Ever Noticed These Decorative Panels At Guy's Hospital?

M@
By M@
Ever Noticed These Decorative Panels At Guy's Hospital?
Three panels on Great Maze Pond

Walking past Guy's Hospital on Great Maze Pond recently, my eyes were drawn to this magnificent triptych of ironmongery. The three sculpted panels show people and objects connected with the historic hospital. Marvellous stuff.

Then I did a bit of googling only to find that they've been on display since 2017... and had originally stood further along the road since 2005. I must have walked past a couple dozen times and somehow never noticed them. And nor had the tour guide with whom I'd just had lunch.

So, old they may be, but if two card-carrying London obsessives never noticed the panels, then chances are that you might have missed them too. And they are worth seeking out, mini-masterpieces of the metal-worker's skill. The three panels cover disparate themes, but are united by the hospital's motto: "Dare Quam Accipere"; “It is better to give than to receive”.

Let's take a closer look...

Panel 1: A cornucopia of grapes

Lots of grapes around a hospital bed in relief sculpture

Do people still bring grapes for the convalescent? It was definitely a *thing* when I was a kid. A bunch of grapes and a bottle of Lucozade and you'd supposedly be back on your feet in no time. The tradition is immortalised in this first panel, where a bed-ridden patient is comforted with a somewhat over-generous endowment of vines. Look closely and the vinocultural entanglement appears to be coming out of the patient's bedside cabinet. The Wonka-ish magic is delightful, until you realise that those massive grapes are taking up room that could be used for extra beds.

Panel 2: A helping hand

Lots of items connected with medicine in an iron panel

The second panel is a motley assortment of hospital-related stuff, said to represent the varied contributions that hospital staff make. Bottom left we see the pestle and mortar traditionally used by pharmacists to prepare medicines. The hour-glass is a reference to the time medical staff devote to patients, though also conjures the "how much time do I have left?" thoughts of the terminally ill. The clasped hands are a symbol of comfort or assistance (and may reference the "helping hand" Thomas Guy gives to a needy patient in a nearby sculpture). The notebook, representing knowledge, bears the inscription "Created by Chris Butcher, artist blacksmith for George James & Sons, blacksmiths," which finally provides the basic background information I should have included in the introductory paragraph. The microscope is a nod to more modern forms of analysis. Finally, the background includes a range of plants used in traditional remedies, as well as the spiky trace of a heart monitor. Phew.

Panel 3: Thomas Guy's big, big plan

Thomas Guy with his hospital plans with a village background

The final panel depicts Thomas Guy (1644-1724), the man who founded his namesake hospital. He's clutching the world's biggest blueprint, which carries the date of 1725, the year after Guy's death, when George I gave his Royal Assent to the hospital.

I'm not entirely sure what's going on with the background. The obvious interpretation is that we're looking at London, with the Thames in the right-midground and the city behind. That'd place Mr Guy in about the right spot, on the opposite side of the river from the city, to build his hospital. But London lacks hills like those monsters in the background. The river is narrow, and would have to be flowing the wrong way given the foreground hill. Plus, the settlement does not look at all like London. Perhaps it is supposed to represent Tamworth, where Guy was schooled and for which he later became the MP.

Guy's memorialisation has become a thorny issue of late. In 2020, his name came up as one of the individuals who may have benefited financially from the transatlantic slave trade. King's College is still debating what to do about his main statue round the corner, but this less prominent panel remains on unmodified display.

See the metal triptych on Great Maze Pond on the railings outside New Hunt's House.

Last Updated 05 December 2023