In the small city of Aldershot, Hampshire sits a sprawling abandoned structure with a lone clock tower looking forlornly above the city’s horizon. The building looks dirty, unkempt and haunted – an apt site which any horror productions would clamor for.
But this old, rambling edifice played an integral part of Britain’s war history. Once a state-of-the-art hospital in Britain, it was in here the plastic surgery was pioneered with surviving soldiers from the Somme during the World War I as the first patients.
The abandoned structure was once known as the majestic Cambridge Military Hospital.
Built by Messrs Martin Wells and Co. of Aldershot, Cambridge Military Hospital was Aldershot’s fifth military hospital. Its construction plans was believed to have started as early as 1858, was completed in 1879 and opened on July 18 of the same year. Its being built high on a hill was in consistency to the clinical belief in those times – medical institutions need to be built on elevated places so that the wind could blow away any infection.
Its name was not taken from its location but from his Royal Highness name, Prince George, Duke of Cambridge, who was the Army’s Commander-in-Chief at the time of its opening; he also presided over its opening ceremony.
During World War I, it was the first base hospital to accept contingencies right from the Western Front. It was also here that the first plastic surgery was performed in the whole British Empire. Military doctor Captain Harold Gillies pioneered the procedure after he learned it from a doctor friend, French physician Hippolyte Morestin who was doing face reconstructions on cancer patients in the Val-de-Grace Hospital in Paris.Gillies’ first patients were the injured soldiers from Somme.
The hospital was also home to Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps.
Cambridge Military Hospital was first and foremost, a medical institution that catered to military servicemen from the Boer Wars in the 1900s and to the Somme up to World War II and even the First Gulf War in the 1990s. However, with the decline of the country’s military commitments after WWII, the institution started to accept civilian admittance.
The hospital was closed on February 2, 1996 when hospital administrations find it hard to keep up with the rising costs brought about by maintaining the aged hospital. That and the discovery of asbestos on its walls resulted to its closure.
A Look at Cambridge Military Hospital Now
An urban explorer known only as Chaos who hailed from Poole, Dorset decided to take a look at the once glorious medical facility and documented his visit with the use of his camera.
Images produced by Chaos’ camera picture paint-peeled hospital walls looking so derelict and gray. The once immaculately clean operating chambers are decaying – water pools from the rain lay on the chipped cement floors and metal beams are eaten by rust making it hard to believe that these rooms were once life-saving sites.
There are still little remains of the medical and surgical equipment used when the hospital was still operation and Chaos was able to take haunting pictures of these.
‘People are always amazed,’ he said.
‘Often they don’t believe me when I tell them these are my images and I’ve actually visited these places. Personally I always try and imagine the place when it was operational and wonder what it would have been like to be a fly on the wall,’ the explorer said about his visit to the abandoned hospital.
Currently there are plans to develop the hospital’s site. These development plans include housing projects, building of two primary schools and the restoration and conversion of the old Cambridge Military Hospital.