Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Design For Renkioi Hospital,1855

Use the links below to explore the collection

The Object

  • This page, from one of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s sketchbooks, show a few of his designs for Renkioi Hospital. It was designed for soldiers injured during the Crimean War.
  • Large numbers of injured soldiers were dying in hospitals from infections and disease. The British Government asked Brunel to design a new type of hospital to try and combat the issue. After speaking to doctors and looking around hospitals in London, Brunel came up with his design in just six days.
  • The sketches show Brunel’s plan for how the buildings would look. The building with the curved roof was designed to be a kitchen, whilst the building behind was a hospital ward. At the bottom of the page Brunel seems to have sketched out how the beds might fit in to the ward.
  • He also sketched designs for other parts of the hospital including wash basins, toilets and baths for injured soldiers.

The Story

A flat pack hospital

During the Crimean War (1854-1856), conditions in the hospitals for wounded soldiers were terrible. Whilst in hospital many soldiers were catching and dying from a range of diseases including cholera, dysentery, malaria and typhoid. In February 1855 Isambard Kingdom Brunel was asked by his brother-in-law Sir Benjamin Hawes, who worked in the War Office for the British Government, to come up with a new hospital to try and solve the problem. He set to work straight away, even though he was busy working on the SS Great Eastern and the Royal Albert Bridge. He wrote in his diary “This is a matter in which I think I ought to be able to be useful and therefore I need hardly say that my time and my best exertions without any limitations are entirely at the service of the Government”.

The wooden hospital wards Brunel designed could each take up to fifty soldiers. When used together the wards would create a hospital able to treat over 1,000 soldiers. Each ward was designed to connect to clean running water and the main drainage system. Brunel also added high windows along both sides of the wards to allow fresh air in and included a stove in each to provide warmth. He designed the hospital to be built in parts (known as prefabricated) with each part only needing two men to carry it. All the parts were built in England then shipped out to Turkey where it was put together. The hospital was quickly constructed on a site in west Turkey; the whole process from design to the arrival of its first patients took less than six months. It proved to be successful with far less soldiers dying from diseases at Renkioi than at other hospitals during the war.

Continue The Story

Hospitals during the Crimean War

During the Crimean War, condition in hospitals for injured soldiers were terrible. They were overcrowded, dirty and short on supplies of medicine and other essentials. Once reports of the conditions reached the British public, the government invited the experienced nurse, Florence Nightingale, and her team of thirty-eight nurses to head out to the hospitals in Turkey. Their role was to work alongside the overwhelmed army medics helping the wounded and dying soldiers.

Once out there, Florence and her nurses set about improving conditions. They cleaned the wards, washed bed linen and improved the quality of food. She also wrote to the British Government demanding more help to improve conditions further. They then ordered Brunel’s hospital and improved the sewage systems and ventilation in the existing hospitals.

Another nurse, Mary Seacole, also travelled out to the Crimea to help wounded soldiers. She raised money to build and run her own hotel for sick and injured soldiers. Mary also travelled to the battlefields to treat wounded soldiers and provided tea for troops who were waiting to be taken to hospital.

Despite Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole’s efforts, and Brunel’s state of the art Renkioi Hospital, more soldiers died from diseases during the war than from their wounds.

Shipping soldiers

Renkioi Hospital isn’t the only one of Brunel’s projects with links to the Crimean War. His second ship the SS Great Britain was commandeered (borrowed) by the British Government to take soldiers to fight in the war. She made several voyages between March 1855 and June 1856, during which she carried around 45,000 soldiers.

Extra Resources

Renkioi Hospital 1856

Iron Kitchen at Renkioi 1855

Inside Ward no.5 1855

One of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s sketches of the Renkioi Hospital. DM162/8/1/1/Large Sketchbook 9 – Courtesy of the Brunel Institute, a collaboration of the SS Great Britain Trust and the University of Bristol.