Article by Ruth Bloomfield
It was a heart-stopping moment when dusk fell and the lights went on at the newly renovated Cambridge Military Hospital in Aldershot, now known as Gun Hill Park. Derelict for so long, now the magnificent Victorian buildings glowed, the landmark belltower piercing the skyline.
The hospital was back to help the community again – reborn as a collection of new apartments and mews homes.
People from around the area, many of them born in this hospital, came out to gaze at the handsome restoration of the Grade II-listed building, masterminded by Bob Weston, chairman and managing director of developer Weston Homes. As chandeliers sparkled through the wide period windows, one young mother said: “It just makes us all feel good. It’s so uplifting. We all feel we are sharing in it.”
Florence Nightingale, one the big influencers of the day when it came to hospital design, would have been proud. Perched above the town to provide maximum fresh air for patients, this strong stone landmark was built 150 years ago but in 1996, costly to run, it was closed and left to rot for a quarter of a century. Weston Homes’ project has rescued and restored a striking piece of this Hampshire town’s infrastructure.
Today, some of the apartments are finished – to trademark Weston high- quality design – and for sale, while the wider 12-acre site is alive with teams of workers busily transforming wings of this “grand old lady” into mews homes and more apartments, as part of the regeneration of 371 acres of former military land.
The project to recreate the hospital as the centrepiece of a new neighbourhood bigger than Hyde Park, and well over five times the size of central London’s King’s Cross regeneration zone, is an ambitious challenge that some developers decided against. But it was typical of Bob Weston to relish it – and to go the extra mile to add quality.
Weston Homes is spending £60 million on revitalising the hospital site, which will eventually contain 101 apartments and 39 houses, converted and new build. The homes will be set in landscaped gardens, with seating areas and paths plus a new fountain to replace one long ago demolished.
Weston’s finest architects, stonemasons and craftsmen have been brought in to tackle this painstaking scheme. Build manager Derek Cook oversees the project and ten apartments are already finished. It is a three-year project due to the extensive care and attention that is being lavished upon it.
“They are magnificent flats,” says Cook. “The windows are huge and the ceilings are up to three-and-a-half metres. Space and height are some of the joys of a period piece like this. It is very special.” He recommends acting fast to choose the finest in the brochure.
Aldershot welcomes this start to a new dawn. The Army put it on the map in the 1850s, arriving to set up a training camp. Aldershot’s population grew to serve the garrison.
The Army is still part of Aldershot life, its personnel assisting with the logistics of the Covid-19 vaccination programme.
The garrison is vast. In 2011 the Ministry of Defence’s land management arm appointed developer Grainger to create thousands of homes and community facilities on surplus garrison land, extending the town, in one of the biggest regeneration projects in the whole of the South-East. By 2030 it will include new schools, local centres, leisure facilities and 4,500 homes, all surrounded by another 272 acres of woodland.
The military hospital will be very much the showpiece of the new neighbourhood, which has been named Wellesley as a nod to Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, who defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Up to 800 families already call Wellesley home and with the emphasis on nurturing community life, annual events will include a May fete and a Bonfire Night display.
Meanwhile, Aldershot is getting an upgrade, with the multimillion-pound redevelopment of two shopping centres, The Galleries and The Arcade, which will be replaced with smart new shops and restaurants, plus offices and flats, all ranged around a landscaped public square. Aron Lipschitz, head of acquisitions for developer Shaviram, confirmed that work on the site will start this year, with the aim of completing by 2025.
In nearby Union Street, Rushmoor council is spearheading plans for a brand-new high street with almost 24,000sq ft of space for shops and restaurants and dedicated areas for independent traders. Work began in February this year and the project will also include accommodation for students from the University for the Creative Arts, less than four miles away in Farnham. Their presence should bring some much-needed buzz back to the centre of town.