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Archives in London and the M25 area

Eastern Hospital

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0405 E
Held at: Barts Health NHS Trust Archives (St Bartholomew's Hospital Archives)
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Full title: Eastern Hospital
Date(s): 1739-1980
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 514 items
Name of creator(s): Eastern Hospital
Detailed catalogue: Click here to view repository detailed catalogue


Administrative/Biographical history:

The 1860s was a decade of epidemics in London and it was an outbreak of 'relapsing' fever, in which the patient fell victim to a fever, appeared to recover but relapsed after a week, which led to the foundation of the fever hospital that later became the Eastern Hospital. Since 1867 the Metropolitan Asylums Board had been responsible for the care and control of all fever cases within London. The site in Homerton had been designated as a fever hospital and a smallpox hospital, but it was not until the 'relapsing' fever epidemic that work began. The fever hospital was opened in December 1870, with six wards for typhus, two each for scarlet fever and enteric patients and two smaller wards for any special cases. This gave a total of 200 beds which were immediately occupied. Building work then continued on the adjacent smallpox hospital in an attempt to counteract a growing epidemic of that disease, from which nearly 8000 people died in London between 1870 and 1871.

The hospital opened in February 1871, and consisted of four blocks each containing eight wards with twelve beds. In the first three days sixty patients were admitted and by the middle of the month all the beds were filled. The overflow of patients had to be taken to the fever hospital next door, where the number of beds had been increased to 600. Convalescent patients had to be accommodated in the corridors or in tents in the grounds, while some were even sent to a hospital ship moored at Greenwich. By July, the epidemic had run its course and the number of patients rapidly dropped until, by October 1873, the smallpox hospital was almost empty. Although the first vaccination against smallpox had been made in England in 1721, and a reliable form of vaccine was introduced in 1796, it was not until 1853 that infant vaccination against the disease was made compulsory. Even this did not ensure that everyone was vaccinated and some doctors used the wrong serum. However, the 1870s epidemic clearly showed the value of vaccination, since no patients died who had been vaccinated. After this date the number of smallpox cases gradually declined until, by 1921, there were insufficient numbers to justify a separate hospital and the smallpox hospital was amalgamated with the Eastern Hospital. In the same year, the buildings of the East London Union Infirmary in Clifden Road were also incorporated into the Eastern Hospital.

In the 1920s, scarlet fever and diphtheria were the main diseases treated at the Eastern and the majority of patients were children. They were kept in isolation cubicles until the diagnosis was confirmed and then moved to a general ward. The patients wore rough flannel nightdresses and black boots, and there was a menu of weak cocoa with marmalade sandwiches for breakfast. In 1930, control of the Eastern passed to the London County Council.

During the Second World War St John's Hospital for Diseases of the Skin was severely bombed and all its in-patient facilities were lost. Wards at the Eastern were allocated to patients from St John's and the association between the two hospitals continued until the 1980s.

When the National Health Service was established in 1948, the Eastern came under the control of the Ministry of Health and was one of the four hospitals administered as the Hackney Group, the others being Hackney, the German and the Mothers' hospitals. During the post-war years the Eastern played an important part in defeating two of the most feared diseases of that time - tuberculosis and poliomyelitis. In 1974, the Eastern became part of the newly-created City and Hackney Health District.

The Eastern Hospital was closed in 1982 and shortly afterwards most of the old buildings on the site were demolished. The new Homerton Hospital was built where the Eastern formerly stood. The first patients were admitted to the Homerton in the summer of 1986 and the official opening took place in 1987.


Scope and content/abstract:

Comprises: administrative records; property and estate records; photographs; medical records; pathology records; staff records; external publications.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

See Scope and content.

Conditions governing access:

Some material is restricted. Please contact the repository in the first instance.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Copying and digitisation services are available for unrestricted material. Researchers should contact the repository in the first instance.

Finding aids:

See 'Detailed catalogue' link above.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Allied Materials

Related material:

Records of the Eastern Hospital, 1868-1948, including staff, admission and discharge and nursing records and baptism registers, 1888-1938, are also held by London Metropolitan Archives.

National Register of Archives: Click here to view NRA record

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Original description compiled by Neil Hargreaves, 2007, thanks to generous funding from The Pilgrim Trust/Esmée Fairbairn Foundation Cataloguing Grants Programme. Updated by Clare Button, Archivist, School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary University of London.

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:
2007; updated July 2020.

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