eventually moved. The Nightingale wards which had largely laid empty from the 80’s were demolished and the space used for parking. The laundry that served both Worthing and Southlands was demolished. At the same time the now separated Workhouse site was fenced off and run down – a magnet for vandalism. By the time it was agreed how it would be redeveloped it had deteriorated to the point that demolition was almost inevitable.

This tree has been on this spot since 1906 despite all the demolition around it.
Southlands c1985 at the peak of the site usage, before the radical abandonment of the buildings. Note the former site of hospital market gardens to the South which were sold off for housing from the 1950’s onwards.
Southlands map around 2002

By 2010 the Harness Block was redundant and no viable use for it could be found. The lure of demolition and sell off of the second parcel of land was too great and Southlands now faced a future offering only 10% of the services it had offered 20 years earlier. It is a sad testimony that Harness only lasted 40 years before being demolished and general wards moved to Worthing.

2010 looking SW. The last days of the Harness Block
2010 It was becoming clear that Southlands was seen as having no future other than a few clinic facilities.
2016 Harness block demolition. You can see the remains of the Mortuary, Stores, loading bay and Porters Dept. The concrete trussed frame you see was experimental and different to the Western part of the Harness block. Photo: M Fisher, Flickr

What is left of the old workhouse?

2018 Google View of the refurbished Workhouse buildings © Google images

There are two main buildings left of the 1900’s Workhouse site:

The Admin, School of Nursing and Refectory Block – this has been substantially remodelled leaving just the outside walls and just 2/3rds of the Refectory structure left. The internal layout is unrecognisable as apartments have now been constructed inside.

The Gatehouse complex is substantially intact – although the roofs and walls have been replaced and re-designed to allow for partitioning for flats and apartments. The casual wards have been completely re-designed to provide apartments. The stone breaking cells were completely demolished although the windows are referenced in the new designs of the new facades.

Photographs taken in 2009 of the dark and derelict Casual Wards that had been used for ancillary storage for decades show how the cells had been opened up with the partition walls demolished. The vagrant cells have the tell-tale windows at 6 foot height, whilst the stone-breaking cell windows are characteristically at knee height. This enabled the stones to be smashed and hauled at the grate over the window to fall through to the outside.

Former Casual Ward and Cells. Now refurpished into apartments © Google images

Film Archive: 1962

Southlands is featured in this 1962 8mm film made by Paul Plumb.  At 21 minutes in the programme takes a walk around the wards and departments of Southlands in its heyday:

1962 movie: start at 21 minutes © Paul Plumb

Photo Archive: 1940’s – 1980’s

A selection of photographs by courtesy of Maureen Hooper, Parish of Kingston Buci from the 1930’s and 40’s of Southlands. These are shown with a later collection of circa 1970’s photos taken by Paul Osborne, a porter at the hospital in his youth.

Photo Archive: 2009 Demolition

Article written by Paul Osborne 2020

References: Southlands Workhouse and Hospital – Rev John. White 1990, Peter Higginbotham

Photos: Paul Osborne, Tony Clevett, Maureen Hooper, JimW, Weeble, Rookinella, NursePayne:,

12 Replies to “Southlands – Workhouse and Hospital”

  1. These archives are superb. As  a newcomer to Shoreham It would be fantastic to see some of the photos in a then and now comparison, particularly as I now live in oneoftge new houses on the old hospital grounds!

  2. I was born in Southlands hospital in August 1932.
    My mother told me she had to work in the laundry following my birth, presumably to pay for her medical care.
    Many years later I spent two periods in the hospital, two weeks after being transferred from the Sussex County hospital following a motor cycle accident, and one week for lung problems.
    I also attended the A and E on occasions.
    My four children were all born there.
    It was a very good hospital and should not have been closed.

    1. I trained as an SRN 1961- 1964, then did my Part 1 Midwifery, before moving on to Cuckfield Hospital, and later Kings College Hospital, Eventually in 1982 I studied to be a Health Visitor, where I practiced in London and later Norfolk. I loved Southlands. Miss Smith the Matron was a superb. Kathy Lister [Nee Trolley].

  3. I was born in Southlands Hospital in July 1948 and lived in Shoreham until I was 21. My mother lived in Eastern Avenue until she died in Southlands Hospital in 2003. The hospital served us well and I remember some lovely summer fetes there run by the League of Friends. How things change.

  4. I trained at Southlands and Worthing 1977-1980. I remember going in through the gateway and arch into the nurses changing rooms upstairs. I also remember Harness block being built, and being taken to look round it. I loved the old Nightingale wards. I worked on B2, (my first ward) and D1 next. Also did Obstetrics A1, A2, and A3, and the old E ward, which later became The Ridings. Happy memories! Very sad that it all changed.

  5. I spent two weeks as a 7 year old in an isolation room in Southlands with suspected meningitis (or something). Nice staff but they, and parents, were completely gowned up. No TV, no radio, only entertainment was watching the occasional nurse walk along the ‘spine’ corridor. No x-ray there in those days as it had to be transported to Worthing Hospital by ambulance to have one before being returned back to my ‘cell’!

    Highlight of the day was a jellied sweet with dinner if you hadn’t been caught trampolining on the bed during the day!

  6. I completed my nurse training at Southland’s school of nursing, the school being on the ground floor and our rooms upstairs with a shared kitchen and bathroom.i believe it was bramber house,also recall living in storrington house towards the south side.fond memories 1980 onwards

  7. I trained as a Registered nurse at Southland’s from 1983 to 1986.I loved the hospital.It had so much history.

  8. I trained here in 1987. I have great memories of Beeding house nurses accommodation. I have a brilliant photo of us first years too.

  9. I remember that the X-ray dept staff, in or around the 1980/90’s helped to stop demolition of the 1906 tree. Also remember cycling into a wall at the arch,and having to walk my bicycle with a front wheel like a three pence piece the 6 miles home again .

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