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Alexander J. Heaney

1876 - 1936

The Bristol Royal Infirmary by Alexander J. Heaney

The Bristol Royal Infirmary   c.1922

  Original ink drawing.
Signed in ink.
Ref: See Stoddard, City Impressions, Bristol Etchers 1910-1935, no.28.
S & I 318 x 388 mm
Original ink drawing by Alexander J. Heaney. This is the original pen and ink drawing which was used as the basis for Alexander Heaney’s large etching of The Bristol Royal Infirmary.

The King Edward VII Memorial Infirmary, which forms part of the main city centre hospital, was built between 1906 and 1911 and was opened officially by King George V and Queen Mary on June 28th, 1912.

Dedicated to the memory of the monarch who died in 1910, the King Edward VII building, was used originally for surgical, casualty and specialist departments for 181 patients and cost between £70,000 and £80,000 to build. Sir George White, who had given Bristol its first electric tramway service and established what was to become the Bristol Aeroplane Company, had already saved the hospital from a major financial crisis in 1904, and it was he who both masterminded the construction of the Edward VII Memorial Wing and donated most generously to the cost of its construction. This great extension to the Bristol Royal Infirmary was designed by Charles Henry Holden (1875 –1960) whose early buildings were influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement; it typifies the simplified forms of Holden’s designs but displays decorative details which Holden avoided in his later buildings where he championed a style that was free of what he considered to be unnecessary decorative detailing.

Constructed of reinforced concrete, clad in Portland stone, the King Edward VII building is a backwards E-shape in plan with a ward block to top and bottom linked by, originally open, walkways to a central services/sanitary block, which projects forward into a courtyard. The hospital is built into a steep slope so that the rear, upper block’s ground floor is two storeys higher than the front. This building is now largely masked by later extensions, a sad fate for what has been described as 'one of the most important buildings in the history of modern architecture' (Andor Gomme in Bristol, an architectural history, 1979).

In the etching which the artist later developed from this drawing he included tramcar wires in the foreground to serve as a reminder of Sir George White who instigated the construction of the building depicted and to accentuate the radical modernity of the architecture.

Alexander Heaney exhibited an impression of his large etching of The Bristol Royal Infirmary at the Bristol Savages Club in 1923 – an impression of the etching is held in the collection of Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, reference M4310.

On off-white Reeve’s Four Sheet Bristol Board. Full sheet, as prepared by the artist himself, with securing pinholes at edges. Generally very good original condition.

Provenance: From the collection of Phyllis Heaney, the artist’s daughter – thence by descent to her granddaughter.