St Bart’s Hospital Museum: A hidden gem with a 900-year story to tell
St Bartholomew’s Hospital Museum is hidden beneath Henry VIII’s statue in St Bart’s North Wing. It doesn’t look much from the outside, but push open the heavy door and you’ll enter a lovingly-curated time capsule that’s obviously incredibly proud of its heritage.
The hospital in which it stands was founded in 1123 and is now one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious hospitals, having been treating the sick for almost 900 years.
You can tell how much work has gone into curating this museum. It tells the story of the hospital’s inception in the 12th century, refounding in the 16th century and then on throughout recent times.
Among the items on display are medical artefacts, surgical equipment, 12th-century documents, art and uniforms charting nine centuries of medical history.
The archives hold a copy of the original refounding document, signed by Henry VIII, and a copy is on display in the museum (Henry granted the hospital to the City of London and grudgingly endowed it with properties and income).
The hospital’s connections with Great Harry don’t stop there: it has ties with St Bartholomew the Great church (also founded in the 12th century) that was partly destroyed during Henry’s reformation, and the placement of the only public statue of the man himself in London atop the Henry VIII Gate under which the museum stands.
But the best part for me isn’t a display item; the grand Hogarth Staircase stands at the rear of the museum and when in use it forms the path to the great hall of the North Wing of the hospital. It was painted by William Hogarth, an 18th -century artist who donated the work for free when he heard that hospital officials had approached a Venetian artist to do the work.
Hogarth was born in Bartholomew Close, where many of the medical school buildings now stand, and painted a ‘mural’ for St Bart’s depicting The Pool of Bethesda and The Good Samaritan. Many of the figures around the pool are based on real-life patients.
Opening hours: Tuesday to Friday, 10am-4pm
Nearest Tube: St Paul’s or Farringdon
More information: bartshealth.nhs.uk/bartsmuseum
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