The Royal Free Hospital (original site)

The Royal Free Hospital in London (256 Grays Inn Rd),was founded in 1828 by surgeon William Marsden to provide, as its name indicates, free care to those of little means. It is said that one evening, Marsden found a young girl lying on the steps of St. Andrew Church, Holborn, dying from disease and hunger and sought help for her from one of the nearby hospitals. However, none would take the girl in and she died two days later. After this experience Marsden set up a small dispensary at 16 Greville Street, Holborn, called the London General Institution for the Gratuitous Care of Malignant Diseases. A royal charter was granted by Queen Victoria in 1837 after a cholera epidemic in which the hospital had extended care to many victims, following which it became the Royal Free Hospital. As demand for in-patient facilities increased, it was constituted as the Royal Free Hospital, and moved to the former barracks of the Light Horse Volunteers in Gray's Inn Road in August 1842.


The north wing of the former barracks, which was rebuilt and renamed the Sussex Wing after Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex, a benefactor of the hospital, re-opened in 1856 and the south wing, which was rebuilt and renamed the Victoria Wing after Queen Victoria, re-opened in 1879. Meanwhile the western elevation on Gray’s Inn Road, which was rebuilt and renamed the Alexandra Building after the Princess of Wales, was re-opened by the Prince and Princess of Wales in July 1895.


Some additional land was purchased and used to develop the Helena Building, named after Princess Helena: the building was completed in 1915 and served as the Royal Free Military Hospital for officers during the latter stages of the First World War before become the maternity wing after the war. The Eastman Dental Clinic opened in a building adjacent to the main hospital in 1929. The Victoria Wing was badly damaged by a V-1 flying bomb in July 1944 during the Second World War. By the late 1960s the site on Gray’s Inn Road had become too cramped, and a modern 12-storey cruciform tower block was built on the site of the former Hampstead Fever Hospital in Pond Street in Hampstead in the mid-1970s; it was opened by the Queen in 1978. Meanwhile the Eastman Dental Hospital took over the whole of the Gray’s Inn Road site1.

  • Photos by Adrian Thomas (October 2018)

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