Hospital of
St John and St Elizabeth
 60 Grove End Road, St Johns Wood, NW8 9NH
Medical dates:

Medical character:
1856 - current

The Hospital of St Elizabeth opened on 19th November 1856, the Feast Day of St Elizabeth of Hungary, under whose patronage it was dedicated.   It had been founded by Cardinal Wiseman and Dr Manning (later Cardinal) who placed it under the charge of the Sisters of Mercy, four of whom had recently returned from the Crimea where they had worked with Florence Nightingale.  The Committee of Management included, among others, Cardinal Wiseman and the Duke of Norfolk).

The Hospital was located in a house at No. 47 Great Ormond Street, next door to the Children's Hospital.  It had 20 beds and only women and children were admitted.  The patients were often considered incurable and terminally ill, although many belied the notion and recovered, probably because of the advanced nursing techniques used by the Sisters.  By December 1857 some 90 patients had been admitted, of whom 61 were cured or relieved and 9 had died (20 remained in hospital).  Most patients suffered from consumption (TB), paralysis or chronic disease of the spine and joints.

In 1858 the number of beds was increased to 25.

In 1861 the Hospital became closely associated with the Sovereign Military Hospitalier Order of St John of Jerusalem (commonly known as the Order or the Knights of Malta).  In 1862 Sir George Bowyer, a member of the Order, built a Convent and chapel dedicated to St John of Jerusalem adjacent to the Hospital, and also subscribed to the upkeep of the Hospital.  Because of this, its name was changed to the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth.  

Alterations were made to the Hospital building to make it more suitable for use as hospital premises.  While this work was going on, the patients and the Community moved to a house in Brentford, returning when the work was completed in 1865.

The lack of funds in 1865 meant the closure of one ward.  In March 1866 the Hospital Committee decided the whole Hospital had to close.  The Sisters maintained themselves by selling garments they had sewn, knitted or crocheted.

When the Hospital reopened in November 1868, its entire management passed to the Sisters of Mercy, with Sister Mary Stanislaus Jones as the Superioress.

In 1897, in her Jubilee Year, Queen Victoria personally decorated four of the Sisters with the Royal Red Cross, some 40 years after the Crimean War (1853-1856).

By the end of the century the Hospital had become too small and plans were made to enlarge it.  The Committee of Management of the neighbouring  Children's Hospital were concerned that the new building would affect the light and air for its patients, and offered £30,000 for the property.

The Sisters of Mercy accepted the offer and a site for a purpose-built hospital was found in St Johns Wood.  In 1898 the Sisters and patients moved from Great Ormond Street to Loudoun Hall, a large mansion on the site, which became the convent and the interim Hospital.  

The foundation stone for the new Hospital was laid on 7th June 1899 by the Duke of Norfolk, and that for the chapel on the same day by Cardinal Vaughan.  The domed chapel in Great Ormond Street was then dismantled brick by brick and reassembled at the St Johns Wood site.

The Hospital, which had cost £56,000 to build, was officially opened on 15th July 1901 by the Lord Mayor of London, Sir Frederick Green.  In 1902 the Hospital was extended by the addition of a wing.  It then had 100 beds, including 7 private patient rooms.  Male patients were admitted for the first time.

The Sisters, who had up till then worn a black habit, changed to a white one while nursing, once permission had been received from Rome.  It was felt that the colour white was more aesthetic in a hospital than black.

By 1904 the bed occupancy was 63%, with patients staying on average for 91 days.

In 1909 Cardinal Bourne set up the Brampton Trust, a charity for the benefit of the Hospital, after Lady Brampton bequeathed £100,000 to the Hospital.

An X-ray Department was established in 1909 (patients had previously been sent to St George's Hospital for X-ray examination).  An operating room was also added.

In 1911 houses next to the Hospital were demolished to make way for the building of the Convent.  After it opened, the first floor of the old convent in Loudoun Hall was used for the care of sick priests, and the second floor for sick nuns.

