Former Royal London Hospital

Former Royal London Hospital, built to designs by Boulton Mainwaring in 1752–78 and since extended.

The Royal London Hospital
Contributed by Survey of London on April 29, 2019

The Royal London Hospital is one of the capital’s largest teaching hospitals, serving a diverse population of 2.6 million in east London. The institution was founded in 1740 as the first charitable infirmary on the east side of London, intended to offer relief to merchant sailors and labourers, and supported largely by voluntary contributions and donations from its foundation until the establishment of the National Health Service (NHS) in 1948. The hospital has been an important landmark on the south side of Whitechapel Road since it transferred to this site in 1757, when it was surrounded by open fields. Over the next 250 years the hospital expanded gradually to become a sprawling healthcare complex, due to local population growth and advances in medicine and surgery. Its piecemeal evolution was also a reflection of uncertain finances and fundraising efforts. From the late nineteenth century, the hospital spilled into purpose-built detached specialized blocks and a cluster of nurses’ homes was constructed in its immediate vicinity. The footprint of the hospital has recently contracted for the first time in its history, with its transferral to a modern tower block to the south of its historic base. Overlooked by its towering successor, the retained former hospital is set to be refurbished and extended to provide a new civic centre for Tower Hamlets Council. Along with its long and continuing significance to the public life of the area, the Royal London Hospital is celebrated for its association with brilliant minds and significant individuals, such as the pioneering surgeon Henry Souttar and the heroic nurse Edith Cavell. A darker fascination endures around the hospital’s faint connection with Jack the Ripper and its provision of a permanent and compassionate home for Joseph Merrick, known popularly as ‘the Elephant Man’.

Early History, 1740–1778
Contributed by Survey of London on April 29, 2019

Foundation

The Royal London Hospital traces its beginnings to September 1740, when seven men met at a tavern in Cheapside to consider plans for establishing a new infirmary. Shute Adams, druggist, Josiah Cole, apothecary, John Harrison, surgeon, and Richard Sclater, were affiliated with the medical profession, while Fotherley Baker, lawyer, John Snee, girdler, and George Potter were associated with commerce and the law. At its inception, the hospital joined a rich thread of charitable infirmaries in the capital, including St Thomas’s and Guy’s in Southwark, St Bartholomew’s and Bethlehem in the City, and St George’s at Hyde Park Corner. Its founders possessed a common concern for the care of labourers and merchant seamen, along with their wives and children. There was not yet a hospital to serve the east of London and its rapidly growing population, mostly dependent on employment in industry and trade connected with factories, sugar refineries and the port. A fund was raised to establish a new hospital that would offer assistance without charge to its patients. At the first official meeting of the founders, Harrison presented a five-year lease of a house in Featherstone Street, Moorgate, taken for the new infirmary. A motion to establish the charity met with unanimous approval. No time was wasted in acting upon this resolution and in November 1740 the hospital opened its doors to patients as the London Infirmary. The charity received patients sent by its governors, as well as people who arrived without a recommendation. The house contained about thirty beds for inpatients and cases were also taken as outpatients, but incurables were not admitted. Harrison, Cole and Dr John Andree, a physician who had trained in Reims, attended on a daily basis without pay as surgeon, apothecary and physician. These honorary posts were supported by salaried staff, including a matron, a porter, nurses, and night watches.1

Within six months of its foundation, plans were afoot for the infirmary to ‘take a larger house in a more convenient situation’.2 By April 1741, a house was secured on the south side of Prescot Street, Goodman’s Fields. This location was judged to better serve the charitable interests of the hospital due to its proximity to the dwellings of both Spitalfields labourers (who were overwhelmingly weavers) and merchant sailors near the Thames, and its distance from any other hospital. A lease of the house was agreed for a term of just 3½ years. The infirmary moved the following month and opened with room for about forty beds. A shop was also purchased in nearby Alie Street for an apothecary’s store and, in 1742, another house was taken on Prescot Street to isolate patients with venereal disease.3

Need for enlargement

By 1743, the expiration of the lease was looming and its renewal under consideration. Plans for the provision of a new building for the hospital were sparked by the intervention of Isaac Maddox, Bishop of Worcester, who was invited to deliver a sermon at the charity’s annual anniversary feast in April 1744. The matter of the lease was still unresolved and uncertainty surrounding the hospital’s future in Prescot Street probably struck a chord with the bishop’s philanthropic interests. From modest origins as an orphan, Maddox rose to become a prominent and charismatic voice in support of charitable hospitals, including the St Pancras Smallpox Hospital and Worcester County Infirmary. He is commemorated by a funerary monument in Worcester Cathedral which bears a depiction of the Good Samaritan and an epitaph that remembers him as an ‘Institutor of Infirmaries’.4 In his sermon, the bishop argued that the infirmary was overcrowded and inadequate: ‘admittance is impossible; the scanty building waits your necessary assistance to enlarge its bounds’.5 This declaration spurred the charity into action; a donation of twenty pounds from the bishop was allocated for the enlargement of the hospital and a fund opened for a new building.6

An agreement with Richard Alie, landlord at Prescot Street, satisfied the immediate need for enlargement. The house was re-taken on a lease of twenty- one years from Christmas 1744, along with three adjoining houses and a shed at the end of the garden. An extensive programme of repairs and improvements followed which, by 1745, had reached such an intensity that the supervision of a surveyor was required. Isaac Ware was appointed to this honorary role in return for compensation of his travel expenses. Ware was in a secure position to perform the duties of hospital surveyor, having been the architect of the conversion of Lanesborough House at Hyde Park Corner into St George’s Hospital.7

An inspection of the houses by a committee of governors, including surgeon Harrison, initiated plans to repair or rebuild the shed. It became apparent that it was too dilapidated for renovation and that a new building was required to accommodate a range of functions, including a waiting room, a chapel, a laundry, a distillery, a laboratory, a mortuary, and a cold bath. Ware was instructed to prepare designs and Joel Johnson and Robert Taylor were contracted as builders in partnership. The building was completed in 1747, yet the House Committee was troubled by reports that the cold bath was poorly finished and complaints from neighbouring residents about a cesspool emptying into Chamber Street. By June, Ware judged it ‘impossible’ to continue as surveyor due to ‘the distance of his abode, and the multiplicity of his other business’.8 James Steer was invited to take his place. The committee may have hoped to benefit from Steer’s experience as surveyor at Guy’s Hospital, where he designed its east wing in 1738–9. Yet Steer’s involvement was fleeting: like his predecessor, he was distracted from his honorary post by fee-paying ‘business’. Boulton Mainwaring, surveyor and son of a Staffordshire surgeon, was then invited to assess the cold bath and sanitary arrangements and by August 1747 was acting as surveyor. This was the beginning of a long tenure as hospital surveyor; Mainwaring was to play a pivotal role in securing the site for a new building on Whitechapel Road and designing the hospital’s first purpose-built home.9

Search for a site

Consideration of the need to secure a permanent home for the hospital continued after the building works of 1746–7. While these measures had improved conditions at the infirmary, they did not guarantee a long-term solution to the problem of overcrowding. The refusal of a lease extension struck a fatal blow to any plans to remain at Prescot Street. In June 1746, Richard Leman (formerly known as Alie), confined to his country estate with gout, had declined to grant an additional term. This outlook, coupled with concern that the houses would be ‘too old and ruinous to continue in longer’, prompted the House Committee to revisit the Bishop of Worcester’s campaign for a new building.10 In December 1747 a committee of governors was appointed to secure a suitable piece of ground on the east side of London, close enough to the City for the convenience of its governors, physicians and surgeons.11

The sub-committee was ordered to proceed in its search with ‘great management, secrecy and expedition’.12 They had not met with any success by April 1748, and the task of finding a site was delegated to Mainwaring. In June, he reported that the only suitable site was that ‘commonly known by the Name of White Chappel Mount and the Mount Field’.13 Situated on the south side of Whitechapel Road, an arterial road which offered a direct route to and from the City, the largely open site was well-positioned to answer the charitable aims of the hospital, being near to the workplaces and dwellings of its nominal patients and at a distance from any other hospital. It was in the possession of Samuel Worrall, most likely the carpenter and builder prominent in development in Spitalfields between 1720 and 1750. He offered to part with his interest in the land in Whitechapel, which he held on a sixty-one-year lease from the City, for £750. Mainwaring intended offering about £600 and thought a longer term could be obtained easily as the City held the land from the Wentworth estate for a term of 500 years. Worrall insisted that his high price would only cover the expense already incurred of some new buildings on the land.14

The hospital began negotiations with Worrall, specifying an interest in the undeveloped land. In October 1748, newspaper reports stated that the hospital had taken a piece of ground and was proceeding to erect a building, when the matter was actually far from settled. The hospital was still in negotiations with Worrall, and considering other properties. These included sites in Lower East Smithfield, Leadenhall Street, Houndsditch and Bethnal Green, along with the adaptation of London House in Aldersgate Street. Greater consideration was given to two other sites in Whitechapel, yet one was too expensive and the other objectionably close to a white-lead works. In August 1749, the situation was still uncertain and Worrall now offered his land for the higher price of £800, which was received as ‘very improper’. William Myre, a governor, was asked to make an appeal to his acquaintance Lucy Alie for the hospital to purchase the freehold of its premises at Prescot Street.15 This tactical change may be ascribed to a hope that their new landlady, who had recently inherited Leman’s estate, might be more amenable. Yet the scheme led nowhere and by October the committee had returned to Worrall, who now offered a £40 deduction and asked for his son to be made a life governor of the charity to compensate for his expenditure on improving the land. In December the hospital reached an agreement with Worrall to purchase the land for £800, with the condition that the City would grant the hospital its long-term copyhold.16

Negotiations with the City Lands Committee for its 500-year lease from the Wentworth Estate were no less intricate. As the hospital was not an incorporated body, the City could not make an agreement with the charity but was prepared to make a deal with six or more gentlemen acting on its behalf. The City also indicated that it was only willing to part with the field lying east of Whitechapel Mount. Richard Coope, George Garrett, Dr James Hibbins, Boulton Mainwaring and Richard Sclater offered to act on behalf of the hospital. By July 1750, they had agreed to acquire the City’s interest in the Mount Field for the remainder of its 500-year lease.17

Mainwaring’s design 

In May 1751, the hospital’s building committee instructed Mainwaring to prepare a plan for a building to accommodate 200 patients, with provision for future enlargement. He presented five plans to the building committee, of which two were selected for further consideration. No drawings of the five designs survive but the minute books record that one of the selected plans was designed to accommodate 198 patients in each wing with a total capacity of 396, whereas the other would accommodate 366 patients.Mainwaring was instructed to seek advice from the hospital’s physicians and surgeons, particularly in relation to room height, and to prepare estimates. The committee decided that the projected expense of both plans was excessive and that a smaller building ‘might be sufficient for the present’.18 Mainwaring was asked to draw up a new plan ‘as near as he could’ to one of the proposals for a hospital for 300 patients that could be extended as required in the future, along with estimates for the building with, and without, ornament. Revised designs for a building for 312 patients were presented to the committee in September and ‘plan and elevation number six without the ornaments’ approved.19

The chosen design was for a hospital composed of three detached ranges linked by colonnades. No drawings of this early plan survive, but a description of its basic form recalls Wren’s unexecuted designs for Greenwich Hospital of 1694–1700 and Gibbs’s plan of around 1730 for the rebuilding of St Bartholomew’s. Mainwaring might also have borrowed from the Foundling Hospital, built between 1742 and 1754 to designs by Theodore Jacobsen. The main hospital buildings there were planned as three detached ranges linked by short lobbies, enclosing three sides of a courtyard.20

Whatever the projected advantages of the chosen plan, by the next month it had been reconsidered ‘under the several heads of accommodation, convenience, durableness, and expense’, and declared ‘capable of great improvements’. Mainwaring, whose efforts had moved to examining the site in preparation for foundations, prepared a new design for a single building with attached wings.21 This was considered superior on each of the four points. Firstly, it would accommodate 350 patients. Secondly, its arrangement was judged to be more convenient for patients and staff, with south-facing wards (deemed the preferable aspect for patients) and protection from weather conditions and dust from Whitechapel Road. Thirdly, the committee argued that a continuous building would be ‘in its nature stronger and more lasting, than the same quantity divided into three’. Finally, the plan for a smaller building was less costly and saved the expense of colonnades. In another economising measure, plans for a chapel were omitted as prayers could held in the court room. It was also decided that the hospital should be positioned parallel to Whitechapel Road and set back by seventy feet or more for the governors’ coaches. In December, Plan No. 8 was approved by a General Quarterly Court and Mainwaring appointed as surveyor for the proposed building.22

The final plan was publicized by an engraving produced by John Tinney, who was commissioned to carry out the work with ‘all expedition’. Three hundred copies were circulated to the governors to generate donations to the building fund, and also to reassure benefactors that there was ‘nothing ostentatious, sumptuous or unnecessary intended’ in its design.23 Mainwaring’s final design for the new hospital reflects this concern for avoiding extravagance. The north front was to have a plain, symmetrical façade of twenty-three bays with a projecting centre capped with a pediment. With ornament on the exterior restricted to a Doric entrance porch, a dentil cornice and stone doorcases at the side entrances, the main elevation was modest yet dignified in character. The new building had a U-shaped plan composed of a three-storey central block with two rear wings, east and west. The main block contained a central corridor and two large wards positioned on the south side of each floor. The wards were serviced by lobbies containing sinks, privies, and nurses’ rooms. On the ground floor, the north side of the central block was occupied by offices for the apothecary, physicians, nurses and stewards. The first floor had a large court room that doubled as a chapel at its centre, flanked by offices for the surgeon, matron and secretary. The rear wings, identical in plan, contained back-to-back wards separated by spine walls with central fireplaces; an arrangement similar to the ward blocks at St Bartholomew’s.

Construction

The hospital was constructed to Mainwaring’s plain and practical design between 1752 and 1778. The central block was built first and completed in 1759 under his supervision. The east wing was built in 1771–4 and the west wing in 1773–8, both under the supervision of Edward Hawkins, who succeeded Mainwaring as hospital surveyor in 1771.

