Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
The Lock Hospital was founded as a refuge for lepers, a place where those stricken with leprosy were part incarcerated and part protected. Lepers were banished from the City of London and there had been a royal mandate that decreed that those suffering from the disease should “partake themselves to the country and to seek their victuals through such sound persons as might be found to attend them.”* .
Originally called the Loke hospital and thought to have dated back to the 13th century, it was located far outside of the City just within the parish of St Mary Newington at the south eastern end of Kent Street, now renamed Tabard Street. The hospital was dedicated to St Mary and St Leonard, the latter the patron saint of captives. Surrounded then by open fields, the Lock Stream ran alongside the hospital to the east and went on through Bermondsey to the River Thames, and to the south Lock’s Fields extended to Walworth. There are two theories how the hospital became called the Lock: after the ‘loques’ or rags that were applied to lepers’ sores or from the concept that the inmates were indeed locked away.
There were ten leper hospitals around the outskirts of London and six of these were transferred to St Bartholomew’s at the time of the Reformation. One of the longest enduring of these was the Lock Hospital on Kent Street. Leprosy gradually disappeared from England and the last lepers were admitted there in 1557. After that time, the patients sent there by St Bartholomew’s were convalescents or those who required constant attention, and increasingly those suffering from venereal disease. It became known as the ‘Hospital for Pockey Folks in Kent Street.’ It had 30 beds for men while women were treated at the Lock Hospital in Kingsland.
St Bartholomew’s closed both hospitals in 1760 and leased the buildings. When Great Dover Street was laid out at the beginning of the 19th century, part of the hospital buildings still survived but St Bartholomew’s decided to develop the land. Warner Street and Portland Place (now Bartholomew Street) were laid out to form a triangle with Great Dover Street and New Kent Road, and the land on either side of the new road let on building leases.
* William Rendle, Old Southwark and its People