Former Royal London Hospital

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

The early history of the Royal London Hospital, 1740–1800
Contributed by Survey of London on Aug. 1, 2016


The Royal London Hospital traces its beginnings to 23 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 associated with the medical profession, whilst Fotherley Baker, lawyer, John Snee, girdler, and George Potter were City merchants and businessmen.1 At its inception, the Royal London Hospital joined the 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 by donations from noblemen and wealthy merchants to establish a new hospital that would offer assistance without charge to its patients.2 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 on 3 November 1740 the new 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. Harrison, Cole and Dr John Andree, a physician who had trained in Rheims, 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.3

Within six months of its foundation, plans were afoot for the infirmary to ‘take a larger house in a more convenient situation’ and by April 1741 Harrison had agreed on a house in Prescot Street, Goodman’s Fields.4 This location was judged to better serve the charitable interests of the hospital due to its proximity to the dwellings of Spitalfields labourers and merchant sailors near the Port of London, and its distance from any other hospital. The house was situated on the street’s south side, on a site to the west of Magdalen Passage now occupied by the headquarters of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. The infirmary moved there the following month and opened with room for about forty beds.5 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.6

Need for enlargement

By 1743 the expiration of the Prescot Street lease was looming and its renewal under consideration.7 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 might have 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 Worcester County Infirmary and the St Pancras Smallpox Hospital. 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 ‘Institutor of Infirmaries’.8 In his Anniversary sermon, the bishop argued that the house at Prescot Street was too small, overcrowded and inadequate: ‘admittance is impossible; the scanty building waits your necessary assistance to enlarge its bounds’.9 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.10

An agreement with Richard Alie, landlord at Prescot Street, satisfied the immediate need for enlargement. The Prescot Street house was 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.11 An extensive programme of repairs and improvements followed which, by 1747, 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.12 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.

An inspection of the houses by a committee of governors, including surgeon Harrison, initiated plans to repair or rebuild the shed in the garden. 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, chapel, laundry, distillery, laboratory, mortuary and cold bath.13 Ware was instructed to prepare designs and Joel Johnson and Robert Taylor were contracted as builders in partnership.14 The building was completed in 1747, yet the House Committee was troubled by concerns that the cold bath was poorly finished, along with 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’ and James Steer was invited to take his place.15 The committee may have hoped to benefit from Steer’s experience as surveyor at Guy’s Hospital, where he designed its east wing in 1738–9.16 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 was acting as surveyor.17 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.

Search for a site

Consideration of the need to secure a permanent home for the hospital continued after the building works of 1746–7.18 Whilst 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.19 This terminal 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 and the fund of 1744. In December 1747 a sub- 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 governors, doctors and surgeons.20

The sub-committee was ordered to proceed in its search with ‘great management, secrecy and expedition’.21 They had not met with any success by April 1748 and the task of finding a site had been 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’.22 Situated on the south side of Whitechapel Road, an arterial road which offered a direct route to and from the City, the 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 local carpenter and builder prominent in development in Spitalfields between 1720 and 1750, rather than his namesake and relative who served as master of the Masons’ Company in 1739.23 He offered to part with his interest in the land at 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 of some new buildings on the land. Rocque’s map indicates the presence of buildings immediately west of the Mount.24

The hospital began negotiations with Worrall, specifying an interest in the undeveloped land.25 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 embroiled in negotiations with Worrall, whose asking price was unreasonably high, and considering other properties.26 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 proved too expensive and the other objectionably close to a white-lead works.27 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 and merchant, was asked to make an appeal to his acquaintance Lucy Alie for the hospital to purchase the freehold of its premises at Prescot Street.28 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 this 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.29

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, Richard Sclater, Boulton Mainwaring and Dr James Hibbins offered to act on behalf of the hospital and by July 1750, had agreed with the City to acquire its interest in the Mount Field for the remainder of its 500-year lease.30

Mainwaring's design

In May 1751, the charity’s building committee instructed Mainwaring to prepare a plan for a building to accommodate two hundred patients, with provision for future enlargement.31 He presented five plans to the building committee, of which two (Nos 2 and 3) 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.32 The committee decided that the projected expense of both plans was excessive and that a smaller building ‘might be sufficient for the present’. Mainwaring was asked to draw up a new plan ‘as near as he could’ to Plan No. 2 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 (Nos 6 and 7) for a building for 312 patients were presented to the committee in September and ‘plan and elevation number six without the ornaments’ approved.33