Central block, 1752–9

After plans for the new building were settled in December 1751, Mainwaring’s efforts turned to its construction. John Mann, carpenter, and Thomas Andrews, bricklayer, were contracted to build up to first-floor level. The foundation stone was laid on 11 June 1752 in a ceremony attended by noble patrons and dignitaries. Progress was swift, yet it seems that the building committee felt that it would be too risky to attempt the entire building. When the workmen completed their contracts in December, Mainwaring was asked to prepare separate estimates for finishing the central block and its wings. In February 1753, new contracts were advertised for completing only the central block. Yet before any were agreed, Mainwaring’s report on the cost of finishing the central block delivered a blow to the building committee. His estimate of £5,300 was far higher than the sum of cash held in the building fund and annuities held in the name of trustees, leaving a shortfall of more than £1,150. Despite the shortage of funds, building works stumbled along. In April and May, Edward Gray was hired as bricklayer, Joseph Clark as carpenter and Sanders Oliver as mason. Progress remained steady, suffering only occasional setbacks. The only serious and recurring obstacle was cash flow. Mainwaring increased his estimate for the central block to £5,700, and, though it was covered in by the end of March 1754, work then came to a halt due to a lack of funds.24 The suspension of building activity coincided with worsening conditions at Prescot Street. The hospital’s governors convened to consider the situation and emphasized the importance of finishing the new building. A subscription was launched to raise funds and the building committee ‘readily agreed’ to an offer from several governors to lay one of the floors at their own expense.25 Donations trickled into the building fund and work resumed in 1755, when workmen were employed to finish the new building. Gray and Oliver continued as bricklayer and mason, and Joel Johnson was appointed as carpenter and joiner, despite the debacle over shoddy workmanship at Prescot Street. Building works now progressed steadily without any serious hiccups and, though they continued until 1759, the hospital moved into its new building in Autumn 1757. The lease of the infirmary’s houses on Prescot Street was relinquished immediately.26

The allocation of rooms in the completed range did not differ from Mainwaring’s final design. The cellar storey comprised a long passage providing access to stores, laundries and wash-houses paved with Purbeck stone. The south-facing wards of the central block had large stone chimneypieces and were furnished with plain wooden bedsteads. A handful of rooms, including the court room, the committee room and offices for the physician, surgeon and apothecary had wainscoting to a height of five feet. A surgery, a bleeding room and a cold bath were positioned on the ground floor, and an operating theatre in the attic. The central block successfully brought together all of the hospital’s activities under a single roof, with room at first for 130 patients. The number of beds increased in the following years and by 1765, there were 190.27

East wing and west wing, 1771–8

After the completion of the central block, plans to build the proposed side wings rested until 1770. The revival of building activity coincided with improved finances, bolstered by a legacy from Anne Crayle, a spinster landowner who bequeathed much of her wealth to the capital’s voluntary hospitals. Despite this significant boon, the newly reinstated building committee proceeded cautiously. At first Mainwaring was asked to prepare a plan and an estimate for a single wing, to be constructed on the foundations already laid. His plan for the east wing conformed to the original design for identical three-storey wings of six bays, with paired wards on each floor and a basement. In 1771, Thomas Langley was appointed as carpenter, Thomas Barnes as bricklayer, and Isaac Ashton as mason. As work on the east wing commenced, Mainwaring warned that he was struggling to perform his duties, particularly ‘the constant attendance upon the workmen requisite’, due to the distance from his home. He recommended that Edward Hawkins, a local developer on the Leman Estate in Goodman’s Fields, should act as surveyor in his absence, yet promised to attend as frequently as possible.28 However, poor health intervened and at the end of the year, at the age of sixty-nine, Mainwaring resigned.29

Under Hawkins the building works progressed steadily. Contracts were agreed to finish the east wing in 1772 and by the following spring, its completion was in sight as advertisements were circulated for a contractor to furnish it with ninety beds. At this point, there was enough optimism for the hospital to assemble a building committee to manage the construction of the west wing; that took place in 1774–8 and included many of the same workmen.This ambitious strategy soon faltered under financial pressure. An appeal for donations in 1774 revealed that the completion of the east wing and shell of the west wing had depleted the building fund, leaving a shortfall of cash to pay the workmen and a deficiency of almost £900 to finish the building.30 Despite these financial straits, work trundled forward. A plea for support was successful by the following year, when the building committee reported that its fund contained over £1,000 for finishing the west wing. This news prompted a flurry of activity and by December 1777, the west wing was largely finished.31

The completion of the west wing in 1778 signified the realisation of Mainwaring’s design for the hospital’s first purpose-built home. At this point in its history, the hospital overlooked Whitechapel Road from its position east of the Mount and was bounded by open fields to the south. By the mid 1780s, a narrow range had been added at the west end of the hospital to provide coach houses and a mortuary. Improvements were also made to the hospital’s immediate surroundings: a patients’ garden was nestled between the ward wings and a kitchen garden cultivated from waste ground at the west. The charity, by now known as the London Hospital, released pamphlets which boasted of its convenient location close to the shipping activities of the port and Spitalfields, a nucleus for manufacturing, as well as the health benefits of its ‘airy situation’. With eighteen wards fitted up with about 215 beds, the new building offered a permanent base from which the charity could intensify its work. By 1786, the charity had treated nearly 450,000 patients since its modest beginnings, cementing its status as an institution of critical value to impoverished working families in the east of London.32


  1. TNA, PROB 11/808/506; PROB 11/884/265: A. E. Clark-Kennedy, London Pride: Story of a Voluntary Hospital (London, 1979), p. 15: Account of the Rise, Progress and State of the London Infirmary (London, 1742): The London Magazine or Gentleman’s Monthly Intelligencer, Vol. 20 (May 1751), p. 236: Clark-Kennedy, London Pride, pp. 15, 25: Isaac Maddox, The Duty and Advantages of Encouraging Public Infirmaries: a Sermon preached for the London Infirmary (London, 1743), pp. 25–26. 

  2. RLHA, RLHLH/A/2/1, p. 15. 

  3. RLHA, RLHLH/A/2/1, pp. 18, 21, 41: ‘The London Hospital: Report of Mr Martin, July 4, 1864’, Accounts and Papers of the House of Commons, Vol. 41, p. 234: An Account of the Rise, Progress and State of the London Infirmary (London, 1742), p. 4. 

  4. ODNB. 

  5. Isaac Maddox, The duty and advantages of encouraging public infirmaries, further considered (1744), p. 14. 

  6. RLHA, RLHLH/A/2/1, pp. 63, 81: Clark-Kennedy, The London: A Study in the Voluntary Hospital System,Vol. 1 (London: Pitman Medical Publishing, 1962), p. 111. 

  7. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/1, pp. 226, 331–2: Colvin, pp. 1087–1090. 

  8. RLHLA, RLHLH/A/4/1, p. 155. 

  9. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/2, pp. 77, 109, 234, 244; RLHLH/A/4/1, p. 155: ‘Guy’s Hospital’, in Survey of London: Volume 22, Bankside (The Parishes of St Saviour and Christchurch Southwark), ed. Howard Roberts and Walter H. Godfrey (London, 1950), pp. 36–42: Colvin, pp. 672–3. 

  10. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/2, p. 284. 

  11. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/2, pp. 88, 285–6: RLHLH/A/5/3, p. 43. 

  12. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/2, p. 291. 

  13. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/3, pp. 1–2. 

  14. ‘The Wood-Michell estate: Princelet Street west of Brick Lane’, in Survey of London: Volume 27, Spitalfields and Mile End New Town, ed. F. H. W. Sheppard (London, 1957), pp. 184–9: Colvin, p. 1150: RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/2, p. 324. 

  15. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/3, p. 142. 

  16. RLHA, RLHLH/A/2/2, p. 10; RLHLH/A/5/3, pp. 34, 40–1, 43, 61, 118, 126, 185, 190. 

  17. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/3, pp. 219–21, 227. 

  18. RLHA, RLHLH/A/4/2, p. 146. 

  19. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/4, pp. 13, 27, 34, 39; RLHLH/A/4/2, p. 146. 

  20. John Summerson, Georgian London(Yale UP, edn, 2003), p. 118: Christine Stevenson, Medicine and Magnificence: British Hospital and Asylum Architecture, 1660–1815 (Yale UP, 2000), pp. 79, 176: ‘The Foundling Hospital’, in Survey of London: Volume 24, the Parish of St Pancras Part 4: King’s Cross Neighbourhood, ed. Walter H. Godfrey and W. McB. Marcham (London, 1952), pp. 10–24: RLHA, RLHLH/A/4/2, p. 155. 

  21. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/4, p. 48. 

  22. RLHA, RLHLH/A/4/2, pp. 154–5. 

  23. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/2, p. 291. 

  24. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/4, pp. 82, 106, 168, 190, 199–200, 202, 207, 280, 304. 

  25. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/5, p. 12, RLHLH/A/2/2, p. 133. 

  26. Clark-Kennedy, London Pride, pp. 71–2. 

  27. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/5, p. 229; RLHLH/A/2/2, p. 133; RLHLH/A/22/1, _Sermon preached at St Lawrence Jewry, 28 March 1765._ 

  28. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/8, p. 302; PROB 11/1062. 

  29. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/8, pp. 222, 226, 278, 280, 302: TNA, PROB 11/945/422: TNA, PROB 11/1062: Colvin: ‘Parishes: Oddington’, in A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 6, ed. C. R. Elrington (London, 1965), pp. 87–98. 

  30. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/9, p. 164. 

  31. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/8, p. 352; RLHLH/A/5/9, pp. 74, 78, 159, 164. 

  32. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/11, p. 48; RLHLH/S/1/16, Sketch plan by J. Oatley from original plans of 1799; RLHLH/A/22/1, Account of the Rise, Progress and State of the London Hospital (London, 1782), p. 1; General State of the London Hospital (London, 1787), p. 1. 

West wing and east wing extensions, 1830–42
Contributed by Survey of London on April 29, 2019

Plans for the first substantial enlargement to the hospital arose in 1830 in response to rising patient numbers, a by-product of rapid population growth. The establishment of the enclosed docks and the expansion of local manufacturing demanded an army of labourers. Many ended up residing in densely populated slums prone to the spread of disease, and were exposed to ‘fearful and appalling accidents’ at work.1 A newly assembled building committee observed that within a year, the hospital had been forced to refuse admission to more than 870 cases. A wing extension promised to provide ninety additional beds and separate wards to isolate contagious patients. These motivations coincided with low construction costs and a significant legacy from Edward Hollond, a governor with property in Cavendish Square and Suffolk. The committee anticipated that an extension to one of the rear wings would cost £8,000, which would be covered securely by Hollond’s bequest, existing funds and a fundraising campaign.2

Alfred Richardson Mason, hospital surveyor since 1821, was asked to prepare plans for a wing extension. His father, William Mason, was a local bricklayer and governor who had applied unsuccessfully for the post of surveyor during its last vacancy in 1806 and served on the hospital’s building committee. The chosen plan was reviewed by the medical staff and many of their recommendations adopted. Mason proposed extensions to the east and west wings to provide new wards. The external appearance of the extensions matched the austerity of Mainwaring’s design. On each side a three-bay projection, capped with a pediment, connected the existing wing to a new ward wing composed of six more bays. On the ground, first and second floors, Mason’s plan followed the arrangement of paired wards separated by a spine wall with a central fireplace. The new wards were connected to the earlier wards by lobbies, each containing a washing room and a bath room, along with a kitchen and a nurses’ room. In the basement of the west wing, the extension was allocated to the hospital’s medical officers: a long patients’ waiting hall was bordered by a dispensary and separate physicians’ consulting rooms. Staircases in the second-floor lobbies rose to an attic storey with rooms for special cases, including separate rooms for private patients in the east wing and a ward for contagious cases in the west wing. The hospital was surrounded by an assortment of open spaces, including a drying ground adjacent to the laundry and a burial ground to the south of the quadrangle.3

William Colebatch was employed as contractor for the west wing extension in June 1830, and construction began without delay. The new wards opened in August 1831 and were fitted up with fifty iron bedsteads, an improvement from the earlier wooden beds judged to be ‘receptacles for and filled with vermin’.4 Although the number of beds was considerably less than the ninety initially intended, the extension proved to be of immediate value as it opened before the first outbreak of a cholera epidemic. Sir William Blizard, eminent surgeon to the hospital, circulated a plea to the House Committee for special procedures to combat its spread, including the provision of an isolated place to receive sufferers. Although the hospital declined to admit cases of cholera, on the grounds that it was an untreatable disease, the new attic ward was used to isolate infected inpatients.5

A lack of funds delayed the construction of the east wing extension, as the hospital struggled with financial pressure caused by rising patient numbers. An appeal for donations launched during the charity’s centenary year was a success. Robert and George Webb were contracted as builders in December 1840. The extension was finished in 1842 and Mason paid a fee equal to five per cent of the building costs; by now the position was no longer honorary and this was termed the ‘usual’ surveyor’s commission.6 The only significant departure from Mason’s earlier plan wasthe provision of separate wards for Jewish patients, which arose from a request delivered in 1837 by a committee of Jewish gentlemen devoted to ‘the more effectual relief of the sick poor of the Jewish community requiring medical aid in and about London’. This deputation on behalf of ‘Gentlemen of the Hebrew Nation’, noted for their generosity and support towards the hospital since its inception, was made by Joel Emanuel and Abraham Levy.7 In addition to exclusive wards for Jewish patients, the committee requested a team of Jewish medical staff and a separate kitchen to prepare kosher food. By these measures, it was hoped that Jewish patients would ‘receive that consolation and peace of mind which would prove most consonant with their religious feelings’.8 Although the committee offered some financial support and predicted the initiative would encourage donations, the project was deferred until funds were secured for the hospital’s enlargement. The centenary festival attracted donations and, when the east wing extension was completed, two wards in the earlier part of the hospital were set aside for men and women.9

The effects of this improvement were not permanent due to demand for beds. By 1854 the House Committee had decided to allocate portions of wards to Jewish patients as an interim solution until a future enlargement of the hospital. Despite this failure, the wing extensions were considered an overall success. Their completion was followed by a sharp decline in mortality rates inside the hospital from ten per cent to eight per cent, and then as low as six per cent. Further alterations to the east and west wings followed in 1853–4, with the addition of fireproof staircases and water closets at the south ends to designs by Mason. This extension was carried out by George Myers, along with the formation of staff dormitories in the attics of the north end of each wing.10


  1. General State of the London Hospital(London: School Press Gower’s Walk, 1854). 

  2. RLHA, RLHLH/A/9/11: TNA, PROB 11/1764/221. 

  3. RLHA, RLHLH/A/9/11; RLHLH/A/5/14, p. 243; RLHLH/A/5/15, p. 108; RLHLH/A/5/17, pp. 51–2: LMA, COL/CHD/FR/02/1448–1453. 

  4. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/15, pp. 130–4. 

