A Rare Pair of Large Ruabon Terracotta Roof Gargoyles; The Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, Shrewsbury c.1880

Origin: English
Period: Mid-Victorian / Gothic Revival
Provenance: The Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, UK.
Date: c.1880
Height: 34”
Width: 26”
Depth: 34” (all at extremities and each)

The beautifully modelled and scarce pair of large mythical beasts or wyverns, in Welsh Ruabon terracotta each with sinuous legs and wings, the elongated necks with rib barbs and perched on apex tiles with scroll ends, hailing from the exterior decorations on the former Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital at the intersection of Murivance and Town Walls, Shrewsbury and surviving from the high Victorian Gothic revival period.

Most importantly the pair are complete, though there are repairs, presumably some damage occurred when they were removed from the hospital building and there are a few cracks as photographed with bonded repairs. There are a few small losses to extremities but they remain around 90% complete. Please refer to the photographs for a full visual reference.

The Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital is a Grade II Listed Building in Shrewsbury, and served patients continuously until 1998 when it was closed and later converted into apartments. The gargoyles in the present lot were removed following concerns about their safety, whereupon they were acquired by the previous owner. The closure of the building had been talked about for many years but the relocation of services became urgent as structural repairs put an ever increasing financial strain on the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital Trust.

The Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital was built in 1881 and dealt with up to 1,000 patients a week. And incidentally that was the correct title for it, as evidenced by the wording on the building, although for many people "the Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital" tripped off the tongue more easily. The building itself had for a long time been considered an unsuitable place in which to administer modern treatment. The hospital's roots went back to earlier in the 19th century, as it started life as an Eye and Ear Dispensary in 1818 in a building next to the old Raven Hotel in Castle Street.

A public fund was launched and £12,000 later in 1881 the Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital for Shropshire and Wales – as it was officially known –was born. The unusual facade of the building was the result of a competition staged for architects to come up with the best design for a "modern" hospital. Specifications for the design had to meet the latest medical thinking, plenty of fresh air, space and hygiene. The result was a hospital on the edge of The Quarry with high ceilings and its own sewage system.

Its neo-Gothic appearance, which even today raises eyebrows, was very distinctive in red Ruabon brick with terracotta dressings, towers, overhanging gables, verandahs and gargoyles (these being two of), many of which were lost over the years.

It initially catered for the poor and needy, dispensing medicine and help even if little early surgery was carried out. Forty years after its birth it was extended with an extra 10 beds including private wards, with further extensions five years later for special opthalmic cases.
By the early stages of the Second World War it had two operating theatres, an X-ray department, nurses home – in a private house – and a 46-bed complement. A feature of the hospital was to name wards after eminent surgeons of the day. After its closure the building was bought by Shropshire Homes and converted into prestigious apartments in an 18-month development which was officially completed in March 2002. The development, called Kingsland Bridge Mansions, won an award for architectural merit and it saw a distinctive feature restored to the former hospital. The spire or tower top was taken down in November 1959 by its then owners as it was too expensive to repair and served no purpose. But the developers, as part of their planning permission, were asked to restore and return the spire to its former resting place to complete the development. The spire was rebuilt in 2001 and once again took pride of place on the top of the landmark building.

An extremely difficult to find original pair of special magnificence which will become complete again when they are once again elevated amongst the clouds.