St Thomas Hospital

St Thomas Hospital, operated from the 12th century until the mid-19th century in Southwark Borough of London. "In January 1862, the Charing Cross Railway Bill was passed. A compulsory purchase order in favour of the South Eastern Railway Company was subsequently served and the Hospital was given six months to move"1.

The ancient buildings were destroyed with the exception of St. Thomas' Church which can still be visited with its extraordinary Operating Theatre and Herb Garrett.

After a temporary arrangement, from 1862 to 1871, "in the derelict music hall and zoological buildings at Surrey Gardens"2, a new hospital, whose design was greatly influenced by Florence Nightingale, was built in Lambeth and inaugurated by Queen Victoria in 1871.

"St Thomas' was rebuilt in Lambeth on an almost rectangular site narrowing towards the southern end. It extended from Westminster Bridge in the north to Lambeth Bridge in the south and was bounded by the River Thames to the west and Stangate and decrepit buildings to the east.(…) There were eight 'blocks' with the medical school at the southern end"3

Only four of the Nigtingale-style blocks remain today and they can hardly be seen among the trees lining along the river and the late-20th century buildings.

The Nightingale Training School for Nurses opened on 24 June 1860 and, after moving its first steps in the Southwark location, fully established itself in the 'new' St Thomas' at Lambeth, becoming the model for all the following nursing schools in the world4. On the site of the original Nightingale Training School, the Florence Nightingale Museum was opened in 19895.

Famous English neurophysiologist and Nobel laureate Sir Charles Scott Sherrington had studied in this hospital from 1876. He worked there as a Physiology lecturer from 1887 until 18916. Then, in 1892 he signed an act guaranteeing a sinking fund to raise the construction of a new teaching building for the medical school. This building is beside the river Thames and it was designated as “The Sherrington School of Physiology”7. In 1897, after his experience at St. Thomas’s Hospital he wrote this poem8:

St. Thomas's Hospital 1897
Palace of Pain, whose face mocks o'er a flood
rich and impure, the palace of state decrees
and council hall of kingdoms bent on good.
There a pale population coughing blood
toil wasted, ulcer burrowed, born of ease
seeks for a little help in its disease.
Thames mirrors thee as it has mirrored trees
and many a happy garden, and healthy wood.
Lo, at thy thousand windows sighs like airs
make the deep curtains move it seems to me,
and white with sunlight still thou art in gloom
moans thee through from resonant room to room
so wild at first, but later glad to see
Death reach the pain that wears, and body that bears.

  • Photos by Luca Borghi ti.supmacinu|ihgrob.l#| (August 2011), courtesy of St Thomas' Hospital.

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