The chosen design was for a hospital composed of three detached ranges linked by colonnades. No drawings of this early plan survive but a scant description of its basic form recalls Wren’s unexecuted designs for Greenwich Hospital of 1694–1700 and also Gibbs’s plan of c.1730 for the rebuilding of St Bartholomew’s.34 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 with semicircular headed arches, enclosing three sides of a central courtyard.35

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 (Plan No. 8) for a single building with attached wings.36 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 new plan was less costly as it was for a smaller building and saved the expense of colonnades. In another economising measure, plans for a chapel were omitted and services to be 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.37

The final plan was publicised by an engraving produced by John Tinney of Fleet Street, commissioned to be executed with ‘all expedition’. Three hundred copies were circulated to the charity’s governors to generate donations to the building fund, yet also to reassure benefactors that there was ‘nothing ostentatious, sumptuous or unnecessary intended’ in its design.38 Mainwaring’s final design for the new hospital reflects this concern with avoiding accusations of extravagance. The north front of the hospital facing Whitechapel Road was to have a plain, symmetrical façade of twenty-three bays with a projecting centre capped by a pediment. With ornament on the exterior restricted to a central Doric entrance porch, a dentil cornice and stone doorcases at the side entrances, the main elevation was modest yet dignified in character. Tinney’s famous engraving also presented plans for the ground and first floors of the new building. It had a U-shaped plan composed of a central three-storey block with two rear wings, east and west. The main block contained an axial 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 boasted a large court room 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, 1752–78

The new building in Whitechapel Road 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

Once plans for the new building were settled in December 1751, Mainwaring’s efforts turned to its construction. The following spring, John Mann, carpenter, and Thomas Andrews, bricklayer, were contracted to build up to first-floor level, and on 11 June 1752, the foundation stone was laid in a ceremony attended by noble patrons and dignitaries.39 Progress was swift, yet it seems that the building committee felt that it would be too risky to attempt the entire building in a single burst of construction. 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 over £1,150.40

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 and 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 desperate lack of funds.41

The suspension of building activity at Whitechapel Road coincided with worsening conditions at Prescot Street. In May, governors convened to consider the situation and emphasized the importance of finishing the new building. A voluntary subscription was launched to raise funds and in August, the building committee ‘readily agreed’ to an offer from several governors to lay one of the floors at their own expense.42 Donations trickled into the building fund and work resumed in 1755, when workmen were employed to finish the new building. Gray continued as bricklayer, Oliver as mason and Joel Johnson was appointed as carpenter and joiner, despite the debacle over shoddy workmanship on the cold bath 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 1757.43 The lease of the infirmary’s houses on Prescot Street was relinquished immediately. The allocation of rooms in the completed range did not differ from Mainwaring’s final design and, in their decoration, the rooms were as unadorned as the exterior. 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 General Court Room, Committee Room and offices for the physician, surgeon and apothecary were afforded the luxury of wainscoting to a height of five feet. The surgery, a bleeding room and a cold bath were positioned on the ground floor, and the 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 190.44

East wing and west wing, 1771–8

After the completion of the central block, plans to add 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 to its efforts, the newly reinstated building committee proceeded cautiously: at first Mainwaring was asked to prepare a plan and estimate only for a single wing, to be erected on the foundations already laid.45 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 level. In 1771, Thomas Langley was appointed as carpenter, Thomas Barnes as bricklayer and Isaac Ashton as mason.46 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. However, poor health intervened and at the end of the year, at the age of sixty-nine, Mainwaring resigned.47

Under Hawkins the building works progressed steadily. In 1772, contracts were agreed to finish the east wing and by the following spring, its completion was in sight as advertisements were circulated for a contractor to furnish it with ninety beds.48 At this point, there was enough optimism for the hospital to assemble a building committee to manage the construction of the west wing, which took place in 1774–8 and included many of the same workmen.49 This ambitious strategy soon faltered under financial pressure. In 1774, an appeal for donations 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. Despite these financial straits, work trundled forward. The plea for support was successful and in the following year, 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.50

The completion of the west wing in 1778 signified the realisation of Mainwaring’s design for the first purpose-built home for the charity, over thirty-eight years after its foundation. At this point in its history, Mainwaring’s building 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 parallel to the road 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.51 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 and cemented its status as an institution of critical value to impoverished working families in the east of London.52

  1. The National Archives (TNA), PROB 11/808/506; TNA PROB 11/884/265; A.E. Clark-Kennedy, London Pride (London: Hutchinson Benham, 1979), p. 15. 

