Royal Free Hospital
(North-Western Branch)
Lawn Road, Hampstead, NW3
Medical dates:

Medical character:
1870 - 1973

Infectious diseases. Later, general
The Metropolitan Asylums Board (MAB) was established in 1867 in order to organize and provide health care for the poor of London.  One of its responsibilities was towards the care and control of all infectious diseases cases.  To this end, MAB began a programme of building fever hospitals.

MAB soon purchased part of the Bartrams estate
 for its first smallpox and infectious diseases hospital.  The 8 acre site, behind some substantial houses on Hampstead Green, backed onto Lawn Road.

Despite protests from local residents 
concerned about the spread of disease from infected patients, led by the postal pioneer Sir Rowland Hill (1795-1879) whose property (Bartram House) adjoined the site, temporary wooden and corrugated iron huts were built in 1869.

The Hampstead Smallpox Hospital with 90 beds opened in January 1870, admitting patients suffering from relapsing fever.  Nursing care was provided by the Anglican Sisters of St Margaret, from East Grinstead.  The Hospital closed the same year when the epidemic had subsided, but reopened in December, when an epidemic of smallpox began to rage through London.  Additional huts had to be built as patients were brought in from all over north London and the site became very crowded, with 450 beds.  The local residents of Hampstead and its neighbouring parish, St Pancras, argued that the loosely supervised Hospital
(smallpox patients and the staff were supposedly not permitted to meet outsiders unless they followed a strict protocol of clothes changing and hair washing) was spreading disease into the locality.  This proved to be true and the Hospital was closed in 1872.  

By this time the epidemic was over and the Hospital buildings were then used by MAB to accommodate mentally handicapped children from Leavesden and Caterham Asylums temporarily until a School had been built for them at Darenth, Kent.  In the meantime work began on building a permanent hospital on the Hampstead site, despite continued vigorous local protests.  

Another smallpox epidemic began in the autumn of 1876, necessitating the use of the Hospital again.  The children were transferred temporarily to a disused orphanage in Clapton.  This time the Hampstead residents brought a series of expensive law suits against the managers of MAB to try to force closure of the Hospital or to at least severely restrict its use for infectious patients.  A short article in The Times on 22nd December 1880 further inflamed public concern.

In 1881 a Royal Commission was appointed to consider the wisdom of placing smallpox hospitals within the urban area.  The outcome was that the Hampstead Smallpox Hospital ceased to admit smallpox patients in 1882
and was renamed the North-Western Fever Hospital, treating mainly cases of scarlet fever and diphtheria.  In 1883 Sir Rowland Hill's executors sold Bartram House to MAB, who used it as a Nurses' Home.  By 1885 all cases of smallpox in London were transferred to MAB's hospital ships moored at Long Reach, Dartford.

Sir Rowland's property included a 3 acre field, which backed on to the houses on the southern edge of South End Green, and this permitted rebuilding of the Hospital on a larger scale.  In 1887 five wards were built on the vacant land and the following year the original wooden huts were replaced by 11 pavilions.  Four more were added later.  The administration and reception block was completed in 1895.   Some houses in Lawn Road had been bought in 1894 and these were replaced by an ambulance station, which opened in 1897.  In 1901 Bartram House was exchanged for land belonging to the Hampstead General Hospital.

In 1913 an isolation wing was added.  In 1928 an 8-bedded clinic for treatment of cancer patients by radium was established but closed in 1930, when control of the Hospital was transferred to the LCC.  At this time it had 410 beds.

During the first half of the 20th century the Hospital treated the frequent outbreaks of infectious diseases.  One ward was dedicated to polio patients in iron lungs.

In 1944 the Hospital allowed medical students from the Royal Free Hospital access to its patients as part of their training rotation.

On joining the NHS in 1948 it became part of the Royal Free Hospital Group and was consequently renamed the North-Western Hospital.  It became the Lawn Road or North-Western branch of the Royal Free Hospital.  It had 275 beds.  With the use of antibiotics, fever cases had significantly declined and it became a general hospital.  Infectious disease cases were taken instead to the Coppett's Wood Hospital in Muswell Hill.

The first kidney transplants were performed at the Hospital during the 1960s, earning it worldwide recognition.  The development of home dialysis was pioneered here too.

The North-Western Hospital was demolished in 1973 and its site, together with that of Hampstead General Hospital, was used to build the new Royal Free Hospital.

Present status (December 2007)

The 15 acre site contains the present Royal Free Hospital in Pond Street, which became fully operational in 1975, with 871 beds.  It  has a 'Lawn Road Division' which deals with renal services, surgery and communicable diseases.
Royal Free Hospital The 18-storey cruciform tower of the  Royal Free Hospital, designed by Alexander Gray, was officially opened by the Queen in 1978.

The Hampstead Smallpox Hospital was the first of the infectious diseases hospitals established by the Metropolitan Asylums Board.  It served the northwest of London, while the Eastern  Hospital in Homerton served the northeast, Stockwell Fever Hospital the southwestFulham Hospital (later renamed the Western) the west of London and  New Cross Hospital the southeast. They have all now closed.
Amidon LA 1996  An Illustrated History of the Royal Free Hospital.  London, Special Trustees of the Royal Free Hospital.

Mortimer PP 2008 Ridding London of smallpox:  the aerial transmission debate and the evolution of a precautionary approach.  Epidemiology & Infection 136, 1297-1305.

Richardson J 1985 Hampstead One Thousand. AD 986-1986. London, Historical Publications.


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