When the former Superintendent, Mother Mary Stanislaus, R.R.C., the sole survivor of the original Sisters of Mercy who served in the Crimea, died at the age of 90 in 1913, the War Office sent a bearer party from Royal Army Medical Corps to escort her body from church to cemetery, as a mark of appreciation for her work during and after the Crimean War.

At the outbreak of WW1 in 1914 the Hospital authorities placed 50 beds (later increased to 100) at the disposal of the Admiralty and the War Office.  By December of that year some 46 beds were occupied by wounded and sick servicemen.

In January 1915 the King and Queen visited the military patients and spoke to each one of them.

In 1915 No. 36 Circus Road was bought for use as a Nurses' Home, with a room for each nurse.  The garage of the property became a Recreation Room for convalescent soldiers.

By 1917 the Hospital was affiliated to Queen Alexandra's Hospital in Millbank; 90 beds of its beds were occupied by war casualties.  A second operating table had been added and a Massage Department established.

During WW1 some 2,499 naval and military personnel were treated at the Hospital, of whom only 15 died.  The last soldier was discharged in 1919.  Three of the Sisters were awarded the Royal Red Cross for their services.

In 1921 a covered way was built to join Loudoun Hall to the main block, so that patients could be brought to and from the operating theatre under cover.

In 1923 the Hospital acquired new X-ray equipment.  In 1925 it was installed in a new location and opened by Cardinal Bourne.  The Department was enlarged in 1929.  In 1929 radium was purchased to provide deep radiation therapy.

In 1925 an isolation block was built, with accommodation for 2 patients and one nurse (it later became the mortuary).   A new operating theatre was installed in a new block built in the garden.  It was named the Tetley Theatre, after Mrs Tetley, who had donated £1,500 towards the project.  (The theatre remained in use until 1984.  It was later upgraded and re-opened in 1994 as the third theatre.)

In 1927 the lease for No. 34 Circus Road was purchased by the Brampton Trustees for future extension.  In 1929 the first part of a new building (the part nearest the Hospital) was completed as an extension to the dining room; it also contained a Lecture Room, 6 nurses' rooms and 8 maids' rooms (on the top floor).   No. 36 was demolished so that a new front entrance could be made and the new building completed.  This section contained the scullery and the boiler room.

By 1928 the Hospital had 134 beds.  The six wards (one for children) contained 17 beds each and there were 18 rooms for  private patients (which had opened in 1920).

In 1931 the final stage of the Nurses' Home was completed.

In 1933 a Porter's Lodge was built at the Grove End Road entrance.  Another was added later at the Circus Road entrance, which was used by motor vehicles - ambulances and cars carrying patients into or out of the Hospital and medical staff cars.  The X-ray Department was enlarged at a cost of £5,000 by taking over the area used by the Dispensary, which had to be found a new location.

By the 1930s, in addition to the general wards, the Hospital had 20 rooms for private patients and 2 endowed rooms for those unable to afford the usual fees of a nursing home.  The charge for the latter was from £2 10s (£2.50) a week.  Poor patients were admitted to the general wards without charge, but those who could afford to do so were expected to contribute to the cost of their maintenance.  The Hospital was busy, with a large visiting consultant staff, and plans were made for expansion.  It had small Out-Patients and Casualty Departments.

In 1939 the Hospital had 116 beds in six wards, 23 private patient rooms, 6 staff pay beds (for their own patients admitted by the medical staff) and 8 beds reserved for priests or nuns from the Archdiocese of Westminster.  Lord Nuffield gifted the Hospital an 'iron lung' respirator, used in the treatment of polio.   A Training School for Nurses had been established.  A Department for Rheumatics and Arthritis opened - the first of its kind in the country.  Patients were encouraged to do occupational therapy to keep their stiffened limbs and fingers mobile.  A Research Unit with a laboratory was attached to the Clinic and financed by the Empire Rheumatism Council.

