The Long Reach hospital ships once lay just off the Dartford Marshes. Securely moored in the River Thames, the ships formed a floating hospital where highly contagious smallpox patients could be treated in this remote setting.
In the late 19th century smallpox epidemics were ravaging London. With high fatality and transmission rates, it was necessary to treat patients away from the urban centre, somewhere remote. Somewhere like the Dartford Marshes.
Between 1883 and 1904 three large hospital ships were moored in an offshore line, along the Thames foreshore. Together they held 300 smallpox patients, along with the staff needed to care for the victims as best they could.
The move inland
With increasing demand for beds, rising maintenance costs and the constant risk of collision from other shipping, a decision was made to build a new isolation hospital inland of the hospital ships, served by a tramway.
Trams were drawn by horses and the route still partially exists, as part of Route 125 of the National Cycle Network. On Google Maps it is currently labelled at Marsh Street North.
The hospital ships were sold for scrap when Joyce Green Hospital replaced them, and no trace of them, or the pier that once served them, exists today.
Insecure but useful links
workhouses (dot) org.uk/MAB-HospitalShips/
ezitis.myzen (dot) co.uk/briefhistoryhospships.html
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