Planning for extra hospital accommodation for both patients and nurses began in 1935. The Hospital was chronically overcrowded with some patients lying on stretchers placed down the centre of wards, and others in beds on verandahs. The existing Nurses' Home was very overcrowded.

When the Front Block and Wards 8, 9 and 10 were designed in 1925/26, outline plans were also made for future development of the Hospital. However, no further action was taken for the next ten years. Nevertheless, by 1931 there was a realisation that extra patient accommodation was urgently needed and at around this time, additions to the Victoria Hospital were contemplated. These were not proceeded with.

By 1935, the position was becoming serious, and it was proposed that a four-storey 100-bed block be built immediately adjacent to and to the north of the Front Block.

In October 1936, the Board had second thoughts about the siting of the proposed new block, and asked the architects to consider a site to the north of the Pathology block, and to add two more storeys.

Initial plans for redevelopment showed a central block from which radiated four wings. It was to be known as the "Centenary Block". This photo is taken from a site plan, and shows the relationship of the proposed new block with the existing Hospital.

original site plan

photograph courtesy Archives New Zealand Te Whare Tohu Tuhituhinga O Aotearoa

By April 1937, the plan was for a new Acute Hospital to have 350 beds and 6 theatres. In June 1937, the bed numbers were revised upwards to 500.

How was such a bold plan to be financed? In December 1935, the raising of a loan of £465,000 had been proposed. However, by August 1937, the estimates had ballooned to £588,119. The Board approached Government for financial assistance, but were unsuccessful, despite support for a new Hospital from the Director, Division of Hospitals.

For some time, there had been a call from Hutt Valley residents and local authorities for hospital services to be made available in Lower Hutt. It was argued that a much reduced redevelopment at Wellington, combined with a new Hospital in Lower Hutt would be significantly cheaper. By 1938, the estimates for building on the Wellington site had grown to £750,000 (equivalent to approximately $60,000,000 in 2002), and there were angry meetings of ratepayers at the prospects of the rates burden of the proposed local body loans. Publicity surrounding these controversies forced the Government's hand, and a Royal Commission of Inquiry was set up to investigate. The Royal Commission recommended that the Board proceed with building a three-wing block only, at an estimated cost of £496,380, but given the length of time it would take to construct such a building, temporary extra ward accommodation would be required. The Commission recommended the erection of a temporary ward for 50 patients, on a site between the Children's Hospital and the Victoria Wards. At the same time, it was recommended that the Board develop a new Hospital at Lower Hutt.

Further delays ensued which related to getting building permits to use a timber-framed design for the temporary ward. In 1939, it was calculated that 50 extra beds would be insufficient, even as an interim solution, and plans were made for the erection of a 'Emergency Hospital' of three 50-bed wards on the Kilbirnie Recreation Ground, adjacent to the Exhibition Hotel (later to become a Nurses' Home). However, this did not eventuate. There were difficulties in obtaining supplies of reinforcing steel for the more permanent buildings, in part because of the need to use Australian currency or Sterling to pay for this. The outbreak of WW2 had complicated matters. All the while, lack of patient accommodation was becoming critical.

Preparation for the Centenary Block

At last, contracts were let for the necessary excavation work, and the extensive earthworks got underway in 1939.

These photos give some idea of the scale of the project.

preparing for new block 1preparing for new block 2preparing for new block 3preparing for new block 4

all photographs courtesy Archives New Zealand Te Whare Tohu Tuhituhinga O Aotearoa 

By 1940, the plans for redevelopment at Wellington had been scaled down, to the three-wing six storey new Hospital shown in this architect's drawing, still to be sited in the already excavated area. This revised plan was referred to as "Blocks B, C and D", being what remained of the original larger Hospital.

3 wing 6 storey plan

photograph courtesy Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of NZ, Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa

By now the Board were committed to building a new Hospital in Lower Hutt (it opened in 1944)

Delays, confusion and a scaled-down compromise

With excavation completed, a contract was signed for piling work. However, with continued controversy, reluctance on the part of Government to authorise spending, and uncertainty about obtaining adequate building supplies, further compromises were needed.

The piling contractor was told to stop work, and there was talk of legal action being taken by him to recoup costs. Eventually agreement was reached to construct a 210-bed three-wing, three-storey block, on the already excavated site.

There was already an urgent need to accommodate injured servicemen, and the Defence Department erected a two-storey temporary 'Soldiers' Block' directly in front of the old main entrance.

Wards 20, 21 and 22

The Defence Department required urgent patient accommodation for injured servicemen, and the Soldiers' Block (Wards 21 and 22) was hastily erected immediately in front of the original main entrance of the hospital. Thus, the visually-pleasing entrance to the hospital was lost.

