Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
Now approaching its 300th anniversary, Guy’s Hospital was one of several voluntary hospitals founded in 18th century London by wealthy philanthropists. Thomas Guy, the son of a lighterman/coal dealer was born locally in Bermondsey. He was apprenticed to a bookseller in Cheapside and later became a member of the Stationer’s Company. He had great success dealing in English Bibles printed in Holland, and later, when this became illegal, he printed Bibles for Oxford University. He became a wealthy man and his wealth was increased by one of the few to make a fortune out of the South Sea Bubble.
He was a Governor of St Thomas’ Hospital and in 1721 paid for two new wings that were built to meet growing demand. At the same time he leased some land from St Thomas’ where he built a new hospital that would admit incurables and patients with mental problems who were denied admittance to St Thomas’. Guy’s Hospital opened in 1724 but sadly the great benefactor Thomas Guy died just before the first patients were admitted.
The two hospitals, St Thomas’ and Guy’s complemented and collaborated with each other and as medical education developed, anatomy and surgery were taught at St Thomas’ and medicine at Guy’s. One famous student at Guy’s was John Keats who studied at Guy's from 1815 to 1816 and there is a statue of the poet, seated in an alcove salvaged from the old London Bridge, in the hospital grounds.
Thomas Guy’s will stipulated that Guy’s Hospital was to admit all types of patients and have its own governing body. Although the two hospitals had worked together harmoniously for many years, the medical schools separated in 1825. It’s been suggested that this was caused by arguments between the two sets of governors and what amounted to a personality clash between the treasurers of the two hospitals. The final breach occurred when a riot broke out in St Thomas’ Hospital Operating Theatre, the police called and six medical students arrested. As a result of the separation, St Thomas’ Medical School suffered a great decline for many years.
London Bridge Station opened in 1836 and by 1847 there were schemes to extend the railway to Charing Cross and Cannon Street which necessitated building the railway right across the site of St Thomas’ Hospital. This was viewed as catastrophic to both the health of the patients and the survival of the hospital, and despite litigation the hospital was compulsorily purchased for just under £300,000. Greatly influenced by Florence Nightingale, St Thomas' built a new hospital on its present site in Lambeth opposite the Houses of Parliament.
Guy’s Hospital remained in Southwark and has expanded over the centuries, most notably the 34 storey Tower Wing built in 1974, at one time the tallest building in London. It stands next to the Shard, the current tallest building in London, and the brutalist architecture of the Tower Wing has been softened recently by the introduction of cladding. Perhaps to be expected, there was intense competition between Guy’s and St Thomas’ but, reflecting changing times and changing attitudes, the two hospitals began to work more co-operatively together. In 1993 the two hospitals merged and the Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust was created. Guy’s Medical School is now part of King’s College London.
Guy’s Hospital Chapel is on the ground floor of the west wing completed in 1780. Thomas Guy’s remains were reinterred in the crypt and a memorial featuring the benefactor giving a sick man a helping hand was erected in the chapel. There is much of interest in the chapel including a set of mosaic arts and craft style mosaic panels featuring people from the bible made by James Powell & Co in the early 20th century.