St Bartholomew's Hospital

Old and New London: Volume 2. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.

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Walter Thornbury, 'St Bartholomew's Hospital', in Old and New London: Volume 2, (London, 1878) pp. 359-363. British History Online [accessed 22 May 2024].

Walter Thornbury. "St Bartholomew's Hospital", in Old and New London: Volume 2, (London, 1878) 359-363. British History Online, accessed May 22, 2024,

Thornbury, Walter. "St Bartholomew's Hospital", Old and New London: Volume 2, (London, 1878). 359-363. British History Online. Web. 22 May 2024,

In this section



Its Early History—The Presidency of the Royal Hospitals—Thomas Vicary—Harvey, the Famous Physician—The Great Quadrangle of the Hospital Rebuilt—The Museums, Theatres, and Library of St. Bartholomew's—The Great Abernethy—Dr. Percival Pott—A Lucky Fracture—Great Surgeons at St. Bartholomew's—Hogarth's Pictures—Samaritan Fund—View Day—Cloth Fair—Duck Lane.

St. Bartholomew's Hospital was founded by Rayer, the jester or minstrel of Henry I. At the dissolution the fat, greedy hands of Henry VIII., that spared no gold that would melt, whether it was God's or man's, soon had a grip of it, but, for very shame, at the petition of Sir Richard Gresham, Lord Mayor and father of the builder of the Royal Exchange, he turned it over to the City. The king then, in 1546, says Mr. Timbs, "vested the Hospital of St. Bartholomew in the mayor, commonalty, and citizens of London, and their successors, for ever, in consideration of a payment by them of 500 marks a year towards its maintenance, and with it the nomination and appointment of all the officers. In September, 1557, at a general court of the governors of all the hospitals, it was ordered that St. Bartholomew's should henceforth be united to the rest of the hospitals, and be made one body with them, and on the following day ordinances were made by the corporation for the general government of all the hospitals. The 500 marks a year have been paid by the corporation since 1546, besides the profit of many valuable leases."

From a search made in the official records of the City, it appears that for more than 300 years— namely, since 1549—an alderman of London had always been elected president of St. Bartholomew's Hospital. Until 1854, whenever a vacancy occurred in the presidency of the royal hospitals (St. Bartholomew's, Bethlehem, Bridewell, St. Thomas's, or Christ's Hospitals), it was customary to elect the Lord Mayor for the time being, or an alderman who had passed the chair. This rule was first broken when the Duke of Cambridge was chosen president of Christ's Hospital, over the head of Alderman Sidney, the then Lord Mayor; and again, when Mr. Cubitt, then no longer an alderman, was elected president of St. Bartholomew's in preference to the then Lord Mayor. The question is, however, contested by the foundation-governors, or the corporation, and the donation-governors."

The first superintendent of the hospital was Thomas Vicary, serjeant-surgeon to Henry VIII., Edward VI., Mary, and Elizabeth, and one of the earliest English writers on anatomy. The great Harvey, the physician of Charles I., and the first discoverer of the circulation of the blood, was physician to the hospital for thirty-four years, and here, in 1619 (James I.), he first lectured upon his great discovery.


The executors of Whittington had repaired the hospital, in 1423 (Henry VI.), but it had to be taken down in 1730, when the great quadrangle was rebuilt by Gibbs, the ambitious architect of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, and the first stone laid June 9th, 1730. The gate towards Smithfield, a mean structure (with the statue of Henry VIII. and the inscription, "St. Bartholomew's Hospital, founded by Rahere, A.D. 1102; re-founded by Henry VIII., 1546."), was built in 1702. On the pediment of the hospital are two figures—Lameness and Sickness. The cost of the work in 1730 was defrayed by public subscription, Dr. Radcliffe being generously prominent among the donors, and leaving £500 a year for the improvement of the general diet, and £100 a year to buy linen.

The museums, theatres, and library of this noble charity are very large. A new surgery was added in 1842. The lectures of the present day were established by the great Abernethy, who was elected assistant-surgeon in 1787.

PIE CORNER IN 1789. (From a Drawing in Mr. Gardner's Collection.)

Sir Astley Cooper used to say, "Abernethy's manner was worth a thousand a year to him." Some of his patients he would cut short with, "Sir, I have heard enough! You have heard of my book?" "Yes." "Then go home and read it." To a lady, complaining of low spirits, he would say, "Don't come to me; go and buy a skippingrope;" and to another, who said she felt a pain in holding her arm over her head, he replied, "Then what a fool you must be to hold it up!" He sometimes, however, met with his match, and cutting a gentleman short one day, the patient suddenly locked the door, slipped the key into his pocket, and protested he would be heard, which so pleased Abernethy that he not only complied with the patient's wishes, but complimented him on the resolute manner he adopted.

