The Royal London Hospital is part of the National Health
Service (NHS) and has been tending to the needs of East Enders for more than 250
years. The hospital offers a full A to Z of services to those in need of it.
"Building began on the new hospital in Whitchapel:
The Hospital Governors appointed a committee under the Earl of Macclesfield to
choose a site for a purpose built Hospital. Mount Field in Whitechapel, which
was owned by the City Corporation, was selected and building began in 1752.
New hospital, was partially opened:
In 1757 the new hospital, designed by Boulton Mainwaring was partially opened at
a cost of £18,000.
The London Hospital Medical College was founded:
The Hospitals Surgeons and Physicians trained pupils, by taking them into the
hospital, discussing with them the patients illnesses and sometimes allowing
them to administer treatment. This method of teaching was combined with
lecturers and anatomy classes, taken outside the Infirmary until 1785, when The
London Hospital Medical College (the first hospital based medical school in
England), was founded by William Blizard and James Maddocks.
Operation bell of the London Hospital 1791 - This bell, together with the bell
of 1757 that hangs in the Hospital entrance, was made in the Whitechapel bell
foundry. Before the introduction of anaesthetics in 1846, it is reputed to have
summoned attendants to hold surgical patients still.
Health in the 18th Century:
Death from starvation was common. Many women died in childbirth and still more
children died in infancy. Plague had disappeared from London with the Great Fire
and the black rats which spread the disease, but there were regular outbreaks of
smallpox, dysentery, typhoid and typhus (or gaol fever). Medical treatment was
limited to quinine for ague (malaria), mercury for syphilis and laudanum (opium
and alcohol) for pain relief, while ineffective methods like bleeding, purges,
vomit induction, artificial sweating, cold bathing and restriction of food and
water were promoted by most physicians.
The Nineteenth Century:
The Nineteenth Century was a period of remarkable growth for the Hospital, given
impetus by a rapid rise in the population of East London.
The health of East Enders became a national issue when successive cholera
outbreaks, between 1830 and 1866, focused attention on the inadequacies of
sanitation and public health provision in the area, leading to increased public
support for the Hospital, allowing it to expand.
Nursing in the 19th century:
In the early 19th Century, many nurses were elderly and had already survived
diseases like typhus and smallpox. Even with natural immunity to these diseases,
the death rate among nurses could be high. The hospital tried to recruit younger
nurses and those who could read and write, but this proved difficult.
In 1840, Elizabeth Frys Nursing Sisters began to nurse in the Hospital, training
under the Matron, Jane Nelson. Florence Nightingale (1820 - 1911), who led a
group of nurses to the Crimean War, inspired a generation. She opened a nurse
training school at St Thomas Hospital in 1860 and one of its trainees, Annie
Swift, came to the London as Assistant Matron.
By 1873 the Hospital had opened its own School of Nursing, based along
Nightingale lines. The school of nursing expanded under Miss Eva Luckes to
become the largest nurse training school in Britain. The improvements in nursing
care and nurse education, inspired by Florence Nightingale (an honorary governor
of the Hospital) and brought about by the Matron, Eva Luckes, between 1880 and
Surgery, whilst based on improving knowledge of human anatomy, was limited by
terrible difficulties in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Anaesthetics were
not used to relieve pain in surgery until the 1840’s, so operations had to be
very rapid. The first operation conducted under anaesthetics (chloroform) at The
London Hospital was in February 1847. Artery forceps were not introduced to stop
bleeding until 1870 and surgeons relied on tourniquets (tight bands), cauteries
(hot irons) and ligatures (silk threads) to prevent blood loss.
The surgeon’s greatest problem was his ignorance of germs and infection. Wounds
became infected and surgical instruments introduced germs. Many patients
survived an operation but died later of blood poisoning. In the 1870s surgeons
began to appreciate the importance of hygiene and preventing germs in surgery by
using antiseptics like carbolic acid.
Grocers Wing opened:
The Grocers Wing of the Hospital was opened by Queen Victoria on 11 March 1876.
This was one of the Queen’s first public appearances since the death of her
husband Prince Albert 15 years before and she was welcomed by enthusiastic
30,000 patients a year were now being treated, most without governors’ letter of
recommendation and the average number of patients in the Hospital was 650. The
hospital struggled to keep pace with the growth of industry and population in
the East End, the consequences of poverty and the rise in industrial accidents.
Joseph Merrick, admitted to the hospital:
Joseph Merrick, the so-called Elephant Man, was admitted to the hospital. He
remained there until he died, in his hospital room facing Bedstead Square in
Tredegar House - the preliminary training school - the first in England opened
in 1895 in the house given by Lord Tredegar.
New Outpatients Department opens:
The new London Hospital Outpatients department was opened in 1903, by King
Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. It featured new departments, such as the Finsen
Light Department, Massage Department and (from 1911) a dental school.
Queen Alexandra became hospital president:
Queen Alexandra, after whom a wing was named, became hospital president in 1904.
