5. Whittington Hospital

We discussed earlier that St Bartholomew’s Hospital located at Smithfield in the City of London was the first London hospital. The word hospital taken in two parts from the Latin ‘hospes’ meaning guest, and the word ‘patior’ meaning to suffer. So in essence a hospital is a place for a guest that is suffering. A modern description is defined by the Webster’s dictionary as ‘an institution where the sick or injured are given medical care.’

The dictionary definition may be a bit modern and we should touch on it briefly because we are discussing a time when hospitals, hospices, infirmaries were running side by side. A hospital diagnoses and treats a condition; an infirmary cares for that condition, and a hospice offers palliative care for the terminally ill.

In this vein, that ‘institution’ was an eclectic mix of medical care and Archway’s association with guest houses for the suffering have been in every sense head-on battles with the severest of diseases. From one of the first leprosy hospitals in London, to caring for victims of the plague and small-pox, to the understanding and treatment of mental health.

St Bartholomew’s Hospital, Smithfield

We saw that Highgate Hill in the Middle Ages became of strategic importance as the main route to the North, whether taken through Highgate Village or along Hornsey Lane to pick up the Crouch End and Muswell Hill route. At this junction of Highgate Hill, Hornsey Lane and Dartmouth Park Hill, where three boroughs meet; a person looking out over London and down the hill – what a sight would be seen.

Of 1666, the diarist John Evelyn says that people who had lost everything in the great fire headed North. On 7 September 1666 he records: “I went towards Islington and Highgate, where one might have seen some 200,000 people, of all ranks and degrees, dispersed and lying along by their heaps of what they could save from the fire, deploring their loss; and yet ready to perish for hunger and destitution, yet not asking one penny for relief, which to me seemed a stranger sight than any I had yet beheld.

In this early drawing we see the road being hollowed by the drivers passing their cattle through on the way to Smithfields. Just past the man on the horse can be seen the final building of St Joseph’s Retreat which stands today.

This much later drawing shows similar the layout remains, even to the present day. The wooded railings have been replaced with metal ones, metal tram lines are laid in the road, and the St Joseph’s Retreat has built a massive church with its impressive dome.

So if Archway claims its primary purpose has been as a conduit to the North, then its secondary purpose has been as a pioneer of rudimentary health care in this country. It’s a place where people are drawn to when they are not well. Having dealt with leprosy for centuries it was on its way out by the middle of the 17th Century. And 1665 saw the last of the great plagues of London.

Small pox was the new killer and places that dealt with it sprang up all along Holloway from Barnsbury and Liverpool Road to the large expanse that occupies between Cheverton Road and St John’s Way on which was built a small-pox infirmary that became known as Hillside until its closure in 1972.

An Institution was founded in 1746 at King’s Cross to receive and treat medically persons suffering from small-pox, and to vaccinate others. The Small Pox and Vaccination Hospital was relocated to ‘Whittington Place’ in 1860, a site slightly laid back from Highgate Hill and within 100 metres of where the lazer-house had once been.

Images below of the Small Pox & Vaccination Hospital built at Whittington Place, the first part of the current Whittington Hospital. This building would be widely built around and form the hub of the three main wards. These buildings would become St Mary’s Hospital, later to be the St Mary’s Ward part of the whittington Hospital.

Above: A drawing of the the new smallpox and vaccination hospital, Highgate. Below: The same building today.

At the end of the Small-pox Pandemic of 1870-1874 about 200 in-patients were received and 300 out-patients were vaccinated by the The Small-pox and Vaccination Hospital. The Vaccination Act of 1853 inspired by the Epidemiological Society of London, was responsible for the incidence and fatality of the pandemic being less in Britain than other countries.

The connection between Highgate Hill and St Bartholomew’s had of course been the lazer-house on Salisbury Road where the Whittington Stone PH stands now. But much later, further along at the entrance to Waterlow Park is Lauderdale House, which served as a Convalescent Home to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital.

Lauderdale House – Appears exactly the same today.

The original house was built in 1582 for Sir Richard Martin – The Master of the Mint and three times Lord Mayor of London. It was refurbished in the middle of the 17th Century and became the residence of the Earls of Lauderdale. The last private owner was Sir Sydney Waterlow – politician, philanthropist and Lord Mayor of London in 1872/73.

