North Belfast’s ‘Forgotten’ Sanatorium: The Throne Children’s Hospital.
A picture of the Throne Hospital from Beringer, 1998.

While researching the work of Forster Green and his impact on healthcare in Belfast, there was mention of a hospital that I had not heard about in my time working with the North Belfast Heritage Cluster. Historic hospitals such as the General Hospital on Frederick Street and the Forster Green Hospital on Saintfield Road have left behind long legacies through prominent professionals and pioneering medical care. Their names are very much etched into the history of this area. The presence of another hospital on the outskirts of North Belfast was very much a surprise to me, especially given the impressive façade of the B1 listed building that still stands amongst the residential housing. Despite its impact on the area from over a century of use, its legacy and history are not held in same regard as the more central institutions.

The Throne Hospital was built on lands that had been purchased by Samuel Martin, from Shrigley, Killyleagh. Samuel was from a wealthy Flax Mill owning family. His father, John Martin established the town of Shrigley as a satellite industrial town to the North-West of Killyleagh, with the residents working in the Flax Mill. Samuel purchased part of what was known as the “Throne Lands”, with the intention of constructing a residence there. However, after the death of Samuel’s nephew, John Martin Haliday in 1869, his intentions for the site changed. Samuel and his wife Martha attended to John during his illness which was described as a “long and painful illness from disease of the spine.” Whilst no death certificate is readily available for John, it is probable that he succumbed to a form of Tuberculosis that affects the bones and spine: Tuberculous Spondylitis. John’s passing had a profound impact on Samuel and Martha and both agreed that the land should be used, not for a family residence, but rather as a hospital focused on providing medical care to children.

“…Sam and my sister agreed that it would be well to endeavour to alleviate such childish suffering and if possible cure the little patients, and my sister dying shortly afterward, Sam commenced to build the Throne Children’s Hospital…”

PRONI: D3113/7/107: Alexander McLaine, Belfast to George Benn…

This quote comes from a letter sent by Alexander McLaine to George Benn. McLaine was a prominent shipbuilder who went into business with William Ritchie. His sister Martha was married to Samuel Martin. The Throne Hospital had the backing of some of the most successful and influential industrial families in Ulster, however, neither Martha or Samuel would see its completion. As stated in the extract from McLaine’s letter to Benn, Martha died around 1870, shortly after her nephew, whilst Samuel died from Typhoid Fever in 1872. His obituary highlighted his philanthropic work and generous demeanour but also his deep and enduring sorrow at losing his wife:

“…the Convalscent Home of Belfast, in connection with the General Hospital, will be a lasting memorial of Mr. Martin and his wife. It is little more than two years since her death, and he has now followed her- perhaps not  unwillingly, certainly contentedly.”

Northern Whig, 16th October 1872.

After his death, the hospital’s completion fell on his father John. The architect for the hospital was an up-and-coming Belfast architect called Timothy Hevey. Hevey had constructed the Martin Memorial Monument in 1871: a monument dedicated to John Martin by the people of Shrigley. Hevey was also the architect responsible designing St Patrick’s Church on Donegall Street. The site itself was ideal for the construction of a Sanatorium. The hospital was elevated above the industrial smog that hung over the city and offered an uninterrupted view of Belfast Lough. In a time before antibiotics, a retreat to the clean air of the countryside was often the only relief that could be offered to those suffering from such common, life threatening respiratory diseases. The hospital opened its doors to patients on October 1st 1874, before ownership was transferred to the Belfast Royal Hospital in 1875.

Under the Belfast Royal Hospital, the building was extended, with a convalescent home added to the cost of an additional £7,000 in 1877. The memorial stone ceremony attracted significant interest, and the building was widely praised:

The morning, though at first murky, cleared up about noon, but remained in a favourable state only for a short time. Just at the hour appointed for the performance of the ceremony -1 o’clock- a drizzling rain descended, and detracted a little from the enjoyableness of the occasion, the speeches being delivered in the open air, immediately in front of the main entrance, where the stone was laid… The building which is in the Gothic style of architecture is elegantly and tastefully designed…the building is divided into 2 departments-that situated on the right being devoted to the Children’s Home, and that on the left to the Convalescent Home. The former branch is designed for 32 children, and the later for upwards of 30 patients. A beautiful stained glass memorial window, erected by the late John Martin Esq, to the memory of his son Samuel Martin Esq, who died during the progress of the erection of the buildings.”

T. Beringer: Ulster Medical Journal. 1998.
Stained Glass Windows from the Throne Hospital.
Images Courtesy of Dr T. Beringer

The Throne Hospital (or the Martin Children’s Hospital as it was also known) continued to evolve and expand over the next century. Forster Green donated generously to the construction of a Tuberculosis ward at the hospital, prior to opening his own hospital on the Saintfield Road. The hospital also saw some of the earliest Plastic Surgical operations carried out in Northern Ireland in the 1950’s and more recently it was used as a Geriatric hospital. The site around the hospital also continued to evolve, with Throne Primary School being built on the site in 1950, perhaps alluding to the sites previous focus on the care of children. Hazelwood Integrated Primary and Nursery School has now replaced Throne Primary School on this site.

The hospital was closed on 4th November, 1992 after 117 years of providing care to those in the area. The lands around the hospital have now been developed into private housing. The hospital building itself fell into disrepair, and the deterioration of this listed building caused concern amongst those who had once worked within its walls. It was restored and renovated in the early 2000’s and is used as an office building, and is B1 listed.

The Throne Hospital has left a proud legacy of care within the community and is remembered by former patients in a similar way as the Benn Hospitals in online forums. Whilst the main building remains, it finds itself in an alien environment, surrounded by new-build houses and used by office workers, having been enveloped by a century of urban sprawl: a far cry from the remote sanatorium that was built in the 1870’s by its grief-stricken benefactors. It is perhaps in-keeping with the demeanour of its founder, that the Throne Hospital has so quickly fallen from public memory, yet still endures through the memories of its patients and doctors:

It was the wish of a great philanthropist, when dying, that he might be forgotten. “Bury me under a sun-dial, and let me be forgotten.” Probably some similar wish would have been expressed by the deceased; but it is for the good of us all that the memory of such names and deeds should not be forgotten amid the self-seekings and contentions of parties and creeds.”

The Obituary of Samuel Martin. Northern Whig. 16th October 1872.

About the archivist:

James Cromey is the Archive Coordinator for the North Belfast Heritage Cluster. He has a background in Victorian, Industrial and Medical History and has received degrees from the University of Glasgow and Queens University Belfast. All research has been conducted to a high academic standard and has been fully referenced. If you would like to know more about a story or piece of research, or if you wish to tell us about your own story, email us at: archiveproject@nbheritagecluster.org

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