Abernethy made but little distinction between a poor and a rich patient, but was rather more attentive to the former; and, on one occasion, gave great offence to a certain peer, by refusing to see him out of his turn. On entering his apartment, the nobleman, having indignantly asked Abernethy if he knew who he was, stated his rank, name, &c., when Abernethy, it is said, replied, with the most provoking sang froid, "And I, sir, am John Abernethy, surgeon, lecturer of St. Bartholomew's Hospital, &c.; and if you wish to consult me, I am now ready to hear what you have to say in your turn." The Duke of Wellington having insisted on seeing him out of his usual hours, and abruptly entering his parlour one day, was asked by the doctor how he got into the room. "By the door," was the reply. "Then," said Abernethy, "I recommend you to make your exit by the same way." He is said to have given another proof of his independence, by refusing to attend George IV. until he had delivered his lecture at the hospital; in consequence of which he lost a Royal appointment.

That eminent surgeon, Percival Pott, was also one of the shining lights of St. Bartholomew's. The following is the story told of the celebrated fracture, which he afterwards learned to alleviate, and to which he gave his name:—In 1756, while on a visit to a patient in Kent Street, Southwark, he was thrown from his horse, and received a compound fracture of the leg. This event produced, perhaps, one of the most extraordinary instances of coolness and prudence on record. Aware of the danger of rough and injudicious treatment, he would not suffer himself to be raised from the pavement, but sent a messenger for two chairmen. When they arrived, he directed them to nail their poles to a door, which he had purchased in the interim, on which he was then carefully placed, and borne to his residence in Watling Street, near St. Paul's. A consultation was immediately called, and amputation of the limb was resolved on; but, upon the suggestion of a humane friend, who soon after entered the room, a successful attempt to save the limb was made. This accident confined Mr. Pott to his house for several weeks, during which he conceived, and partly executed, his "Treatise on Ruptures."

In 1843 the authorities founded a collegiate establishment for the resident pupils within the college walls: a spacious casualty room has also been added. In 1736 the grand staircase was painted gratuitously by Hogarth, whose heart always warmed to works of charity. The subjects are "The Good Samaritan" and "The Pool of Bethesda." There is also a picture of Rayer laying the first stone of the hospital, and a sick man being carried on a bier by monks, which is the work of some other hand. Hogarth's two pictures for which he was made life goyernor, was, as he tells us himself in his autobiographical sketch, his first efforts in the grand style.

"Before I had done anything of much consequence in this walk (i.e., the painting and engraving of modern moral subjects)," says the sturdy painter, "I entertained some hopes of succeeding in what the puffers in books call 'the great style of history painting;' so without having had a stroke of this grand business before, I quitted small portraits and familiar conversations, and, with a smile at my own temerity, commenced history painter, and on a great staircase at St. Bartholomew's Hospital painted two Scripture stories, 'the Pool of Bethesda' and 'the Good Samaritan,' with figures seven feet high."

"This hospital receives," says Mr. Timbs, in 1868, "upon petition, cases of all kinds, free of fees; and accidents, or cases of urgent disease, without letter, at the surgery, at any hour of the day or night. There is also a 'Samaritan Fund,' for relieving distressed patients. The present buildings contain twenty-five wards, consisting of 650 beds, 400 being for surgical cases, and 250 for medical cases and the diseases of women. Each ward is presided over by a 'sister' and nurse, to the number of nearly 180 persons. In addition to a very extensive medical staff, there are four resident surgeons and two resident apothecaries, who are always on duty, day and night, throughout the year, to attend to whatever may be brought in at any hour of the twenty-four. It further possesses a college within itself, a priceless museum, and a first-class medical school, conducted by thirty-six professors and assistants. The 'View-day,' for this and the other royal hospitals of the City, is a day specially set apart by the authorities to examine, in their official collective capacity, every portion of the establishment, when the public are admitted."

"In January, 1846," says the same writer, "the election of Prince Albert to a governorship of the hospital was commemorated by the president and treasurer presenting to the foundation three costly silver-gilt dishes, each nearly twenty-four inches in diameter, and richly chased with a bold relief of— 1. The election of the Prince; 2, the Good Samaritan; 3, the Plague of London. The charity is ably managed by the corporation. The qualification of a governor is a donation of one hundred guineas."

In the court-room is one of the many supposed original portraits of Henry VIII. by the copiers of Holbein, who is venerated here—and in Mr. Froude's study—if nowhere else.

St. Bartholomew's contained in 1872 676 beds. About 6,000 in-patients are admitted every year, besides 101,000 out-patients. The average income of the hospital is £40,000, derived chiefly from rents and funded property. The number of governors exceeds 300.

