The building was originally built as the Merchant Seamans' Orphan Asylum in 1861. In 1919 it became a convent, and the building was later taken over by Essex county council and converted to use as a hospital, opening in 1938. It remained as a general hospital until its closure in 1991, with almost all patient treatment being transferred to nearby Whipps Cross Hospital.
The majority of the listed building was gutted internally and converted into apartments. The hospital's old clock tower is a well-known local landmark and can be seen from some miles away.
The hospital's old chapel lay empty for some years but in 1995 it was purchased by what was then the Buckhurst Hill Reform Synagogue. The building was refurbished to a high standard and is now the Sukkat Shalom Reform Synagogue.
The exterior of the hospital was used for the opening credits of the Doctor in the House comedy series produced by London Weekend Television from 1969, and also played St Swithin's hospital in the series. The episode The Garden Fete was filmed at Wanstead's own fete. Some wards were used as sets for scenes in the 1993 film The Young Americans.
- "Wanstead Hospital". Lost Hospitals of London.
- "Wanstead & Woodford" by Ian Dowling and Nick Harris, published by Tempus Publishing Ltd, Stroud Glos, 1994. ISBN 0-7524-0113-0.