Hackney's First Hospital

The Hospital
The Hospital

Tudor Hackney had its own hospital, but not one that served as a hospital for local people.

Leprosy had been a scourge of medieval society, peaking in the 12th and 13th centuries. The afflicted lost their common law and property rights, were excluded from the majority of places that people gathered and were sent away to isolated hospitals. The lepers were expected to live by a Christian rule, so a chapel was an essential addition to the foundations that were as much about keeping the lepers away from healthy people as providing healing care.

The City of London ultimately established ten leper hospitals on the main roads out of the capital. Kingsland Leper Hospital (also known locally as the Lock Hospital) was founded about 1280 at the south end of the hamlet of Kingsland. The hospital was sited just to the south and west of the junction of Kingsland Road with Dalston Lane. It was run by men called Guides and maintained through income from bequests. From 1549, it was run as an outhouse of St Bartholomew’s Hospital in Smithfield. The last recorded case of leprosy in London was in 1559, and thereafter patients were sent to Kingsland with a variety of diseases. By the early 18th century there were patients suffering from ague, diarrhoea, dropsy, fever and jaundice. In 1633 a case of venereal disease was recorded - sufferers were to form the majority of patients by the mid 18th century.

The hospital, whose frontage was on Kingsland Road, had a barn behind it and in 1603 had 14 new bedsteads bought for the inmates. It was enlarged by a new “ sweatlie ward” in 1613. By 1669, there were six wards, (on the ground floor in 1721) and inmates were supposed to get the best wheaten bread, beef, soup, beer, cheese or butter and water gruel or milk pottage. By this stage the hospital was reserved for women only, with men being sent to the Lock Hospital in Southwark.

St Bartholomew's Chapel
St Bartholomew's Chapel

A small chapel, which lay to the north probably dated from the foundation, though the earliest record of services held there is in 1638. Although never a parish church, the chapel became known as St Bartholomew’s from association with the governing London hospital. By the early 18th century, some local people attended the church to save themselves the walk to Hackney parish church and it is possible that this practice had gone on earlier, but it was not until 1716 that patients were screened off from the rest of the congregation by curtains.

The hospital was rebuilt in the mid 1720s as the road had been raised and the wards, being three feet below the road surface, suffered from damp - so we do not know what the old hospital looked like. Rising costs forced St Bartholomew’s Hospital to close the Kingsland Hospital in 1760, ending a five hundred year history of caring for the sick.

The medieval chapel was never rebuilt and kept its patchwork stone appearance to the end. After the hospital closed, local people petitioned that the chapel be kept for worship. The patients’ pew was removed and other seats were raised. In its final form, it measured only 27 feet by 18 feet and was a mere twenty feet high - three of which lay below the level of Kingsland Road on to which it fronted. In poor condition in the 1820s, it lasted until 1846. The building now on the corner of Balls Pond Road and Kingsland Road, once the Star and Garter public house, is supposed to have its north door in the same position as the north door of the chapel, the last relic of the vanished lepers’ hospital that would have seemed an institution time out of mind to the people of Tudor Kingsland.


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This site, developed with funding from the New Opportunities Fund as one of the projects within Sense of Place, London, forms part of the National Archive's Education site. It was developed as a partnership between Hackney Archives Department, Immediate Theatre and the National Archive's Education Team