All my children were born in the Whittington Hospital and I am sure many of you have been treated there at some time in your life. It is such a part of local life that I have never thought about when it first came to serve th ...
All my children were born in the Whittington Hospital and I am sure many of you have been treated there at some time in your life. It is such a part of local life that I have never thought about when it first came to serve the community. The answer is quite surprising.
This image has nothing to do with our hospital but there is a link – the people being treated here are lepers. The first instance of medical aid being offered to people on the Whittington site was probably at St Anthony’s Chapel and Lazar House (hospital for lepers) on Highgate Hill, built in 1473. That’s much older than I would ever have guessed.
However, during the reign of Henry VIII the Chapel of St Anthony went the way of so many other religious houses and was stripped of its assets and either closed down or it may have been entirely demolished. We will never know as no records survive as to its exact fate.
The hospital then changed during the reign of Elizabeth I and became a home for poor and chronically ill patents, some apparently transferred from St Bartholomew’s and St Thomas to ‘Highgate Spital’. But the hospital and grounds were sold in 1653 as agricultural land, being called the Lazaret or Lazarcot Field. It was another epidemic that brought the medical care back to the site – Smallpox.
Smallpox was one of the most deadly viruses of Victorian England. I can’t put an image up for you to see because they are too distressing. When the railway was built at King’s Cross, the Smallpox and Vaccination Hospital there was demolished to make way for the new main line station in 1848. The new hospital to replace it was built on Highgate Hill as part of the price of the King’s Cross site.
The new hospital offered 108 beds and vaccination facilities with two long acute wards and four smaller convalescent wards, plus a rather elegant gate including a porter’s lodge and doctor’s house. Between 1855 and 1859 1185 patients were admitted and 20% of them died in the last big epidemic of the disease. Many people were afraid of the vaccine as seen in the image above but the disease itself was a sure killer.
The hospital continued to treat smallpox patients until 1900 when they were referred elsewhere but the site went on to develop as a hospital with three separate entities eventually becoming the Whittington we know today. Leprosy is still a life threatening problem with 600 people being infected every day. It is completely curable with the right medicine. Smallpox was officially declared eradicated, thanks to a rigorous vaccination programme, by the World Health organisation in 1979.