Magdalen Hospital
for Penitent Prostitutes
Drewstead Road, Streatham, SW16 1AX
Medical dates:

Medical character:
1758 - 1966

Specialist. Independent
The Magdalen Hospital began as Magdalen House which opened in 1758 at No. 21 Prescot Street, Whitechapel.  The building was leased from its previous occupants - the London Hospital.  Prescot Street was at this time a disreputable area with brothels, taverns and theatres, many of which had been forced out of the City of London by the authorities.

Not a hospital in our sense of the word (and it certainly was never part of the NHS), it was a charitable organization for the rehabilitation of 'fallen' women, i.e. prostitutes.  The women had to be under 30 years of age and sincere in their desire to be reformed.  Preference was given to the youngest applicants with the least experience of prostitution.

Training was given in needlework and laundry work.  Religious services had to be attended twice daily.

In 1772 the institution moved to a new premises erected on a 6 acre site in Blackfriars Road, St George's Fields, and was renamed the Magdalen Hospital.  Its octagonal Chapel became a fashionable place of worship; a choir of selected inmates sang during the services, protected from the public gaze by a screen.  The extravagant Revd William Dodd (1729-1777) was an evening preacher here; he became the last person to be hanged for forgery at Tyburn.

In 1778 victims of seduction were also included for reformation.

Throughout the first half of the 19th century  contributions to the charity through collections during chapel services were declining, while expenses in the upkeep and repairs to the building were increasing.  The district had become unhealthy, with factories and overcrowded dwellings.  The site was sold in 1869 to the Peabody Trustees for redevelopment as tenement housing, and the Hospital moved to Streatham.

In 1889 the Streatham buildings were enlarged but, by 1907, one ward had to be closed because of lack of funds.  The financial position had improved by 1912 and rebuilding took place in 1913, including the installation of a central laundry, which provided much of the Hospital's income.

In 1934 the Hospital changed to an Approved School for female offenders.  The words 'for the Reception of Penitent Prostitutes' were dropped from its title in 1938.

Duwing WW2 the School was evacuated to Chaworth St James Approved School in Ottershaw, Surrey.  The Hospital building was used as a refugee centre and then later as an LCC rest centre.  In 1944 it became the Magdalen Hospital Classifying School for Girls, where girls were sent for assessment by Juvenile Courts in the south of England before their future was decided.

The School closed in 1966 and the site was bought by Lambeth Council.

The Magdalen Hospital Trust was dissolved in 1973.

Present status (June 2008)

All that remains is Magdalen Lodge, now the offices of METRA Housing Cooperative.  The Hospital buildings were demolished and  housing occupies the site - the Magdalen Estate
Magdalen Lodge
The gate lodge is the only surviving building of the Magdalen Hospital.

Magdalen estate  Magdalen estate
The Magdalen Estate was built in the 1970s.

Magdalen Estate
Looking down Dingley Lane.
In 1986 Cynthia Payne was accused of running a brothel for many years in nearby Ambleside Avenue.  Although she was acquited, the trial made lurid headlines for several week in 1987.  She now works as an after-dinner speaker.
References  (Accessed 1st November 2014)

Compton HFB 1917 The Magdalen Hospital: the Story of a Great Charity.  London, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

Lloyd S 1996 'Pleasure's golden bait': prostitution, poverty and the Magdalen Hospital in 18th century London.  History Workshop Journal 41, 50-70.

Pearce SBD 1958 An Ideal in the Working: the Story of the Magdalen Hospital, 1758-1958.  London, Magdalen Hospital.


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