  5. RLHA, RLHLH/A/9/11; RLHLH/A/5/19, p. 207; RLHLH/A/17/19: Clark-Kennedy, Vol. 1, p. 235; London Pride, p. 105: William Blizard, An Address to the Chairman and Members of the House Committee of the London Hospital on the subject of Cholera (London, 1831). 

  6. RLHA, RLHLH/A/4/10, p. 147–9. 

  7. Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser, 18 April 1818, 18 April 1833: Globe, 21 March 1853: General State of the London Hospital (1854). 

  8. RLHA, RLHLH/A/4/10, pp. 42–3. 

  9. RLHA, RLHLH/A/4/10, p. 48. 

  10. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/27, pp. 44, 62–3, 125, 144, 154, 159–164; RLHLH/A/5/32, p. 30: Jewish Chronicle, 23 June 1905, pp. 14–15. 

Alexandra Wing, 1864–6
Contributed by Survey of London on April 29, 2019

Over time, the hospital was increasingly inundated with patients arriving from the local area and remoter parishes such as West Ham. Since the completion of the wing extensions of 1830–42, the volume of patients had more than doubled. By the 1860s, more than 30,000 people were treated as inpatients and outpatients each year. Overcrowding was not confined to the wards, as medical officers and nurses endured cramped conditions with little promise of rest. Due to prolonged shifts and a lack of dormitories, nurses were frequently seen to be ‘overcome with sleep’ and the matron insisted that her staff could not be increased without additional sleeping accommodation. By 1862 the situation had become untenable and a report on overcrowding pronounced ‘a very serious defect in the arrangements of the London Hospital’.1

The hospital turned to its surveyor, Charles Barry Jr, to prepare plans for an extension to the outpatients’ department. Acting as hospital surveyor from 1858, Barry approached his responsibilities in an efficient manner from offices in Sackville Street, proposing to attend committee meetings for an extra charge in addition to a nominal salary and commission rate. Barry designed a long single-storey building that would run parallel to the existing surgical and physicians’ outpatients’ departments housed in the west wing. Yet plans for this extension were stalled as the House Committee contemplated a solution for the longer term. The matter was delegated to a building committee, which promoted substantial alterations and argued that ‘the entire system is one of undue pressure, subversive of sanitary arrangements, inconvenient to the professional staff, (and) unfair towards the patients and the servants of the hospital’.2

The proposed solution was to build a three-storey wing with a basement and an attic, extending west parallel to Whitechapel Road. Barry’s plan promised room for about seventy beds, with separate wards allocated for children, obstetric cases, and Jewish patients. The hospital had received a series of requests for the reinstatement of separate Jewish wards since their closure, but was limited by the pressure on hospital spaces. The wing extension enabled the hospital to arrange Jewish patients in separate wards on one floor, near to a kosher kitchen.3 The new wing was divided roughly into two parts. A three- storey maisonette with bedrooms and servants’ quarters was carved from the west end of the wing for the house governor, a resident officer who managed the daily workings of the hospital and its expenditure. Each floor of the east side of the building comprised a central corridor flanked by wards or offices. The basement secured a new surgical outpatients’ department, with an extensive waiting hall to make the customary ‘lengthened detention’ less onerous, and a consulting room flanked by rooms for dressing injuries. An attic dormitory for night nurses addressed fears that a lack of supervision compromised their efficiency and ‘quality’. The intermediate floors were given over to wards, with the exception of a new committee room and secretary’s office positioned on the ground floor.4

The exterior of the west wing reflected its disjointed plan. On the north elevation facing Whitechapel Road, a projecting bay capped with a pediment marked the junction between the wards and the house governor’s residence. The west elevation had a raised entrance porch to the house governor’s maisonette, which overlooked a private walled garden at the south. A significant innovation in the new wing was the construction of a narrow tower to contain sanitary facilities, specifically a water tank at its peak and water closets below. At Barry’s insistence, the building was constructed with fireproof concrete floors and staircases. The House Committee initially hesitated over the additional expense, yet was persuaded by the surveyor’s warnings that the hospital could be criticized for failing to introduce fireproof floors, which also possessed soundproof and ‘verminproof’ qualities.5

The new wing was constructed in 1864–6 by Hill & Keddell, contractors based in Whitechapel Road. It was financed partly by charitable donations, including substantial gifts from local businesses and the brewer Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, chairman of the House Committee. Many of the hospital’s staff and supporters were recognized in the naming of the wards: one was named ‘Buxton’, and ‘Davis’ commemorated the present and former vice-presidents. A ward was named ‘Blizard’ in memory of the hospital’s eminent surgeon. The foundation stone was laid in July 1864 in a ceremony that saw Whitechapel awash with crowds and decorated with bunting. The building was bestowed with the first name of the new bride of the Prince of Wales, an association intended to inspire ‘respectful admiration’.6 Its opening was not accompanied by such celebration; formal inauguration had to be abandoned due to another outbreak of cholera. In July 1866, patients were moved into the new wing to provide space for cholera patients.7

The completion of the Alexandra Wing allowed various improvements to be effected elsewhere in the hospital, as rooms were modified and reassigned. These alterations were also carried out by Hill & Keddell and continued until 1868. In the basement, an ophthalmic ward was set up and the medical outpatients’ department extended into rooms formerly occupied by its surgical counterpart. On the ground floor, the entrance vestibule was extended and a large receiving room added at its west. Bedrooms, sitting rooms and offices were provided to improve conditions for the medical officers and their pupils.8

Rowland Plumbe and Joseph George Oatley oversaw various alterations to the Alexandra Wing in the twentieth century, including the formation of a coroner’s court in the basement and a single-storey extension at the west. An endowment by James Hora, a vice-president of the hospital, led to the opening of the Marie Celeste maternity department in 1905. Due to persistent pressure on vacant space for hospital expansion, the house governor’s private garden was not destined to survive. By 1960 it had been converted into an ambulance station, with a covered parking bay and ramped entrance into the hospital. This in turn was short-lived, as the Alexandra Wing and the adjoining ambulance station were cleared for redevelopment in 1974.9


  1. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/31, pp. 110, 200; RLHLH/A/5/32, p. 30; General State of the London Hospital (London: School Press Gower’s Walk, 1854), p. 8: Ward visitors and Mrs Nelson, matron, cited by Clark-Kennedy, London Pride, p. 110. 

  2. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/31, p. 200; RLHLH/A/5/32, pp. 30, 257–8. 

  3. Jewish Chronicle, 23 June 1905, pp. 14–15: RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/31, pp. 30, 110, 481. 

  4. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/32, p. 30. 

  5. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/32, pp. 30, 143–4. 

  6. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/32, p. 104. 

  7. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/33, p. 46–7; RLHLH/A/5/32, p. 78: Medical News, 9 July 1864, p. 61. 

  8. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/33, pp. 128, 164, 197. 

  9. London Daily News, 19 July 1905: Goad Maps. 

Grocers’ Company’s Wing and further expansion, 1873–6
Contributed by Survey of London on April 29, 2019

The hospital expanded eastwards in 1873–6 with the construction of the Grocers’ Company’s Wing, a post mortem department and a nurses’ home. Their completion secured the London Hospital’s status as one the largest general hospitals in the country, with almost 800 beds. The only surviving remnant of this building programme is the north range of the Grocers’ Company’s Wing, which presents an orderly 120ft frontage to Whitechapel Road terminating at its junction with East Mount Street. Two bays of the south part of the wing survive in 2019; the rest was cleared in the 1960s for the construction of the Holland Wing.1

This significant enlargement was catalysed by rising numbers of inpatients. Despite the completion of the Alexandra Wing in 1866, the hospital struggled to keep pace with the demand for beds. In 1870 the house governor, William Nixon, recorded an ‘extreme pressure of inpatients’, exceeding 500 at any one time.2 Parts of the old medical college were converted into quarantine wards for contagious cases and wards for patients afflicted with erysipelas, a bacterial skin infection, opened in a single-storey building in East Mount Street. The provision of isolation wards evidently failed to secure a long- term solution to overcrowding. A few years later, Nixon reported an alarming ‘state of repletion’ in the wards.3 He declared that the hospital was ‘not large enough’ to fulfil the demands of the surrounding district, despite its strict policy of admitting only urgent and curable cases.4 This deficiency was exacerbated by the practice of providing separate accommodation for more than twenty-one types of inpatients, for the most part divided by gender, treatment, and medical condition. This classification system led to frequent shortages in beds for particular cases, which made it necessary to mix different types of patients in the wards. Additional room was most urgently required for medical cases, children and obstetric patients.5

The proposed solution was to extend the hospital to provide 200 additional beds, increasing the number of inpatients by a third. A public fundraising campaign was launched with the aim of securing £100,000 towards the construction and operating costs of an enlarged hospital. A new wing extending east from the central block was deemed preferable to ensure the proximity of wards to the ‘working centres’ of the hospital, namely the lifts, the staff offices, the laundry, the kitchen, the operating theatre, and the depository.6 The intended site was occupied by the old medical college and a carriage shed fronting Whitechapel Road, along with various workshops, sheds and stables in East Mount Street.7 The building programme was overseen by Charles Barry Jr, who had assumed the position of consulting architect to the hospital in 1870. The House Committee had reorganized Barry’s responsibilities amid concerns that he was ‘too much engaged in other directions to give sufficient personal attention to his duties’.8 He was invited to adopt an advisory role and to delegate supervision of repairs to a salaried surveyor. This task was assigned to J. A. Thornhill, the clerk of works during the construction of the Alexandra Wing.9

The centrepiece of this wave of hospital expansion was the Grocers’ Company’s Wing, named in recognition of a donation from the City livery company. Their gift was accompanied by various conditions, including that the wing should be completed within three years.10 While the House Committee had intended to postpone building work until the fundraising campaign had realized its target, the Company stipulated that construction should begin immediately.11 As the projected expense of the wing exceeded £25,000, it was reasoned that sole responsibility for its design should be entrusted to Barry. He planned a three-storey wing with a basement and attics, with an L-shaped plan composed of two blocks; a north range extending east from the front block in line with Whitechapel Road, and a south range running along East Mount Street. This arrangement preserved a yard between the extension and the main building, with the benefit of supplying light and ventilation to the inward-facing wards. The principal floors followed the pattern of the earlier ward wings in plan, comprising paired back-to-back wards separated by a central spine wall with fireplaces. Partitions at the west end of the wards formed linen stores and areas for water closets, kitchens and sinks. The attics provided dormitories for seventy nurses.12

The foundation stone was laid on 27 June 1874. Construction by Perry & Co. was complicated by the intended route of the East London Railway, set to curve beneath the north-east corner of the wing. As a precautionary measure, the foundations nearest the railway line were excavated to a depth of thirty-five feet and filled with concrete. The outward appearance of the wing matched the austerity of the Alexandra Wing, with plain brick elevations decorated by a string course and a dentil cornice of Portland stone. Its tiled roof was punctuated by pedimented dormer windows and tall brick chimneys with oversailing tops. Two rear sanitary towers rose above the roofline of the wing with louvred openings and steeply pitched roofs; one contained a water tank and the other was fitted with a ventilation shaft. There were fireproof floors. At street level, a wooden carriage shed built in 1876 occupied the narrow stretch between the north front and Whitechapel Road.13

The Grocers’ Company’s Wing was formally opened by Queen Victoria in March 1876, in a celebration reported to have lent ‘an attractive and joyous aspect to (an) ordinarily dull and dingy but busy quarter’.14 In the following months, patients were moved gradually into the new wards, which were praised for their ‘light and pleasant aspect’.15 The wards were fitted with specialized ventilation systems devised by Thomas Elsley and George Jennings. Two rows of evenly spaced beds extended across the long walls of each ward. This utilitarian arrangement was relieved by potted flowers and pictures on the walls, and formal plaques bearing the name of each ward. At the time of writing (2019), the appearance and plan of the north range of the Grocers’ Company’s Wing had survived with only minor alterations, despite adaptation and changes in room use.16

The scale and siting of the Grocers’ Company’s Wing precipitated improvements elsewhere in the hospital. The new wing was preceded by the reconstruction of the post mortem and pathological departments in 1873–4. These departments were formerly housed in the old medical college, and set to be displaced by its demolition (see below). Their new base was a single-storey building in East Mount Street. As no drawings survive, little is known about the form of the post mortem department aside from its provision of a pathological room and a post mortem theatre. The building was constructed by Perry & Co. to Barry’s design. Plans for the new wing also gave rise to a scheme for the hospital’s first purpose-built nurses’ home.17


  1. RLHA, RLHLH/A/26/32, Programme for the Ceremony of Opening the Grocers’ Company’s Wing of the London Hospital(7 March 1876); RLHLH/A/5/37, p. 11; The Builder, 17 October 1874, p. 877. 

  2. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/35, p. 58. 

  3. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/35, p. 439. 

  4. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/35, pp. 425, 439. 

  5. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/34, p. 484; RLHLH/A/5/35, pp. 86, 110–1, 123, 208, 439: DSR. 

  6. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/35, p. 439. 

  7. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/35, p. 439; RLHLH/A/5/36, pp. 143–4. 

  8. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/34, p. 426. 

  9. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/34, pp. 426, 460, 465–6, 469–70, 522: DSR. 

  10. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/36, pp. 437, 191–3. 

  11. ILN, 11 March 1876, p. 258: RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/36, pp. 143–4. 

  12. ILN, 11 March 1876, p. 258: RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/36, p. 204. 

  13. DSR: RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/36, pp. 235–6, 386–7, 437: ILN, 11 March 1876, p. 258. 

  14. ILN, 11 March 1876, p. 242. 

  15. Reynolds’s Newspaper, 12 March 1876. 

  16. DSR: RLHA, RLHTH/S/10/16: ILN, 11 March 1876, p. 258: Reynolds’s Newspaper, 12 March 1876. 

  17. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/36, pp. 159, 173–4: DSR: Goad. 