  2. Isaac Maddox, The Duty and Advantages of encouraging Public Infirmaries: a Sermon preached for the London Infirmary (London: H. Woodfall, 1743), pp. 25–26 (online). 

  3. Clark-Kennedy, London Pride, p. 25; The British Library (BL), Account of the Rise, Progress and State of the London Infirmary, 1742 (online). 

  4. The Royal London Hospital Archives (RLHA), RLHLH/A/2/1, p. 15; RLHA, RLHLH/A/2/1, p. 18. 

  5. ‘The London Hospital: Report dated July 4, 1864’, Accounts and Papers of the House of Commons, Vol. 41, p. 234; BL, An Account of the Rise, Progress and State of the London Infirmary, p. 4. 

  6. RLHA, RLHLH/A/2/1, p. 21; RLHA, RLHLH/A/2/1, p. 41. 

  7. RLHA, RLHLH/A/2/1, p. 63. 

  8. Colin Haydon, ‘Maddox, Isaac (1697–1759)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online). 

  9. Maddox, The Duty and Advantages of encouraging Public Infirmaries, further considered (London: H. Woodfall, 1744), p. 14. 

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

  11. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/1, p. 226. 

  12. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/1, pp. 331–2. 

  13. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/2, p. 77. 

  14. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/2, p. 109. 

  15. RLHA, RLHLH/A/4/1, p. 155; RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/2, p. 234. 

  16. '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 (online). 

  17. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/2, p. 224; Colvin; RLHA, RLHLH/A/4/1, p. 155. 

  18. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/2, pp. 285–6. 

  19. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/2, p. 88. 

  20. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/2, p. 284; RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/3, p. 43. 

  21. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/2, p. 291. 

  22. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/2, p. 324; RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/3, pp. 1–2. 

  23. '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. 184–189 (online); Colvin. 

  24. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/3, pp. 1–2; Rocque 1747. 

  25. RLHA, RLHLH/A/2/2, p. 10; RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/3, pp. 40–1. 

  26. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/3, p. 43; RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/3, p. 34. 

  27. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/3, pp. 34, 61, 118, 126. 

  28. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/3, p. 142. 

  29. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/3, pp. 185, 190. 

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

  31. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/4, p. 13. 

  32. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/4, pp. 27, 34. 

  33. RLHA, RLHLH/A/4/2, p. 146; RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/4, pp. 34, 39. 

  34. RLHA, RLHLH/A/4/2, p. 155; Christine Stevenson, Medicine and Magnificence: British Hospital and Asylum Architecture, 1660–1815 (Yale UP, 2000), p. 79. 

  35. John Summerson, Georgian London (Yale UP, edn. 2003), p.118; Stevenson, p. 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 (online). 

  36. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/4, p. 48. 

  37. RLHA, RLHLH/A/4/2, pp. 154–5. 

  38. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/2, p. 291. 

  39. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/4, pp. 82, 106; Gentleman’s Magazine, Vol. XXII (London, 1752), p. 285 (online). 

  40. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/4, pp. 168, 190, 199–200. 

  41. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/4, pp. 202, 207, 280, 304. 

  42. RLHA, RLHLH/A/2/2, p. 133; RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/5, p. 12. 

  43. Clark-Kennedy, London Pride, pp. 71–72. 

  44. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/5, p. 229; RLHA, LH/A/22/1, Anniversary Sermon of 28 March 1765, p. 1. 

  45. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/8, pp. 222, 226; TNA, PROB 11/945/422; 'Parishes: Oddington', in A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 6, ed. C R Elrington (London, 1965), pp. 87–98 (online). 

  46. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/8, pp. 278, 280. 

  47. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/8, p. 302; TNA, PROB 11/1062; Colvin. 

  48. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/8, p. 352; RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/9, p. 78. 