At the outbreak of WW2 in 1939 the Hospital's stock of radium was deposited in a 'bore hole' 50 feet (15 metres) below ground level at the Middlesex Hospital.   (It was subsequently withdrawn but, as the air-raids on London became more severe, it was replaced.  In the interim 13 cases had been treated.)

The Hospital joined the Emergency Medical Service (EMS) with 140 beds (including 14 private patient rooms), of which 100 were EMS beds (the number was later reduced).  The Ministry of Health paid £4 10s 8d (£4.53) weekly for an occupied bed, and £3 1s 6d (£3.07) for an unoccupied one.  The medical staff comprised 1 physician, 3 surgeons, 3 anaesthetists, 2 blood transfusion officers and a Medical Superintendent.  There were 35 nurses for the 100 casualty beds, and 40 nurses were transferred to the Bedford Mental Hospital, the Sector's Base Hospital in Arlesey.

A First Aid Post was set up by the Borough of St Marylebone in part of the Private Patients Wing, causing a drop in income from £10,164 to £4,646.

By 1940 the Hospital had 162 beds, of which 80 were EMS beds.  The average length of stay varied from between 18 to 34 days.  In the autumn of 1940 the upper floor of the Maids' Home (known as the 'Cottage') was destroyed by a bomb falling through soft ground outside the building and exploding  in an underground railway tunnel, thereby diminishing the force of the blast.

In 1941 a Decontamination Unit against gas attacks was added to the site. (The brick building was later adapted to be a kitchen and dining room for domestic staff, and eventually became part of the Physiotherapy Department.)

After the war the Hospital had 149 beds and continued to admit poor patients without charge, while others were invited to contribute towards their costs (there was no 'means test').

In 1948 the children's ward, which had closed for the duration of the war, was converted into a Maternity Department at a cost of £3,500.  It was officially opened on 28th May by Cardinal Griffin,  the Archbishop of Westminster.  The occasion was a double celebration for the Hospital, as it was also the Golden Jubilee of its transfer from Great Ormond Street.

The Maternity Department contained 10 beds, 8 of which were in two glass-screened alcoves (4 beds in each).  One end of the Department contained two isolation wards with single beds, while at the other end was the nursery with 11 cots (to allow for one set of twins), with the Sister's Duty Room beside it.  The Labour Section was across the corridor with a receiving room, a waiting or first-stage room, and a delivery room, all within close proximity to each other.  The colour scheme of green and white, with bright chromium fittings and equipment for the medical team, was considered most attractive.  The Department was staffed by a Sister of Mercy, who was a qualified nurse, two midwives and student nurses.

In July 1948 the Hospital was disclaimed from the NHS and continued as an independent hospital under the management of a Board of Governors.  All medical staff were honorary consultants, providing services for free for non-private patients.

In 1949, when the Hospital had 159 beds, the average weekly cost of an in-patient was £12 0s 11d (£12.05), compared with £11 9s 3d (£11.46) in 1948.  The average length of stay varied from 23 to 27 days.  As with other independent general hospitals, cases of mental disorder, tuberculosis or other infection were not admitted.

A Preliminary Training School for nurses was established at No. 34 Circus Road, and that at No. 56 Grove End Road (owned by the Brampton Trust, as was No. 58) closed in August 1949.  No. 42 Circus Road was leased from the Brampton Trust as accommodation for visiting Sisters.

In 1952 the average weekly cost of an in-patient was £13 13s 4d (£13.67), which increased to £14 12s 10d (£14.64) in 1953.  The average length of stay was 20 days.

On 9th February 1953 a children's ward opened in the west wing.  It was blessed by Cardinal Griffin and dedicated to the Holy Child.  

In 1957 the Hospital had 176 beds,  There was a small Out-Patients Department, and X-ray, Physiotherapy and Pathology Departments to provide services for in-patients.

The Hospital had 171 beds in 1959, when the average weekly cost of an in-patient was £21 13s 2d (£21.66).