Remodelling and enlargement, 1890 to 1905
Contributed by Survey of London on April 29, 2019

Between 1890 and 1906, every part of the hospital was extended, rebuilt or remodelled under the supervision of the architect Rowland Plumbe. This ambitious building programme upgraded the hospital in line with shifting ideas, innovations and specialization in healthcare. The use of anaesthetics from the 1840s had extended surgical practice, contributing to an increase in the number of operations carried out in general hospitals. This pattern was reflected at the London Hospital, where 420 operations were performed in 1881, 1,114 in 1891, and 2,711 in 1901. New operating suites were designed with separate anaesthetic rooms to relieve patients from entering theatre in a conscious state. Ventilation was an established planning concern in hospitals due to the miasma theory, which held that disease is spread by noxious air. From the late 1850s, hospital planning was influenced by Florence Nightingale’s recommendation of cross-ventilated pavilion wards and sanitary towers separated by airy lobbies. Although miasma theory was outmoded from the 1880s by the acceptance of germ theory, the modern principle that disease is spread by bacteria, the tenets of pavilion planning continued to be widely adopted. An increasing focus on eliminating germs led to the redecoration of hospital spaces with smooth, impermeable and easily cleaned surfaces. Like other institutions of its kind, the hospital installed new manufactured and sanitary finishes such as terrazzo flooring, Opalite wall tiles, and linoleum. The discovery of Röntgen rays and the invention of the Finsen lamp in the 1890s led to the formation of specialized departments for radiography and light treatment. Alterations to the main hospital building were carried out in parallel with the construction of purpose-built blocks to accommodate specialized departments, including an outpatients’ department, an isolation block and a laundry. This ambitious building programme relied on the resourcefulness of the hospital’s chairman, Sydney Holland, the second Viscount Knutsford, to attract donations. Holland was elected to the chairmanship in 1896, and in the following year the Prince of Wales Hospital Fund (later known as the King’s Fund) offered an annual subscription of £5,000 on condition that the hospital would spend £100,000 of its own capital on making its buildings ‘up-to-date and efficient’.1

Rowland Plumbe

In 1883 the House Committee decided to abolish the position of consulting architect and seek advice from ‘various persons from time to time instead of keeping to their own officer’.2 In the following year Plumbe was requested to draw up plans for a large extension to Old Home, the nurses’ home adjoining the east wing (XREF). Plumbe was an experienced architect with local origins. He was born in 1838 in Goodman’s Fields, where his parents managed a business selling arrowroot for medicinal use. The Plumbe family had links with the Wycliffe Chapel in Philpot Street; his father served as a deacon at the chapel and was a friend of its minister, Dr Andrew Reed. Plumbe studied architecture under T. L. Donaldson at University College London and was articled to N. J. Cottingham and Frederick Peck, followed by an interlude with F. C. Withers in America. After returning to London in 1860, Plumbe started working as an architect from Tokenhouse Yardin the City, establishing an extensive and varied practice. Plumbe developed an interest in medical buildings, taking on commissions at Poplar Hospital, St Mark’s Hospital and the National Orthopaedic Hospital. Despite its fruitfulness and longevity, Plumbe’s association with the London Hospital was not formalized till 1906 by his appointment as consulting architect and election to serve on the House Committee. Plumbe’s involvement in the hospital’s affairs continued till his death in 1919 at the age of eighty-one. A bronzed terracotta bust by Sir George Frampton, a gift from one of Plumbe’s daughters, was subsequently placed in the surveyor’s office of the works department.3

Front Block, 1890–1

The front block, built in 1890–1 by Perry & Co., was intended to improve the practicality of the central block, yet also to bestow the hospital with a dignified public entrance. A five-bay arcade provided a porte cochère for horse-drawn ambulances, with sloped side approaches and a central stepped entrance for pedestrians. The principal storey was occupied by a chapel, expressed externally by round-arched traceried windows. The composition was crowned by a pediment with a clock, and flanked by a pair of pavilion towers with pyramidal roofs and finials.4 The front block was designed to remedy a number of deficiencies in the central block, including the obstruction of the main corridors by the double-height chapel and the impracticality of a stepped entrance for emergency cases. The operating theatre and space for clinical teaching were also outdated due to the rising number of operations and the implementation of anaesthetics and sterile surgical techniques.

The porte cochère opened into a vestibule with a porter’s box and an office for medical students. A hallway beyond provided access to a waiting room, examining rooms and a receiving room. The upper floors were separated from the central block by a light well. The first floor of the front block contained a new chapel, furnished with a pulpit, seats and chancel furniture from its predecessor. A five-light stained-glass memorial windowby Arthur J. Dix, depicting ‘Christ Healing the Sick’, was donated by Emily Mary Coope in memory of her husband Octavius Edward Coope, the local benefactor and brewer. Dormitories for nurses and servants were in the attic storey. The transferral of the chapel to the front block enabled the reconfiguration of the upper floors of the central block, including the provision of a clinical lecture theatre and an operating theatre on the second floor.5

These building works were undertaken in collaboration with Dr Louis Parkes, a leading sanitary expert engaged as assistant professor of hygiene at University College London. The hospital’s matron Eva Lückes had raised concerns about conditions in 1889, after observing illness among the nursing staff. The matron’s observations were reinforced by reports of blood poisoning and infected wounds among patients. Parkes was appointed to consider ‘every sanitary detail connected with the hospital’, and submitted an exhaustive report in 1890. The hospital resolved to carry out the most critical recommendations, including the removal of old brick sewers and the construction of a new drainage system formed of salt-glazed pipes with manholes and traps. Parkes stressed the importance of building sanitary towers to the east wing, the west wing and the Alexandra Wing, each containing baths, water closets and sink rooms. He also recommended the replacement of ceiling ventilators with Tobin’s tubes in the old wards, the installation of sash and hopper windows, and redecoration with impermeable surfaces such as glazed tiles and linoleum. After examining the improvements in 1893, Parkes concluded that the work had been ‘exceedingly well done’.6 Between 1888 and 1894 the hospital invested approximately £38,000 on building works, including £18,560 on the front block. The addition of sanitary towers cost £7,616, while £8,000 was spent on other improvements. Outbuildings at the east end of the hospital were reconstructed by Perry & Co. to provide a Jewish mortuary (or Bet Taharah),a new carpenters’ workshop, a destructor and a disinfector.7

Remodelling and extension of the main hospital building, 1899–1905

The front block extension and sanitary improvements were the first components of an extensive building programme overseen by Plumbe. The works intensified between 1899 and 1905, when each portion of the hospital was remodelled and extended. The scale and scope of the works were determined by 1901, when the House Committee announced plans to enlarge and reconfigure the hospital and construct a number of purpose-built blocks in its vicinity, including an outpatients’ department, a post mortem department, an isolation block, and a laundry. The estimated cost of £370,000 was described as ‘huge but absolutely necessary expenditure’, yet it was calculated that the final cost reached nearly £410,000.8

Not a single patient bed was closed during the building works, owing to the construction of temporary buildings in the hospital’s gardens. A single-storey iron building containing wards for ninety-eight patients and space for the photographic and X-ray departments was constructed in 1898–9 by the Bermondsey builder William Harbrow, who claimed a specialism in iron buildings. This shed also contained the hospital’s first Finsen lamp, a pioneering light radiation machine designed to treat lupus vulgaris, a tuberculous skin infection. The lamp was named for its Danish inventor and Nobel laureate Niels Ryberg Finsen, and donated by Queen Alexandra in 1900. Another temporary building was assembled on the house governor’s garden in 1899–90 to provide space for the outpatients’ department. This shed was constructed by Humphreys of Knightsbridge, a leading supplier of prefabricated iron hospitals. Both buildings were demolished in 1905.9

Central block and front block

Significant alterations were undertaken in the central block and the front block by Perry & Co. between 1900 and 1903, after the acceptance of a tender of £61,380. Building works proceeded immediately, commencing with the underpinning and strengthening of the walls in preparation for two new storeys. Spacious top-lit well staircases were inserted at the east and west ends of the wing, connected on each floor by the existing corridors. Each staircase lobby contained separate lifts for passengers and dead bodies, along with sink rooms and water closets. In the basement, the kitchens and the porter’s offices were replaced by dormitories for the housekeeping staff and laundry maids. A boiler room was installed for supplying hot water and sterilized air to the operating theatres. The ground-floor receiving room was extended and remodelled, and most of the chapel was converted into staff dormitories and a clinical theatre. A redecoration scheme included the application of mosaic floors by Diespeker & Co. over the main lobby and the receiving room, and linoleum in the main corridor.10

The third-floor extension secured an extensive operating department containing a large theatre for teaching demonstrations, four operation rooms, and adjoining anaesthetic rooms. Only one operating theatre and three operation rooms were intended initially, but a modification to the building contract secured an extra suite. The department was arranged along the north side of the central block, with large windows forming a rambling sequence of glazing that has not been altered substantially. A top-lit corridor divided the operating suites from a series of south-facing offices, including examination rooms, waiting rooms, surgeon’s offices, and rooms for instruments and sterilization. Recovery rooms were conveniently flanked by rooms for sisters and nurses, who were also allocated bedrooms on the fourth floor. The £13,000 cost of the operating department was donated anonymously by Benjamin (or Benn) Wolfe Levy, a businessman and philanthropist, on condition that the theatres were ‘open to every poor patient irrespective of creed or nationality’. Levy’s generosity was commemorated by a plaque erected after his death in 1908. A flat roof was fitted with water tanks with a capacity of 10,000 gallons, approximately a day’s supply for the hospital.11

East wing and west wing

Plans for the remodelling and extension of the east wing were approved in 1901. The work was carried out by Perry & Co. in collaboration with W. G. Cannon & Sons as hot water engineers and James Slater & Co. as ventilating engineers. Works commenced with the underpinning and strengthening of the spine walls with stanchions for the construction of two new storeys. The basement laundry was transferred to a purpose-built detached block, and its former rooms converted into porters’ accommodation. A number of alterations were effected to improve ventilation in the wards, including the enlargement of windows and the raising of ceilings on the second floor. The insertion of openings between the back-to-back wards provided a degree of natural cross-ventilation. The attics were rebuilt to provide a new ward on the third floor. The fourth-floor extension provided a new kitchen with a scullery, pantries, offices, and an external goods lift. The south end of the floor provided bedrooms for nurses and sisters, adjacent to Old Home.12

The west wing was also extended by two storeys and its existing wards remodelled. Plumbe’s plans were submitted in June 1901 and Perry & Co. instructed to start work immediately. Yet the impracticality of builders taking over the west wing, which housed the medical outpatients’ department, swiftly became apparent. The building work was postponed till the completion of the new outpatients’ department, and carried out in 1903–4. The basement rooms formerly occupied by the medical outpatients’ department were converted into a series of isolation and padded rooms for psychiatric cases and patients requiring constant supervision. The rest of the basement was devoted to an ophthalmic department containing specialist wards, an operating theatre, and a refraction room for eye examinations. The wards on the upper floors were remodelled to improve ventilation and the comfort of patients. The first- and second-floor wards had access to external balconies, reflecting a growing interest among medical practitioners in the beneficial effects of fresh air and sunlight.

The fourth-floor extension was devoted to Jewish patients, with two wards divided by a central lobby containing a kosher kitchen and a scullery. One for men and one for women, these wards were named ‘Rothschild’ and ‘Goldsmid’ respectively. The reinstatement of dedicated Jewish wards reflected the reality on the ground that the London Hospital was the principal hospital used by the now significantly larger Jewish community. These wards were formally opened in November 1902 by the prominent banker and philanthropist Leopold de Rothschild, in his capacity as vice-president of the hospital. Other Jewish philanthropists such as Sir Samuel Montagu and Sir Benjamin L. Cohen served on the House Committee, organized appeals, and made personal donations to the hospital.13

Alexandra Wing and Grocers’ Company’s Wing

The external appearance of the Alexandra Wing was not much altered during the building programme, yet its interior spaces were remodelled extensively. The alterations were completed in 1905 by Perry & Co., with Cannon & Sons as hot water engineers, Slater & Co. as ventilating engineers, and the plumber R. A. Marshall. The removal of the surgical outpatients’ department from the basement provided space for a coroner’s court with a public gallery, a witness room and a coroner’s office. The basement also contained a massage department and offices for the hospital’s surveyor. The ground floor was converted entirely to administrative use, with a new committee room, secretarial offices and an estate office. The rest of the wing was devoted to maternity cases, with a first-floor obstetric operating theatre and a south- facing ward with a balcony. The Marie Celeste maternity department was formally opened on the second floor in 1905. Named in memory of the wife of James Hora, a vice-president of the hospital, the suite contained a labour room, an isolation room and a lecture room. Three small wards extended along the south side of the second floor, opening onto a balcony with views over the rear garden. The attic dormitories were assigned to the maternity staff and pupil midwives.14 The Grocers’ Company’s Wing was altered on a comparatively modest scale. South-facing ward balconies were installed and windows were enlarged and fitted with patented ‘Luxfer’ prism glass to maximize light. The basement was reconfigured to form a large surgical ward for male patients, and the ground floor contained a female surgical ward equipped with an operating suite. These alterations were completed in 1905.15

Gardens and forecourt

Plans were produced for redesigning the gardens in 1906, after the building works created a state of disarray. The rear quadrangle was bestowed with a bronze statue of Queen Alexandra created in 1907–8 by George Edward Wade, a favoured sculptor among the royal family. The statue commemorated her longstanding support of the hospital and consent to serve as its president, a title she retained from 1904 to her death in 1925. Alexandra agreed to pose for the sculpture, which depicts her standing with dignified composure, holding a sceptre in her right hand. She is garbed in coronation robes, her state crown, jewels and a pearl necklace. The robust stone plinth has an inscribed bronze plaque and a bronze bas-relief panel depicting a royal visit to the Finsen light department in the outpatients’ department. At the centre of the composition, Alexandra bends to observe a patient receiving treatment with the use of a Finsen lamp. She is accompanied by King Edward VII and an entourage of representatives of the hospital, including its chairman Sydney Holland, the surgeon Sir Frederick Treves, and the matron Eva Lückes. Wade’s statue is currently positioned on the south side of Stepney Way, in an incongruous spot beneath the canopy of the new hospital.16

In its original position on a raised plinth at the centre of the quadrangle, the statue was encircled by an asphalt path with straight offshoots leading to the central block, the east wing and the west wing. A pair of timber shelters for patients was positioned at the south end of the quadrangle, screening it from the open ground on the north side of Stepney Way. A porter’s lodge was also built at the south-east corner of the garden. Perry & Co. were contracted to construct the lodge and the shelters, along with the weighty stone pedestal of the statue. The narrow wedge-shaped courtyard to the east of the hospital, known colloquially as ‘Bedstead Square’ for its proximity to the steward’s stores, was decorated with planters gifted by the local brewing firm Mann, Crossman & Paulin. Timber shelters were also built on the forecourt of the hospital to accommodate patients’ relatives and friends, these constructed in 1912 by Perry & Co. to designs by J. G. Oatley.17


  1. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/49, p. 531; RLHLH/A/24/9; RLHLH/A/5/48, pp. 162, 270–1, 314, 367, 386; RLHLH/A/5/49, pp. 42–3: BMJ, 24 May 1902, pp. 1305–6: H. Richardson (ed.), English Hospitals, 1660–1948: A Survey of their Architecture and Design (Swindon: RCHME, 1998), pp. 3–4, 9–11, 139: J. Taylor, Hospital and Asylum Architecture in England, 1840–1914 (London: Mansell, 1991), pp. 11–14: A. Smith, ‘The Expansion and Remodelling of the London Hospital by Rowland Plumbe, 1884–1919’, London Journal, DOI 10.1080/03058034.2019.1583455. 