  49. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/9, pp. 74, 159. 

  50. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/9, p. 164. 

  51. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/11, p. 48; RLHA, RLHLH/S/1/16, Sketch plan traced by Oatley from original plans of 1799. 

  52. RLHA, RLHLH/A/22/1, Account of the Rise, Progress and State of the London Hospital to 1 January 1782 (London, 1782), p. 1; General State of the London Hospital in 1786 (London, 1787), p.1 (online). 

West wing and east wing extensions, 1830–42
Contributed by Survey of London on Jan. 30, 2017

Plans for the first substantial enlargement to the London Hospital arose in 1830 in response to rising patient numbers, a by-product of rapid population growth in the east of London. The establishment of the 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 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 over 870 cases. A wing extension promised to provide as many as ninety additional beds and separate wards to isolate contagious patients. These motivations coincided with a number of practical incentives which presented an opportune moment to embark on a building project. Construction costs were low and the charity’s finances had recently been bolstered by a 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, hospital 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 for the post of surveyor during its last vacancy in 1806 and since served on the hospital’s building committee.3 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 thirteen new wards and rooms for private patients. The external appearance of the extensions matched the austerity of Mainwaring’s design: on each side a projecting three-bay range capped with a pediment connected the existing wing with a new ward wing composed of six evenly-spaced bays. On the ground, first and second floors, Mason’s plan followed the arrangement of the existing wings in its provision 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 bedroom for nurses. At basement level, the extension was allocated to the hospital’s medical officers: a long patients’ waiting hall was bordered by a dispensary linked with apartments for the apothecary’s assistants, and separate physicians’ consulting rooms for inpatients and outpatients. 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.4

In June 1830 William Colebatch was employed as contractor for the west wing extension 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’.5 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 the cholera epidemic in London. 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, then an untreatable disease, the new attic ward was used to isolate infected inpatients.6

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 and in December 1840 Robert and George Webb were contracted as builders. 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.7 The only significant departure from Mason’s earlier plan was the provision of separate wards for Jewish patients, which arose from a request delivered in 1837 by a committee dedicated to improving medical aid in London for impoverished Jews. In addition to exclusive wards, 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 inpatients 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 that the initiative would encourage donations, it was deferred until funds were secured for the hospital’s enlargement. The centenary festival attracted a generous donation towards the comfort of Jewish patients and when the east wing extension was completed, two wards in the earlier part of the wing were set aside for men and women.9

Due to demand for beds, the effects of this improvement were short-lived. 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.10 Despite this failure, the wing extensions were considered an overall success: their completion in 1842 was followed by a sharp decline in mortality rates inside the hospital, which plummeted from ten per cent to eight per cent, and then as low as six per cent.11 Further alterations to the west and east 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 attic dormitories in the north end of each wing for the hospital’s servants.12

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

  2. Royal London Hospital Archives & Museum (RLHA), RLHLH/A/9/11; PROB 11/1764/221. 

  3. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/17, pp. 51–52; RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/14, p. 243; RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/15, p. 108. 

  4. RLHA, RLHLH/A/9/11; London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), COL/CHD/FR/02/1448–1453. 

  5. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/15, pp. 130–134. 

  6. RLHA, RLHLH/A/9/11; RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/19, p. 207; RLHLH/A/17/9; A. E. Clark-Kennedy, The London: A study in the voluntary hospital system, Vol. 1 (London: Pitman Medical Publishing, 1962), p. 235; William Blizard, An Address to the Chairman and Members of the House Committee of the London Hospital on the subject of Cholera (London, 1831); A. E. Clark-Kennedy, London Pride: the story of a voluntary hospital (London: Hutchinson Bentham, 1979), p. 105. 

  7. RLHA, RLHLH/A/4/10, pp. 147–9. 

  8. RLHA, RLHLH/A/4/10, pp. 42–3. 

  9. RLHA, RLHLH/A/4/10, 7 March 1838, p. 48. 

  10. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/27, pp. 62–3, 144, 154. 

  11. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/32, p. 30. 

  12. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/27, pp. 44, 125, 159–164. 

The Grocers' Company's Wing, 1873–6
Contributed by Survey of London on Jan. 30, 2017

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 the largest general hospital in the country, with almost 800 beds.1 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.2 Two bays of the south part of the wing survive; the rest was cleared c.1960s for the construction of the Holland Wing.

