Barts 900 logo – gold with dates

900 years of care

Some of the cast of characters…

Jester Rahere

…turned monk

Goes on a pilgrimage to Italy, becomes very ill and vows to open a hospital in London if he makes a recovery.© Look and Learn

St Bartholomew

…appears in a vision to Rahere after he has recovered. St Bartholomew tells Rahere to build his hospital in London at ‘Smoothfield’.Wikimedia Commons

Henry VIII

…decrees dissolution of monasteries and priories like St Barts, then grants a Royal Charter giving Barts and its people his protection, immortalised in stained glass in the Charter Window in the North Wing of the hospital.© Barts Health NHS Trust Archives

William Harvey

…becomes Physician-in-Charge at Barts in 1607 and upsets fellow physicians far and wide in 1628 with his impeccably-researched theories on blood circulation.© Barts Health NHS Trust Archives

Architect James Gibbs

…builds St Martin-in-the-Fields and many other lovely buildings, and builds a brand new Hospital at Barts with a radical new design in the middle of the 18th Century.Creative Commons CC by NC

William Hogarth

…finds out the Governors of Barts are planning to have an Italian artist decorate the grand staircase in the North Wing, then offers his own services for free. © Tate Britain

Elizabeth Blackwell

…becomes in 1850 the first woman to study at Barts. She is also the last woman to study there for another 97 years.Wikimedia Commons

The Fountain

…is added at the centre of the courtyard in 1859, and soon becomes the hospital’s photo backdrop of choice. It is so popular it boasts its own dining club since 1919.© Barts Health NHS Trust Archives

The benefactors

…give money in huge amounts over hundreds of years to support the hospital. Around 3000 donor names adorn the walls of the Great Hall today.© Robert Treharne Jones

The students

…come to learn at Barts since the 16th Century and in 1822 training is formally recognised. 20th Century exams are held under the watchful eye of Henry VIII.© Barts Health NHS Trust Archives

Nurse No. 1

…Ethel Bedford Fenwick becomes Matron at Barts in 1881 and is a leading campaigner for state registered nursing, becoming England's 'Nurse No. 1' in 1923.© Wellcome Collection

The General Strike

…spawns a Special Constabulary in 1926. Barts students join up and sleep in makeshift beds on the floor of the Great Hall.© Barts Health NHS Trust Archives


…is set up in 1948, and St Bartholomew’s Hospital becomes part of it from the very start.© The National Archives

The story of Barts

Visit the Barts Health website for a concise timeline, or see Barts Heritage for the original, unedited history focused on leading figures at the hospital.

12th to 15th Centuries

Alleged Henry I Court Jester turned monk Rahere founds Barts. He had vowed to establish a London hospital if he recovered from a severe illness whilst on a pilgrimage to Rome and named it after St Bartholomew who appeared to him in a vision. 

His hospital and Priory of St Bartholomew are built in Smoothfield (today’s Smithfield), site of a market and a place of execution.

King Henry I granted protection to everybody at the hospital under the first Royal Charter.

Barts becomes a hospice caring for the sick and poor, for children of prisoners at Newgate, and for the City homeless.

Scottish military leader William Wallace is executed at Smithfield.

First appointed ‘surgeon’ to the hospital writes two books reflecting the still widely held philosophies of Galen.

Wat Tyler, a leader of the revolt against the Poll Tax brings his men to London, meets King Richard II at Smithfield for ‘talks’ and is killed by one of the King’s men outside the hospital.

16th Century

The Master of the hospital signs a document acknowledging Henry VIII as the supreme Head of the Church of England. Neighbouring monks at Charterhouse Abbey didn’t acknowledge Henry and were executed.

The Acts of Dissolution dictate that all monastic possessions (including the Priory of St Bartholomew) pass to the King. A petition to the King pleads for a reprieve for the hospital as a valued and important place in the City (not least to keep the “miserable people living in the street” from offending clean passers-by) and the hospital carried on.

The King signs a Royal Charter granting control of the hospital …hereafter to be called ‘The House of the Poor in West Smithfield in the suburbs of the City of London of Henry VIII’s Foundation’ – to the City. This legal name for the hospital only became St Bartholomew’s Hospital again with the advent of the NHS in 1948.

The Charter Window in Barts North Wing shows Henry VIII handing the Charter to leading surgeon Thomas Vicary, the Hospital’s first Superintendent.

Thomas Vicary becomes Master of The Company of Barber-Surgeons, which he founded.

Dr Roderigo Lopez is the first regular physician appointed at Barts. With rich and influential patients he eventually becomes Physician-In-Chief to Queen Elizabeth.

Originally Jewish, converted to Christianity in the Inquisition, he gets tangled up in a Catholic conspiracy and is hung, drawn and quartered in 1594.