In April 1959, following a contract with the North West Metropolitan Regional Health Board, a 30-bedded ward for geriatric female patients was opened to alleviate the pressures on NHS waiting lists.  Under the contract some 50% of maternity beds were also made available to NHS patients.  This arrangement provided an additional income of over £55,000 a year to the Hospital.

By 1960, when the Hospital had 184 beds, the average weekly cost of an in-patient had decreased to £21 4s 3d (£21.21).  The average stay of an in-patient was 18 days.

In 1964 the X-ray apparatus was replaced and the darkroom re-equipped.  The average weekly cost of an in-patient had increased to £28 17s 0d (£28.85), from £25 7s 0d (£25.35) in 1963.

In 1965, when the Hospital had 186 beds, the wards were modernised and additional sanitary annexes installed, containing 2 bathrooms, 2 WCs and 2 washing cubicles.  The average weekly cost of an in-patient was £34 6s 2d (£34.31), with an average stay of two weeks.  There were 178 beds in 1966, and patients stayed on average for 13 days.  The weekly cost of an in-patient had risen slightly to £36 8s 0d (36.40).

In 1968, in order to ensure continuing recognition of the nurses' Training School, the Hospital amalgamated with St Andrew's Hospital in Dollis Hill.  The merger lasted only a year, but for nursing purposes the General Nursing Council continued to treat both Hospitals as one organisation with the necessary 300 beds for training purposes.  The Training School remained.

The 1970s were financially difficult for the Hospital due to high inflation rates.  The Board of Management decided it could no longer operate as a purely charitable organisation providing free treatment to all who needed it.  In the later 1970s appeals were launched for funds to develop more facilities for private patients.  Following this, several of the communal wards were converted into private rooms and two operating theatres were installed.

In 1975 the geriatric patients were withdrawn by the Royal Free Hospital following opening of facilities at New End Hospital.  This resulted in a loss of income of £65,000 a year.  However, the Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea Area Health Authority took over the vacated beds.

In 1976 a Dialysis Unit was established for private patients.

In 1977 the Sisters of Mercy and the Brampton Trustees discussed the possibility of adapting a ward on the ground floor as a hospice for terminally ill cancer patients.  Following the advice and financial support of the Cancer Relief Macmillan Fund, plans for this finally began to take shape in 1980 and the Catherine McAuley Unit opened in 1981 with 5 beds.  It was presumably named after the founder of the Sisters of Mercy.

On 29th May 1984, following the success of the Unit, a purpose-built hospice opened.  It had 10 beds (4 in a male ward and 4 in a female one, and two single rooms).  It was named the St John's Hospice and was officially opened in June by Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.

On 6th May 1987 a Day Centre  in the Hospice was opened by Bishop John Crowley, while plans were made to extend the Hospice and increase the bed complement.

In October 1988 the Sisters of Mercy held their General Chapter devoted to an examination of their fundamental vocation - care of the poor.  Most of the Sisters were engaged in teaching in private fee-paying convent schools and they decided to withdraw from these schools.  This decision of the General Chapter affected those Sisters nursing in the fee-paying Hospital.  The 12 Sisters living in the convent were allowed to remain there, while the rest of the building was given over to the Hospital.

In July 1989 planning permission was given to demolish Loudoun Hall, the oldest part of the Hospital fronting onto Grove End Road, which had outlived its usefulness and become too costly to maintain.  Loudoun Hall was gradually evacuated, while the Headquarters of the Knights of Malta at No. 48 Grove End Road moved to the convent building.

In October 1989 work began to demolish the Hall.  Cardinal Hume laid the foundation stone on 15th February 1990 for a  new £3.5m private ward block to be built in its place.  The Pharmacy and Physiotherapy Departments were improved, as was the Out-Patients Department, with a new reception area added.  The catering and restaurant facilities were upgraded and re-equipped.  St John's Hospice was refurbished and extended to 11 beds.

The new block was officially opened on 3rd July 1991 by Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.  It contained 66 private patient rooms and a theatre suite

In 1991 a specialist unit - the Shoulder Unit - was established, dedicated to the diagnosis, treatment and research of injuries and disorders of the shoulder and elbow.  It was the first of many such units to be set up at the Hospital.

