The Isle of Wight Society

Frank James Hospital

Some basic history and thoughts on the Frank James building.

1893 The brothers of Frank James, a member of the RYS, together with other benefactors from the RYS built a home for retired seamen. There was accommodation for 12 single men in the centre block, each with his own cabin, a communal dinning room, recreation room and washing facilities. The two wings were for 8 married couples, each with their own sitting room with cooking stove and a bedroom. The accommodation was not fully utilised so, on the outbreak of the Boer War, the building was used as a convalescent home for wounded soldiers.

1903 Princess Beatrice assisted other local benefactors, including Samuel White the ship-builder, to set up a Trust to convert and run the building as the Frank James Cottage Hospital. The conditions were that the name of Frank James should always be in the title of the building and that it should be used for for charitable purposes as a hospital. The hospital was supported over the years by public subscription and donations including deductions from the pay packets of the shipyard workers. The later ensured treatment of the men when they were injured at work.

1948 The Government created the National Health Service that took control of the majority of hospitals in the country. The ownership was vested in the current Minister for Health. The past deeds were deposited in the National Archives.

Subsequently the NHS added an extension at the southern end of the main block.

1990 Ownership of the national hospitals was passed by the Government to local National Health Service Trusts.

1993 The building was converted for respite care.

2002 The IoW NHS Trust decided to sell the Frank James Hospital. East Cowes Enterprise (ECE) had been operating in the town for several years using government money through the Single Regeneration Budget (SRB) to organise community activities such as the Victorian Festival and Christmas in the Square. ECE became The North Medina Community Development Trust with assets of about £250,000. They attempted to put together a package to bid for the building. A consultant was employed to assist putting the package together. The plan was to apply for planning permission to demolish the southern extension and for two semi-detached houses to be built in Hospital Road. One of these would be given to the NHS for staffing accommodation as part of the sale agreement and the other would be sold for income. The Frank James building would be converted with the first floor converted to apartments to be managed by a housing association. The ground floor would be used for community activities. The IoW NHS Trust were happy to go along with this proposal. There were four housing associations available to deal with. Two of these were chosen as preferred partners and discussions took place. Unfortunately the housing associations pulled out of the deal and without that element in the package it was not viable so a bid was not submitted.

2003 The NHS sold the building to the highest bidder. The developer who purchased the building put in for planning permission for a change of use and conversion to eleven units of accommodation, together with the erection of a terrace of town houses along Hospital Road. Planning permission was granted without any conditions to ensure that the hospital building would be protected and refurbished while being adapted to its new role.

2004 To maximise his profit the developer first knocked down the southern extension, built a terrace of town houses then in 2005 sold the hospital building that would be expensive to convert to another development organisation, Navarm. They started to divide up the accommodation into eleven separate units, removing some walls and building block partitions. The application plans are not available on the Council's website as it was prior to the computerisation of their records and creation of the website.

2006 The IoW Council legal department discovered that the sale by the NHS had gone ahead without legal confirmation of the responsibility for the maintenance of the approach road from York Avenue, shared jointly with the East Cowes Medical Centre, being settled.

2006 The IoW Council informed the mortgage companies that had lent money to the consortium that the sale was not technically completed. The mortgage companies then withheld any further funding. It took eighteen months for the legal sale agreement to be completed with responsibility for the road being shared. By this time one of the mortgage companies, an Irish bank, had gone bust, the housing market had declined so that the expected sale price for the eleven apartments had fallen considerably. The consortium then found it most difficult to raise funds to complete the conversion and work stopped leaving the building not weatherproof.

2007 The IoW Council used their powers to employ contractors to make the building weatherproof, spending about £27,000 to do this. This money is due to be repaid to the Council.

2012 After many years of concern by local residents and Islanders in general an action group of volunteers took upon themselves the task of cleaning up the grounds. They entered into discussion with the consortium who gave permission for them to continue this work. The housing market remains sluggish. Planning permission has been given by the planning department for the developers to change the windows of this listed building from metal to wood. Work on this had not started in August 2012.

It is thought that, in order to ensure that the Frank James building is preserved in good condition for posterity, the best use will be as owner-occupied private homes with a good management plan and maintenance company. Those people who can afford good quality accommodation are most likely to be able to afford the on-going management fees. Therefore the planning departments reported agreement to allow an increased number of smaller units to be constructed is not in the best interest of the building. One possible solution is for a developer with a track record of developing high quality homes to be encouraged to sign a letter of intent to purchase the building. When this is done the IoW Council should be bullied into enacting a back-to-back compulsory purchase order to enable the change of ownership. It will cost the Council the legal fees required to carry out all the necessary notices, documentation etc., but this is the least they can do in the light of their part in creating the current unsatisfactory situation.

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Isle of Wight Society
East Cowes Heritage Centre, 8 Clarence Road
East Cowes, PO32 6EP

Tel: +44 (0) 1983 280310

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