Buildings & interiors
With our specialist design team, we have advanced detailed plans for the conservation of the historic buildings including a detailed business plan to ensure long term sustainable uses. Our programmes of activity across a range of audiences are also well progressed.
Images: Matthew Andrews
The Great Hall
The Great Hall is on the first floor of the Grade I listed North Wing, built to house the finance and management functions of the hospital. Running costs were borne by donations from benefactors, and the Governors used the hall to recruit the great and the good of the City as donors. Their names and the sums of their donation were inscribed on its walls. Patients were cared for in the other wings of the hospital, as they are today. The names run from 1546 until 1905, at which point space ran out.
The Hall is decorated with portraits and dedications to early donors. A striking portrait of Henry VIII, hands on hips, glares down at all who enter, including final year medical students taking their examinations. The original hanging of the portrait in The Great Hall was supervised by James Gibbs and William Hogarth in 1738. See also: Paintings
The ceiling was decorated in gold leaf by Jean Baptiste St Michell and represents his only work in England.
Following the inception of the NHS in 1948, the funding of Barts – like other hospitals – became the responsibility of the government and the Great Hall gradually changed to more general uses such as an examination hall for students, award ceremonies, receptions, dinners and cultural events.
Images: Matthew Hall
Friends of Barts Heritage
The Great Hall is approached by way of a grand staircase, the Hogarth Stair, the walls of which were decorated by William Hogarth (1697-1764). Although often referred to as murals, they are in fact canvases. Hogarth was well-known at the time for his paintings and engravings. His artworks were studies of everyday life, perhaps more accessible in this regard, and commonly resembling caricatures.
Hogarth was born in Bartholomew Close which, until the recent redevelopment, contained many of the medical school buildings. He was incensed to discover that an artist from the continent (Jacopo Amigoni) had been approached to provide artwork for The North Wing’s staircase and offered to do so free of charge. His paintings depict The Pool of Bethesda and The Good Samaritan. These devotional paintings were unusual for Hogarth, as he described himself:
“Before I had done anything of much consequence in this walk (painting modern moral subjects), I entertained some hopes of succeeding in what the puffers in books call ‘the great style of history painting’. So without having had a stroke of this grand business before, I quitted small portraits and familiar conversations, and, with a smile at my own temerity, commenced history painter, and on a great staircase at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, painted two Scripture stories, ‘The Pool of Bethesda’ and ‘The Good Samaritan’, with figures seven feet high.”
Images: Matthew Hall
North Wing rooms and exteriors
Rebuilding of the hospital
The Grade I listed North Wing was built to house the financial and management functions of the hospital, with patient care provided in the other wings of the hospital, as it still is today.
With construction funded solely by donations, plans for the prestigious Great Hall designed for the North Wing’s first floor and accessed via the spectacular Hogarth Stair were a great incentive and reward for those who made donations. The prestigious project also attracted architect James Gibbs who developed the new designs for the hospital without charge, and artist William Hogarth who also offered his services free. Gibbs’ designs for the hospital were echoed in many surrounding buildings of importance. For Hogarth, the project represented an opportunity to work on a scale he had never come close to before, offering great visibility to potential new clients.
The North Wing was the first building to be completed. Begun in 1730, it was completed in 1732. The costs of running the hospital were not borne from taxes, insurance or private investment, but by voluntary donations from benefactors, and the dramatic Great Hall was used by the Governors to hold their meetings and to welcome and entertain the great and the good of the City to attract them to become donors. Their names adorn its walls in perpetuity, a practice that continued until 1905, at which point there was no room left!
Construction of the South Wing began in 1736 and finished in 1740 followed by the West Wing (1743-1752), and finally the East wing in 1769. The fountain and gardens at the centre of the square were added in 1859.
Images: Damian Griffiths
Henry VIII Gatehouse
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 façade 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.