The main front of the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel Road, with the Grocers' Company's Wing in the background. Photographed by Derek Kendall in 2016

This significant hospital enlargement was catalysed by rising numbers of inpatients. Despite the completion of the Alexandra Wing in 1866, the hospital struggled to keep pace with demand for beds.3 In 1870 the House Governor, William Nixon, recorded an ‘extreme pressure of inpatients’, averaging at over 500 at any one time.4 Parts of the old medical college were converted into quarantine wards for contagious cases and erysipelas (a skin infection) wards opened in a single-storey building in East Mount Street.5 The provision of outdoor isolation wards evidently failed to secure a long-term solution to hospital overcrowding. A few years later, Nixon reported an alarming ‘state of repletion’ in the wards. 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 cases. This deficiency was exacerbated by the practice of providing separate accommodation for over twenty-one types of inpatients, for the most part divided by gender, treatment, and medical condition. This rigid classification system led to frequent shortages in beds for particular cases, which made it necessary to mix different types of patients. Additional room was most urgently required for medical cases, children and obstetric patients.6

The proposed solution was to extend the hospital to provide 200 additional beds. A public fundraising campaign was launched with the aim of securing £100,000 towards new buildings and the operating costs of an enlarged hospital.7 A new wing extending east from the front block was deemed preferable to ensure the proximity of new wards to the ‘working centres’ of the hospital, namely the lifts, the staff offices, the laundry, the kitchen, the operating theatre, and the depository.8 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.

The building programme was overseen by Charles Barry Jr., who had assumed the position of Consulting Architect in 1870. The House Committee had reorganised Barry’s responsibilities amid concerns that he was ‘too much engaged in other directions to give sufficient personal attention to his duties’.9 Barry was invited to adopt an advisory role and to delegate supervision of repairs to a salaried surveyor.10 This task was assigned to J. A. Thornhill, the Clerk of the Works during the construction of the Alexandra Wing.11

The Grocers' Company's Wing from the north-west. Photographed by Derek Kendall in 2016

The Grocers’ Company’s Wing, 1874–6

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 ‘princely gift’ was accompanied by numerous conditions, including that the proposed wing should be completed within three years.12 Whilst the House Committee had intended to postpone work on the new east wing until the fundraising campaign had realised its target, the Company stipulated that construction should begin immediately.13

As the projected expense of the wing exceeded £25,000, it was reasoned that sole responsibility for its design should be entrusted to Barry.14 He planned an L-plan three-storey wing with basement and attics, 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 plan of the principal floors of each block followed the pattern of the earlier ward wings, comprising paired back-to-back wards separated by a central spine wall with fireplaces. On each floor, the north range was accessed from its south-west corner via lobbies connected with the long corridors of the front block. 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.15

A 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 new wing. As a precautionary measure, the foundations nearest the railway line were excavated to a depth of thirty-five feet and filled with concrete.16 The outward appearance of the new 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 that admitted light into the attic dormitories, and tall brick chimneys with oversailing tops and stone string courses. Two rear towers rose above the roofline of the wing, displaying louvered 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 of the new wing and Whitechapel Road.17

The Grocers’ Company’s Wing was formally opened by Queen Victoria in March 1876, in a grand celebration reported to have lent ‘an attractive and joyous aspect to (an) ordinarily dull and dingy but busy quarter’.18 In the following months, patients were gradually moved into the new wards, which were praised for their ‘light and pleasant aspect’.19 The wards were fitted with specialised ventilation systems devised by T. Elsey and George Jennings. Two rows of evenly spaced beds extended across the long walls of each ward, facing inwards. This utilitarian arrangement was relieved by potted flowers and pictures on the walls amongst formal plaques bearing the name of each ward. At the time of writing (2016), the appearance and plan of the north range of the Grocers’ Company’s Wing had survived with only minor alterations, despite changes in room use. By the 1930s an operating theatre was located on the north side of the ground floor, lit by a large bay window overlooking Whitechapel Road. On the ground floor of the south range, wards were converted into isolation rooms. The X-Ray Department was housed in the basement of the north range and later extended to accommodate a suite of rooms, including several X-Ray rooms, dark rooms, a film store and offices.20

