Jewish Maternity Hospital

24-26 Underwood Road, Vallance Road, Whitechapel, E1 5AW

Medical dates:

Medical character:

1911 - 1939


In 1895 Mrs Alice Model (1856-1943), a pioneering campaigner for mother and infant welfare, founded the Sick Room Help Society, a mission concerned with maternal welfare.  In 1899 the Society linked up with 'Helps' which provided maternity nurses to follow-up patients being looked after by GPs in their own homes. 

 The Sick Room Helps Society evolved into the Jewish Maternity Home at 24, Underwood Road, Whitechapel, which was opened by Mrs Bischoffstein in 1911.  The Maternity Home had a Midwifery Training School attached.

The establishment of a Jewish maternity home had been enabled by a bequest of £5000 by Mrs Ada Lewis-Hill in memory of her mother, Sarah Davis, to whom a ward of four free beds was dedicated.  Sir Marcus Samuel (later Lord Bearsted) had given £2000 to buy equipment and towards an endowment in memory of Louisa Sophia, Lady Goldsmid.  Mrs S. Harris Lebus paid for the furnishings of the Home, in memory of her husband.

Several old houses were demolished and a two-storey building erected.  The ground floor contained three maternity wards, an operating theatre and three annexes, one of which contained the four free beds and two others with a room each for private patients.  The colour scheme was all white - walls, fittings and beds.  The kitchen and domestic offices were situated on the first floor, as were the superintendent's and nurses' bedrooms (painted pastel green with white fitted furniture) and living rooms.  There was also a small isolation ward, with bath and attendance rooms.  The Home had 12 beds.

In 1912 an Infant Welfare Centre was established at 38 Underwood Road, where free milk supplements were available to nursing mothers.  Lessons in thrift and hygiene were also given.

Two years after opening the Home had become too small to cater for the needs of Jewish mothers and it was instructed by the LCC to keep 3 of its 12 beds available for emergency admissions.  Many patients had to be turned away and, only by booking a place in the early stages of pregnancy, could a mother expect to be admitted there.

In 1916, when Queen Mary visited, the work of the Home involved prenatal classes in hygiene and sewing-classes in how to make suitable modern baby garments.  Clinics were held twice weekly by two doctors, who advised mothers on the health, feeding and clothing of their infants.  The District Nursing Society also had offices in the buildings, where dressings and drugs were kept, as well as clothing for charitable distribution by the nurses from the Queen Victoria's Jubilee Institute,who nursed the sick poor in their homes.
The work of the Sick Room Helps, the precursor to our modern Home Helps, was supervised from Underwood Road; working-class women were employed to help confined women by taking over domestic chores like cooking and cleaning, and making sure the patient's children went to school.

In 1918 The Home amalgamated with the Ladies' Benevolent Lying-In Institution and began to provide domiciliary midwifery services.  The Maternity and Child Welfare Act of 1918 saw an increase in antenatal care, and the Home was one of the first to provide such care. Dental clinics were also held.

The Home was rebuilt and extended between 1927 and 1928, taking over adjacent premises in Underwood Road, to provide accommodation for an infant welfare centre and an antenatal clinic.  It then had 34 beds. It was renamed the Bearstead Memorial Hospital (the Jewish Maternity Home Incorporated, including the Midwifery Training School, the District Nursing and Sick Room Helps' Society and the Ladies' Benevolent Lying-In Institution) as a tribute to the memory of  Lord Bearsted, who had died in 1927, and whose son was a generous donor to Jewish charities, including the Home.

The new regulations following remodelling of midwifery services in 1937 rendered the accommodation inadequate for the teaching and research required for midwifery training. A decision was made for the Hospital to move to a larger site.

WW2 supervened and the Hospital closed in 1939.

A new Bearsted Memorial Hospital opened in Stoke Newington in 1947.

Present status (October 2008)

Stepney Council bought the vacated buildings and established the Mary Hughes Centre and Day Nursery, named after Mary Hughes (1860-1941), who worked among the poor of the East End.  It contained an antenatal clinic,  a day nursery and a hostel for nursery nurses, and a school treatment centre.  

The Centre closed in 1996, but the building is now known as the Mary Hughes Building, 22-28 Underwood Road.  It is in use by the Family Welfare Association (now Family Action) to provide services for local children and adults in Tower Hamlets. 

However, the buildings now appear to be for sale.

Update:  September 2011

The buildings are now owned by Peabody, who intend to demolish them and build an apartment block in their place.

However, a campaign to preserve the buildings for their historic value as the first Jewish maternity hospital in England is being led by Mr Tom Ridge, a local resident and historian.

If you wish to add your support to this campaign, please contact Mr Ridge:


Update:  March 2013

The building was demolished in 2012.


Update: December 2015

New housing now occupies the site.


Jewish Maternity Hospital

The Mary Hughes Building at No. 26 Underwood Road.

Jewish Maternity Hospital

The Mary Hughes Building at No. 24 Underwood Road, with its stepped Dutch gable  (the white door on the left).  The words 'Maternity Hospital' were once above the green door (No. 22).

Jewish Maternity Hospital

The buildings from the east.

Jewish Maternity Hospital

The buildings from the west.


Update: March 2013

22-24 Underwood Road

The buildings have been demolished.


Update: December 2015

22-24 Underwood Road

Two new apartment blocks have been built on the site - Ada Lewis Court and Bearstead Court (above and below).

22-24 Underwood Road


22-24 Underwood Road

Ada Lewis Court at 34 Underwood Road.

22-24 Underwood Road

Bearstead Court at 28 Underwood Road.

22-24 Underwood Road 22-24 Underwood Road

A stone plaque on the front of each block gives the history of the site.

22-24 Underwood Road

The history is repeated in banded lettering inscribed in the masonry by the main entrances.

Although officially named the Jewish Maternity Hospital, it was affectionately known locally as 'Mother Levy's', after its quondam popular superintendent.

The songwriter and composer, Lionel Bart (1930-1999) was born here, as was the playwright Sir Arnold Wesker in 1932.

References (Accessed 1st January 2016)

Marks L 1990 'Dear old Mother Levy's': the Jewish Maternity Home and Sick Room Helps Society 1895-1939.  Social History of Medicine 3, 61-88.





http://rcnarchive.rcn.org.uk (1911)

http://rcnarchive.rcn.org.uk (1916)



http://spitalfieldslife.com (1)

http://spitalfieldslife.com (2)







www.peabody.org.uk (1)

www.peabody.org.uk (2)


www.the jc.com

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