History of St Thomas’s Hospital

St. Thomas’s Hospital was described as ancient in 1215. It was a mixed order of Augustinian monks and nuns, dedicated to Thomas Becket which provided shelter and treatment for the poor, sick, and homeless. The hospital was located in Southwark, just south of London Bridge.

In the fifteenth century Richard Whitington endowed a laying-in ward for unmarried mothers. St Thomas Church

St Thomas in the 18th Century (engraving)

The First English Bible

It was in the grounds of the Hospital in Southwark that the first complete translation of the bible into English was made. In 1533, Thomas Cromwell and Sir Thomas More suggested that the Scriptures should be translated into `the vulgar tongue’. Miles Coverdale made the translation and James Nicholson printed the Bible from premises in St Thomas’s. The grounds also housed one of England’s most famous stained glass window manufacturers.

The Reformation

The Hospital was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1540, despite pleas from the City to allow it to take over control. It was described as a ‘bawdy’ house, possibly because the Master was accused of immorality, or because it treated many of the prostitutes and their clients of their venereal diseases. Southwark was the red-light district of London. The hospital was reopened as a hospital by Edward VI in 1552, since when it has continued to serve the public, although it moved from its ancient site to its present location in Lambeth in 1862. The monastery was dissolved in the Reformation, but reopened in 1551 and rededicated to Thomas the Apostle, as Becket had been decanonised.

Click to see the online exhibition of the History of St Thomas’s Hospital and the Reformation.

To take a tour of the Hospital click here.


At the end of the 17th century, the hospital and church were largely rebuilt by Thomas Cartwright (Master Mason to Christopher Wren at St Mary-le-Bow). In 1822, part of the Herb Garret was converted into a purpose built Operating Theatre. This strange situation resulted from the fact that the female surgical ward abutted the garret. Previously operations took place on the ward.

To see a plan of the hospital click here.

Florence Nightingale and the Hospital.

In 1859, Florence Nightingale became involved with St Thomas’s, setting up on this site her famous nursing school. It was on her advice that the Hospital agreed to move to a new site when the Charing Cross Railway Company offered to buy the hospital’s land. More information about Florence Nightingale can be found at the Florence Nightingale Museum .

In 1862 the Hospital began the move to its present site at Lambeth. The operating theatre in Southwark was closed and lay abandoned until rediscovered in 1956.

Who were the patients?

The patients were mainly poor people who were expected to contribute to their care if they could afford it. Rich patients were treated and operated on at home rather than in hospital. The patients at the Old Operating Theatre were all women. Those who visit the Museum will be relieved to know that the patients did not have to climb the spiral staircase that is the current entrance. They came in from the women’s ward through what is now the fire escape.

For further information on the patients click here.

The Old Operating Theatre Museum on line exhibitions explain the detailed history of the Museum and its context in the history of medicine in general and the history of Guys and St Thomas Hospital in particular.

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