14 October 2012

Intellectual Snobbery: Hollins's Dispensary

Part of the classical aedicule that surrounded the door to Union Street's
dispensary. Made from cement designed to look like stone, by William
Hollins c. 1808. This sculpture is the only surviving part of the building.
The text reads: 'OF THE MOST HIGH COMETH HEALING'. This sculpture
is now part of the Birmingham History exhibition at BMAG.

Self trained architect William Hollins often encountered criticism against his architectural designs. When he completed the dispensary on Union Street in 1808 some called it a handsome or attractive building though others complained of a 'plain stone building [...] devoid of all claim to architectural elegance'.* The worst criticism of the Dispensary came in 1825 when Hollins was slated for having ‘wantonly violated correctness, and [...] needlessly run into preposterous inventions’.* The study of classical architecture was an intellectual discipline as well as an aesthetic one; it was highly mathematical and required the study of classical examples from books written on the subject to get the correct proportions. To understand the language of classical architecture was to be educated; it was logical and rational representing the height of public order and civility, and not about taking flights of fancy into the realms of individual imaginations. With this sense of understanding in mind, I am automatically endeared to William Hollins’s work,  but perhaps William West's arguement (1830) is most relevant; that the great good achieved from the medical aid given at the Dispensary ‘more than compensate[d] for any want of taste in the exercise of the chissel [sic]’.*

Hollins's Dispensary building had opened in 1808 to accommodate the highly successful venture that had begun in Temple Row, growing from strength to strength since its beginnings in 1794 (visit the Temple Row Dispensary here). The Dispensary served poorer patients who paid voluntary subscriptions of, in 1825, one or two guineas a year; one guinea receiving four sick tickets and one for midwifery.* Patients in great need but without financial means could get treatment as well, often on the recommendation of a subscriber; and some free services were offered, for example, in 1836 patients could receive free inoculations on Monday's and Thursday's* (a table containing some of the numbers helped is below). The Dispensary was also supported by donations from the wealthy, and many of the physicians and surgeons offered their services free of charge.

The Dispensary on Union Street by William Hollins, built 1806-1808.

I will add some more information on the architecture of the building in a forthcoming 'architectural focus'.       * References on request.
Patients Treated 1814, 1824, 1828 & 1829.
1824: SICK-2042. MIDWIFERY-558. INOCULATION-1118
1828: SICK-3545. MIDWIFERY-798. INOCULATION-1614
1829: SICK-3097. MIDWIFERY-810. INOCULATION-2068
Some physicians at the Union Street Dispensary
c. 1814-1821: Dr. John BOOTH (and the Birmingham Infirmary)
1822-1833: Dr. John DARWALL (Detailed information on Darwall here.)
Oct 1835-?: Dr. Thomas Ogier WARD (previously at Wolverhampton dispensary and studied the cholera there in 1832).

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