Forces surgeon William Clowes joins, specialising in venereal disease and tuberculosis. He invents a new styptic powder to help stop bleeding.

He resigns to join a naval expedition to the Netherlands in 1581.

Timothy Bright takes over a Barts with a growing reputation as a place of learning. He invents Shorthand, and his book on ‘Melancholie’ is the first psychiatric text in England, inspiring parts of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

17th Century

Having studied anatomy with leading physicians in some of the first theatres designed for public dissection, William Harvey becomes Physician-in-Charge at Barts in 1607.

His theories on the circulation of blood are met with dissent and published to more dissent in 1628 in 70 pages of exemplary scientific investigation.

Harvey becomes Physician-in-Ordinary to Charles I and is at his side during the Civil War.

Local Lady Ann Bodley is buried at St Bartholomew-the-Less. Her husband Thomas goes on to restore the library at Oxford that goes on to bear their name.

East India Company’s first surgeon John Woodall’s experiments result in lemon juice being used to prevent scurvy.

Woodall’s less painful method of amputation results in better survival rates.

Plague hits London. Doctors abandon the hospital, where Matron Margaret Blague and her staff continue to care for the sick.

The Great Fire reaches the gates of the hospital. It is undamaged, but loses many rental properties that brought income, and almost goes bust. Governors develop new buildings with higher rents.

Physician Robert Pitt responds controversially to The Royal College of Physicians new dispensary with praise for cheap, effective medications and criticism of expensive, useless ones.

18th Century

Plans for a rebuilt hospital begin with construction of the Henry VIII gatehouse.

Physician and politician John Radcliffe dies leaving £600 to Barts. His portrait hangs in the North Wing.

James Gibbs, famous architect of St Martins-in-the-Field joins the hospital governors.

Pathology Museum opens. A modest collection is hugely expanded by John Abernethy’s donations in 1828. Creating the catalogue eventually takes nine years.

Opthalmic surgeon and friend of William Hogarth, John Freke invents new obstetric forceps, writes on rickets and advances treatment of breast cancer.

Hospital Surgeon Edward Nourse gives the first lectures to be held at the Hospital.

James Gibbs’ new hospital at Barts takes shape around the courtyard, beginning with the North Wing whose walls bear the names of the many benefactors who made the rebuilding possible.

Smithfield local William Hogarth hears Governors’s plans to employ an Italian artist to decorate the walls of the North Wing staircase and offers his own services free. Over the next three years he paints two huge biblical scenes (still used in medical education today) in a marked departure from his more usual satirical etchings.

Company of Barber-Surgeons splits and Company of Surgeons begins in 1745 and Percival Potts becomes its Master in 1765.

He writes extensively on fractures, ruptures and dislocations.

David Pitcairn discovers relationship between rheumatic fever and valvular heart disease.

‘Mad doctoring’ specialist William Pargeter trains at Barts before he goes on the Bethlem Hospital. He writes in 1792 blaming Methodism for mental illness.

After the first request to Governors for a dissecting room for anatomical lectures, construction of a lecture theatre is finally approved.

19th Century

John Abernethy develops a course of popular lectures that attract many new students. Renowned as a teacher (not so much as a surgeon), he lost his Royal Appointment to George IV when he refused to attend the King’s bedside until he had finished a lecture at Barts. 

John Painter Vincent became President of the Royal College of Surgeons. His reserved nature meant he never taught, even on the wards.

The Governors formally recognised medical training at Barts.

William Lawrence continued to develop the medical school but outraged Abernethy with his 1819 lectures on The Natural History of Man, suggesting early chapters of Genesis were inconsistent with biological fact.

St Bartholomew-the-Less is demolished and rebuilt keeping the original 12th Century tower.

Royal College of Surgeons sets up a house in Cock lane for the dissection of hanged criminals as training for surgeons.

The Medical College of St Bartholomew’s Hospital is finally recognised.

As a student James Paget made the connection between eating pork and developing cysts on muscles. Later he taught students and took nine years to meticulously catalogue the contents of the Pathology Museum.

Appointed surgeon at Barts in 1847 he went on to serve Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and was eventually recognised as a founding father of medical pathology.

Elizabeth Blackwell becomes the first women to study at Barts, and the last to study there until 1947.

An icon of Barts at the centre of the Square, the fountain was a Victorian addition.

Talented watercolourist Henry Power joins as Ophthalmic Surgeon. Vice president of the Royal College of Surgeons, he’s also known for employing the blind as masseurs.

Pharmacology specialist Thomas Lauder Brunton advocates the use of amyl nitrate to treat angina.

The first student nurses begin training in the new School of Nursing.

Henry Trentham Butlin makes a name for himself as a pioneer of head and neck surgery and founder of the Laryngological Society.