In 1995 St Clare's Ward opened to provide facilities for day surgery.

In 1999 another wing was added to the Hospice to give a bed complement of 19 beds.

In 2003 the news emerged that the Linacre Centre for Healthcare Ethics (now renamed the Anscombe Bioethics Centre), an independent charitable Roman Catholic institute established in 1977 to examine moral questions arising in clinical practice and biomedical research, was to be forced to leave the Hospital premises it occupied so that the building could be developed into a medical centre.

Members of the Linacre Centre had suspected that the Roman Catholic code of ethics forbidding doctors to be involved in abortion or contraceptive services were being infringed by some of the Hospital's consultants.  Moreover, the General Practitioners employed in the future medical centre would be obliged, under their NHS contracts, to provide the full range of services to their patients.

By 2005 the rumblings had reached the ears of Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, Patron of the Hospital and a Trustee of the Brampton Trust, who ordered an investigation into the matter.  It was found that the infringements included sex-change operations and referrals for abortion.

The Cardinal decided that the code should be rewritten to close any loopholes and should be strictly enforced to avoid conflicts with Catholic teaching on the value of human life or on sexual ethics.

The new Code of Ethics, written in 2007, not only forbade referrals for direct abortion, but also forbade doctors from referring patients to a colleague to enable abortion.  Contraception (including the morning-after pill), amniocentesis, IVF services and gender reassignment surgery were also proscribed.  (The Code was later declared unworkable by the General Medical Council and the Nursing and Midwifery Council.)

In January 2008 Brampton House - the former Convent of Mercy transformed at a cost of £13m - opened as a purpose-built medical centre.  It contained 27 consulting rooms, two endoscopy rooms and the St John's Wood Medical Practice, an NHS surgery with 9,000 registered patients.

In February 2008 Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor asked the Hospital Board to resign after it had permitted the G.P. surgery to offer contraception, in breach of the Hospital's Catholic ethos.

Present status (June 2008)

A new Board of Management was appointed in June 2008.  The conflict between Catholic morals and secular modern medicine remains unresolved, but the Hospital remains a Catholic institution.

The Hospital is one of the largest independent hospitals in the country and provides a full range of medical and surgical treatments for patients of any or no denomination.  It is modern and well-equipped, with four major operating theatres and one of the most advanced imaging departments in Europe.

Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth
The Hospital building at No. 60 Grove End Road.

Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth
The main entrance on Grove End Road.

Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth
The entrance from Circus Road, with the former Convent on the left (now Brampton House) and the chapel in the centre of the image.  The wings containing the wards were built as an outreach of the chapel.

Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth
The Church of St John of Jerusalem is dedicated to St John the Baptist.  The bell is rung for Angelus at 12 noon and at 6 p.m.  Mass is said twice a week.

Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth
A new block at the northeast of the site.  The cupola of the chapel is just visible.

Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth
The extension of St John's Hospice.

Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth
Buildings within the internal courtyard.
(Author unstated) 1897 Reflections from a Board Room Mirror.  Nursing Record and Hospital World, 18th December, 499-500.

(Author unstated) 1912 Florence Nightingale's chief helper.  The Barrier Miner, 16th October, 1.

(Author unstated) 1913 Nursing echoes.  British Journal of Nursing, 19th April, 313.

(Author unstated) 1913 The passing bell.  British Journal of Nursing, 26th April, 335.

(Author unstated) 1915 Care of the wounded.  British Journal of Nursing, 16th January, 50.

(Author unstated) 1917 List of the hospitals treating military cases in the United Kingdom.  London, H.M.S.O.

(Author unstated) 1934 Nursing echoes.  British journal of Nursing (October), 258.

(Author unstated) 1948 The Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth.  British Journal of Nursing.  The Midwife (July), 88.

Marteau L (undated) The Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth 1856-1992.  Unpublished folio filed at the Wellcome Library, Euston Road.

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