  2. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/34, pp. 460, 465–6, 469–70; RLHLH/A/5/41, p. 236. 

  3. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/55, pp. 158, 225, 244: http://www.ocotilloroad.com/geneal/plumbe1.htmlBuilding News, 6 June 1890, p. 793: The Builder, April 1919, p. 381; RIBA Journal, April 1919, pp. 140–1: RLHA, RLHLH/S/5/12; RLHLH/A/24/7–9: London Evening Standard, 3 April 1865: The Building News, 6 June 1890, p. 793: London Daily News, 2 July 1862: RIBA Journal, April 1919, pp. 140–1: Builders’ Journal, 20 May 1896, p. 230:RIBA Biographical file: Directory of British Architects, 1834–1919, Volume 2, p. 383. 

  4. RLHA, RLHLH/S/2/149–50. 

  5. The Builder, 4 July 1891, p. 18: The Lancet, 4 July 1891, pp. 36–7: The Lancet, 29 March 1890, p. 714. 

  6. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/44; RLHLH/A/5/45, p. 216: The Lancet, 29 March 1890, p. 714; 4 July 1891, p. 36: The Hospital, 18 November 1893, pp. 110–12. 

  7. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/45, pp. 108, 113, 122, 132, 143–4, 180. 

  8. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/48; RLHLH/A/24/9. 

  9. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/47, pp. 192–4, 337, 402; RLHLH/A/5/49, p. 31; RLHLH/A/24/7: https://historic-hospitals.com/2015/08/30/humphreys- hospitals:Tower Hamlets Independent and East End Local Advertiser, 4 June 1898: DSR: ILN, 24 August 1901, p. 286. 

  10. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/47, p. 460. 

  11. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/48, pp. 162, 270–1, 314, 367, 386; RLHLH/A/5/49, pp. 42–3; RLHINV/440; RLHLH/A/5/48: Bolton Evening News, 19 December 1908: Jewish Chronicle, 25 December 1908, p. 19: Maitland Weekly Mercury, 26 December 1908, p. 2: Jewish Herald, 25 December 1908, p. 4. 

  12. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/48, pp. 122, 173, 241, 314, 420; RLHLH/A/5/49, pp. 42–3, 531: POD. 

  13. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/48, pp. 205, 209–10, 241; RLHLH/A/5/49, pp. 42–3, 364–70; RLHLH/A/24/6–9: Eugene C. Black, The Social Politics of Anglo-Jewry, 1880–1920 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1988), p. 161. 

  14. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/49, p. 531; RLHLH/A/24/6–9: LCC Minutes, 31 January 1905, p. 267: HEA, BF079954. 

  15. RLHA, RLHLH/A/24/6–9; RLHLH/A/5/48; RLHLH/A/5/49, p. 531. 

  16. Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 23 February 1906: Ross Gazette, 16 July 1908: London Evening Standard, 11 July 1908: Morning Post, 8 March 1906: East London Observer, 11 July 1908: ODNB: RLHA, RLHLH/P/6/12/36/1; RLHLH/A/24/6: Historic England, List Entry Number: 1065789. 

  17. OS 1913: RLHA, RLHLH/S/2/48; RLHLH/X/79/1; RLHLH/A/5/45, pp. 400–1, 415; RLHLH/A/5/50, pp. 129, 145, 154, 277, 335, 365, 371; RLHLH/A/24/9. 

Additions and alterations in the twentieth century
Contributed by Survey of London on April 29, 2019

The rebuilding and expansion of the hospital under Plumbe’s supervision created a large medical complex that functioned on modern and efficient lines, requiring few alterations for some time. The important work of the hospital during the First World War has been chronicled in the second volume of A. E. Clark-Kennedy’s institutional history. After emerging from the war in significant debt owing partly to higher wages and the rising cost of medical treatment, the hospital opted to introduce a fee of 10s. per week for inpatients who could afford it. This shift from the institution’s policy of providing treatment without any charge to its patients was bolstered by the Insurance Act of 1911, which protected workers from a loss of earnings during illness. The hospital was associated with discussions over the organization of healthcare through its physician Lord Dawson of Penn, whose 1920 report foreshadowed the establishment of the NHS. Despite the introduction of patient fees, the hospital’s finances were so troubled that 200 beds were closed temporarily in 1921. Approximately half of these beds were reopened after a fundraising appeal in 1923, but the rest were sacrificed to provide space for specialist equipment, offices and staff accommodation, leaving a total of approximately 850 beds in the hospital. 1

Interwar alterations

The interwar period witnessed few substantial alterations to the main hospital building, owing to financial struggles and the longevity of the improvements made by Plumbe. The works department was headed by J. G. Oatley, who continued as hospital surveyor till his retirement in 1933. He was succeeded by his son, Norman Herbert Oatley, who served until the 1950s. Most alterations were precipitated by the installation of specialized departments, which multiplied in general hospitals after the First World War. By 1926, the hospital contained eighteen operating theatres and fourteen specialized departments. The central block and the front block were the focus for alterations in the main hospital building, but a number of departments were established in purpose-built detached blocks in the immediate vicinity. The clinical theatre adjacent to the chapel in the front block was transferred to the Bearsted Clinical Theatre to provide space for laboratories, and all but one of the traceried windows were replaced with a series of workmanlike apertures. A gynaecological operating suite was installed on the third floor of the central block, with a bay window that survives on the north front. This facility was funded by a donation from Louis F. Stanton Bader, a coal dealer of Boston, USA, in gratitude for the treatment of his wife by the obstetric surgeons Russell Andrews and Eardley Holland. In 1929, a radium laboratory was installed on the second floor of the front block.2

A covered way was constructed in the quadrangle by William Wood & Sons of Taplow in 1929–30. The pergola extended from the rear entrance of the central block along the east side of the garden, providing shelter for patients and staff. It was financed by Sir William Paulin, the honorary treasurer of the hospital. A memorial tablet designed by Edwin Lutyens was unveiled in the front hall in 1933 to commemorate Sydney Holland, the hospital’s chairman. Isolation wards were installed in the Grocers’ Company’s Wing by Walter Gladding & Co. in 1935, facilitating the conversion of the Fielden Isolation Block to wards for private patients.3


  1. Clark-Kennedy, Vol. 2, pp. 173–99, 201–10: Timothy Alborn, ‘Senses of Belonging: The Politics of Working-Class Insurance in Britain, 1880–1914’, Journal of Modern History, Vol. 73, No. 3 (September 2001), pp. 561–602. 

  2. Sydney Holland, In Black and White (London: Edward Arnold, 1926), pp. 148, 385: RLHA, RLHINV/441: https://backbayhouses.org/346-marlborough: Clark-Kennedy, Vol. 2, pp. 220–1: Richardson, English Hospitals, p. 11: ODNB. 

  3. British Journal of Nursing, September 1933, p. 262: RLHA, RLHINV/811; RLHLH/S/2/52; RLHLH/D/4/28; RLHLH/S/2/49; RLHLH/S/2/50: DSR. 

Post-war rebuilding schemes and extensions
Contributed by Survey of London on April 29, 2019

In 1940 a bicentenary campaign was launched for a programme of repair and reconstruction. The earlier building works overseen by Plumbe were commended for their solid construction and spacious planning, which obviated the need for large-scale redevelopment. The hospital required new departments to pursue advances in medicine, such as dietetics, blood analysis and psychology. Research was restricted by a lack of space and the dispersal of laboratories around the hospital. William Goschen, the hospital’s chairman, urged that it would be ‘impossible to keep pace with modern developments without an extensive scheme of reconstruction’.1 In the first phase of the proposed scheme, the clearance of attic nurses’ dormitories was intended to provide room for clinical laboratories and new aural wards. Later phases promised to secure improved facilities for the radiology department, a new wing for a casualty department and fracture clinic, wards for infected surgical cases, and a new genito-urinary clinic, dental department and light treatment clinic. The hospital also intended to modernize the operating theatres and the general wards.2

The bicentenary programme was abandoned due to the onset of the Second World War, which plunged the hospital into preparations for air raids and casualties. In 1940, the Alexandra Home, the Eva Lückes Home and the medical college were hit by bombs. The hospital evaded severe destruction until August 1944, when the east wing was damaged severely by a V-1 flying bomb. The hospital also emerged from the war in significant debt, with meagre hope of repairing bomb damage and carrying out improvements without assistance from the state. The establishment of the NHS in 1948 brought the hospital under the administration of a board of governors that reported to the Ministry of Health. All patient fees were eliminated and salaries introduced for the medical staff, who had previously devoted their time to the hospital as honorary consultants while maintaining private practices elsewhere.3

Two ambitious rebuilding schemes were mooted after the Second World War. The first proposal by Adams, Holden & Pearson, drawn up in 1947, was not implemented due to limited funds, and the second scheme by T. P. Bennett & Son was drastically curtailed in the 1970s by the listing of historic buildings. The unexecuted scheme of 1947 proposed to extend the hospital’s footprint southwards to Varden Street, producing an extensive and functional teaching hospital with 1,000 beds. The main hospital building was to be remodelled to contain administrative offices, laboratories, and wards in the Alexandra Wing and the Grocers’ Company’s Wing. The southern portion of the hospital complex was to be mostly cleared for new buildings. A low-lying receiving block and accident department, flanked by medical and surgical ward wings, was designed to provide a new public entrance to the hospital. An operation block was planned for the site of the medical college, adjacent to a rehabilitation department and surgical wards. Extensions to the Edith Cavell Home and the Eva Lückes Home were intended to accommodate more than 700 nurses. A scattering of buildings on the hospital’s estate, including St Philip’s Church and the students’ hostel in Philpot Street, were to be preserved and engulfed by a series of uniform buildings grouped to provide distinct quarters for outpatients, inpatients and the medical college.4

In the event, inflation put paid to these plans for redevelopment. Post-war alterations and additions proceeded in a piecemeal manner, based on the framework set out in the bicentenary campaign. The works department embarked on numerous alterations in the years immediately after the war. A new receiving and accident department was formed in the front block, along with first-floor research laboratories replacing children’s wards on the south side of the central block. These laboratories were assigned to bacteriology and industrial diseases.5 Additional works were carried out in 1952–3, including the formation of a genito-urinary department, alterations to the laundry, and the enlargement of the dental division of the outpatients’ department.6

The most significant alterations to the main hospital building in the 1950s were carried out by W. H. Watkins, Gray & Partners, an architectural firm with substantial experience of hospital work. Watkins, Gray & Partners worked in association with the hospital’s surveyor R. M. Halsey, who succeeded Oatley. The upper storeys of the bomb-damaged east wing were rebuilt in 1958–9, followed by a five-storey extension to the west wing to provide additional wards. Bennett & Son oversaw further alterations to the main hospital building, along with the construction of the Holland Wing and the rebuilding of the Alexandra Wing. Leonard Abbott, an associate (1966) then partner (1973) in the firm, supervised the works due to his specialism in hospitals. The main public entrance to the hospital was altered around 1969 by the application of marble cladding.7 Bennett & Son also developed proposals for the rebuilding of the hospital on expanded lines, with large blocks engulfing the eastern side of its estate. This fifteen-year project aimed to raise the size of the hospital from approximately 750 beds to 1,300 beds by 1972. The scheme was partially realised by the construction of Knutsford House, the Institute of Pathology, the Princess Alexandra School of Nursing, John Harrison House, a computer centre, and a cluster of nurses’ homes. The listing of the main hospital building in 1973 thwarted plans for its redevelopment, and only the Alexandra Wing was rebuilt.8

Link Block, 1959–62

The post-war building programme encroached on many of the open spaces surrounding the hospital. The quadrangle was mostly sacrificed for the Link Block in 1959–62. This six-storey extension was designed by Watkins, Gray & Partners in association with R. M. Halsey and consulting engineers Oscar Faber & Partners. The block provided additional wards and kitchens, connecting the west and east wings. The upper floors were elevated by a series of reinforced-concrete piers to preserve a route between the remainder of the quadrangle and the hospital’s gardens. The north and south elevations incorporated metal-framed projecting balconies, breaking the monotony of sheer expanses of brickwork. Single-storey clinics for dialysis and radiology, flanking the ground-floor passageway, were added by Bennett & Son in 1967–8.9

Holland Wing, c.1968 

The Holland Wing, named after the hospital’s longstanding chairman, replaced the southern portion of the Grocers’ Company’s Wing and the Bernhard Baron Pathology Institute in the late 1960s. This five-storey block designed by Bennett & Son was described in design stages as a ‘decanting building’, a name that captured its assorted administrative, medical and teaching functions. The block was positioned on the west side of East Mount Street, with brick-clad elevations divided by horizontal bands of glazing and mosaic. Each floor contained a central north–south corridor, extending from the Grocers’ Company’s Wing to a lift lobby at the south end of the block. The internal spaces were divided by partition walls to ensure future adaptability. A cardiac department was installed in the basement, and the ground floor contained staff offices and a board room. The first and second floors were devoted to a maternity department, composed of delivery suites, isolation rooms, and four-bed wards with ancillary rooms. An intensive neonatal unit was located on the third floor. The fourth floor contained research laboratories and facilities for the medical college, including a library and a conference room.10


  1. Cited by Clark-Kennedy, Vol. 2, p. 228. 

  2. RLHA, RLHLH/X/230. 

  3. Clark-Kennedy, London Pride, pp. 208–212, 217, 228–32, 242–3: London Hospital Illustrated, Vol. 1, No. 9 (1940–41); Vol. 2, No. 1 (1945). 

