Monday, 25 August 2008

Southwark Health Centre, Walworth Road SE1

Southwark Health Centre is a poignant memorial to England's aspirations with Socialism in the middle of the last century. It was built in 1937, and the council obviously decided to splash out on it partly to demonstrate their commitment to public welfare but also to enlarge their empire by adding to the Town Hall and Library that were already on the site.
The architect was P. Stuart who used a rather flashy Art Deco style with lots of ornamental stonework. The main entrance is marked by the maxim "The people's health is the highest law", a slight mistranslation of Cicero's tag Salus populi suprema lex, which is literally "The welfare of the people shall be the supreme law" (I think). A bit of political spin here, possibly.
A rather wonderful allegorical group called Family Health stands on the parapet. A mother stands protectively over her children, armed with the healing staff of Asclepius. The serpent has got a great big smile over its face, rather unusually, and the smaller girl is holding her favourite dolly. It is all very domestic despite the nudism, which might have been very popular among the sun-worshipping aristocrats of the 1930s but was rather frowned on in traditional working class areas like South London.
The figure that is notably missing from the group is the father, rather prophetically given that absent dads are now a major problem in this very deprived area.
The sculptors were A.T. and E.J. Bradford.


Anonymous said...

It's years since I studied Latin at school, but I think "health" is OK as a translation for "salus". Isn't "welfare" more likely to have been "felicitas" or "sospitas"?
I notice that the Vatican now has a "Department of Health and Welfare", which must have a name in Latin, so clearly the distinction between the two can be made in Latin (nowadays, if not, perhaps, when the Romans were around). The trouble is that I can't find the Latin name of this department. Oh well.
Thanks anyway for the blog, which is a great source of nostalgia for an ex-Londoner living inthe wilds of Canada ...

Chris Partridge said...

Thanks for that, Anon. You may well be right - I put the word salus into Wikipedia and was redirected to the entry for Hygeia, daughter of Asclepius and who is usually portrayed with a snake. I just noticed that 'right wing' writers seem to render the tag as 'welfare' and 'left wing' writers as 'health'. Perhaps they are both just looking for a snappy slogan...