The Alexandra wing included an obstetrical ward and a Kosher kitchen and
accommodation for Jewish patients provided at the request of the Jewish
The first world war:
The Hospital received the first wounded to return from the Western Front during
the First World War.
The financial struggle:
Hospitals accumulated large debts during the War and many introduced charges for
patients. Lord Knutsford had already introduced means testing of patients at the
London. Lord Dawson, physician at The London, advised government to set up
primary health centres.
The financial struggle continued through the 1930’s.
Sir Henry Souttar performs the first successful operation to stretch the mitral
Sir Henry Souttar performed the first successful operation to stretch the mitral
valve, a basis for modern heart surgery. Souttar was also the first at the
Hospital to use radium in cancer treatment.
State registration of nurses introduced:
State registration of nurses, was introduced at the Hospital in 1919, meant
nurse training changed to a three-year course and modernisation was led by Clare
Alexander. At first this was not compulsory. Londoners began to take state
registration from 1925. At that time, the hospital still had a private nursing
staff of 200, caring for patients in their own homes.
Poor law infirmaries converted into municipal hospitals:
Poor law infirmaries (such as Mile End Hospital), which cared for many, were
converted into municipal hospitals by the London County Council. Mile End and
St. Clements hospitals became part of The London Hospital group in 1968 and
remained so until 1994.
Second World War:
The hospital played a central role in organising emergency medical services to
the north and east of London during the Second World War. It also suffered heavy
damage due to enemy action during and after the Blitz.
Staff and patients were evacuated to sector hospitals outside London, but
essential services like accident & emergency, midwifery and outpatients remained
A hospital annexe at Brentwood, Essex, opened, providing 345 beds (in huts),
including 70 for patients with tuberculosis which was still a major public
War accelerated the development of new drugs. The sulphonamide drugs, introduced
in the 1930s, were augmented by penicillin, introduced in 1943, streptomycin
(1946) and other antibiotics, which had a great impact on patient treatment.
From 1946 the medical college, like others in London, became increasingly
associated with London University, women medical students were accepted (women
had been admitted to the medical school during the First World War but the
arrangement ceased in the 1920s) and student grants increased.
The Hospital became part of the National Health Service:
The Hospital became part of the National Health Service in 1948 as the voluntary
hospital system came to an end. In 1948 the voluntary hospital system, which had
cared for the acutely sick since the 18 th Century came to an end as the state
took control of health care under the National Health Act. The London, like
other teaching hospitals lost little of its independence for the first 26 years
of the NHS and was financially better off than before.
Redevelopment at Whitechapel:
Plans for complete redevelopment at Whitechapel were drawn up but not
implemented. The 1950s saw reconstruction throughout London as war damaged
buildings were repaired and rebuilt. Nurses training emphasised individual
patient needs and there was a move towards greater continuity between hospital
and community care.
A new dental hospital, pathology institute and School of Nursing and Midwifery:
The 1960’s saw more construction: a new dental hospital, pathology institute and
School of Nursing and Midwifery. Meanwhile, former local authority hospitals,
Mile End, St Clement’s and later Bethnal Green Hospital joined The London.
Advances in treatment for diseases of the kidney:
The London Hospital received its first artificial kidney in 1959. Renal
transplants were performed at the hospital from 1968, at the same time as
Hanbury Ward developed as a dialysis centre.
In common with other teaching hospitals, The London remained under the control
of its own Board of Governors and retained much of its independence until the
NHS reorganisation of 1974. Reorganisation in 1974 brought profound changes for
London’s teaching hospitals. Health districts, areas and regions were created as
hospital boards disappeared, but the new system was soon re-evaluated.
Further reorganisation in 1991 created NHS Trusts, intended to allow hospitals
to regain some self-government.
The Royal London, granted a Royal title by HM The Queen on its 250th anniversary
in 1990, became a first wave NHS Trust. More changes came in 1994, when The
Royal London merged with St Bartholomew’s and the London Chest Hospitals (later
also Queen Elizabeth Hospital for Children), to form a new Trust, since renamed
Barts and The London.
The Royal London is already home to a Helicopter Emergency Medical Service
(HEMS), Europe’s largest Accident and Emergency Department, and one of Britain’s
biggest children’s hospital services.
The Hospital was granted a Royal Charter by George II in 1758 and a Royal Title
by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth in 1990.
Under further reorganization of the Health Service in 1991 the Hospital,
together with Mile End and St. Clement’s hospitals and local community health
services, became one of the first National Health Service Trusts.
The Royal Hospitals NHS Trust was formed:
In April 1994 After public consultation, The Royal Hospitals NHS Trust was
formed, amalgamating The Royal London, St Bartholomews and The London Chest
In 1998 the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for Children joined the Trust. The Medical
Colleges of St Bartholomew’s Hospital and The Royal London Hospital have also
merged with Queen Mary and Westfield College. Barts Hospital is now to remain
open providing specialist cardiac and cancer care, whilst general hospital
services will be concentrated at the Royal London in Whitechapel."
Barts and the Royal London website.