  4. London Hospital Illustrated, Vol. II, No. 3 (1947): Architectural Design, April 1947, pp. 97–9. 

  5. RLHA, RLHLH/S/2/151; RLHLH/S/2/54. 

  6. RLHA, RLHLH/S/2/152; RLHLH/S/2/92: Hospital & Health Management, September 1952, pp. 306–12; Hospital & Health Management, September 1953, pp. 327–9. 

  7. RLHA, RLHLH/S/2/156. 

  8. RIBA Biographical file: RLHA, RLHLH/P/1/12; RLHLH/P/6/11/29; RLHLH/P/6/11/31; RLHLH/A/5/67; RLHLH/P/6/11/5; RLHLH/P/6/11/6; RLHLH/S/2/32. 

  9. RLHA, RLHTH/S/10/22; RLHLH/P/6/11/27; RLHLH/P/6/11/33/2: RLH League of Nurses, ‘Nursing at the London Hospital in the 1960s’, p. 2 (online: http://www.rlhleagueofnurses.org.uk/html/library.html): Dathan et al, ‘One Year’s Experience in a Ministry of Health Dialysis Centre’, BMJ, 11 April 1970, pp. 102–5. 

  10. RLHA, RLHINV/61; RLHLH/A/24/82; RLHLH/P/2/7; RLHTH/S/10/17: PA/66/00726. 

Conversion to a Civic Centre
Contributed by Survey of London on April 29, 2019

At the time of writing (2019), the former hospital is in the throes of adaptation and extension to provide a new civic centre for Tower Hamlets Council. This major redevelopment scheme has been in genesis for a number of years, prompted by the looming expiration of the lease of the council’s headquarters at Mulberry Place in East India Docks. In 2013 the council produced a feasibility study for a civic centre, concentrating on the former hospital and a site in Commercial Road. The hospital was vacant after the completion of its new premises, and gained preference. A significant factor was its location nearer the geographical centre of the borough, which presented an opportunity to reconfigure public services and council offices on a prominent site. The council intends to dispose of other bases in the borough to raise approximately £78m for the conversion of the hospital, which is likely to exceed £120m. By operating only from a civic centre and John Onslow House towards the northern extremity of its jurisdiction in Bow, the council anticipates savings and efficiencies. The refurbishment of the hospital also forms a major component of Whitechapel Vision, the council’s scheme for local regeneration.1

Ian Chalk Architects (ICA) were appointed to produce a brief for the project, which was intended to form the basis of an invitation to tender. The initial proposal established a broad concept for the works. The main hospital building had been mutilated during the construction of the new hospital, with the clearance of the east wing and the Holland Wing. ICA recommended the retention and refurbishment of the surviving north front of the main hospital hospital in Whitechapel Road, including the Grocers’ Company’s Wing. The rear of the central block and the west wing were to be cleared for a new building. The purchase of the site from Barts Health NHS Trust for £9m in 2015 was shrouded in controversy. The civic centre was criticized as an expensive vanity project led by the borough’s mayor, Lutfur Rahman, who was subsequently expelled from office over fraudulent election practices.2

In the following year, a team of consultants led by architects Allford Hall Monaghan Morris (AHMM) was appointed to develop the proposal. AHMM was selected to lead the initiative after a competition between six bidders invited to submit tenders. The winning team included Elliott Wood as structural engineers, Gerald Eve as planning consultants, Kinnear Landscape Architects, and Richard Griffiths Architects as heritage consultants. The brief was adjusted gradually to maximize space and increase the number of workstations to accommodate a workforce of approximately 2,500 employees. A reworking of the scheme proposed to replace the Grocers’ Company’s Wing with a modern block fronting Whitechapel Road, yet this was revised after objections from Historic England.3

The latest proposal, which gained planning permission in 2018, accords with the initial scheme drawn up by ICA in the retention of the north front of the hospital and the façade of the Grocers’ Company’s Wing. The clearance of the west wing will make way for a significant rear extension comprising two modern blocks connected by a link block with a roof terrace. The height of the seven- storey west block was dictated by the scale of the adjoining dental hospital, while the four-storey east block was designed to lurk behind the Grocers’ Company’s Wing. The raised basement of the wing will be converted into a public entrance accessed from Whitechapel Road, faced with large expanses of glazing interspersed with steel columns. The modern blocks are set to be clad with a variety of materials, including brickwork piers and glazed-brick panels, while the link block will be cocooned in aluminium curtain walling.

The civic centre has been planned to accommodate a mixture of public amenities, council services and staff offices. The ground floor has been envisaged as a public space, containing a reception, a café, libraries, housing advice offices and a large council chamber. The upper floors will be devoted to staff offices, including open-plan spaces, executive offices and meeting rooms. An atrium forms a narrow cleft between the central block of the hospital and the modern blocks, which are linked by bridges. The haphazard fenestration on the south front of the hospital, the outcome of successive alterations, will be retained. AHMM has also proposed to reuse hospital spaces, converting the former chapel into a staff refectory and the third- floor operating theatres into meeting rooms. The east and west staircases of the central block will be retained as core spaces for circulation, lifts and sanitary facilities, a function curiously aligned with their original purpose in the hospital. Preparatory works were started in 2018 by main contractor Bouygues, and completion is scheduled for 2022. A masterplan for a public square to the south of the civic centre is set to be prepared in collaboration with Barts Health NHS Trust.4


  1. https://towerhamlets.gov.uk/lgnl/council_and_democracy/council_departme nts_and_offic/A_new_civic_centre.aspx: PA/17/02825/A1 

  2. East London Advertiser, 6 February 2015, 11 November 2015, 13 December 2018: Evening Standard, 6 February 2015:https://www.ianchalkarchitects.com/towerhamletstownhall

  3. Construction Manager, 5 April 2016: https://www.ahmm.co.uk/projectDetails/200/Tower-Hamlets-Civic-Centre

  4. https://bouygues-uk.com/preparatory-works-start-at-tower-hamlets-new- town-hall-site:AJ, 8 March 2018: Building, 23 February 2018, p. 17. 

Staff Accommodation
Contributed by Survey of London on April 29, 2019

In the eighteenth century, nurses were confined for their rest to tiny rooms in lobbies adjacent to the wards. This arrangement was customary in general hospitals and persisted at the London Hospital until the 1860s, with minor improvements. The ward lobbies in the east and west wing extensions of 1830–42 incorporated larger bedrooms, kitchens, washing rooms and bathrooms. At this time, attic bedrooms in the central block were assigned to assistant nurses, laundry maids and ‘watchers’, or night nurses. Bedrooms were also provided for the cook, the clerk and the surgeon’s assistant. Senior employees enjoyed a greater level of comfort, with separate apartments assigned to the house governor, the apothecary, the matron and the head nurse.1

By the mid nineteenth century, the provision of nurses’ accommodation was deficient owing to the swift expansion of the hospital and its rising population of resident staff. The 1841 census recorded a nursing staff of only 37, whereas the 1851 census calculated 57 nurses. By the 1860s, the provision of sleeping quarters was considered essential to preserving discipline and respectability among nurses, who were drawn predominantly from the working classes. For instance, the absence of dormitories was deemed to ‘lower the standard of the women who can be obtained for night duty’ and diminish their efficiency.2 The attics of the Alexandra Wing (1864–6) secured four communal dormitories for night nurses and household staff. Despite this addition, nurses were accustomed to ‘boxing and coxing’, or occupying beds at different hours between shifts. In contrast, the house governor lived in a three-storey maisonette with servants’ quarters and a private walled garden. By 1871, there were 52 nurses and 23 night nurses residing in the hospital, and other nurses living in the vicinity. Only a short time elapsed before plans for the Grocers’ Company’s Wing necessitated more than thirty additional nurses, prompting significant improvements to accommodate an expanded nursing staff of as many as 154. An extension to the east wing provided the first purpose-built residential home for the nursing staff, containing dormitories, dining rooms, and a suite of rooms allocated to the matron.3

This advance established the pattern for subsequent additions to the accommodation for nurses. Four purpose-built homes were erected on and adjacent to the hospital’s grounds between 1884 and 1918: Old Home (1884) and Alexandra Home (1895–6) were connected to the east wing, while the monumental Eva Lückes Home (1903–5) and Edith Cavell Home (1915–8) were located in Stepney Way and East Mount Street respectively, and accessed by covered bridges. This energetic building programme was propelled by reforms to the nursing system carried out under the guidance of Eva Lückes, the hospital’s matron from 1880 to her death in 1919. During her long incumbency, she introduced new measures to improve the training and education of nurses, along with their living and working conditions. Lückes started a course of lectures for probationers in 1881, and established a training school for aspiring probationers in 1895. The construction of purpose-built nurses’ homes was integral to Lückes’s efforts to raise the standard of nursing. The provision of individual bedrooms reflected her instinct that ‘separate apartments, however small, are absolutely essential, both on grounds of comfort and discipline’.4

The preservation of health, respectability and discipline among the nursing staff provided the main impetus to build residences on and adjoining the hospital’s grounds, and shaped their configuration. The number of nurses increased significantly under Lückes’s supervision. The 1881 census recorded a resident nursing staff of 87, while the 1911 census counted 446 nurses. Covered bridges extended between the tall blocks of the nurses’ quarter to ensure safety, convenience and protection from bad weather. Bedrooms allocated to sisters, or senior nurses, were interspersed between nurses’ dormitories to secure a degree of surveillance. Despite these authoritative measures, the nurses gained several amenities for their enjoyment and relaxation. Their homes contained a range of leisure spaces, including dining halls, sitting rooms and libraries. A public garden in Stepney Way was also provided for the diversion of nurses, who referred to it affectionately as ‘the Garden of Eden’. The addition of an indoor swimming bath at the east end of the garden in 1936–7 was another boon.5

The swift construction of the nurses’ homes produced a sprawling residential quarter drifting south from the main hospital building, marked by tall, austere blocks connected by covered bridges. Despite this advance, a large number of staff, including nurses, continued to reside in the main hospital building. After the completion of the building programme in 1906, staff accommodation was dispersed throughout the hospital. The degree of comfort continued to be dictated by seniority. Laundry maids slept in basement dormitories, while maternity students and night dispensers were allocated first-floor rooms. The attics of the front block, the east wing, and the Grocers’ Company’s Wing contained bedrooms for nurses, while trainee midwives and maternity staff had attic bedrooms in the Alexandra Wing. Cooks slept in the attics of the east wing, adjacent to the kitchens. Resident physicians and surgeons enjoyed the privilege of private apartments containing a bedroom and a sitting room. Receiving room officers acquired similar amenities by the rebuilding of 72–74 New Road in 1903–4, but were subsequently transferred to a resident doctors’ hostel on the south side of Mount Terrace. Despite the generous provision of hospital accommodation, many employees continued to reside in private lodgings. Gwynne House in Turner Street, a block of compact flats with a resident caretaker, was immediately popular among staff and students at its completion in 1938, and later acquired by the hospital as rented accommodation.6

After the Second World War, large swathes of the hospital’s estate were cleared as part of the redevelopment scheme produced by Bennett & Son. An extension to the Edith Cavell Home had been envisaged in the late 1930s, and the scheme was revived as Knutsford House (1957–9), a block of apartments rented to senior nurses. The ruins of the bombed-out Great Synagogue (previously the Wycliffe Chapel) on the east side of Philpot Street were cleared for John Harrison House (1962–4), a ten-storey tower blockwith 227 bedsitting rooms for nursing and administrative staff. Bennett & Son also produced plans to clear a large site for a cluster of nurses’ homes set in landscaped gardens. This scheme was partially executed with the construction of a block of flats and dormitories around Varden Street, opened formally in 1976. Plans for the new hospital precipitated the large-scale demolition of the first wave of nurses’ homes. Old Home, Alexandra Home, Eva Lückes Home, and Cavell Home were cleared, eradicating the concentration of nurses’ homes constructed between 1884 and 1918. Knutsford House was also demolished at this time, while John Harrison House has largely been converted to administrative offices. The group of 1970s nurses’ homes around Walden Street has survived, but the population of hospital employees has declined after the majority of the blocks was sold to a private developer.


  1. Richardson, English Hospitals, p. 34. 

  2. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/32, p. 30. 

  3. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/35, p. 35; RLHLH/A/5/37, p. 11: 1841, 1851 and 1871 censuses. 

  4. Eva Lückes, cited by A. E. Clark-Kennedy, Vol. 2, p. 99: Amy Smith, ‘The Expansion and Remodelling of the London Hospital by Rowland Plumbe, 1884–1919’,The London Journal (online: https://doi.org/10/1080/03058034.2019.1583455). 

  5. 1911 census. 

  6. RLHLH/A/5/49, p. 531: DSR. 

Old Home (1875–6)
Contributed by Survey of London on April 29, 2019

Plans for the Grocers’ Company’s Wing gave rise to a scheme for the hospital’s first purpose-built nurses’ home, intended to provide dormitories and recreation rooms for an expanded staff. In 1874 the house governor, William Nixon, estimated that the enlarged hospital would require more than thirty additional nurses (including sisters, probationers, day nurses and night nurses). Nixon proposed that the resident medical officers should be allocated rooms in the central block, and a new building constructed to house the matron, the steward, and nurses. The most suitable position for the building was deemed to be at the south end of the east wing, where communication with an earlier staircase lobby would ensure proximity to the main hospital building. Plans were prepared in rough by J. A. Thornhill and finished by Charles Barry Jr, who received instructions not to exceed an estimate of £5,900. A high tender from Perry & Co. was reduced to £6,168.10, and construction followed in 1875.1

The result of this economy was an austere brick building composed of four storeys above a raised basement. A pediment on its west façade echoed the articulation of the lobbies at the centre of the east and west wings. Notwithstanding modest appearance, this residence improved conditions for the hospital’s nursing staff. A few years earlier, Nixon had observed that nurses suffered frequently under the strain of ‘constant overwork’, without rooms for relaxation.2 The home provided a dormitory for thirty-five nurses, along with separate accommodation for probationers.3 A recreation room and a dining room were also provided above the matron’s apartment, an arrangement intended to ensure supervision ‘without any appearance of intrusive watchfulness’.4

The nurses’ home was subsequently extended to designs by Plumbe, with the construction of a six-storey block with dormitories for approximately 100 nurses and a two-storey residence for the steward. Small individual nurses’ bedrooms were crammed into a narrow rectangular plan with a central corridor. Water closets, sinks and bathrooms on each floor were confined to a projecting sanitary tower. A three-bay staircase range linked this block with the earlier nurses’ home, where dormitories were converted into dining rooms, sitting rooms and visiting rooms. Its brick-built exterior matched the austerity of the earlier hospital buildings, with decoration limited to iron balconies, crow-stepped gables, and a corbelled cornice of moulded brickwork. The extension was built by William Goodman and opened formally by the Prince and Princess of Wales in 1887.5


  1. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/37, pp. 32, 79­–80, 84–5: DSR. 

