In 1882 the Metropolitan Asylums Board (MAB) moved its smallpox hospital ships – the Atlas, the Endymion and the Castilia – to new moorings at Long Reach, an isolated stretch of the River Thames about 17 miles (27 km) from London Bridge. The removal of the ships to their new location required the provision of a River Ambulance Service to ferry patients from central London. The following year a pier was constructed at Long Reach for the reception of smallpox cases from wharves to be built at Rotherhithe, Poplar and Fulham.
This 1870s map shows the cattle wharf that would be acquired by the MAB, just north of the Gun public house in Cold Harbour. Until the MAB took it over in 1884 it was used by the General Steam Navigation Company for keeping imported cattle in quarantine.
Survey of London again:
The East and West India Dock Company was dismayed at the prospect of highly contagious patients being brought to North Wharf along the narrow confines of Coldharbour, where several of the company’s dockmasters lived. This potential source of conflict was averted when the MAB decided to make a new road between Coldharbour and New (now Preston’s) Road over their land on the west side of the street, and the dock company readily consented to give up the small strip required to make the opening into New Road. Laid out in 1884–5, the new road was called Managers Street, after the Managers of the Metropolitan Asylums Board.
A few years later, after construction of the street (including two semi-detached houses) and the new “North Wharf Receiving Station”:
At the wharf itself the MAB’s main requirement was a floating pier or pontoon, so that the transfer of patients could take place at all states of the tide. It was connected to the wharf by a gangway. Both these features were designed by the MAB’s own engineer, Adam Miller (also described as a naval architect), who had devised the ventilation system for the hospital ship Castalia. A galvanized-iron canopy was built in 1887 to protect patients, who were getting soaked through waiting for ambulances in the rain.
Lost Hospitals of London:
The Receiving Station had an examination room and an isolation ward for patients too sick to be transferred by river ambulance to Long Reach. Other land works were postponed while priority was given to building of the pier, which opened in 1885, just as the epidemic subsided.
As the number of smallpox cases declined, the service was reorganised in 1913. The North Wharf was used only for smallpox patients, while the South Wharf at Rotherhithe dealt with general fever cases.
By 1921 the North Wharf had 9 beds.
In 1930 the LCC took over administrative control from MAB. By this time the river service was rarely used, most patients being transferred by road. The service closed in May 1930 and, by 1933, the steamers had been sold.
The buildings, covered pier and pontoon survived into the 1960s.
By the 1980s, the pier and pontoon had been removed and the wharf was being used for storing wood.
The buildings were demolished in 1992 and new housing was built on the site.