In the photo, the new wards are seen in the right foreground. Ward 20, erected as a temporary ward to relieve Hospital overcrowding, is seen at the top left.

wards 20, 21 and 22

photograph courtesy Photographic Department, Wellington Hospital / Wellington School of Medicine

The 210 Block

In 1941, construction began on a radically down-sized three-wing block to contain 210 beds. There was a desperate shortage of beds by now. It was very difficult to obtain building steel, so the plans provided for a timber-framed construction, as shown in this photograph.

building 210 block

reproduced from the Wellington City Council Archives Collection

By now, the records were referring to the building as the "Emergency Block". The decision to use wood, was in contravention to local building codes, and a building permit was issued only after the Board undertook to have multiple ramps extending from the upper floors as fire exits.

The 210 Block was completed in 1944, and at last, there was some relief for the chronic overcrowding.

completed 210 block

photograph courtesy Archives New Zealand Te Whare Tohu Tuhituhinga O Aotearoa

This 1946 plan for a Maternity Annex to be attached to Wards 21 & 22 (vacated Soldiers’ Block) shows just how closely packed all the buildings had become. No doubt Christian Toxward, the architect of the original four-bed hospital, would have been horrified had he been alive!

ground plan hospital 1940

photograph courtesy Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of NZ, Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa

Note that the original Laboratory block is now labeled 'Radiology Block'. The very first addition to the original hospital, (built to house nurses & paediatric patients), was by now used in part as accommodation for the Matron, and accordingly is labeled 'Matron's Wing'.

1947 Centenary

In 1947, the Centenary of the establishment of the first General Hospital in New Zealand was celebrated.

The photograph seen here is of the front cover of the souvenir programme.

The celebrations included a Centennial Ball at the Town Hall, a service at St Paul's Cathedral, and a Staff Ball at the Hospital. A public Centennial Celebration was held at the Hospital on Monday 15th September, presided over by the Wellington Hospital Board Chairman, Mr H. F. Toogood.

In the official souvenir programme, Mr Toogood stated that "...the Wellington Public Hospital is but one hundred years young." In a less-widely circulated report to the Board, Mr Toogood stated:

"The four wards opened at that date (1881) are still in use, and, if in the near future it is decided to remove one or even the whole of them to make room for better and more useful buildings, there should be little adverse criticism after 67 years of use. The unfortunate fact is they are too substantial to fall down, and, until violently removed, will remain as unsatisfactory accommodation in terms of modern hospitalisation.

May it not be a suitable centennial gesture to take steps towards improvement in this direction. ..."

centenary programme

photograph courtesy Archives New Zealand Te Whare Tohu Tuhituhinga O Aotearoa

The Hospital in 1958

The front block, as seen in this 1958 photograph, was by now the building that identified the hospital in the minds of the public.

1958 hospital

photograph courtesy Photographic Department, Wellington Hospital / Wellington School of Medicine

An aerial photograph taken in 1957 shows well the layout of hospital buildings. Note the addition of another Nurses’ Home in the foreground (opened in 1949).

aerial photo 1957photograph courtesy Evening Post 

In 1959, work was commenced on an extension to the north of the front Administration Block, to house Medical Records on the ground floor, Fracture Clinic on the 1st floor, and administrative services (including the Pay-Office) on the top floor.

1959 building front block extension

photograph courtesy Photographic Department, Wellington Hospital / Wellington School of Medicine

As far back as 1944, Dr Cairney, the Superintendent-in-Chief, proposed the erection of a new Outpatient building, to the north of the Front Block. He envisaged that this would house outpatient services currently managed within the Front Block, and proposed that the existing outpatient area be remodeled into a Medical Records Department. He also recommended that the new building provide for fracture cases, and have its own plaster room and X-ray facility.

The orthopaedic staff thought that it would be preferable to site a Fracture Clinic in the area currently occupied by Physiotherapy, and they suggested moving Physiotherapy into the second floor of the new building. Sketch plans were produced.

By 1948, the plans were revised to have the Fracture Clinic in the new building, as originally proposed by Dr Cairney. A firm recommendation was made to the Board to proceed.

In 1951, Dr Richard Durand, the new Superintendent-in-Chief, proposed that rather than proceeding with the new Outpatient building, a new Casualty Building be erected instead. He suggested converting the present Casualty Department into an Orthopaedic Department and also a Medical Records area. This idea was rejected by the Health Department. The next proposal was to convert the ground floor of the 210-Block into Casualty, Orthopaedic & Psychiatric Departments. However, this would have required relocating the Nurses' Preliminary Training School, the Urology Department and the Chest Clinic.

