Haslar Royal Naval Hospital


Photo of Haslar Royal Naval Hospital

In the 18th century the Royal Navy was the most successful fighting force in the world. To maintain this status it desperately needed better ways of looking after its sick and wounded, so it decided to build the best hospital the country had ever seen at Haslar near the Portsmouth dockyard. Costing 100,000, it was the biggest construction project in the country. For over 250 years Haslar treated sailors--from the Battle of Trafalgar to the Gulf War, until in 2009 the hospital closed its doors on the sick for the last time

The Admiralty submitted plans to King George II for a Naval Hospital, was given permission and the site for Haslar hospital was purchased in 1745. The area was farmed and was called Haslar Farm though this was spelled Hasler Farm at the time. The site was an unusual location for a hospital because it was surrounded by the Gosport Creek with no readily available access. The area was chosen to prevent sailors who had been press ganged, i.e. taken against their will by a gang of sailors and kept locked aboard ship until well at sea and then made to work for the Navy, from absconding.

Building work started in 1746. Haslar hospital was designed by Theodore Jacobsen FRS, the surveyor was James Horne and a master carpenter from Portsmouth Dockyard. Unfortunately, the builders were also press ganged by sailors and this delayed the building work as new builders had to be found. At the time, Royal Naval Hospital Haslar was the largest brick building in England and indeed Europe. The hospital was semi-completed seven years later and the first patients were admitted to Royal Naval Hospital Haslar on 23 October 1753. Building work of two more wings continued for another nine years.

A Physician of note in the early years of Haslar Hospital was James Lind who was nicknamed "The Father of Nautical Medicine". He published his clinical trial about the effects of lime and lemon juice on the disease scurvy. The Royal Navy eventually started prescribing lime juice for their sailors with the result that British sailors became known as "limeys".

Haslar Royal Naval Hospital is surrounded by Gosport Creek and in the early days of the hospital, patients had to be transferred by boat from the harbour because there was no bridge. It is thought by some that the phrase "up the creek" may have originated from sailors who knew that if you were rowed "up the creek" to Haslar you were in big trouble.