  2. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/35, p. 439. 

  3. ILN, 11 March 1876, p. 258. 

  4. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/37, p. 11. 

  5. ILN, 28 May 1887: RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/41, p. 477; RLHLH/A/5/42, pp. 318–9; RLHLH/A/5/43, p. 188; RLHLH/S/2/102: DSR. 

Chaplain’s house (1886–7)
Contributed by Survey of London on April 29, 2019

Built in 1886–7 by Goodman to designs by Plumbe, this large detached house provided comfortable living quarters for the hospital chaplain in close proximity to his duties. A handsome west front incorporated a stepped entrance porch and a bay window with views over the hospital’s gardens. A kitchen and servants’ quarters were provided in a raised basement and a steeply pitched roof with dormer windows. The house lost its detached status by the construction of the Alexandra Home to the east in 1895–6. After the Rev. Sidney Vatcher, the incumbent of St Philip’s Church, assumed control of the hospital’s chaplaincy in 1898, the residence was converted into a temporary isolation block to accommodate infectious patients. It was demolished around 1915 to make way for the further enlargement of Alexandra Home.1


  1. London Evening Standard, 15 July 1886: DSR: RLHA, RLHLH/S/2/39; RLHLH/A/5/47, pp. 180, 207, 232, 245–6. 

Alexandra Home (1895–6)
Contributed by Survey of London on April 29, 2019

The provision of nurses’ accommodation was extended significantly by the construction of the Alexandra Home in 1895–6 by William Shepherd to designs by Plumbe. This tall six-storey block was positioned at the crossing between Stepney Way and East Mount Street, abutting the chaplain’s house to the west. With its utilitarian and neatly fenestrated stock-brick elevations, the Alexandra Home matched the austerity of Old Home, with which it was linked by a covered bridge. Plumbe adopted a similar plan to the earlier home, squeezing around ninety bedrooms into an L-shaped footprint. On each dormitory floor a series of single-bay bedrooms for individual nurses flanked a central corridor. A projecting sanitary tower at the north-east corner of the block contained bathrooms, water closets, sinks and fire escape staircases. The attics contained wooden lockers allocated to the nurses. A six-storey west addition of about 1915 designed by J. G. Oatley provided larger bedrooms for sisters with access to bathrooms and hair-washing rooms, a luxury introduced contemporaneously at Edith Cavell Home.1


  1. DSR: RLHLH/S/2/72; RLHLH/S/2/39; RHLHLH/S/2/73; RLHLH/3/2/24; RLHLH/S/2/25; RLHTH/S/10/6; RLHLH/P/2/43. 

Eva Lückes Home (1903–5)
Contributed by Survey of London on April 29, 2019

Built in 1903–5 by F. Gough & Co. of Hendon to designs by Plumbe, Eva Lückes Home was a sprawling five-storey block with a U-shaped plan, comprising a north range fronting Stepney Way and an extensive south range overlooking Newark Street, linked by an intervening corridor range. The Lückes Home replaced a substantial portion of the hospital’s estate, including the British Oak Public House, to provide more than 270 nurses’ bedrooms. Decoration was restricted to gables with diaper patterns, a moulded brick cornice, and shallow bow windows set within relieving arches. A porch facing Stepney Way opened into an entrance hall leading to various offices, a visiting room, a writing room and a sitting room. An iron and concrete covered bridge over Stepney Way linked the nurses’ home with the Alexandra Home opposite. Plumbe repeated the configuration deployed at Old Home and Alexandra Home, dividing each dormitory floor into compact single-bay bedrooms and larger bedrooms with fireplaces for sisters. Bathrooms and water closets were confined to sanitary towers at the east end of each range. A basement provided servants’ bedrooms and a sitting room. The attic was reserved for a locker room, a linen room and water tanks.1


  1. OS 1876: ODNB: RLHA, RLHLH/TH/S/10/23; RLHINV/752: LCC Minutes, 23 June 1903, p. 974: Morris, p. 314. 

Edith Cavell Home (1915–18)
Contributed by Survey of London on April 29, 2019

Edith Cavell Home was positioned at the north-east corner of the junction of East Mount Street with Stepney Way. At its completion, this six-storey block provided 122 bedrooms for nurses and sisters. Construction by Perry & Co. was delayed by the First World War, yet nurses eventually moved into Cavell Home in June 1918. The clearance of terraced houses provided a narrow rectangular site for this addition to the nurses’ accommodation. A stone porch with neo-Baroque flourishes departed from the austerity of the earlier nurses’ homes, hinting at delegation by Plumbe. The customary arrangement of small bedrooms flanking a central corridor suited the constraints of the site. The ground floor had a sitting room, a library and a visiting room, along with bedrooms for sisters and nurses, while a basement contained servants’ quarters. Accessed by a central lift and a well staircase, each dormitory floor contained twenty nurses’ bedrooms and two larger bedrooms for sisters, who enjoyed the comfort of a fireplace. Water closets were confined to a sanitary tower at the rear of the block. Bathrooms, hair-washing rooms, and linen cupboards were positioned at the north end of each floor, adjacent to a subsidiary staircase. On the second floor, a covered bridge extended across East Mount Street to Old Home. The hospital named the home in honour of Edith Cavell, the British nurse executed in October 1915 for assisting the escape of allied soldiers from German-occupied Brussels. Cavell had trained at the hospital as a probationer in 1896–8 and served on the institution’s private nursing staff until 1901. A plaster bust of Cavell by Sir George Frampton was placed in the sitting room, and survives in the Royal London Hospital Museum.1


  1. RLHA, RLHTH/S/10/9; RLHLH/A/5/55, pp. 384–5, 511; RLHPP/KNU/2/8/18: ODNB. 

Knutsford House (1956–60)
Contributed by Survey of London on April 29, 2019

Plans to enlarge Edith Cavell Home were produced in 1939 by N. H. Oatley, who proposed clearing the adjacent terraced houses for a six-storey extension. The scheme was revived with a renewed specification after the war, with Bennett & Son appointed as architects. They departed from the familiar and established configuration of nurses’ dormitories interspersed with bedsitting rooms for sisters. Knutsford House, a six-storey concrete-framed and brick- faced block, opened in May 1957 to provide forty-one self-contained flats reserved exclusively for sisters. Each flat contained a bedroom, a living room, a kitchenette and a bathroom. A basement contained a box room, storage lockers and laundry facilities, along with service rooms. Plans were swiftly in hand for an addition extending north to the corner of Raven Row, securing an additional six flats on the principal floors. The block was named in memory of Sydney Holland, the hospital’s chairman.


  1. RLHA, RLHLH/X/83/21; RLHTH/S/10/19; RLHLH/P/1/12: ODNB: Nursing Times, 19 July 1957, p. 807. 

Nurses’ garden
Contributed by Survey of London on April 29, 2019

The nurses’ garden occupied a large plot to the south of the hospital, bounded by Stepney Way to the north, Newark Street to the south, and the laundry to the east. It had originally been laid out in connection with almshouses built for John Baker’s Charity by the Brewers’ Company, which agreed to preserve ground directly behind the hospital as a shrubbery. The medical officers had resisted building development immediately behind the hospital, prizing fresh air and good ventilation. This principle was firmly established by 1814, when an accounts committee recommended leasing the vacant, ‘unproductive’ land behind the hospital for any purpose that would not contaminate the quality of the air.1 The conveyance of the piece of ground to the Brewers’ Company converted it to a suitable purpose, and it was enclosed for a garden overlooked by the almshouses. By 1881 it had fallen into neglect and was transferred to a local committee headed by the businessman Stanley Kemp-Welch and the Rev. Sidney Vatcher of St Philip’s Church. It was redesigned and replanted in 1882 as a public garden, with a pond, a fountain and an aviary. Entrance gates were donated by the St Pancras Ironwork Company and a garden house was donated by Lord and Lady Brabazon. The garden was inherited by the hospital’s nurses in 1898, shortly after the almshouses were acquired to provide a site for a laundry. Nurses were required to collect a key from the hospital, which fitted the garden gate and the doors of St Philip’s Church. After the construction of an indoor swimming bath in 1936­–7, the garden was redesigned with symmetrical footpaths dividing flat lawns and neat corner pavilions at its west end. The garden survived until 1963, when it was cleared for a pathology block.2


  1. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/15, pp. 318–21. 

  2. RLHA, RLHLH/S/1/3: The Graphic, 19 July 1884: Globe, 3 July 1882: S. Williams, ‘Eden, as we know it, is a fertile and happy region situated in the heart of Whitechapel’: The nurses’ ‘Garden of Eden’ at the London Hospital’, London Gardener, Vol. 18 (2013–14), pp. 99–118. 

Nurses’ swimming bath (1936–7)
Contributed by Survey of London on April 29, 2019

A swimming bath was built in 1936–7 on the east side of the nurses’ garden, financed by a donation from E. W. Meyerstein, a retired stockbroker who endowed numerous hospitals. A handful of sites on the hospital’s estate were considered for a nurses’ swimming bath, but it was determined that the garden possessed ‘the merit of simplicity’.1 The chosen position adjacent to the laundry preserved the majority of the garden, and avoided the costly implication of uprooting tenants. The house governor, A. G. Elliott, and surveyor, J. G. Oatley, undertook to engage an architectural firm with specialist experience of swimming baths. Visits were arranged to comparable baths, including those at St Mary’s Hospital, the Middlesex Hospital, and Bourne & Hollingsworth’s staff hostel in Gower Street. Alfred W. S. Cross and Kenneth M. B. Cross were identified as the leading architects in the field. This father-son partnership boasted longstanding experience of swimming baths, including the municipal baths in Haggerston and the nurses’ baths at the Middlesex Hospital.

Cross & Cross designed a low-lying brick-built structure with a sequence of flat roofs serving as garden terraces. The west elevation overlooking the nurses’ garden had a jaunty appearance, exaggerated by a series of porthole windows. A central staircase ascended to a first-floor terrace, adorned with a Portland stone plaque commemorating Meyerstein’s generosity. A porch at the north end of the building served as the nurses’ entrance to the swimming bath, opening into a passage leading to a top-lit changing area. The ground floor was dominated by the rectangular top-lit swimming pool, skirted on its west side by a viewing gallery with tiered seating for seventy spectators. A reinforced-concrete basement contained a filtration plant room. Construction by William Moss & Sons of Cricklewood commenced in July 1936, and the swimming pool was opened in the following spring.2


  1. RLHA, RLHLH/A/24/29. 

  2. RLHA, RLHLH/A/24/29; RLHLH/P/2/15; RLHTH/S/10/35: Alfred W. S. Cross, Public Baths and Wash-Houses: a treatise on their planning, design, arrangement and fitting(London: Batsford, 1906). 

Air Raid Shelter during the First World War
Contributed by gelosake on April 18, 2018

My grandmother lived in the Star and Garter pub across the road from the Royal London Hospital during the First World War. During air raids they would run to the basement of the London Hospital for shelter.

My life in Whitechapel
Contributed by Shila_B on Sept. 13, 2017

Shila B, interviewed by her neighbour Jil Cove, August 2017:

I went to Blue Gate Fields Primary School and then to Mulberry. I really enjoyed school and left with General National Vocational Qualifications (GNVQ) in health and social care. I volunteered at the London Hospital until I got a part time job there which later became full time job. I worked in admin in the gynae department for 8 years.  I loved the work and sometimes, I was asked to use my bilingual skills if an advocate was not available.

When I was at The London there was a great fish and chip shop opposite – the chips were fantastic and the fish was really good too. I often went there at lunch time, it was very traditional and when the owners changed I could taste the difference in the quality of the cooking. I really missed it when it I stopped working and still miss it, even today; I can still taste the chips! Sometimes after work a group of us would go to the Pizza Hut opposite, but I didn’t miss that so much when it closed.

My marriage was arranged when I was 20 and took place in Bangladesh. I carried on working until my first son was born; I now have 3 sons aged 16, 11 and 9. The 16 year old has recently received his GCSE results and my husband and I are very proud to say that he passed all eight subjects one with an A* and the others were A’s and B’s. He is going to start college soon to study for his A levels.

My husband is a butcher by trade but has now got heart problems that prevent him from working. His English is rather limited though it has got better over the years with the children speaking to him in English. At first, he was unable to go to English classes as locally we couldn’t find one that fitted in with his work hours and now he is reluctant to go as the ESOL classes are predominantly for women, so he would be the only man in the class.

My dad came to the UK from Bangladesh before I was born, and I was about 6 or 7 when my mum brought me and my three brothers to join him. My eldest brother who was 16 or 17 at the time had to stay behind because of immigration rules but he eventually joined us about 18 months later; my youngest brother was born here. Dad originally worked in textile factories in the north of England and I don’t know why he moved to London. His English was always very limited and my mum has virtually no English as she was isolated when we lived in Shadwell and busy with looking after 6 children. She didn’t know anyone to give her any support or guidance so never had time to learn. My dad died in 1987 and now my mum lives with my youngest brother. I’m really pleased that she is involved in lots of activities every day enjoying various groups including Arabic classes, and though she still has no English she is quite independent of the family and is out and about every day.

I come from a very big extended family and we all live in the Whitechapel area so see each other often. Just recently one of my nieces got engaged which meant a large celebration party; about 40 members of my extended family came along with a similar number from the soon to be groom’s family. We all had a good time with lovely food and a very late night. I was telling my neighbour about this and she was amazed at having such a large family and that we are all in such close contact with each other.

I’ve lived in this same street with my family for about 15 years now and moved with all my neighbours into a new block of flats in 2013. Though my new flat is much bigger, I do miss the very big balcony I had before where the children could play safely outside. I think that Whitechapel market has changed as there are now too many clothes stalls so there is not the variety of things any more. I tend to go to Wapping for my fish and herbs, and do the big shopping at Iceland as they delivery to my door.

One of the downsides to living where I do, is that as a car driver, we are less that 100 yards inside the congestion zone which means, that even with my residents discount, I have to pay just to take my car out of the garage during the charging hours.  But I still think that Whitechapel is a lovely place to live and it really feels like home to me. There is such a mix of cultures here and I can meet people from other countries. It feels very comfortable and safe to me, everything is here and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

Memories of the London Hospital: Summer of 1968
Contributed by Marianne Rapalus Hurley on Dec. 20, 2017

While a nursing student at the University of California Medical Center in San Francisco, California, I was accepted to a summer work-program at The London Hospital in Whitechapel. Four women from our nursing class participated, two at The London Hospital and two at another hospital in the suburbs.

