MOUNT Vernon Hospital offered a breath of fresh air for Londoners recovering from the White Plague.

It straddled a hill on the outskirts of London far from the overcrowded slums, where the plague - more commonly known as Tuberculosis - ran rife.

TB was a disease of the poor that found a fertile breeding ground in the cramped working and living conditions that came with mass industrialisation.

Its tell-tale symptoms included a racking, blood-filled cough and pale ghostly-looking complexion.

There were an estimated three million deaths in England and Wales between 1851 and 1910.

Mount Vernon was founded by the philanthropist Charles Dunell Rudd in 1904. His own mother and first wife had died of TB Rudd, who had made his fortune in Africa’s gold and diamond mines, bought more than 60 acres of land and paid for the buildings.

The hospital was for the exclusive treatment of TB and offered a hope of recovery to those too poor to travel abroad to expensive sanatoriums.

It prescribed a vigorous programme of fresh air and exercise, and the wards faced south to catch the most sunlight.

A covered terrace ran alongside the wards and patients’ beds were moved outside for several hours a day, including during wintertime.

Exercise was important and patients were expected to dedicate several hours a day to gardening and other activities, to prevent them becoming ‘self-centred and lazy.’ The regime was surprisingly successful,though one patient who returned home was relegated to sleeping under the kitchen table after insisted the windows be kept open all night.

` A 50-bed children’s ward was added in the1920s, by which time Mount Vernon had gained an international reputation.

TB receded with advances in public health and medical care and was replaced by the threat of cancer.

Mount Vernon moved with the times and adopted the rather grand title of The Empire Centre for the Treatment of Patients Suffering from Cancer, treating people from all over the world.