The Fountain

The central area of the square was left empty in Gibbs’ original design but now contains a number of features of a later date. The Fountain was erected in 1859, at which time shrubs and flower beds were planted in the Square (these were removed in 1895 when the shelters were built). Since then it has been the focal point of the Square; on hot summer days, people congregate near the Fountain to rest, talk or simply enjoy the pleasant coolness of the water.

Before the construction of the Fountain, its site was occupied by a well, which had been built in 1809 with pumping apparatus to supply additional water to the wards. In 1851, Charles Dickens’ journal Household Words described it as ‘an ugly circular pump, which looks like a slice of a worn-out steam boiler with a lamp on top’. By 1857, however, the hospital was receiving a fully adequate water supply from the New River Company’s works, and the well had fallen out of use. In January 1858, the Governors of the Hospital agreed that the old pump should be sold, and twelve months later their minutes recorded that ‘in consequence of the removal of the pump … the Treasurer was asked to take necessary steps to planting the vacant spot’. A proposal to erect a fountain was put before the Governors in September 1859, ‘Several of the Governors and Medical Staff having expressed a desire to see one placed there’. The decision to construct the Fountain followed a report on the subject by Philip C Hardwick, the Hospital Surveyor. Hardwick estimated the cost of construction at about £220, with a further £40 for the basin and pipes, and £95 for the carving of the figures. He pointed out that the jet of water would have to be high enough to be seen above the shrubs, which had recently been planted in the Square, and that the cost of a figure group would not be very much greater than ‘any merely architectural form of the same height’. The Fountain is Italianate in style but the exact source of Hardwick’s inspiration remains unknown. On 11 October 1859, the Governors accepted his design and resolved that the Fountain be erected. The date of its completion is not recorded.

The Fountain quickly became the appointed meeting place for medical staff and students at the start of a ward round. In the St Bartholomew’s Hospital Journal, July 1930, Archibald Garrod described a typical scene as it occurred daily throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. At half past one, the housemen, clinical clerks and dressers would be assembled around the Fountain, awaiting the arrival of the ‘chief’.

‘Presently a brougham drawn by a pair of grey horses would drive into the Square . . . and from it would alight Dr [Samuel] Gee, small and alert, wearing the orthodox frock-coat and tall hat of the Victorian consultant. Then perhaps his private hansom would bring Mr Thomas Smith [Surgeon to the Hospital], and others would arrive in turn. Then students and residents would sort themselves into groups, following their respective chief … and go with him to his ward’.

In 1880, when Garrod was a student, they would have been formally dressed, but by 1930 the white coat had become the normal apparel.

In 1919, a private dining club was established, which still meets under the name of the Fountain Club, and dines around a bronze replica of the Fountain. Round the Fountain is also the name of an anthology of extracts from the St Bartholomew’s Hospital Journal, which ran to seven editions between 1909 and 1977.

In 1988-90 the Fountain underwent substantial repair for the first time since its construction; a new pumping system was installed and damaged stonework was restored. It was restored again in 2013 prior to the refurbishment of the Square as part of the PFI redevelopment of the hospital.

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Henry VIII Gate

The magnificent Henry VIII Gate, facing north onto the open space of Smithfield, was built in 1702. Long before this date, the main entrance to the hospital precinct was on this site, and it is possible that it was located there as early as the 12th century.

In August 1701, the Board of Governors gave instructions for the north gate to be rebuilt and flanked with tenements at higher rents to replace those already on site. In March 1702, the Governors’ minute book recorded an agreement ‘with Edward Strong junior, mason, to erect and build the front of this hospital’s north gate in Smithfield with Purbeck stone, according to the model drawn by the said Edward Strong . . . for the sum of £550’.

Edward Strong came from a notable family of stonemasons; his uncle had been Chief Mason to Sir Christopher Wren, and he himself had worked under Wren at St Paul’s Cathedral. The building work was completed in the late spring of 1703, but the cost proved to be considerably higher than the original estimate: £1493 had already been spent by Michaelmas 1702, and a further £1320 was spent before the Gate and adjoining houses were finished. A clock to adorn the facade of the Gate was made by Richard Horton in 1702.

