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Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0074 CLC/524
Held at: London Metropolitan Archives
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Date(s): 1709
Level of description: Collection
Extent: 1 production unit.
Name of creator(s): St Thomas' Hospital | London x Infirmary of the Augustinian Priory of St Mary Overy | 1106-1215 x 5th London (City of London) General Hospital | 1915-1919


Administrative/Biographical history:

Saint Thomas' Hospital was founded in the early part of the 12th Century as the infirmary of the Augustinian Priory of St Mary Overy and was run by the 11 brothers and sisters of the monastery. It had 40 beds for the poor including the 'sick and the merely needy'. The exact date of foundation is uncertain but tradition says that the priory was founded about 1106 - by 1215 it was being described as 'ancient'. It is dedicated to Saint Thomas the Martyr, a name that cannot have been assumed until after the canonisation of Saint Thomas Becket in 1173, three years after his death. Following a disastrous fire in 1212, the priory and the hospital developed quite separately. The site opposite the priory in Long Southwark (later known as Borough High Street) was acquired by the hospital in 1215 and occupied until 1862. Its position is still indicated by St Thomas' Street and by Saint Thomas' Church, until recently used as the Chapter House of Southwark Cathedral. Little documentary evidence remains to tell of life in the hospital between 1215 and its suppression with other monasteries in 1540. Treatment was a medley of pseudo-science and old wives' remedies.

The early fifteenth century was marked by the opening of a new ward, the gift of Richard Whittington, Lord Mayor of London (1397, 1406 and 1419). 'The noble merchant, Richard Whittington, made a new chamber with 8 beds for young women that had done amiss, in trust of a good amendment. And he commanded that all the things that had been done in that chamber should be kept secret for he would not shame no young women in no wise, for it might be cause of their letting {i.e. hindering} of their marriage.'

Henry VIII dissolved the Hospital in 1540, despite pleas from the City to allow it to take over control. It was described as a 'bawdy' house possibly because the Master was accused of immorality, or because it treated many of Southwark's prostitutes and their clients for their venereal diseases. At this time there had been forty patients, but the hospital was to remain empty for eleven years until a petition to Edward VI led to it being refounded in 1552 and rededicated to Thomas the Apostle as Becket had been decanonised. The hospital grew in size and reputation. At the end of the 17th century the hospital and the adjoining Saint Thomas' Church were largely rebuilt by Thomas Cartwright (Master Mason to Christopher Wren at Saint Mary-le-Bow). In 1822 part of the herb garret above the church was converted into a purpose built operating theatre for female patients. This strange situation resulted from the fact that the female surgical ward abutted the garret. Previously operations had taken place on the ward.

The rebuilding of London Bridge between 1824 and 1831 led to alterations within the hospital. Borough High Street was realigned further to the west and on a higher level. This resulted in the demolition of two old wings of the hospital, built by Thomas Guy and Mr Frederick. These were replaced by new north and south wings built between 1840 and 1842; these wings stood on much higher ground than the rest of the hospital and it was therefore intended that the whole hospital should be modernised, starting with the rebuilding of the main entrance.

In 1859 Florence Nightingale became involved with Saint Thomas' setting up on this site her famous nursing school, the Nightingale Training School. This started with fifteen probationers and grew rapidly. Instruction during the course was mainly practical, with the Probationers working in the hospital wards under close supervision. Considerable emphasis was placed on high moral character. At the end of the year, if they were approved, they were entered on the Register of Certified Nurses, and employment was found for them.

It was about this time that Parliament gave permission for the railway from Greenwich to be extended from London Bridge across the River Thames to Charing Cross. This extension was to pass within half a metre of the north surgical block of the Hospital and despite protests from the governors went ahead. The only solution for the Hospital was to move elsewhere. Florence Nightingale undertook a statistical survey that suggested that as the majority of the Hospital's patients came from outside the immediate area a move would have little significant effect. The Governors decided to sell the hospital and its site to the South-Eastern Railway Company and seek a new location. The Hospital closed in June 1862 and found temporary accommodation in the old Surrey Gardens Music Hall at Newington. A suitable permanent site was found at Stangate in Lambeth where work began in 1865. On 21 June 1871 Queen Victoria opened the new hospital. In the years immediately after the opening of the hospital the financial situation was such that it became necessary to admit private, paying patients in order to increase the hospital's revenue and meet its running costs.

The turn of the century saw a number of advancements in the running of the hospital including the introduction of electric lighting throughout the hospital in both theatres and wards. It was at this time that the first diagnostic work was done with x-rays and experiments were taking place in the use of x-rays in treating inoperable cancers. However this expansion in the work of the hospital's work put pressure on accommodation that was already over subscribed by 1891. The medical school was allotted money for building work to build a much needed extension. Other building projects were instituted but again the problems of financing the improvements meant there was a continuing shortage of beds and operating facilities.

