Barts was founded in 1123 by Rahere (died 1144, and entombed in the nearby Priory Church of St Bartholomew the Great), a favourite courtier of King Henry I. The Dissolution of the Monasteries did not affect the running of Barts as a hospital, but left it in a precarious position by removing its income. It was refounded by King Henry VIII in December 1546, on the signing of an agreement granting the hospital to the Corporation of London, which was reaffirmed by Letters Patent of January 1547 endowing it with properties and income entitlements. The hospital became legally styled as the "House of the Poore in West Smithfield in the suburbs of the City of London of Henry VIII's Foundation", although the title was never used by the general public (rather a mouthful, especially in an emergency). The first Superintendent of the hospital was Thomas Vicary, sergeant-surgeon to King Henry, and an early writer on anatomy. It was here that William Harvey conducted his research on the circulatory system in the 17th century, Percivall Pott and John Abernethy developed important principles of modern surgery in the 18th century, and Mrs Bedford Fenwick worked to advance the nursing profession in the late 19th century. In 1839 to 1872, the mortality reports show that surgical trauma and postoperative infection were the greatest causes of death. Tuberculosis, however, remained the most fatal nontraumatic cause of death. Upon the creation of the National Health Service in 1948, it officially became known as St Bartholomew's Hospital.
Barts is the oldest hospital in Britain still providing all medical services and which occupies the site it was originally built on, and has an important current role as well as a long history and architecturally important buildings. The so-named Henry VIII entrance to the hospital continues to be the main public entrance; and the statue of King Henry VIII above the gate is the only remaining statue of him in London. Its main square was designed by James Gibbs in the 1730s. Of the four original blocks only three survive; they include the block containing the Great Hall and two flanking blocks that contained wards. The first wing to be built was the North Wing, in 1732, which includes the Great Hall and the Hogarth murals. The South Wing followed in 1740, the West in 1752 and finally the East Wing in 1769. In 1859, a fountain was placed at the square's centre with a small garden. St Bartholomew's Hospital has existed on the same site since its founding in the 12th century, surviving both the Great Fire of London and the Blitz. Its museum shows how medical care has developed over this time and explains the history of the hospital. Part-way around the exhibition is a door which opens on to the hospital's official entrance hall. On the walls of the staircase are two murals painted by William Hogarth, The Pool of Bethesda (1736) and The Good Samaritan (1737). They can only be seen at close quarters on Friday afternoons. Hogarth was so outraged by the news that the hospital was commissioning art from Italian painters that he insisted on doing these murals free of charge, as a demonstration that English painting was equal to the task. The Pool of Bethesda is of particular medical interest, as it depicts a scene in which Christ cures the sick: display material on the first floor speculates in modern medical terms about the ailments from which Christ's patients in the painting are suffering.
This is, of course, the venue of one of the great historic meetings - that of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson (in a chemical laboratory). Barts was Watson's alma mater. This (fictional) connection led to a donation by the Tokyo "Sherlock Holmes Appreciation Society" to the Save Barts Campaign in the 1990s. Other alumnii include Graham Chapman (from Monty Python) and Dr. W.G.Grace, the legendary cricketer. The museum has a permanent exhibition of original and facsimile archives and objects, including facsimile copies of the oldest document in the hospital archives, Rahere’s grant of 1137, and the 1546 agreement between Henry VIII and the City of London which refounded the hospital. There are 2 steps up into the Museum. The door must be pushed open and is quite heavy. The volunteer on duty can offer assistance if required. A portable ramp is available for wheelchair visitors. The volunteer on duty in the Museum, or the Archivist, can put this out for use. Most of our showcases and captions are easily viewable for wheelchair users. However there are some display panels which are wall mounted and may be more difficult to read. All displays are well lit. Large print captions for the exhibitions are available on request. Please note there are no Braille captions. Induction loop; texts of audio displays available on request.
Location : St Bartholomew’s Hospital, West Smithfield, EC1A 7BE.
Opening Times: Tuesday to Friday 10:00 to 16.00
Tickets : Free (Donations welcome)
Tel: 020 3465 5798