Above the archway stands a statue of King Henry VIII; the only such statue in a public place in London. The statue is the work of the sculptor Francis Bird and is contemporary with the Gate; the King’s crown and sceptre were made in 1987 by John Sambrook, the crown replacing a decayed Victorian one. Above the King are two further sculptures, one holding a crutch, the other with his right arm in a sling. These are thought to be allegorical figures of Lameness and Disease.

The inscription on the Gate reads ‘St Bartholomew’s Hospital, founded by Rahere anno 1102, refounded by K. Henry VIII 1546. This front was rebuilt anno 1702 in the first year of Queen Anne; Sir Wm. Prichard K[nigh]t and Alder[man], President; John Nicholl Esq., Treasurer’. The date ‘1102’ is an error, for the hospital was actually founded in 1123. John Stow’s Survey of London, first published in 1598, wrongly stated that St Bartholomew’s Hospital was established in 1102, and the mistake gained wide circulation; as late as the 1840s an inscription was placed on what is now Lucas Block, giving Stow’s date for the founding of the hospital instead of the correct one.

In 1833-4 the Gate was substantially reconstructed. The 18th-century facade overlooking West Smithfield remained unaltered, but the houses immediately adjoining the Gate were demolished, and ground and first floor rooms were added on either side of the central arch. The rear of the Gate was re-modelled and faced with stone at the same time.

The Gate has had many uses. In 1834, it was employed as a residence for the house surgeons, and in the early 20th century the rooms were lived in by the hospital beadles and their families. More recently the Gate has been used as office accommodation. It was restored in 1969 and again in 1985-7 when a Civic Trust commendation was made for the restoration work.

Image courtesy of Barts Health NHS Trust Archives & Museums

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The Great Hall

The Great Hall is the central jewel in the crown of this magnificent if yet unrecognised heritage site. It is inside the Grade I listed North Wing which was built to house the financial and management functions of the hospital. The costs of running the hospital were not borne from taxes, insurance or private investment, but by voluntary donations from benefactors. The Governors used the hall to hold its meetings and to welcome and entertain the great and the good of the City to attract them to become donors, whose names and the sums of their donation were inscribed on its walls. Patient care was provided in the other wings of the hospital, as it still is today.

The Great Hall is situated on the first floor of The North Wing. It is approached by way of a grand staircase, The Hogarth Stair, the walls of which were decorated by William Hogarth (1697-1764). As the top of the staircase is reached, the Great Hall is accessed by a dominating doorway that opens up into the large Hall decorated with portraits and dedications to the early contributors to the redevelopment of the hospital. Most striking is the portrait of Henry VIII at the west end of the room, hands on hips and glaring down at all who enter. A combination of the majesty of the stairway and the ever-watching gaze of this most belligerent of monarchs makes this a suitably intimidating arena in which to examine final year medical students!

The Henry VIII portrait is a copy of an original that was hung in the Palace of Whitehall until it was destroyed by fire in 1698. The original was a group that depicted Henry with Jane Seymour, along with his parents, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, the Queen Consort. The original hanging of the portrait in The Great Hall was supervised by James Gibbs and William Hogarth in 1738.

A central fireplace is decorated by a portrait of St Bartholomew. Opposite this is the Charter Window, not installed until 1743, depicting Henry VIII presenting his charter to Thomas Vicary, arguably the saviour of Barts in the 16th Century, on the foundation of the new hospital. Opposite Henry VIII and forever meeting his eye is a hung portrait of Edward VII. The Charter Window pre-dates the current building, having been installed from the previous Great Hall, dating to the 16th or 17th century.

Other important works include portraits of Percivall Pott painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds and of James Paget by Sir John Millais, which along with portraits of John Abernethy and William Harvey hang in the rooms surrounding the hall (they can be seen in our section on artwork and portraits).

The ceiling was decorated in gold leaf by Jean Baptiste St Michell and represents his only work in England. The walls are lined with the names of the benefactors that supported the hospital from its re-foundation onwards and those that made the redevelopment of the hospital possible after the near-bankruptcy that it faced after The Fire of London. The names run from 1546 until 1905, at which point space ran out.

Following the inception of the NHS in 1948, the funding of Barts – like other hospitals – became the responsibility of the government and so the functions of the Great Hall gradually changed to more general uses such as an examination hall for students, award ceremonies, receptions, dinners and cultural events.

Header photo © David Butler

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