LOST HOSPITALS OF LONDON

Jordan Hospital
Whitebushes, Earlswood, Surrey
Medical dates:

Medical character:
1950 - 1968

Specialist

In April 1950 University College Hospital acquired the site of the Reigate Joint Isolation Hospital in Whitebushes in order to establish a hospital in association with the Hospital for Tropical Diseases.

Despite opposition from local residents (including some doctors), the Jordan Hospital opened in 1950 for patients with leprosy.  It had 18 beds and was one of the few hospitals specialising in the research and treatment of the disease.   Patients were treated with dapsone, an oral sulphone (the first anti-leprosy drug developed in 1943) while newer drugs were tested in controlled hospital conditions.

In 1951 leprosy became a notifiable disease.  By 1976 some 973 persons had been notified as suffering from it.  All had contracted the disease from abroad.

In 1955 a new wing was added to the Hospital, after which it had 24 beds.  However, the accommodation was never fully utilised, especially after effective out-patient treatment became available.

The Hospital closed in 1968.  The treatment regime had been so successful that only three permanent in-patients remained.  Because of the difficulty in getting and retaining staff, it was decided to transfer the patients to St Giles Hospital and Homes (see below).


Present status (February 2011)

The land was sold for redevelopment in the early 1970s.  The site now contains housing.

site of Jordan Hospital
The Hospital buildings would have been located just beyond Green Lane, along what is now Spencer Way.

site of Jordan Hospital  site of Jordan Hospital
Looking down Jordans Close, site of the southern part of the Hospital.

The last English leprosarium

The last institution to care for leprosy sufferers in England was the Hospital and Homes of St Giles at East Hunningfield, near Chelmsford, Essex.  Despite considerable initial local opposition, it opened in 1914 with accommodation for 21 patients.  

 Because of their affliction and the ancient fears concerning it, patients with leprosy had difficulty in finding accommodation.  If admitted to hospital, once their condition was recognised, they would be discharged as soon as possible.  In 1913 an Anglican Franciscan order of monks - the Society of the Divine Compassion - bought Moor House, a tumbledown farmhouse and 22 acres of surrounding farmland  for £1,500 and opened the Hospital.  The Convent of St Giles, an order of Anglican Franciscan nuns, provided nursing care.

At first the Sisters occupied the farmhouse with their leper patients, while the Brothers lived in the cowsheds.  The Sisters soon renovated the house and temporary buildings were erected for the residents.  In time a house was built for the Brothers and bungalow accommodation - the  Homes - for the patients.

The first President of St Giles 
from 1914 to 1924 was Princess Christian, who was succeeded by her daughter Princess Marie Louise.

In 1922 Henri Girand, originally from Mauritius
and an inmate of the Hospital who had became insane, was refused admission by local mental asylums on account of his leprosy.  Under the charge of the Rochford Guardians, a building was prepared for him to live in segregation and efforts were made to find three nurses to care for him (in the event only two were found) at a cost of £600 a year.

By the 1920s the institution was in difficulties, especially after some of the Sisters of St Giles had moved to the Roman side.  A great effort had to be made to establish new management to improve funding and support.

In 1936 another Anglican order, the Convent of the Sacred Passion, assumed joint nursing responsibility with the Sisters of St Giles.  The Sisterhood of the Sacred Passion had begun in East Africa and had acquired considerable experience in caring for patients with tropical diseases, including leprosy.  The Hospital eventually became its main English base and a rest home for Sisters rotated back from the Tropics.

During WW2, in October 1940,  the institution, particularly its chapel, was heavily damaged by bombing near-misses, but no serious injuries were sustained.  The buildings were sandbagged and there was no further wartime damage.

The institution did not join the NHS in 1948, but a second centre for leprosy - the Jordan Hospital (see above) - opened in 1950.  However, the NHS provided most of the funding for treatment of the patients at St Giles, though not for the housing which was paid for by voluntary contributions.  In 1948 an appeal broadcast by the BBC yielded £9,000 - a considerable sum for those days.  The money was spent on improving much of the living accommodation.  Later appeals proved less successful, maybe because of the public perception that the institution was completely funded by the NHS.

In 1969 Lord Mountbatten visited the Hospital to unveil a statue and had to listen to a patient's tirade against the partition of India.  By this time the institution was being run by the Sisters of the Sacred Passion, who cared for patients from all over the world.  The Ministry of Health estimated that there were more than 500 lepers in the United Kingdom and, with immigration, the numbers were rising by 70 a pear.  The estimated cost of treatment was £18 a week at St Giles, compared to £45 in an NHS facility.

In 1972 Princess Alexandra opened a new Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy Unit and, in 1972, the Queen Mother visited to mark the institution's Diamond Jubilee.

In 1974 a charity, the Friends of the Hospital and Homes of St Giles, was inaugurated, but funding remained a problem.  Moreover, the Sisters
were mainly elderly and in need of help themselves.  Although the incidence of leprosy had declined and most patients were treated as out-patients, St Giles remained registered as a hospital, with a need for an adequate nurse per patient ratio, which the nuns were increasingly unable to provide.

By the 1980s the shortage of new vocations meant that the nuns could not continue.  In 1984 St Giles was sold at a knockdown price to Springboard, a housing association with 1,500 homes in Essex and east London run by the Revd. Ken Start.  Springboard guaranteed life tenure for the remaining 9 patients on the site.  

In 1985 the vacant buildings became homes for people with learning disabilities and physical handicap.  The leprosy patients, physically affected but mentally alert, at first resented their new mentally handicapped neighbours.  Even more acrimony was generated with the arrival of a former District Nurse, Jeanette Roberts, with her 'extended family' of many difficult children she had plucked from East London and who did not fit comfortably into country life or the St Giles community.  (A Channel 4 documentary of the time on the situation at St Giles was far from flattering.)  Things eventually settled down and most of the conflicts were forgotten or accepted.  The Roberts 'family' and some of the leprosy sufferers moved into the Old Convent (previously Moor House) at one end of the site, while the remaining residents stayed at the other end.

By the end of the 1980s St Giles had ceased to be registered as a hospital and became a hostel.  Patients with leprosy no longer required in-patient treatment while their condition was stabilised.

By 2005 no new cases of leprosy had been notified in England for ten years. Only four patients remained at St Giles, mainly because they had nowhere else to go.  
The funds acquired by St Giles were directed into postgraduate research in Hansen's disease in collaboration with the Hospital for Tropical Diseases.  Financial problems resulted in Springboard being absorbed into Genesis, a housing association umbrella organisation.


St Giles, among other things, is the patron saint of lepers, outcasts and cripples.


Leprosy is today known as Hansen's disease.  It is completely curable.

Over the years, staff and patients at St Giles had been close, one patient even marrying a nun (!), and another a nurse, while two pairs of patients had themselves married.
References (Accessed 20th May 2016)

Best N 2006 Caring for Hansen's Disease - The Hospital & Homes of St Giles 1914-2005.  Self-published.


Browne SG 1975 Some aspects of the history of leprosy: the leprosie of yesterday.  Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine 68, 485-493.

Jopling WH 1960 The treatment of leprosy.  Postgraduate Medical Journal  36, 634-637.

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