The Grocers' Company's Wing from the north side of Whitechapel Road. Photographed by Derek Kendall in 2016

Post Mortem Department and Nurses’ Home (demolished)

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. Formerly housed in the old medical college east of the front block, these departments were set to be displaced by its demolition. Their new base was a single-storey building in East Mount Street, positioned between the Grocers’ Company’s Wing and the quarantine wards. 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.21

Plans for the new wing, set to increase hospital beds by a third, also gave rise to a scheme for a Nurses’ Home, intended to provide dormitories and recreation rooms for an expanded staff. In 1874 Nixon estimated that the enlarged hospital would require over thirty additional nurses (including sisters, probationers, day nurses and night nurses), raising the hospital’s nursing staff to as many as 154. He proposed that resident medical officers should be allocated rooms in the front block, and a new building constructed to house the matron, the steward, and nurses. The ideal position for the building was deemed to be at the south end of the east wing, where communication with an earlier staircase extension would ensure proximity to the main body of the hospital. Rough plans were prepared by Thornhill and finished by Barry, 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 began in 1875.22

The result of this strict economy was an austere brick building composed of four storeys above a raised basement. A plain pediment on its west façade echoed the composition of the ward lobbies at the centre of the east and west wings. At ground level, a bay window overlooked the patients’ garden nestled between the ward wings. Notwithstanding modest appearance, the completion of the Nurses’ Home in 1876 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.23 A dormitory was provided for thirty-four nurses, along with separate accommodation for training nurses and probationers. 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’.24

  1. Royal London Hospital Archives and Museum (RLHA), RLHLH/A/26/32, Programme for the Ceremony of Opening the Grocers’ Company’s Wing of the London Hospital, 7 March 1876; RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/37, p. 11. 

  2. The Builder, 17 October 1874, p. 877. 

  3. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/34, p. 484. 

  4. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/35, p. 58. 

  5. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/35, pp. 86, 110–1, 123, 208; DSR. 

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

  7. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/36, pp. 143–4. 

  8. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/35, p. 439. 

  9. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/34, p. 426. 

  10. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/34, p. 460. 

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

  12. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/36, pp. 143–4, 437, 191–3. 

  13. ILN, ‘The London Hospital’ (11 March 1876), p. 258. 

  14. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/36, p. 204. 

  15. ILN, ‘The London Hospital’ (11 March 1876), p. 258. 

  16. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/36, pp. 235–6, 386–7, 437. 

  17. ILN, ‘The London Hospital’ (11 March 1876), p. 258; DSR. 

  18. ILN, ‘London: Saturday, March 11, 1876’, Issue 1911, p. 242. 

  19. ‘The Queen’s Visit to Whitechapel', Reynolds’s Newspaper, Sunday 12 March 1876. 

  20. DSR; RLHA, Aperture cards. 

  21. Goad; DSR; RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/36, pp. 159, 173–4. 

  22. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/37, p. 11; RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/37, pp. 32, 79­–80, 84–5; DSR. 

  23. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/35, p. 439. 

  24. RLHA, RLHLH/A/5/37, p. 11. 

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.

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.

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.

Queen Victoria's visit to Whitechapel to open The Grocers' Company's Wing, 1876
Contributed by Amy Smith, Survey of London on Aug. 25, 2016

Excerpt from 'The Queen's Visit to Whitechapel', Reynolds's Newspaper, Sunday 12 March 1876:

On Tuesday the Queen visited Whitechapel to open the Grocers’ Wing of the London Hospital.The Queen entered the hospital at noon by the western gate, acknowledging the salutations of those who had been admitted to the fore court.

A guard of honour of the Grenadier Guards, under Lieutenant Colonel Thornton, was in attendance. The president of the hospital, the Duke of Cambridge, had arrived at an early hour and, in company with the Bishop of London, Mr Coope, M.P., and Mr O. Hanbury, vice-presidents, Mr T. F. Buxton, treasurer, and others, received the Queen. A brief interval was occupied in marshalling those in attendance in order as a procession, and then the Queen went to the ward in the Grocers’ Company’s Wing, marked number one, where the sisters who superintend the nursing of the hospital awaited her coming. The ward was prepared as it will be when occupied by patients, with its beds in it and cheerful pictures on the wall. Some rare shrubs and flowers set off its light and pleasant aspect. Then the Queen expressed to the president that she bestowed upon the ward the name of ‘Queen Victoria Ward’, and placards placed upon the wall conveyed the intelligence to those who afterwards visited the hospital. The next ward, one for children, was similarly named by the Queen ‘Princess Beatrice Ward’. The cots are not yet placed in the ward, but it was decorated, like the other, with shrubs, and the young nurses in training were drawn up to receive the royal party as they entered the sunlit room.

