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Hackney Hospital

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Date: 1788-1983
History: In 1750, the Wardens, Overseers and Trustees of the Parish of St John, Hackney, ordered that a room be reserved in the workhouse in Homerton high Street which was 'for the lodging, maintaining and employing of poor persons', so that sick paupers could be treated separately from other inmates. A matron and one nurse were appointed and the history of Hackney Hospital began. By the following year a larger room was needed and the matron' charge was extended to include the insane as well as the sick but she was able to order any of the healthy inmates to help her in treating the patients. Social conditions in Hackney were among the worst in London and there was a continual need for the workhouse and its infirmary to expand to meet the demands made upon it. In 1801 more land was acquired in Homerton High Street but it was not considered worthwhile to make improvements until after the freehold of all the property used for the relief of the poor was obtained in 1848. Then the Guardians of the Poor, who had taken over the responsibility for poor relief from the parish Trustees in 1834, immediately began to rebuild and modernise the buildings, managing to complete the work within two years. There was a cholera epidemic raging at the time, fuelled by the overcowded conditions and poor drainage in the area, and the parish Medical Officer had resigned in 1849 because he was unable to cope with attending all the sick poor, so the workhouse infirmary was quickly filled to capacity and beyond. The Guardians seem to have taken their responsibility very seriously; whenever there was an opportunity they expanded and improved the buildings and there is no mention of bad conditions at the Hackney Infirmary in the Lancet's survey of workhouse infirmaries published in 1866, although the survey does give a general impression of the workhouses as rather dismal places. They were usually overcrowded with few comforts, the walls were painted dull brown and white with little ornament or decoration. There were few books or other amusements and card games were strictly forbidden. The food was usually adequate but unappetising and often cold after being carried long distances from the kitchens. The inmates slept on flock beds on wooden or iron bedsteads and their diet included mutton, bread and beer but never vegetables or fruit. There were never enough nurses to look after the sick and those that were employed usually had no training and were inclined to drunkeness, which was encouraged by allowances of beer and gin to supplement their wages. A direct result of the survey was the passing of the Metropolitan Poor Law Act in 1967 which caused further rebuilding at Hackney so that the Infirmary was entirely separate from the main workhouse buildings according to the provisions of the Act. By the end of the nineteenth century the Infirmary accommodated 606 beds, but by now the nursing staff were partially trained and consisted of a Matron and her Assistant, 11 staff nurses, 26 students and 6 ward maids. The nurses worked 57 hours per week or 72 hours if on night duty. In 1930 the Hackney Institution, as it was then known, was taken over by the London County Council. But it was not until four years later that the healthy were moved out and referred to the Public Assistance Committee and the workhouse finally ceased to exist. Its buildings were then used to provide hospital accommodation but were administered separately until 1938 when they were amalgamated with the Infirmary under one Matron. Among the first improvements was the building of a Nurses' Home in 1937 whilst wards and kitchens were also updated. In 1948 the Hospital came under the control of the newly formed Ministry of Health and for the next 25 years was administered jointly with the Eastern, The German and the Mothers' which formed the Hackney Group of Hospitals. The Ministry made funds available for further improvements which included a new Out-Patients Department opened in 1956 and Physiotherapy Rooms the following year. More recently and Oncology Department with two wards was opened. With reorganisation in 1974 Hackney Hospital, with the other Hositals in the Group, became part of the new City and Hackney Health District. The teaching hospital for this district was St Bartholomew's Hospital, which is why the archives of Hackney Hospital are now held at Bart's. In 1987 the City and Hackney Health Authority opened a new hospital, the Homerton, and the general services from Hackney Hospital were gradually transferred there. Only psychiatric and geriatric services remained at Hackney, and in 1995 these too were transferred to Homerton. The site is scheduled for closure and demolition at the end of 1995.
  • Hackney, Middlesex
Functions, occupations and activities: Health and social care > Hospitals
Name authority reference: GB/NNAF/C69588 (Former ISAAR ref: GB/NNAF/O90931 )
  Description Held by Reference Further information
1788-1983: administrative, clinical and patient records
Barts Health NHS Trust Archives (St Bartholomew's Hospital Archives)
NRA 8894 Hackney Health
1879-1948: administrative records
London Metropolitan Archives: City of London
See HOSPREC Database

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