St Thomas' Hospital

Pages 79-80

Survey of London: Volume 23, Lambeth: South Bank and Vauxhall. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1951.

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[See plate 50]

St. Thomas' Hospital had its origin in the infirmary of St. Mary Overy Priory by London Bridge, founded early in the 12th century and named St. Thomas' Spital after the canonization of Thomas à Becket in 1173. (fn. 186) A disastrous fire destroyed much of the priory early in the 13th century, and in 1215 the hospital was refounded by Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester, on a new site on the east side of Borough High Street. There it continued, except for the brief break between its dissolution by Henry VIII and its refounding in 1551 by Edward VI, until the middle of the 19th century.

At the beginning of 1859 an Act was passed authorizing the formation of the Charing Cross Railway from London Bridge to Waterloo and Hungerford Market. The line was to cross the garden of St. Thomas' Hospital within a few feet of its new north wing. The governors opposed the Bill, but finding opposition fruitless, decided to sell the whole site to the railway company and move elsewhere, rather than accept a small compensation and submit to the destruction of the hospital's amenities. (fn. 186) A temporary asylum was found in the Surrey Gardens, but in 1863 negotiations were opened with the Metropolitan Board of Works for a site upon the proposed Albert Embankment near Stangate, which was finally purchased for £100,000. It is interesting to note that Florence Nightingale was consulted both on the original move from Southwark and on the design of the new building. Its erection in separate blocks rather than in one large building is probably due to her influence. (fn. 187) (fn. n1) The foundation stone was laid by Queen Victoria in 1868, and she opened the new hospital in June, 1871. The building was designed by Henry Currey, architect to the hospital.

St Thomas' Hospital

Very little in the way of portraits or furniture was brought from the old hospital, but the four statues of cripples (Plate 53) which had been put up over the gate in the Borough in 1682 were re-erected, two on either side of the main entrance facing Lambeth Palace Road, and the stone statue of Edward VI, which dates from the same period, was set up between the first two blocks south of Westminster Bridge Road (Plate 52). The marble statue of Sir Robert Clayton, President of the hospital in 1692–1707, which was made by Grinling Gibbons in 1701–2 (fn. n2), was also brought from Southwark and erected in the medical school triangle (Plate 54). The brass statue of Edward VI was made by Scheemakers and, as recorded on the stone pedestal, was erected in 1737 at the expense of Charles Joye, Treasurer of the hospital, who left money in his will for the purpose.

St. Thomas' House for medical students, on the east side of Lambeth Palace Road, was designed by Harold Wynne Currey and built in 1925–27, and Riddell House, the nurses' home, next door, in 1936–37, Sir Edwin Cooper being the architect.

The hospital was severely damaged by enemy action during the war of 1939–45, and the greater part of the most northerly block has had to be demolished, but the work of the hospital has continued without a break.

Architectural Description

Owing to the narrowness of the site, the hospital is planned with a long north-south communicating link giving access to the ward blocks at right angles to the river. The blocks are mostly placed 125 feet apart and accommodate 28 beds on each storey, the total number of beds originally being about 600. The most southerly block was designed to receive special or isolation cases, while the medical school was placed so as to be separate from the main group; it stands at the southern extremity of the site. At the northern end, the block fronting Westminster Bridge Road (now partly destroyed) was designed as committee rooms and administrative offices, and included the treasurer's house. The whole group of buildings was conceived in the Classic style and built in Fareham red bricks with stone dressings.


  • n1. She proved statistically that the majority of the patients came from outside the immediate locality of Southwark, and although, like all her contemporaries, she was ignorant of bacteriology, she knew from her own observation that keeping patients isolated in small groups decreased the incidence of hospital diseases.
  • n2. 20th June, 1701, “Mr. Trear Reported from the SubComittee to whom the setting-up of Sir Robert Clayton's Statue is referred That they had agreed with Mr. Grinling Gibbon to cutt the said Statue in the best Statue Marble and to set the same up in the Midle of the lower Quadrangle of this Hosp'll upon a Pedestall of the same Sort of Marble by Christmas next, For which he is to have £50 in hand and £150 more as soon as the Work is finished.”
  • 185. Bray ley's History of Surrey, revised by E. Walford, 1878.
  • 186. The history of St. Thomas's Hospital, by F. G. Parsons, 1932.
  • 187. Florence Nightingale, by C. Woodham Smith, 1950.
  • 188. St. Thomas' Hospital Records. Grand Committee Minutes.