THE once impressive Georgian building that was Essex County Hospital now stands empty, looking sadly out on to Lexden Road in Colchester.

Following years of discussion, the health care services it provided to thousands of people for

200 years have moved out, taking the staff with them.

The hospital story began in 1820.

Fearing Napoleon would invade Britain via the Essex coast, the Government built wooden barracks on Hythe Hill where 3,000 troops were housed.

Close by was an enormous brick-built hospital for 500 men which was auctioned off and a wing bought by seven wealthy men for £1,181.

The wing had to be dismantled and land bought on Lexden Road on which to re-build it, then fit it out and equip it.

A campaign to raise £6,411 (that’s £30 million now) achieved this and the new hospital opened its doors on September 14 1820.

It was first known as Colchester and Essex Hospital.

There were two physicians and three surgeons, all honorary, (unpaid) as they practised as doctors.

There was an apothecary, a matron, two nurses, a cook and a porter, all living in, all paid.

In the first full year there were just 156 patients who were mainly agricultural labourers or artisans.

A cess pit was even dug in the lawn in front of the hospital to take the waste.

Every patient was given a pint of beer and a pint of stout per day and from 1822 the hospital set up its own brewery on site.

Over the years the hospital navigated its way through many ups and downs including during the First World War.

A growing number of sick and wounded would arrive twice weekly in hospital trains.

The Garrison had a large, newly-built hospital of 250 beds compared with the Essex County Hospital’s 100.

At the Army’s request they made half available for military use. Volunteer Red Cross nurses arrived to train and assist.

In 1915 the hospital rented Colchester High School in Wellesley Road and housed all the women patients there which freed up two wards for the military.

Two wooden Netley huts were put up in the hospital grounds, housing 150 soldiers.

By taking over the newly-built Hamilton Road School and the old Garrison School, converting several large houses into Red Cross hospitals, cramming more beds into the Military Hospital, and putting up huts there, the Military Hospital by 1916 could muster a staggering 1,800 beds.

This was just in time for the Battle of the Somme.

In 1918, as more and more wounded arrived, the hospital pitched two large marquees in its grounds.

In this way they treated nearly 4,000 soldiers during the war, which ended amid an influenza pandemic.

That was killing young soldiers in the Military Hospital at the rate of ten a day.

Fast forward to 1964 and a highlight in the hospital’s history was the opening of its radiotherapy suite.

Before the new, two-storey radiotherapy centre was constructed, many patients were sent to hospitals outside of Colchester for this treatment. The closure of the site, owned by East Suffolk and

North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, on Friday was always going to be met with a great deal of nostalgia.

The process to shut down the site has also been a gradual one for the past four years with services being transferred to either Colchester Hospital or the Primary Care Centre, both in Turner Road, Colchester.

To coincide, the Colchester Primary Care Centre has also undergone a £6.4 million redevelopment to ensure treatments are continued but in modern, enhanced facilities.

The centre opened in 2006 and the cash injection has converted its first and second floors, which are used as office space, into a base for clinical services.

Work is now set to progress to build more than 100 homes in

the place of Essex County Hospital.

Essex Housing, Essex County Council’s in-house developer, has been meeting planning officers regularly to bring forward the project.

A council spokesman said the project “seeks to retain and restore the main hospital building and other heritage buildings” on the 4.5 acre site.

Essex Housing has been working with a design team, planning officers and Historic England over the past months in preparation for a planning application to be submitted early in the new year.

If this is granted site, preparatory works can start in late next year with development to follow.