ONE of the sites which could be at the heart of radical changes to the borough's healthcare has a fascinating history stretching back over the past one and a half centuries. Guardian reporter JAMES RANGER delved into the archives to find out more about the old Wanstead Hospital.

Built in 1862, the building which many known as Wanstead Hospital was originally home to the Merchant Seamen's Orphan Asylum, which moved to the Snaresbrook area of Wanstead after leaving its former home in Bow, east London.

It is widely considered one of the landmark buildings of the area and, due to its prominent position just off Hermon Hill, is visible for miles around – with its clock tower its most noticeable feature, which has become a much-loved part of the local landscape.

Such was the high profile of the asylum, many sources say that Prince Albert laid the foundation stone as the building's construction began in 1861.

The asylum was established as a home for children of merchant seamen who had become orphaned, and shortly after it moved to Wanstead it began to provide education to the children in addition to housing them, after parliament passed the 1870 Education Act.

After the charity moved to its current home in Berkshire in 1921, the building became a convent until its was bought by Essex county council and re-opened as a 200-bed hospital in 1938, which become part of the NHS a decade later.

During this time is featured in the opening credits for the hit television programme Doctor In The House in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and its wards were used as sets in a number of British film productions.

The hospital closed in 1986, when all its resources were transferred over to nearby Whipps Cross in Leytonstone.

Recent years have seen dramatic changes to the building, with the conversion of the chapel into the Sukkat Shalom Reform Synagogue in 1995, which was purchased by the Buckhurst Hill Reform Synagogue after laying derelict for several years.

Plans have been drawn up to centralise much of the health services in Redbridge into a number of US-style polyclinics.

Under the plans, the Heronwood and Galleon Unit health centre, which sites directly next door to the old hospital, has been chosen as one of two sites for the first clinic in the Wanstead and Woodford area.

The listed building has since been converted into luxury apartments, which might well mark the final chapter in the history of this landmark building itself, but the site looks set to continue evolving around it for some time to come.