Ethel Gordon Manson is appointed as Matron, and under her married name of Bedford Fenwick becomes an internationally renowned figure in professional nursing. The success of her campaign for nurse registration results in her becoming ‘Nurse No. 1’ in 1923.

Acerbic wit William Harrison Cripps makes a name for teaching and rectal surgery.

Matron Isla Stewart puts training emphasis on hands on experience. She co-writes the first nursing textbook ‘Practical Nursing’, founds the Barts League of Nurses and picks up on professional campaigning where Nurse No. 1 had left off.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes (fictionally) meets Dr Watson at Barts.

The first x-rays at Barts used 15,000 times more radiation than today’s x-rays. Radiation burns were common.

Frederick William Andrewes becomes pathologist and lecturer at Barts, remembered for the classification of streptococci, histology of lymphadenoma, and problems of immunity. 

20th Century

President of the Royal College of Physicians and Librarian to the Royal Society of Medicine, Norman Moore becomes a Governor on his retirement and publishes the History of St Bartholomew’s Hospital in 1918.

Anthony Bowlby serves in the Boer War and the First World War, lecturing on ‘Wounds of War’ in 1915.

Wilmot Parker Herringham is the first doctor to investigate the effects of WWI poison gas attacks.

Surgeon Girling-Ball specialises in urology and commands the military wing of the hospital at No 1 London General Hospital.

As warden and Dean of the Medical College he modernises and affiliates with The University of London.

Archibald E Garrod pioneers inborn errors of metabolism. His discovery of alkaptonuria and study of cystinuria, pentosuria and albinism is dubbed Garrod’s Tetrad.

5,400 sick and wounded soldiers occupy the East Wing as part of the military wing of No 1 London General Hospital

James Patterson Ross develops a special interest in surgery of the sympathetic nervous system. His patients eventually include King George VI, Winston Churchill and Queen Elizabeth II.

Australian surgeon Thomas Peel Dunhill becomes a leading thyroid surgeon, appointed to the Royal Household in 1933

After his time at Barts Thomas Horder successfully opposed parts of Bevan’s proposals for the NHS that were less favourable to the medical profession.

Barts octocentenary celebrations are widely reported in the national and specialist press.

Walter Langdon-Brown demonstrates relationship between the sympathetic nervous system and ductless glands, and becomes an early pioneer of psychosomatic medicine.

Barts students joined the Special Constabulary during the ten days of the General Strike, sleeping in makeshift quarters on the floor of the Great Hall.

Barts Medical College relocates to Charterhouse Abbey.

South Wing is demolished in preparation for a new building with more capacity.

Barts is the first to offer mega-voltage radiotherapy for cancer patients.

Finally, women are admitted to the Medical College.

St Bartholomew’s Hospital becomes part of the National Health Service from the very beginning.

Famous for work in leukaemia and lymphoma, physician to George VI and Elizabeth II.

Following the same career path as William Harvey, Sir Marcus becomes Surgeon-Gynaecologist to Queen Elizabeth II in 1990.

Barts becomes the teaching hospital for newly-formed City and Hackney Health District.

The Tomlinson Report threatens closure. A high profile campaign sees Barts merge with the Royal London and the London Chest Hospital to become Barts and The Royal London Hospital NHS Trust.

The John Abernethy Theatre Suite opens – the most advanced outside the USA.

Barts Medical College merges with The Royal London Hospital Medical College, and the Queen Mary and Westfied College.

Trust renamed to Barts and the London NHS Trust.

21st Century

Breast Care Centre opens in refurbished West Wing.

New building begins at Barts designed to sit well with the Gibbs originals.

An experimental centre opens at Barts to fast-track new cancer treatments.

Cancer Centre opens, including state-of-the-art imaging, radiotherapy and radiosurgery technology.

Barts becomes part of Barts Health NHS Trust.

New Heart Centre at Barts brings together services and staff from The London Chest Hospital in Bethnal Green and The Heart Hospital in the West End. It’s now the largest Cardiac Centre in the UK and Europe on a single site.

Barts is an internationally renowned teaching hospital, still on the same site where it was founded 900 years ago.

Old buildings have been renovated and new ones added in homage to the Gibbs design. The fountain has been painstakingly restored. The world class medical school still thrives in research and education.

Inpatient facilities specialise in cancer and cardiac care, and outpatients serves a wide variety of specialties. Partnerships with University College Hospital ensure future clinical services in Smithfield.

The Archives in The North Wing represent nine centuries of medical records and the documentation of medicine with social conscience.

St Bartholomew-the-Less now shares a parish with the Priory Church of St Bartholomew the Great.

Cock Lane, once home to The Royal College of Surgeons’ building for the dissection of dead criminals is now home to Barts Charity, independent but closely allied to the NHS Trust and medical school.