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Hospitals refounded and a move towards unified administration

'Miserable people lyeing in the streete'

Following the dissolution of the monasteries, the sick and disabled people who had been housed and helped by the church lost their support structure. For many, this meant a life of poverty on the streets.

The citizens of London petitioned King Henry VIII to allow them to re-establish some hospitals themselves on the basis of 'the miserable people lyeing in the streete, offending every clene person passing by the way' [sic].

Hospitals refounded under King Henry VIII and Edward VI

In 1544, King Henry refounded St Bartholomew's hospital and in 1547 gave the hospital to the City of London. In 1547, Bethlem (Bedlam) hospital allowed the buildings to be used by the City of London. However, while the buildings were given to the City, there were insufficient funds available to reopen the hospitals, leading the citizens of London to raise additional money to do so.

Additional hospitals were refounded under Edward VI, who became King in 1547. St Thomas' Hospital was refounded in 1551 and two new hospitals were opened, including Christ's Hospital in 1552, for orphan children of poor Londoners, and Bridewell Palace in 1553, for the correction of 'habitual idlers'.

Edward died two days after he agreed to give Bridewell Palace to the City of London. His sister, Queen Mary, finally ratified the charter in 1556.

The City of London moved towards unified administration of the Royal Hospitals

Christ's hospital, Bridewell Palace, St Thomas' Hospital and St Bartholomew's Hospital were administered by governors elected from the Corporation of London and, from 1574, Bethlem Hospital was administered by the Bridewell Palace governors. The division of responsibility across the different hospital sites was based on the notion of there being three degrees of poor.

Bridewell became an institution for the 'undeserving' poor and became a combined prison, workhouse and hospital. Christ's Hospital (poor by impotency) ('orphans, lepers and the aged, blind or lame'), St Thomas' and St Bartholomew's (poor by casualty) ('wounded soldiers, those with grievous disease'), and Bridewell (the thriftless poor) ('rioters, vagabonds, idle and dissolute women').

St Thomas', St Bartholomew's and Bridewell became known as 'endowed' hospitals. These institutions had lands and large investments and a resulting steady (albeit small) income.


Rivett G.
The development of the London hospital system, 1823-1982.
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Historic England.
Disability in the Community.
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Andrews J, Briggs A, Porter R, Tucker P, Waddington K.
The History of Bethlem.
Routledge; 1998.

London Lives.
Bridewell Prison and Hospital.
London Lives; nd.