My father worked for United Airlines, so I flew on a stand-by ticket direct from San Francisco to London. I think it was June since I remember seeing daffodils. I had no idea how to get from Heathrow Airport to the hospital, so I took a large black cab that cost a small fortune.  The cab delivered me at the main entrance along Whitechapel Road. I checked in at Matron’s office where I was assigned a room at Edith Cavell Nurses House, behind the hospital.

Cavell Home, a stately brick building, housed student nurses then and was named for the World War I heroine, Edith Cavell. Upon entering the building, there was an office to the left of the foyer. The office contained the one telephone at Cavell for the nurses’ use. Separating the foyer from the front office was a counter where a pitcher of milk would sometimes sit (covered with a folded cloth).  Students who wanted milk could help themselves. To the left of the foyer along a corridor was a reception room to meet visitors. Opposite the front door was the stairway to the rooms above. I had a private room on maybe the first or second floor in the rear.  It was quite comfortable with a bed, desk or dressing table, the usual. There were separate bathrooms (aside from toilet rooms) somewhere in the building; each had a large old-fashioned tub, great for soaking.

The London Hospital student nurses wore the hospital’s puffy-sleeve (gingham) uniforms with long skirts, white aprons, and small starched caps. In cooler weather, the uniform also included a beautiful long cape.  At the time, the students there loved their “old-fashioned” uniform. In fact some were worried that the National Health or maybe the hospital would modernize it to look more like my uniform, a plain light blue shirtwaist that resembled something a cafe waitress might wear. Apparently The London Hospital’s uniforms were updated sometime after I left. I wonder what the student uniform looks like today. I wonder if the hospital has its own nursing program any more.

I remember working three days a week in exchange for room and board. I helped out where needed and ran errands. In 1968 hospital care was simpler with fewer “gadgets” and far less technology. My first assignment was in Pediatrics; the “Kids” ward as they called it. Metal cribs with infants and toddlers filled the large room. I held and rocked many of them during my time there.  It was located I think on an upper floor toward the rear of the main hospital building and looked out onto the courtyard.

My next assignment was in Men’s Surgical Ward (wish I could remember the exact name) maybe on the first or ground floor. It was a large ward with 20 or more beds arranged I think in long rows. I was instructed to make and serve morning tea on my first day of duty there. I had never done that before, so had to be taught. A large kettle provided the hot water and I had to remember that the milk went in first, then the hot tea.  I served it to the patients using a rolling cart. The men were so kind and friendly.  I learned that it was the ward sister who was in charge of not only the patients, but to a large extent, the doctors too.  Sister (named for the ward) was the one who decided when the dressings and bandages came off. During morning rounds, she participated completely in the discussions.

Meals for the nurses were in the dining room of the hospital.  I think it was somewhere on the ground floor off the rear courtyard. There was an extensive buffet to select from. What was new to me was the yellow custard sauce that was poured on all types of cake and sweets. I came to like it and missed it when I returned to the states. My friend Kay (the other student nurse from California) worked in the Accident Department. In pleasant weather we would meet in the courtyard for lunch. While eating outside, we would often comment on the residual bomb damage from World War II still visible on the courtyard walls of the hospital.

The English student nurses would sometimes invite us along for socials on the weekends. It seemed they used to hang with policemen. At one party we were driven home by a young policeman who had an old Volkswagen beetle; we fit at least six nurses in it for the ride home. When a student nurse celebrated a birthday, we would eat at an Indian restaurant.  I may be mistaken, but I seem to remember we could get a shrimp curry dinner for 11 shillings. (Until that summer, I had never eaten Indian food). Of course, the money then was the ancient system of pounds, shillings, and pence; I still miss the old coins when I visit England.

As part of the program I accompanied a visiting nurse on her rounds in East London.  The nurse wore a uniform suit, maybe navy blue. I remember visiting mothers and young pre-school children. The families we visited lived in new high rise buildings that had replaced their older one- and maybe two-story homes. The mothers complained about the unpleasant elevators, the lack of private garden space, and the overall drabness of the new buildings. The visiting nurse was interested in how the neighborhood was changing, so she shared with me a lot about the history of the East End. What I found fascinating was the physical evidence of that history still there in 1968. There were still so many brick residences along narrow streets, the waterfront pubs, and simple shops, 19th century buildings that were slowly being replaced. In general Whitechapel did not draw tourists then, (there were no ‘Jack the Ripper’ tours), but there were many historic areas “off the beaten path” to explore.

The last time I visited The London Hospital, (well, now the Royal London) about eight or ten years ago, I could not find Cavell Home. They were constructing a very tall bright blue high rise (incompatible architecturally) behind the old hospital. Things looked very different and I became disoriented. It was disturbing and sad to see the loss of the hospital complex that I had experienced long ago. I assume the old London buildings along Whitechapel Road are now abandoned on the interior; online photos show the wards, surgeries, and offices empty. I wonder what they are planning now.

Yes, I wish I had taken more photographs during that time, especially in light of the drastic recent changes. With its human-scale Georgian brick buildings, The London Hospital in 1968 felt like a unique combination of stepping back in time while participating in modern medical care. I treasure my memories and very grateful for that experience nearly 50 years ago.

Birthplace
Contributed by steve on Nov. 5, 2016

I made my way into the world in the Marie Celeste Ward of the London Hospital in December 1949. I have many memories of visits to this hospital for broken arms, a stiff neck and other forms of accidents etc. A lasting memory, which although at the time did not mean much to me, was being asked by my headmaster Rhodes Boyson to deliver a letter to a Professor Francis Camps.

Like others who lived in the East End, this hospital holds many memories, some good, some not quite so good but again like many others, we owe so much to this place and the marvelous staff who, throughout the years, have worked within its walls.

The Jewish community
Contributed by Jil on June 13, 2017

The small terraced houses behind the London Hospital were occupied by local residents for much of the time I worked there in the 1960s. Previously I had very little contact with the strict Jewish community, apart from the occasional Liberal Jewish patient in the hospital in Brighton, where I had trained as a nurse. One day, on my way back to John Harrison House, the new nurses' home, in uniform, having just come off duty, I was called out to by an elderly woman at her front door asking if I could help her. When I went to her door, she asked me if I could come in and light her fire. Surprised at this request, I went in to find the fire already laid and it just needed a match put to it. I lit the fire and then asked her why she had not been able to do this herself. She gently explained that it was past dusk on Friday evening, her Sabbath, and her religion prevented her from doing any work, including lighting the fire. My first, but not my last, experience of the strict Jewish community in the area at that time. From then on, each week, when I could, I called into the same woman to light her fire and have the occasional cup of tea with her; which I made and drank without milk. To this day, I still drink tea without milk!

Bad memories of the London
Contributed by patricia on July 5, 2017

I used to hate to go to the London Hospital (when did it become The Royal London?) if we had to visit a sick relative. Plus any of my relatives who went in didn't come out. It always smelled of antiseptic and food and the uniforms the nurses wore looked so old fashioned to me (a young, modern girl) as opposed to the modern uniforms you would see on hospital shows on the telly. My father died in 1954 when I was 5 and was taken to the London, but they couldn't save him from a massive heart attack. He was only 35. The London had bad memories for me. Plus I had an accident at school when I was about 8 or 9, at Robert Montefiore Primary on Deal Street, opposite where I lived. I was running up the stairs with a tray of glass jars they used for painting, fell over and cut my hand on one of the broken jars. They called an ambulance and took me to the London, where they gave me a few stitches in my hand. An awful memory for a young child. My auntie Ann lived in a street behind the hospital, Nelson Street, and I hated walking past the place when we went to visit her.

Memories of Priscilla Church
Contributed by Shahed Saleem on Aug. 31, 2016

Priscilla Church was a student nurse at the Royal London Hospital from 1982 to 1985, and a staff nurse until 1986. She then returned to the hospital as a midwife from 1993-1996. These are some of her recollections of her time there:

The flats [Knutsford House] were really nice – a tiny kitchen and bathroom, a living room and bedroom. I was very comfy for the year I lived there when I was working as a midwifery sister, in the 1990s. I looked out at the front and the helicopter landed just outside which was really interesting especially as it was quite a new ‘ambulance’.

The other homes I lived in as a student nurse were initially Mildmay Mission hospital in Shoreditch (now an HIV/Aids hospice); Luckes; Cavell; John Harrison and Brierley. The last two were in Philpott Street.

We never discussed the uniform either. When I started as a student nurse the hospital had a uniform room where seamstresses made the uniforms to measure. We had detachable collars so that you would change your collar and apron each shift and the dress a couple of times a week. We had removal buttons as well as a collar stud which all had to be removed for laundering, which was done at the hospital too. We also had a starched cap which took some time to make up. Aprons were starched white cotton and only ever worn on the ward. Any duties that took you off the ward e.g. going to pharmacy, one took the apron off. I always get very annoyed in films, or tv where a nurse will where an apron when not on the ward. We had lovely purple cloaks for travelling between the nurses home and the ward. They were also useful on night duty during our breaks – they made a good blanket to keep us warm – four o’clock in the morning is a very cold time. The students wore purple gingham; staff nurses were in purple and sisters wore blue and had detachable sleeves and frills on their caps. ‘Purple passions’ were ill-fitting uniforms worn by students in their first eight weeks when we might visit a ward for a few hours. This was during our induction when we were based in the school of nursing (Philpott Street) (and before our made to measure uniforms were ready). Although modern uniforms are easier to wear and launder I always felt that we looked very smart and professional in the old uniform. One of the seamstresses in the uniform room was willing to make a copy of the student uniform for a ‘big doll’; which I had made and still have and love.

Historic England list description for The London Hospital
Contributed by Amy Spencer, Survey of London on Aug. 26, 2016

Excerpt from Historic England list entry for The London Hospital (listed at Grade II):

WHITECHAPEL ROAD E1 1. 4431 (South Side) The London Hospital

TQ 3481 15/523 21.9.73

II GV

2. Begun 1751. Architect Boulton Mainwaring. Later alterations and additions. Brick with slate roof. Central advanced block of 7 bays with pediment over 5 bays, clock in tympanum and balustraded parapet. Arcaded ground floor with rusticated brick arches. Windows separated by pilasters through 1st and 2nd floors with 2 pairs at each end. Eastern reveal had round arched window with tracery and similar one remains on facade. Flanking recessed 6 bay wings to east and west 4 storeys and dormers leading to eastern advanced wings of 11 bays. Yellow brick, stone cornice to parapet. Band above 1st floor. Gauged flat arches to recessed windows.

Nos 138 to 174 (even) form a group with The London Hospital.1


  1. Historic England, National Heritage List for England, list entry number: 1065788 (online: https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list- entry/1065788, accessed 26 August 2016). 

Print of Marie Celeste Hora (c. 1900)
Contributed by Sarah Milne, Survey of London on Nov. 8, 2016

A print of Marie Celeste Hora is held in the Royal London Hospital Archives:

http://www.calmhosting01.com/BartsHealth/CalmView/Record.aspx?src=CalmView.Ca talog&id=RLHINV%2f500&pos=5

The Marie Celeste Maternity Ward was so called in 1898 after James Hora endowed the Samaritan Society (founded 1791 by William Blizard) with a large annual subscription in honour of his late first wife, Marie Celeste Hora. In Clark-Kennedy's view, "it does seem a pity that the Samaritan Society, founded by Blizard in the eighteenth century and the first society of its kind, should have become associated with an obscure nineteenth century lady who had never had any connection with the hospital".1


  1. Clark-Kennedy, London Pride, p. 154 

The Royal London Hospital, view from the north-west
Contributed by Chris Redgrave

The Royal London Hospital, view of the former entrance porch in 2016
Contributed by Derek Kendall

Rear of hospital during conversion
Contributed by david2

Panoramic view of the Royal London Hospital from Whitechapel Road in 2016
Contributed by Derek Kendall

The Royal London Hospital, view of the former entrance
Contributed by Derek Kendall

'London Hospital - England's largest voluntary hospital', 1936
Contributed by Amy Spencer, Survey of London

Map of the London Hospital and its surroundings, c.1919
Contributed by Survey of London

Ground plan of the London Hospital in 1905
Contributed by Survey of London

Plans of the ground and first floors of the London Hospital
Contributed by Survey of London

Tredegar House, Bow Road
Contributed by Survey of London

1753 engraving by Chatelain & Toms after William Bellers view of a proposed building for the London Hospital
Contributed by Historic England

Gardens at the London Hospital, c.1900s
Contributed by Survey of London

Receiving Room in the front block of the London Hospital, c.1913
Contributed by Survey of London

Ward at the London Hospital, from a twentieth-century postcard
Contributed by Survey of London

Front of the London Hospital in Whitechapel Road, view from the north-west on an early twentieth-century postcard
Contributed by Survey of London

Front of the London Hospital in Whitechapel Road, view from the north-west in the early twentieth century
Contributed by Survey of London

Edna May singing at a patients' concert in the hospital garden in 1901
Contributed by Survey of London

Front of the London Hospital, view from the north-west on a 1916 postcard
Contributed by Survey of London

View across the rear garden of the London Hospital towards the east wing (demolished) in 1887
Contributed by Historic England

Front Block of the London Hospital in Whitechapel Road, from a twentieth-century postcard
Contributed by Survey of London

Operating theatre in the London Hospital, from a 1918 postcard
Contributed by Survey of London

Children's ward at the London Hospital, from a twentieth-century postcard
Contributed by Survey of London

Garden behind the Royal London Hospital c.1982, looking towards the statue of Queen Alexandra and the West Wing
Contributed by Sarah Rogers

Garden behind the Royal London Hospital, c.1982, looking south towards the statue of Queen Alexandra and dining rooms
Contributed by Sarah Rogers

Nurses at the London Hospital, c.1964

This silent video, which is thought to date from 1964, shows nurses treating patients in the London Hospital. Towards the end of the video, there is a view of Turner Street and Mount Terrace (including Mount Place, the row of terraced houses which use to front Whitechapel Road and has since been demolished). There is also a shot of the ambulance station which was once at the back of the old Alexandra Wing. For more information, please visit the British Pathé website: http://www.britishpathe.com/video/nurses-at-london-hospital/query/nurses

Contributed by Amy Spencer, Survey of London on Aug. 18, 2016