Dr. Anthony Askew, one of the past celebrities of St. Bartholomew's, a contemporary of Freke, was scarcely more famous in medicine than in letters. The friend of Dr. Mead, Hogarth, and other celebrities, he was a very notable personage in Georgian London, and, like Pitcairne and Freke, was a Fellow of the Royal Society. He employed Roubillac to produce the bust of Mead, which he presented to the College of Physicians, the price arranged being £50. In his delight at the goodness of the work, Askew sent the artist £100 instead of £50, whereupon Roubillac grumbled that he was not paid enough, and sent in a bill to his employer for £108 2s. Askew contemptuously paid the bill, even to the odd shillings, and sent the receipt to Hogarth. Dr. Pate, a physician of St. Bartholomew's of the same period, lived in Hatton Garden, which, like Ely Place, was long a great place for doctors. Dr. Pitcairne, his colleague, lived in Warwick Court, till he moved into the treasurer's house, in St. Bartholomew's. He was buried in the hospital church. The posthumous sale of Dr. Askew's printed library, in 1775, by Baker and Leigh, and which lasted twenty days, was the great literary auction of the time. There was a subsequent sale of the MSS. in 1789, which also produced a great sum.

Among the modern physicians of St. Bartholomew's we must notice Dr. Baly (Queen's physician, killed in a fearful railway accident) and Dr. Jeaffreson, notable chiefly for his pleasant manners, his skill in whist, billiards, and shooting, and his extraordinary popularity. Wonderfully successful in practice, he was everybody's favourite; but, though a most enlightened man, he did nothing for science, either through literature or investigation.

Among the modern surgeons to be noticed are Sir William Lawrence, Bart.; Mr. Skey, C.B., who was famous for recommending stimulants and denouncing boat-racing, and other too violent sports; and Thomas Wormald, who died lately. Skey and Wormald were favourite pupils of Abernethy, and imitators of their great master's jocular manner and pungent speech. Tommy Wormald, or "Old Tommy," as the students called him, was Abernethy over again in voice, style, appearance, humour. "Done for," was one of his pithy written reports on a "bad life" to an insurance company, whose directors insisted that he should write his reports instead of giving them verbally. He once astounded an apothecary, who was about to put him and certain physicians off with a single guinea fee, at a consultation on a rich man's case, by saying, "A guinea is a lean fee, and the patient is a fat patient. I always have fat fees from fat patients. Pay me two guineas, sir, instantly. Pay Dr. Jeaffreson two guineas, instantly, sir. Sir, pay both the physicians and me two guineas each, instantly. Our patient is a fat patient." Some years since, rich people of a mean sort would drive down to St. Bartholomew's, and get gratuitous advice, as out-patients. Tommy was determined to stop this abuse, and he did it by a series of outrageous assaults on the self-love of the offenders. Noticing a lady, dressed in silk, who had driven up to the hospital in a brougham, Tommy raised his rich, thunderous, sarcastic voice, and, to the inexpressible glee of a roomful of young students, addressed the lady thus:—"Madam, this charity is for the poor, destitute, miserable invalids of London. So you are a miserable invalid in a silk dress—a destitute invalid, in a rich silk dress—a poor invalid, in a dress that a duchess might wear. Madam, I refuse to pay attention to miserable, destitute invalids, who wear rich silk dresses. You had better order your carriage, madam." The lady did not come again.

A few remaining spots round Smithfield still remain for us to notice, and foremost among these is Cloth Fair, the great resort in the Middle Ages of country clothiers and London drapers. Strype describes the street as even in his day chiefly inhabited by drapers and mercers; and Hatton mentions it as in the form of a T, the right arm running to Bartholomew Close, the left to Long Lane.

This latter lane, originally on the north side of the old priory, reaches from Smithfield to Aldersgate Street, and in Strype's time was known for its brokers, its second-hand linen, its upholstery, and its pawnbrokers. Congreve, always witty, makes Lady Wishfort, in his Way of the World, hope that one of her admirers will one day hang in tatters, like a Long Lane pent-house or a gibbeted thief; and good-natured Tom Brown declares that when the impudent rag-sellers in Barbican and Long Lane suddenly caught him by the arm and cried, "What do you lack?" he who feared the sight of a bailiff worse than the devil and all his works, was mortally scared.

In Duck Lane we part good friends with Smithfield. R. B., in Strype, describes it as coming out of Little Britain and falling into Smithfield, and much inhabited by second-hand booksellers. Howell, in his "Letters," mentions finding the Poet-Laureate Skelton, "pitifully tattered and torn," skulking in Duck Lane; and Garth, in his pleasant and graphic poem, says—
"Here dregs and sediment of auctions reign,
Refuse of fairs, and gleanings of Duck Lane."

And Swift, in one of the best of his short poems (that on his own death), writes—
"Some country squire to Lintot goes,
Inquires for Swift, in verse and prose.
Says Lintot, 'I have heard the name;
He died a year ago.' 'The same!'
He searches all the shop in vain;
'Sir, you may find him in Duck Lane:
I sent them with a load of books,
Last Monday, to the pastrycook's."

At the Giltspur Street end of the market stands Pie Corner, worthy of note as the spot where the Great Fire, which began in Pudding Lane, reached its limits: the figure of a fat boy still marks the spot.