A group of nearly two hundred patients are appealing to UNESCO to step into the controversy behind the sale of The Min – officially known now as the Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases – and sited in the centre of Bath.
They are represented in a letter being sent by patient-governor Professor George Odam who writes of their concerns regarding ‘the fate of the two listed buildings, in Upper Borough Walls in the centre of Bath and of vital historic importance both to the city and to the nation’.
The 18th century building – Britain’s first general hospital for the poor – is being sold by the Royal United Hospital who intend ploughing the proceeds into a new purpose built ‘Min’ now under construction at the hospital’s main site.
UNESCO is the educational arm of the United Nations and granted Bath World Heritage status in 1987. It puts the city on a par with Venice and the Taj Mahal.
Here is the letter to UNESCO in full:
‘Dear Sir or Madam,
I write as the representative of 179 (currently) people who are concerned about the fate of the Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases in Bath (RNHRD). We all belong to a social media group on FaceBook called Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases Patients, and I was a patient-governor of this hospital from its first Foundation status year for the following eight and a half years.
In the near future the hospital itself, as an institution, will be largely replaced with a new purpose-built building at the main site of the Royal United Hospital, Combe Park, Bath, (RUH) although there will be no new, dedicated in-patient provision, which has always been fundamental to the RNHRD. We are hopeful that the excellence of treatment at the new site will be upheld and maintained as promised. Consequently the historic buildings in the centre of Bath are currently for sale.
Although this move concerns us, we know that the internal decisions and plans of our National Health Service are of no direct concern of UNESCO and its World Heritage representatives. However, the fate of the two listed buildings, in Upper Borough Walls in the centre of Bath and of vital historic importance both to the city and to the nation, is of concern to us and must also be to you.
We are confident that the wonderful history of this fine old hospital from its foundation in 1741 to the present day will not need to be rehearsed for you. We wish, however, to stress to you how important the unbroken record over nearly three centuries of research-led treatment for those of us who suffer rheumatic conditions remains. If the predicted sale of both the adjacent historic buildings goes merely to the highest bidder and ignores the importance they played in the development of medical practice, then we stand to lose a vital part of our heritage that is enshrined not only in buildings but in their original purpose and continuing function. Remarkably it remains at the forefront of international research and practice in Rheumatology and is, indeed, the hospital where Rheumatology was first identified and practised as a discipline.
The majority of us have had the privilege of treatment in the hydrotherapy pool on the ground floor of the older of the two buildings. In the 1960s when I was first a patient, this pool was fed directly from the Roman bath spring, and a walk-through conduit under the streets of Bath remains to this day, linking the two sites. Because of health concerns in the 1980s, the spring waters ceased to be used and were replaced by normal water supply heated on site.
As you will be aware, in the last two decades, new developments have renewed bathing in the spring waters in two privately run facilities, each with their own borehole. The original plans for what is now Thermae, included medical research into new forms of hydrotherapy, and I was a member of that research committee. However, because of the financial debacle in the construction of Thermae, this purpose was forgotten.
But the hydrotherapy pool at the RNHRD remains the historic foundation in Bath for such treatment. The former medical hydrotherapy Treatment Centre in nearby Hot Bath Street, in which I was treated in the 1970s, was destroyed by commercial development in the 1980s. So the hydrotherapy pool at the RNHRD and its direct conduit to the Roman spring are the last historic links to such activity. If the sale of these buildings means that the pool and its conduit are destroyed, or cease to be used as the Treatment Centre was, then we lose a final and vital part of the medical heritage of Bath and of this nation.
We believe that ‘heritage’ is to be found not only in the wonderful historic buildings but in their function being, in this case, at the leading edge of medical research and practice over its whole unique history, and which continues to this day on site treating exactly those conditions to which it was first dedicated.
We are confident that you may already be aware of this problem, and so wish to add our voices to the argument with those who have the responsibility for the up-coming sale, and remind them through you, of their promise to preserve, develop and enhance the brand and mission of the RNHRD which is enshrined in the fine historic buildings in Upper Borough Walls.
Emeritus Professor, Bath Spa University, Fellow of the Guildhall School’
World Heritage Centre
7, Place de Fontenoy
75352 Paris CEDEX 07