During the First World War the hospital lost many members of staff to military service and as a result had to restrict the services offered to civilians. Two hundred beds were put aside for the treatment of sick and wounded men from the armed forces. On August 16th 1915 the military section of the hospital became the 5th London (City of London) General Hospital, the staff were given commissions and the nurses enrolled in the City of London Territorial Force Nursing Service. The 5th London General was closed on March 31st 1919, but the hospital continued to be overwhelmed with work in the aftermath of the war.

The inter-war years saw the reform of the scheme used for training nurses, this was undertaken by Miss Alicia Lloyd Still and was based upon the syllabus of the General Nursing Council. Miss Lloyd Still introduced an organised programme of lectures and had proper lecture rooms installed to replace the need to have classes in the nurses dining-room. This period also saw the donation of large sums of money to the hospital for specific purposes with the result that a number of laboratories were founded to expanded the research facilities available at the hospital and further accommodation was provided for the treatment of patients. However the finances of the hospital were as ever under-funded.

The Second World War saw the hospital involved in direct action. From 1940 the hospital buildings were heavily bombed and much damage and destruction occurred. The hospital was allotted to Sector VIII as the centre of a scheme to provide medical care for injured servicemen. Two hundred beds were again set aside for use by the military and 130 beds were retained for civilian use. Such staff as were not needed at the hospital were sent to work in outer areas, and a basement operating theatre was established. Once the bombing began conditions at the hospital became increasingly difficult and most of the staff and patients were evacuated to Hydestile near Godalming where the Australians were evacuating a temporary hospital. The first patients were admitted on April 17th 1941 and it remained in operation throughout the war and afterwards while rebuilding work was taking place in Lambeth, finally closing in 1963. Immediately the war was over work began on rebuilding the hospital, but a shortage of labour and supplies meant progress was slow. By 1947 there were again facilities to provide over 500 beds.

In 1948 the establishment of the National Health Service brought fundamental changes to the hospital. Saint Thomas' Hospital and the Babies' Hostel were the nucleus of a group that included the General Lying-In Hospital, the Royal Waterloo Hospital, the Grosvenor Hospital and the Roffey Park Rehabilitation Centre at Horsham, Surrey. Each of these constituent hospitals retained its name but was fully amalgamated with Saint Thomas' and the group as a whole was given the umbrella name of Saint Thomas' Hospital. Saint Thomas's Hospital was managed by the London Regional Hospital Board (Teaching), acting through a Hospital Management Committee. The nationalisation of the Health Service was greatly to Saint Thomas' financial advantage but lead to increasingly heavy demands for improved services.

Between 1950 and 1975 Saint Thomas' Hospital was virtually rebuilt. The bombing of the Second World war caused such extensive damage that it was shown to be necessary to start again from scratch. The hospital architect W. Fowler Howitt planned a modern hospital built along vertical rather than the traditional horizontal lines. This work was done over a period of time in order to enable the hospital to continue to serve the public throughout the work and to minimise disruption as far as possible.

In 1974 Saint Thomas's District Health Authority (Teaching) was formed under the Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham Area Health Authority (Teaching) which in 1982 became West Lambeth District Health Authority. The Special Trustees of Saint Thomas' Hospital came into existence on 1 April 1974 when as a consequence of National Health Service reorganisation, Saint Thomas' Hospital ceased to have its own Board of Governors, but became part of the Saint Thomas' Health District (Teaching) of Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham Area Health Authority. The Special Trustees took over responsibility for the hospital's endowment funds. In April 1993 in a further reorganisation of the National Health Service and the way hospitals were organised and grouped the Saint Thomas' Hospital group was amalgamated with the Guy's Hospital Group to create the Guy's and Saint Thomas' NHS Hospital Trust. Their mission statement outlines what the trustees see as the Hospital's current role in society: "To be London's leading University Hospital, providing a comprehensive local acute hospital service to people who live and work in London, providing a range of specialised hospital services and working in partnership with Guy's, King's and St Thomas' School of Medicine, Dentistry & Biomedical Sciences to deliver high quality teaching and research."


Scope and content/abstract:

Condition of a bond given by the treasurer of St Thomas's Hospital to "A. B." in recognition of his proposal to discover to the Governors a freehold estate called Elliot's Court in Little Old Bailey, which had been lost and withheld from them for 24 years.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

One item.

Conditions governing access:

Access by appointment only. Please contact staff.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Copyright to this collection rests with the depositor.

Finding aids:

Please see online catalogues at:

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Deposited in the Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section, which merged with the London Metropolitan Archives in 2009.

Allied Materials

Related material:

See H01/ST for the main records of the Hospital.

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
August to October 2010.

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