Festival of Dissent gets off to Agreeable Start!


The Festival Of Dissent, organised by Kensington and Chelsea Residents supporting Save Our Hospitals in association with the Friends of Brompton Cemetery, got off to a dignified start on Saturday when a group of supporters walked round Brompton Cemetery and laid a wreath at the tomb of Dr Golding, the founder of Charing Cross. Mark Honigsbaum, the eminent medical journalist and a founder member of the Save our Hospitals campaign, gave a speech which - perhaps for the first time in over a century - paid tribute to the founder of of Charing Cross Hospital at his place of rest. The full text is here, and makes fascinating reading:  


Dr Benjamin Golding was born on 7 September 1793 at St Osyth, in the Colne Valley, Essex. The youngest son of the sixteen children (only eight of whom survived to maturity), he studied medicine at Edinburgh University and St Thomas’s Hospital in London.

At a time when water-borne diseases like cholera and typhoid were rife in London, he provided free treatment to the poor at his house in Leicester Place, Westminster, and in 1818 he managed to expand the service by starting up the West London Infirmary near the Haymarket Theatre. The voluntary hospital soon became popular with actors and war veterans and with the backing of the Duke of York it was awarded royal status. (continued....)



By 1821 it was treating nearly 10,000 patients a year and was almost at capacity, prompting Golding to look for bigger premises where he could also offer training to medical students. He alighted on a site near Charing Cross, in the West End, and in 1831 the foundation stone was laid for the new hospital. Three years later it began admitting the first patients.


At the time, only St Thomas’s and Guy’s had medical schools. Charing Cross was London’s third and by 1839 Dr Golding had instituted a complete course of tuition in every branch of medical study. Among his students were David Livingstone and the biologist Thomas Huxley. Later, Christopher Addison, the Liberal peer who went on to become Britain’s first Minister of Health in 1919, also studied at Charing Cross.


Despite being responsible for both the management of the hospital and the medical school, Golding did not shirk his duties as a physician and attended to in-patients and out-patients for two hours every day at around noon. In 1836 a correspondent in The Lancet gave the following account of conditions on the wards: 


‘The hospital is a clean, well-ventilated building, having wider wards than any other hospital in London; it is furnished with excellent beds and bedding… nurses [are] carefully selected and constantly subjected to visits, night and day, of the director… and the attendance of the physicians and surgeons has been frequent regular and punctual.’


He also painted a complimentary portrait of Dr Golding:


‘He pretends to no effect, he certainly affects no particular kindness and softness to patients, nor makes any meretricious attempts to appear profound. But he has a manly, direct, easy method of conversation, not unseasoned with humour, and not the least agreeable, because he displays no inclination to shine.’


Golding continued to act as director of both the hospital and medical school until his retirement in 1862. He died a year later and was buried in the family plot in Brompton Cemetery, where four of his nine children had already been laid to rest.


In 1864 the family acquired a different plot and built the mausoleum at West Brompton Cemetery, transferring Benjamin Golding's body and those of his sons there soon after.


In 1973 Charing Cross Hospital moved out of central London to the site in the Fulham Road a mile to the west of the cemetery where it stands to this day. The question, of course, is for how much longer.


As we know, NHS Northwest London is now pushing for the closure of Charing Cross’s Accident & Emergency department. It is also recommending removing all but 30 of its 500 beds and consolidating the remaining services, which would basically consist of a walk-in clinic run by GPs, in an area the size of the present hospital’s gym.


Oh, and did I mention that Imperial NHS Trust, which has spent thousands of pounds of taxpayer’s money actively campaigning for the preservation of similar services at its preferred hospital, Chelsea & Westminster, has valued Charing Cross at £80m.


In the meantime, the concerns of local residents – 70,000 of whom have signed a petition objecting to the closure schedule and calling for the Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt to call in the consultation – are being all but ignored.


Well, we are here to ensure that those voices are heard and the Dr Golding’s legacy to this part of London is not squandered for the sake of short-term gain. For we all know that once a hospital loses its A&E it is only a matter of time before it is closed and auctioned to the highest bidder.


So on a weekend when we usually remember the fallen of war, let us also remember a medical warrior who devoted his life to a cause every bit as important.


And at the going down of the sun tonight and tomorrow when we awake in the morning let us remember that what is at stake here is not only the memory of a great hospital and the doctor who founded it but the welfare of tens of thousands of patients.


Mark Honigsbaum

(Speech given at the family tomb of Dr Golding MD, founder of Charing Cross Hospital, on the 10th November 2012 as part of the Festival of Dissent in support of Save Our Hospitals).