Victorian London - Death and Dying - Customs and Dealing with Death - Mortuaries


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A Capital Building at Poplar - A Change from Public House Regime.

UNTIL a few years ago it was the practice in most of the London districts to conduct coroners' inquests in public-house parlours. Many of these, especially in parts of the City, were far from inviting, and the fumes of bad tobacco and stale beer were not calculated to impress the public with the majesty of the law. When the London County Council came into existence it speedily set about to alter this state of affairs, and gradually it provided suitable public mortuaries in various parts of the metropolis. In some cases the work has been undertaken by the local authorities. The Poplar Board of Works, for instance, recently decided to erect one of these necessary institutions, and a very complete set of buildings will be put up in the High Street, not far from the offices of the Board.
    The buildings consist of a coroner's court, shelter, mortuaries, and post-mortem room, and offices in separate blocks, and are grouped around the four sides of a large courtyard.
    The elevation of the front block, the coroner's court, facing the High-street, is designed in a free treatment and with an endeavour towards architectural effect. The entrance to the mortuary is from a side street on the right, and the mortuary buildings are placed at the extreme end of the site, so that in no way will the value of the property in the High-street be depreciated.
    The principal entrance occupies a central position in the High-street frontage, and gives direct access to the court, the witnesses waiting room and attendant's office. The attendant's office is placed in a central position, convenient for use both in connection with the court and the mortuaries.
    From a public point of view, one of the most interesting features of this capitally designed set of buildings is the shelter block, a two-storey building, planned for the temporary reception of two families, during the disinfection of their homes, where cases of infection have occurred. The accommodation in each case consists of a living room, bathroom and w.c. The entrance to the shelter has been arranged so as to be under direct supervision from the attendant#s office and with approach from either the street or the courtyard as may be requisite. One of the mortuaries is planned for the reception of eight infected bodies and the other for twelve non-infected bodies - the latter fitted with catacombs. A covered viewing lobby is placed centrally between the mortuaries, and is fitted with receptacles for the display of articles for identification. The offices consist of a fitted wash-house, a shell and ambulance store, store for disinfectants, and yardsmen's w.c. etc.
    It is intended to lay out the centre of the courtyard as a small garden plot of about 20ft. by 13ft. which, planted with flowers, should form a pleasing central feature.
    The design, of which Messrs. Landsell and Harrison, of 38, Bow-lane, Cheapside, E.C. are the architects, was selected by the professional assessor appointed by the Board in an open competition.

Municipal Journal and London, January, 1899