In the end, the building originally planned was erected, accommodating a Fracture Clinic, Medical Records Department and, on the upper storey, Administrative Offices.

completed front block extension

photograph courtesy Photographic Department, Wellington Hospital / Wellington School of Medicine

In this 1962 aerial photograph the completed front block extension can be seen at the far right, to the west of the 210-block. In the foreground there are now two extra nurses’ homes, ‘No 2’ (opened 26/3/1949) and nearer Riddiford St, ‘No 3’ (opened 6/11/1958)

Too few operating theatres

In a report to the Board dated 4/8/1954, Dr Richard Durand, Superintendent-in-Chief wrote "Plans were produced for the construction of a magnificent hospital on the site now occupied by the 210 Block. ... The result is adequate general surgical beds and inadequate operating facilities which hampers the full utilisation of the beds and in the end prejudices patients and the services which the Board seeks to give.

... Two additional theatre units are required immediately in Wellington, each having two theatres. The units should be contiguous to surgical wards. One suite should serve the orthopaedic wards."

Despite a clear case made by Dr Durand, the proposals were not approved, so by mid 1956, the situation was becoming critical. On 26/7/56, the Board's architects submitted to the City Engineer plans & specifications for a new, "temporary" operating theatre of timber construction, seeking exemption the regulations which demanded any construction of this type to be in brick or concrete.

A building permit was issued, and the result was a building nestled in between the 210-Block and the Maternity Annexe, with access off the corridor to the 210-Block. The first operations performed in the new theatre were in 1958. Cardiothoracic surgery had commenced in 1952 after the appointment of Mr James Baird to the staff. However, development of this subspecialty was difficult until Theatre 3 opened. Cardiothoracic operations were undertaken in Theatre 3 until 1966.

The main corridor - revisited

A very busy part of the hospital was the original main corridor.

This photo is taken from outside Ward1 looking east. For some time the hospital has had it's own branch Post Office, seen here opposite Ward 2.

main corridor 1


main corridor 2

photograph courtesy Photographic Department, Wellington Hospital / Wellington School of Medicine
A new 'Chest Hospital'

For some time pulmonary tuberculosis patients had been cared for either at Ewart Hospital, or at the Otaki Sanitorium. It was clear during the 1940s that these two facilities were inadequate to cope with the still increasing number of patients presenting. So, the Board approved in principle, the building of a dedicated Chest Hospital. Initially, it was envisaged that Paekakariki would be an appropriate site for such a Hospital, and in 1945, land was purchased there. The planned development became known as the Glencastle project.

There was, however, considerable staff opposition to the plans, because they did not approve of the isolation that would be associated with working at Paekakariki. Plans were then changed to allow for a new building at Newtown. The proposal to build a 120-bed Chest Hospital in Wellington was, however, turned down by the Minister of Health in February 1949.

By December 1950, the Board had approved a revised plan for a 150-bed Chest Hospital, to be sited where the Seddon Wards were currently placed. By 1954, these plans were well-advanced, and included operating theatres and an Xray Department. At around this time it was becoming apparent that tuberculosis case numbers were declining somewhat, in part due to more effective treatments being available and hospital stays shortened. In further refining the Chest Hospital plans, it was thought sensible to provide for possible alternative uses of the facility.

The Health Department argued that if a multifunctional Hospital building was to go ahead, it should be planned as part of the overall re-development of Wellington Hospital. So, further delays occurred. The new building became known as 'Block A' in the overall re-development plans, though when finished it was to be known as the 'Seddon Wing'. Construction commenced in March 1963.  

The new Seddon Wing was situated to the east of the main hospital, on a site previously occupied by the original Seddon Ward and shelters.

seddon wing under construction
photograph courtesy Evening Post 

The new Seddon Wing completed

Seddon Wing

photograph courtesy Photographic Department, Wellington Hospital / Wellington School of Medicine

By the time the new Seddon Wing was opened in 1966 however, tuberculosis rates had significantly declined. Thus, the Seddon Wing was used to house medical wards, including the hospital's first Coronary Care Unit, and an expanded Renal Dialysis Unit. Cardiac and Renal patients shared Ward 22.

Ward 24 housed Cardiothoracic surgical patients, with two new & dedicated operating theatres attached to the ward. The X-ray facility was used to good effect as a Cardiac Catheterisation Laboratory and also serviced all of the Seddon wards including postoperative cardiothoracic surgical & CCU patients.

Opening of the Medical Wards (Wards 21, 23, 25 and 26) allowed medical patients to be moved out of the original Wards 1, 3 and 5, and pressure was eased on Wards 8, 9 and 10.

The hospital after completion of the Seddon Wing is seen in this aerial photograph taken in 1965.

aerial photo 1965photograph courtesy Gillian George 

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Last updated 22 September 2017.