St Thomas’s Hospital

St Thomas's Hospital from the river

St Thomas's Hospital from the river

St Thomas’s Hospital was founded in about 1106, probably as part of the Priory of St Mary Overie, Southwark but its name The Hospital of St Thomas the Martyr probably dates after Thomas Beckett was made a cannon in 1173. Around 1210 the Priory was destroyed by fire and the hospitals moved to land near London Bridge. In the early 1400s Richard Whittington (the famous Lord Mayor of London) made ‘a new chamber with eight beds for young women who had done amiss, in trust of a good amendment’ commanding ‘that all things that had been done in that chamber should be kept secret… for he would not shame no young woman in no wise, for it might be the cause of their letting [i.e. hindering] of their marriage’.

St. Thomas' Hospital

St. Thomas' Hospital

Thomas Cromwell, who called it ‘the bawdy hospital of St Thomas in Southwark’ in 1535 as it was alleged that the master kept a concubine and had sold the church plate. In 1540 Henry VIII closed The Hospital of St Thomas the Martyr, and ‘decanonised’ Becket. In 1551 the buildings were granted to the Lord Mayor and citizens of London by Edward VI and the hospital was reopened under the name of the Hospital of St Thomas the Apostle. Patients were expected to attend a daily service in the chapel and if they did not they went without food. They were also punished for dicing, gambling, swearing and drunkenness. In 1561 unmarried pregnant women were refused admission because the hospital was erected for the relief ‘of honest persons and not of harlottes’.

In 1566 Henry Bull was appointed the first physician to the hospital at an annual salary of £13 6s 8d. The hospital was rebuilt largely at the expense of Lord Mayor Sir Robert Clayton between 1693 and 1709. In 1703 Richard Mead, physician to Queen Anne and George II, was appointed physician and improved the hospital’s facilities with the help of his friend Thomas Guy. Guy founded the adjacent sister hospital, Guy’s.

Lambeth Palace Road 1868-1871

Lambeth Palace Road 1868-1871

Among the rules drawn up in 1752 were regulations that no patient was to be admitted more than once for the same disease, that no incurables or patients suffering from infectious diseases were to be admitted, that there was to be no suspicious talk or contracting matrimony or entering the wards of the opposite sex, that not more than one patient was to be allowed in a bed.

The hospital moved to its present site in 1871 as its old site was bought to build London Bridge Station in 1859. Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone on 13 May 1868. The architect was Henry Currey who designed a block formation which was approved by Florence Nightingale. Nightingale was to establish her Nightingale Training School of Nursing at St Thomas’ and thus revolutionised the profession.

A medical school was opened in 1871 and by 1900 there were 11 special outpatients departments (ophthalmic, throat, skin, ear, teeth, electrotherapeutics, X-ray, vaccination, mental diseases, diseases of women and diseases of children). In the Second World War the hospital was heavily bombed and in 1956 W. Fowler Howitt designed a new east wing which was completed in 1966. The north wing has subsequently been built by Yorke, Rosenberg and Mardall.

The Evelina Children’s Hospital was re-established on the site of the former nurses’ home. It was opened in 2004.

Bell’s Weekly Messenger
(No.1781, Sunday, May 16, 1830.)
Shocking case of Hydrophobia at St. Thomas’s Hospital.

On Thursday afternoon, a fine youth, named William Charles, aged 17, son of Mr. Charles, of the Windmill Dairy, at Camberwell, was brought to St. Thomas’s Hospital, in a state of very considerable excitement and great difficulty of breathing. Several medical gentleman examined him, but all were at a loss to conjecture the nature of his ailment. In about an hour after, Dr. Roots saw the patient, who are at once pronounced him to be labouring under that dreadful malady, hydrophobia, but nothing could be elicited from the sufferer to strengthen such an opinion, and, when asked if at any time he had been bitten by a dog, he refused to answer. Towards evening the symptoms increased to an alarming degree, and at intervals he would howl and shriek like the canine species, and foam at the mouth, refusing any kind of food or liquids. About two o’clock on Friday, he became so violent that it was found necessary to resort to the aid of a strait waistcoat. Mr. Leete left the room for the purpose of obtaining one, leaving two other gentleman with him. The unfortunate youth taking the advantage of the absence of Mr. Leete seized a syringe that was near his bedside, and which had been charged with a large quantity of spirits of turpentine for the purpose of injection, and began to squirt its dangerous contents at the two gentlemen, who, fearful of its destructive effects, fled out of the room, and at that moment the sufferer jumped out of bed, and bolted them out. The confusion that ensued baffled description. His attendants ran about in all directions. Some of the pupils endeavored to get in at the window by means of a ladder, but failed. The unfortunate sufferer could be seen jumping and climbing about the room like a cat. At length the panel of the door was knocked out, and the door opened, when the poor fellow was discovered lying upon the floor in a state of exhaustion; his tongue hanging out, and foaming at the mouth. He was again placed in bed, and a strait waistcoat placed upon him, besides being strapped to the bedstead.Great exertions have been made since his admission to the hospital to ascertain at what period he was bitten, but no person could be found that could give that desired information, except a woman named Lodge, residing in a small house in a place called “Botany-bay,” near Snow’s-fields; and she stated that, about five months back, the youth lived in her house, having a situation in Lock’s-fields, and one night he came home rather earlier than usual, and, upon being asked the reason, he said he had been discharged for killing his mistress’s cat, and accounted for so doing by saying that, whilst at tea, she stole his bread and butter, that he attempted to chastise her for it, when she flew at him, and believing her to be mad, he caught hold of her, carried her to the door and threw her to a mastiff-dog that was under a ?, and the animal instantly tore her to pieces. Hence it is supposed that at the time he seized the cat, she was in a rabid state, and bit him; and, therefore, the dreadful consequences above described are attributed to the circumstance. It is the opinion of the medical gentleman who attended him that he cannot long survive.

(No.1781, Sunday, May 16, 1830.)

Related links
St Thomas’ Hospital website