Hospital of St John & St Elizabeth

160 years in existence

Catherine McAuley
Loudoun Hall 1898
Interior of Loudoun Hall
Therese Tietjens
design by E. Goldie 1899
NMR (Westminster)
Convent, Hospital & Chapel circa 1914
Sisters & nurses 1988
Hospital 2016
Jeanne Strang

The original Hospital 1856

The Hospital of St Elizabeth opened on 19th November 1856, the Feast Day of St Elizabeth of Hungary, at 47 Great Ormond St.  It had been founded  by Cardinal Wiseman under the care of the Sisters of Mercy. The story of the Sisters of Mercy begins with that of Catherine McAuley who was born in 1788 and was adopted by an elderly couple who left her their wealth. She worked with the poor in Ireland before coming to Bermondsey and then becoming a nun in the order of the Sisters of Mercy who went to the Crimea, working with Florence Nightingale.

The hospital had 20 beds, only women and children were admitted, and it pioneered the use of advanced nursing techniques to help the sick, the dying and the needy in the local community.  In 1861 the  Hospital became closely associated with the Order of the Knights of Malta. The following year Sir George Bowyer, a member of the Order, built a Convent and chapel dedicated to St John of Jerusalem adjacent to the Hospital. Because of this, its name was changed to the Hospital of St John & St Elizabeth.

During the 1860s lack of funds caused its temporary closure but in November 1868 its management passed to the Sisters of Mercy, with Sister Mary Stanislaus Jones as the Superioress. Towards the end of the century the Hospital became too small and plans were made to enlarge it. However the neighbouring Children’s Hospital were concerned about their loss of light and air and so offered £30,000 for the property. The Sisters of Mercy accepted the offer and a site for a purpose-built hospital was found in St John’s Wood.

In 1898 the Sisters and patients moved from Gt Ormond Street  and were temporarily housed in Loudoun Hall in Grove End Road. This was a mansion in the modern Italian style, built in 1871 under the direction of H. H. Collins FRIBA.  It had been the home of Therese Tietjens, a German soprano who made an outstanding career in opera in London in the 1860s.

The new Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth

The foundation stone for the new Hospital was laid on 7 June 1899 by the Duke of Norfolk, and that for the Chapel on the same day by Cardinal Vaughan. It had been decided that it should incorporate the Chapel from Great Ormond Street which was built by Sir George Bowyer in 1864, so this was moved brick by brick, to become the centrepiece of the new hospital, with the main entrance on Circus Road.

The Hospital was completed in 1900 at a cost of £56,000  (equivalent to nearly £6 million today) and was officially opened on 15 July 1901 by the Lord Mayor of London, Sir Frederick Green.  In 1902 the Hospital was extended by the addition of a wing, giving it 100 beds, including 7 private patient rooms.   Male patients were admitted for the first time.

Some of the land in St John’s Wood belonged to the Brampton Trust, set up by Lady Brampton by a bequest of £100,000 after her husband’s death in 1907, to help continue the work of the hospital, which it still does.

The monthly journal “Our Hospitals and Charities Illustrated” of 1904 described the Hospital:

For the poor patient who is too ill for long term treatment at the general hospital, there are but a few institutions with very limited accommodation. Such patients are received at the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth, and it is peculiarly appropriate that the long term patient treatment they require should be found in these light wards looking out on the green old-world garden and served by the Sisters of Mercy.’

Loudoun Hall was used as accomodation for nuns admitted as patients at the Hospital, as well as administration and outpatient consulting rooms and the main Hospital kitchen was located in its basement. Sadly, it was demolished in 1990 to make way for the current main hospital building.

The First World War

At the outbreak of WW1 the Hospital placed 50 beds, later increased to 100, at the disposal of the Admiralty and the War Office.  By December of that year some 46 beds were occupied by wounded and sick servicemen. In 1915, 36 Circus Road was bought for use as a Nurses Home with a room for each nurse. Between November 1914 and February 1918 the Hospital treated 2,573 Naval and Military patients. Three of the sisters were awarded the Royal Red Cross by King George V for their services during the war.

The reputation of the Hospital continued to grow and as demand increased for its services , 36 Circus Road was demolished so that a new front entrance could be made and the new building completed. By 1928 the Hospital had 134 beds, including 17 beds in each of six wards plus 18 private rooms for fee-paying patients.

The Second World War

At the outbreak of WW2 the Hospital joined the Emergency Medical Service (EMS) offering 100 beds to the Service. In the autumn of 1940 the upper floor of the Maids’ Home was destroyed by a bomb falling through soft ground outside the building and exploding in an underground railway tunnel thereby diminishing the force of the blast.  In 1941 a decontamination unit against gas attacks was added to the site.

After the war the Hospital had 149 beds and continued to admit poor patients without charge. In 1948, on the advice of Cardinal Griffin, the Hospital remained outside the National Health Service.

In 1977 the Sisters of Mercy and the Brampton Trust discussed having beds available for the admission of cancer patients and by 1980 they had plans for the Catherine McAuley Unit – later St John’s Hospice. At this time the Hospital was developing facilities for fee-paying patients which they felt could fund the proposed Catherine McCauley Unit.  When it opened in 1981 it consisted of a five-bedded ward at the front of the hospital.

St John’s Hospice

On 29 May 1984, following the success of the Unit, a purpose-built hospice opened.  It had 10 beds, (4 in a male ward, 4 in a female one, and two single rooms). It was named the St John’s Hospice and was officially opened in June by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.

In 1988 the Sisters of Mercy decided to withdraw from the hospital after an association of 132 years. The Order re-affirmed the need to return to its commitment to be with the poor and powerless, saying only part of the hospital’s activities directly served the poor.

In 1989 work began to demolish Loudoun Hall which had become too costly to maintain. A new £3.5 million private ward block was planned and this was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother in 1991. The Hospice was refurbished and extended to 11 beds and in the following year a special NHS-funded ward which comes under the Parkside Health Authority, has 15 beds, most of them occupied by elderly sufferers of Alzheimer’s disease.

Although St John and St Elizabeth’s is self-financing, it costs £1 million annually to run its new Hospice which cares for the terminally ill, suffering from cancer, Aids and motor neurone disease. It cares for over  3,000 patients and their families every year  – for free.


[We are indebted to the “Lost Hospitals of London” for much of this information]


This page was added on 15/02/2016.

Comments about this page

  • In 1951 I had peritonitis at Fulham hospital – they had a measles outbreak so I was taken to St John and St Elizabeth, I remember a lovely staircase at the top of which was a large room with a fireplace, armchairs and big windows, where I stayed. The nuns were lovely and kind and so was the food. I was there for 4 weeks, have never forgotten it, I was 11 yrs old at the time, but now am sad to read that the lovely building was replaced by a new one and is no longer run by nuns, it was such a lovely place.

    By Margaret Kidd(Andrews in 1951) (15/01/2023)
  • When I was about 6 years old, in 1954, my 3 year old younger brother needed his tonsils out. My father, in his wisdom, decided that my older brother and I should also have our tonsils out, and so we did. A sort of job lot!
    The great excitement was being allowed ice-cream every day we were in hospital. A rare treat! Also, I remember the whole hospital was run by nuns all in long black habits. They were all wonderfully kind and patient. After 24 hours, we helped the nuns push the trolleys around the male Wards handing out shaving kits, and newspapers.

    By Jane Leaver (05/09/2018)

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