The president of the hospital, the Duke of Cambridge, handed to the Queen the following address: -

‘May it please your Majesty, on behalf of the governor of this institution, we desire to tender our most heartfelt acknowledgements for the gracious readiness with which, in reply to the prayer of the governor, your Majesty has this day visited the London Hospital, in order to open ‘The Grocers’ Company’s Wing’, now ready for the reception of patients. We venture to assure your Majesty that the remembrance of this condescending act will long be cherished, not only by the governors of the hospital, but by all classes in the East End of London; and will still further strengthen those feelings of loyal affections and reverence with which your Majesty is regarded. Founded in the year 1740, the London Hospital has pursued a steady course of usefulness to the present time; affording relief, during the 136 years of its existence, to nearly two million persons.

'Situated in close proximity to docks and large manufactories, and placed in the midst of a vast population of the most indigent classes of the metropolis, it is, perhaps, impossible to overestimate the service which has been rendered by this charity to the sick and suffering; and the governors have at all times endeavoured to maintain the institution in the highest state of efficiency for the relief of human misery. The hospital has been enlarged from time to time, as demanded by rapid growth of the densely populated districts surrounding it; the last extension having taken place in 1864, when their royal highnesses the Prince and Princess of Wales honoured the institution with their presence, and his royal highness laid the foundation stone of a new wing westward called, by special permission, the Alexandra Wing. The increase of accommodation thus afforded did not long suffice, and the inadequacy of the existing hospital to the necessities of the neighbourhood, especially as regards medical patients, soon became painfully evident.

'After prolonged and anxious deliberation, therefore, the governors resolved in 1873 to provide an addition of 200 beds to the resources of the charity, should sufficient funds be obtained to justify the undertaking. Your Majesty will be interested to learn that the response to the appeal then made is without parallel in the history of charity – a subscription of upwards of £90,000 being, by the generosity of certain governors, and the liberality of the public, eventually obtained. Of this sum, £20,000 was presented by the Worshipful Company of Grocers, with a view to the immediate commencement of a work known to be of vital importance. In acknowledgement of the munificence of this gift, the new building is named ‘The Grocers’ Company’s Wing’; and it is a source of great satisfaction to the governors that an unprecedented instance of public generosity will incidentally be commemorated by your Majesty’s visit. On the opening of this wing, the London Hospital will contain 800 beds for patients, thus becoming the largest institution of the kind in the kingdom, and it will ever be deemed a most auspicious event in the annals of the charity, that the attainment of this distinguished position in the cause of humanity has been marked by the signal honour of your Majesty’s presence.'

Queen Victoria handed to him the following reply in writing: -

‘Situated as the London Hospital is, in the midst of the poorest classes of the metropolis, the addition of a wing was an event of very great importance to the sick and suffering of its neighbourhood; and when I remember that, instead of the eight hundred beds which this hospital will now contain, adequate provision did not exist for four hundred patients previous to the opening of the Alexandra Wing less than twelve years since, I sincerely congratulate his royal highness the president, the governors, and the staff of so eminently successful an institution on the completion of this further proof of their zeal and efficiency. It has given me great pleasure to visit the East End of London, and I shall always remember with much satisfaction that I was enabled to open ‘The Grocers’ Company Wing’ of the London Hospital.'

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: 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 

Historic England list description for The London Hospital
Contributed by Amy Smith, 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


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: entry/1065788, accessed 26 August 2016). 

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

'London Hospital - England's largest voluntary hospital', 1936
Contributed by Amy Smith, 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tredegar House, Bow Road
Contributed by Survey of London

Gardens at the London Hospital, c.1900s
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

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

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

Garden behind the Royal London Hospital c.1982, looking towards the statue of Queen Alexandra and the West Wing
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:

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