Sir Sydney Waterlow looking over London from Waterlow Park – March 2017

At the time of Sir Waterlow, he would have been reassured that Highgate was one of the most desirable parts of London. Looking out from that spot on Highgate Hill where three boroughs meet, he would have seen his neighbours building the new church and monastery of St Joseph’s with its iconic green dome raising into the London skyline. On Hornsey Lane, St Aloysius School was being built by the Brothers of Mercy as a Roman Catholic independent boarding school, opening in 1879, the same year an iron bridge replaced the brick viaduct over Archway Road. The first cable car trams in Europe were operating from Archway to Highgate and the hill itself having no less than three hospitals in the vicinity.

Map of 1900 showing the main Small Pox hospital
and both Infirmaries and also the womens’ hospital on the Bank.

Sir Waterlow would have been very much in tune with the medical institution as he leased Lauderdale House for a time to St Bartholomew’s Hospital as a convalescent home. But by 1883 the house lay all but empty and so in 1889 he gave the grounds comprising 29 acres over to the London County Council (LCC) “… as a garden for the gardenless and for the enjoyment of Londoners,” and thereafter the grounds became a public park and the house was restored in 1893.

A view of Waterlow Park looking out from Lauderdale House – March 2017

The height between St Joseph’s Retreat and St Paul’s Cathedral was revealed to me at the St Joseph’s Archives by the then Archivist Fr Ignatius McElligott CP. He showed me material where I read that on completion of the new dome, the top of the cross was exactly 130 feet higher than the top of the cross on St Paul’s Cathedral. A fact which on accounts I have told to others. But on examining the sun dial at Lauderdale House, the little bronze plaque states that it is level with the top of the dome, therefore if allowing a generous 30 feet tolerance for the crosses, it still means the height between the sun dial and the top of St Joseph’s must be 100 feet which does not appear to be the case – consider the height of Archway Bridge is just 80 feet. One fact or the other – is wrong.

Hospital 1: The Highgate Smallpox and Vaccination Hospital (on the site of the modern day campus) had been designed by Samuel Daukes – an English architect from Gloucester mostly given to designing churches. It was constructed in 1848-50 in the Italianate style. Daukes died in 1880 and was buried in the family vault in Highgate Cemetery.

When it opened it had 108 beds and was one of two isolation hospitals in London, the other being in Liverpool Road. It closed in 1896 and was moved to Clare Hall Hospital, a larger small-pox hospital in South Mimms. A larger section was built adjacent to the original small-pox building which housed an additional 800 beds and the site opened again in 1900 as a workhouse infirmary called the Highgate Hill Infirmary. In 1914 it was renamed to Islington Infirmary. And in 1930 it was renamed to St Mary’s Hospital and had 836 beds.

The current St Mary’s Ward entrance of the Whittington Hospital.

Hospital 2: Opposite the present day hospital, on the land between Highgate Hill and Archway Road, stands a prominent structure of what originally was the Holborn Union Infirmary when it opened in 1879. It had 625 beds and a two-storey block to house receiving wards, doctors quarters and a dispensary. In 1921 it was renamed the Holborn and Finsbury Hospital. And in 1930 it was renamed to Archway Hospital.

The image below shows the rear of Archway Hospital, as viewed from the foot of Highgate Hill standing on the spot of the original Lazar House (the leper infirmary). Today it’s called Archway Ward.

Hospital 3: On Dartmouth Park Hill on the land adjoining Waterlow Park, Florence Nightingale had advised the architects on the design for the new hospital. The St Pancras Union Infirmary opened in 1869. It had 545 beds. In 1930 it was renamed to Highgate Hospital. It became a center for the study of mental health and moved to a new building in the 1970s on Highgate Hill. The image below is on the East side of Highgate hill about 100 metres from the Smallpox building.

The grounds on the East side of Dartmouth Park Hill were redone and buildings built and renovated and the result was a new ward for mental health. The red brick building of the 70s has remained empty since the mental health ward moved back to its original home at the Highgate Ward, formerly Highgate Hospital.

The current grounds of Highgate Wing and the mental health department.

The LCC took over control of the three hospitals in 1930 and gave them straightforward and sensible names. In 1944 the St Mary’s, Archway and Highgate hospitals were brought together as one hospital and in 1948 it became part of the NHS as The Whittington Hospital comprising of St Mary’s wing, Archway wing and Highgate wing.