Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 London Hospitals in 1731

London Hospitals in 1731

The following information is taken from London in 1731 by Don Manoel Gonzales. The complete text of this work is available at Project Gutenburg.


The eighteenth century saw a burgeoning of hospitals in London but most postdate Don Manoel Gonzales' account and include St George's (1734); the Foundling Hospital (1739); London Hospital (1740); Lock Hospital (1747); Middlesex Infirmary (1754); and the Magdalen Hospital for Penitent Prostitutes (1758).

What we do have are interesting descriptions of the staff, diet and organisation of St. Bartholomew's, St Thomas', Guy's and Bethlehem hospitals. Admissions and discharges seem to have been based on the opinions of the board of governors rather than the doctors.

Don Manoel's Account

St. Bartholomew's Hospital

The Hospital of St. Bartholomew, on the south side of Smithfield, is contiguous to the church of Little St. Bartholomew. It was at first governed by a master, eight brethren, and four sisters, who had the care of the sick and infirm that were brought thither.

King Henry VIII. endowed it with a yearly revenue of five hundred more yearly for the relief of one hundred infirm people. And since that time the hospital is so increased and enlarged, by the benefactions given to it, that it receives infirm people at present from all parts of England.

In the year 1702 a beautiful frontispiece was erected towards Smithfield, adorned with pilasters, entablature, and pediment of the Ionic order, with the figure of the founder, King Henry VIII., in a niche, standing in full proportion; and the figures of two cripples on the pediment: but the most considerable improvements to the building were made in the year 1731, of the old buildings being pulled down, and a magnificent pile erected in the room of them about 150 feet in length, faced with a pure white stone, besides other additions now building.

There are two houses belonging to this hospital, the one in Kent Street, called the Lock, and the other at Kingsland, whither such unfortunate people as are afflicted with the French disease are sent and taken care of, that they may not prove offensive to the rest; for surely more miserable objects never were beheld, many of them having their noses and great part of their faces eaten off, and become so noisome frequently, that their stench cannot be borne, their very bones rotting while they remain alive.

This hospital is governed by the Lord Mayor and Aldermen, with about three hundred other substantial citizens and gentlemen of quality, who generally become benefactors; and from these and their friends the hospital has been able to subsist such numbers of infirm people, and to perform the surprising cures they have done; for the patients are duly attended by the best physicians and surgeons in London, and so well supplied with lodging and diet proper to their respective cases, that much fewer miscarry here, in proportion, than in the great hospital of invalids, and others the French so much boast of in Paris.

Those that have the immediate care of the hospital are:

  • the president
  • the treasurer the auditors of accounts viewers of their revenues overseers of the goods and utensils of the hospital
  • the almoners, who buy in provisions and necessaries for the patients

A committee, consisting of the treasurer, almoners, and some other of the governors, meet twice a week to inspect the government of the house, to discharge such persons as are cured, and to admit others.

St. Thomas' and Guy's Hospitals

The Hospital of St. Thomas consists of four spacious courts, in the first of which are six wards for women. In the second stands the church, and another chapel, for the use of the hospital. Here also are the houses of the treasurer, hospitaller, steward, cook, and butler. In the third court are seven wards for men, with an apothecary's shop, store-rooms and laboratory. In the fourth court are two wards for women, with a surgery, hot and cold baths, &c. And in the year 1718 another magnificent building was erected by the governors, containing lodgings and conveniences for a hundred infirm persons. So that this hospital is capable of containing five hundred patients and upwards at one time; and there are between four and five thousand people annually cured and discharged out of it, many of them being allowed money to bear their charges to their respective dwellings.

But one of the greatest charities ever attempted by a private citizen was that of Thomas Guy, Esq., originally a bookseller of London, and afterwards a Member of Parliament for Tamworth, who, having acquired an immense fortune, founded a hospital for incurables, on a spot of ground adjoining to St. Thomas's Hospital, and saw the noble fabric in a good forwardness in his lifetime, assigning about two hundred thousand pounds towards the building, and endowing it, insomuch that it is computed there may be an ample provision for four hundred unhappy people, who shall be given over by physicians and surgeons as incurable.

This gentleman died in December, 1724, having first made his will, and appointed trustees to see his pious design duly executed. He gave also several thousand pounds to Christ's Hospital, and a thousand pounds a piece to fifty of his poor relations; but the will being in print, I refer the reader to it for a more particular account of this noble charity.

The first church and hospital, dedicated to St. Thomas a Becket, was erected by the Prior of Bermondsey, so long since as the year 1013; but the hospital was refounded, and the revenues increased, anno 1215, by Peter de Rupibus, Bishop of Winchester, in whose diocese it was situated, continuing, however, to be held of the priors of Bermondsey till the year 1428, when the Abbot of Bermondsey relinquished his interest to the master of the hospital for a valuable consideration.

In the year 1538 this hospital was surrendered to King Henry VIII., being then valued at 266 pounds 17s. 6d. per annum. And in the following reign, the City of London having purchased the buildings of the Crown, continued them a hospital for sick and wounded people; and King Edward VI. granted them some of the revenues of the dissolved hospitals and monasteries towards maintaining it: but these were inconsiderable in comparison of the large and numerous benefactions that have since been bestowed upon it by the Lord Mayor, aldermen, and other wealthy citizens and men of quality, governors of it, who are seldom fewer than two or three hundred, every one of them looking upon themselves to be under some obligation of making an addition to the revenues of the hospital they have the direction of.

A committee of the governors sit every Thursday, to consider what patients are fit to be discharged, and to admit others.

New Bethlehem Hospital

New Bethlem, or Bedlam, is situated at the south end of Moorfields, just without the wall, the ground being formerly part of the town ditch, and granted by the City to the governors of the hospital of Old Bethlem, which had been appropriated for the reception of lunatics, but was found too strait to contain the people brought thither, and the building in a decaying condition.

The present edifice, called New Bedlam, was begun to be erected anno 1675, and finished the following year. It is built of brick and stone; the wings at each end, and the portico, being each of them adorned with four pilasters, entablature and circular pediment of the Corinthian order. Under the pediment are the King's arms, enriched with festoons; and between the portico and each of the said wings is a triangular pediment, with the arms of the City; and on a pediment over the gate the figures of two lunatics, exquisitely carved. The front of this magnificent hospital is reported to represent the Escurial in Spain, and in some respects exceeds every palace in or about London, being 528 feet in length, and regularly built.

The inside, it is true, is not answerable to the grand appearance it makes without, being but 30 feet broad, and consisting chiefly of a long gallery in each of the two storeys that runs from one end of the house to the other; on the south side whereof are little cells, wherein the patients have their lodgings, and on the north the windows that give light to the galleries, which are divided in the middle by a handsome iron gate, to keep the men and women asunder.

In order to procure a person to be admitted into the hospital, a petition must be preferred to a committee of the governors, who sit at Bedlam seven at a time weekly, which must be signed by the churchwardens, or other reputable persons of the parish the lunatic belongs to, and also recommended to the said committee by one of the governors; and this being approved by the president and governors, and entered in a book, upon a vacancy (in their turn) an order is granted for their being received into the house, where the said lunatic is accommodated with a room, proper physic and diet, gratis.

The diet is very good and wholesome, being commonly boiled beef, mutton, or veal, and broth, with bread, for dinners on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, the other days bread, cheese, and butter, or on Saturdays pease-pottage, rice-milk, furmity, or other pottage, and for supper they have usually broth or milk pottage, always with bread. And there is farther care taken, that some of the committee go on a Saturday weekly to the said hospital to see the provisions weighed, and that the same be good and rightly expended.