St Bartholomew's Hospital

St Bartholomew's Hospital, in West Smithfield, is one of the oldest hospitals of London. It "was founded in 1122 by Rahere, a man of humble birth who became a courtier and favourite of King Henry I". As a 1180 source tells us, "Rhaere went on a pilgrimage to Rome in about 1120 and whilst there became ill with Roman fever or malaria, often a fatal illness. He may have been cared for by monks in a small hospital for the sick poor, attached to the church of St Bartholomew, the apostle, on an island in the River Tiber. Fearing that he would die, Rahere vowed that if God granted him health and allowed him to return to England, he would found his own hospital for the sick poor. Rahere's health was indeed restored and he began his journey home. But when almost at the end of his travels he had a vision in which St Bartholomew appeared. The apostle instructed Raehere to build a church in his name in Smithfield, then on the edge of London. On arriving home, Rahere therefore had a dual purpose: to build a hospital for the sick poor, and to found a priory church in Smithfield dedicated to St Bartholomew"1.


"The medieval hospital house was staffed by a master, eight brethren, and four sisters from the priory. Gradually the hospital became more independent and by 1420 the priory and hospital were entirely separate"2.

"The only medieval structure now remaining at St Bartholomew's is the tower of the church of St Bartholomew the Less.


All the medieval hospital buildings were demolished during the 18th century rebuilding programme carried out to the design of the architect James Gibbs. The North Wing, including the Great Hall, and the East and West Wings, are original Gibbs buildings and Grade I listed"3.


"In 1539 Henry VIII closed the priory as part of the dissolution of the monasteries, The hospital was allowed to continue, but ist future was uncertain as ita had no income with which to carry out its functions. The citizens of London were very concerned about the disappearance of provision for the sick poor and they petitioned the king for the grant of four hospitals in the City, including St Bartholomew's. Henry finally relented and in 1546 granted the hospital to the City of London and endowed it with properties and income"4. This is why today Henry VIII is remembered as a second Founder of the Hospital in the "well-known Henry VIII Gate, through which one enters the hospital from West Smithfield"5.


"The foundations of the medical school were laid towards the end of 1700s, but it was the surgeon and lecturer John Abernethy who persuaded the governors to give the Medical School formal recognition in 1822. The first warden of the School was James Paget, later Sergeant Surgeon to Queen Victoria, who allowed Elizabeth Blackwell to study medicine at Barts in 1850. After her departure femal students were strenously opposed and excluded until 1947"6.

  • Photos by ti.supmacinu|ihgrob.l#ihgroB acuL (July 2011), courtesy of Barts and The London NHS Archives.

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