University College Hospital (Alfred Ainger)

University College Hospital, designed by Alfred Ainger. 1834, extended 1838-46. Used by permission of English Heritage. NMR (National Monuments Register). Click on this and following thumbnail for larger images.

University College Hospital was founded in 1834 as the North London Hospital. Built opposite University College in Gower Street, Bloomsbury, to the designs of Alfred Ainger (1797-1859), it became University College Hospital in 1837. It was extended by Ainger from 1838-46, and then again later in the century, but still proved inadequate. In 1896, therefore, a new hospital building was designed for the same site by Alfred Waterhouse (1830-1905). Known as the "Cruciform Building," it was his last major work, and was actually completed a year after his death, in 1906.

University College Hospital

It seems to illustrate the point that his later designs were more efficient than aesthetically pleasing. Certainly, it compares unfavourably with, say, the Natural History Museum in Kensington. An asymmetrical complex with towers, angles and jutting out "bits," it can even be seen as rather eccentric. Reginald Turnor writes, "University College Hospital is in a style which cannot be classified and can only be called 'Waterhouse.' He was never a slave to the pointed arch, and yet his square-headed windows are not Tudorish; nor do his coarse details fit into any known category" (93). Yet there is much to say in its favour. Not least, it took account of the special needs of a hospital: "The Cruciform's bold diagonal plan with a single service core and radiating wings maintained the virtues of light and ventilation [as did the 'pavilion' style used by Henry Currey for St Thomas's Hospital] but limited horizontal circulation by stacking the wards in 4 storeys on a podium containing the support facilities" ("The Cruciform Building"). Moreover, the building has proved versatile: it is now used for teaching and research. A new state-of-the-art University College Hospital complex, close by on Euston Road, treated its first patients in June 2005.

Joseph Lister became a student at the original hospital (i.e. the one designed by Ainger) in 1844, and on this site too in 1846 ether was first used for major surgery in Europe. The surgeon, Robert Liston, had heard of its use in Boston, and tried it out for a leg amputation. He was delighted to hear "not the slightest groan" from his patient (qtd. in Weinreb and Hibbert 927). Another piece of medical history is also commemorated by a plaque on Gower Street: this was the first X-Ray for clinical purposes, by the organic chemist Norman Collie in 1896. Collie was one of Sir William Ramsay's collaborators in his work on argon, helium and neon.


"The Cruciform Building History." (University College London site)

Donnan, F. G., rev. K. D. Watson. "Collie, John Norman (1859-1942)." The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Viewed 16 October 2007.

Harte, Negley. The University of London, 1836-1986: An Illustrated History. London: Athlone, 1986.

Turnor, Reginald. Nineteenth Century Architecture in Britain. London: Batsford, 1950.

Weinreb, Ben and Christopher Hibbert, eds. The London Encyclopaedia. London: Macmillan, rev. ed. 1992.

Last modified 4 February 2018 (image restored)