Mayor Rahman walks in steps of Elephant Man through old London Hospital
PUBLISHED: 07:00 25 March 2015
Controversial mayor Lutfur Rahman looked round his new "home" which is costing council taxpayers in London's deprived East End a cool £9 million—for a run-down pile of bricks needing some attention.
He walked through the corridors yesterday of the old Royal London in Whitechapel, formerly the London Hospital where once the Elephant Man passed through in the 1890s, and gave it the once-over to make sure he got his moneys-worth.
The building is to be the new “home” of Tower Hamlets Council, after the decorators give the place a lick of paint or two.
It was sold to the council by Barts Health NHS Trust last month to be the new civic hub, at the centre of the Whitechapel regeneration zone.
“You really get a sense of the unique history that this old hospital has,” the mayor said. “Putting the new town hall in Whitechapel will bring the council closer to the heart of the community.”
The old hospital has been standing empty for two years since the new complex opened in 2013 just behind.
But the £9m purchase has its critics who say no decision on a new town hall should be taken until the High Court case in which Mayor Rahman’s re-election last May is currently being challenged by campaigners accusing his supporters of mal-practice with “intimidation, corruption and fraud”.
London Assembly’s budget chairman John Biggs, who represents east London at City Hall, called on Mayor Rahman to show he has not wasted public money.
But it could be a saving for the council, with its current offices in an expensive Docklands complex and tucked away in an isolated corner of the borough at Blackwall.
It costs £5m a year renting Mulberry Place, the lease having cost £50m since 1993 and due to run out in 2020.
A new civic centre at Whitechapel could open by 2019 and not be burdened with luxury Docklands rents.
The historic grade II-listed hospital site goes back three centuries. The original Whitechapel Infirmary was founded in 1740 by philanthropists for the sick and poor among the merchant seaman and manufacturing classes in the East End.
It relied on public donations for 200 years, from its opening with only a shilling (5p) in the bank, until its running costs were taken over when the NHS was established in 1948.
It was famous for Joseph Merrick, dubbed the Elephant Man, who was given sanctuary and lived out his life in the hospital until he died in 1890. Nurse Edith Cavell, who was shot by the Germans in Occupied Belgium during the First World War, did her medical training there.