Remembering The Middlesex Hospital

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By | From the Collections

The façade of The Middlesex Hospital, Mortimer Street, London, now demolished.

The Wellcome Library receives a steady stream of former members of staff of The Middlesex Hospital renewing their acquaintance with the four well-remembered paintings Acts of Mercy by Frederick Cayley Robinson. The four paintings were displayed for over seventy years in the entrance hall of The Middlesex Hospital and became a familiar feature of Fitzrovia. The Middlesex Hospital was demolished in 2008 but plans to rebuild on the site came to nothing, a fact painfully evident to anyone looking at the site today. Fortunately the Cayley Robinson paintings survived, and are now not far away in the Wellcome Library.

Above, four visitors who joined the nursing staff of The Middlesex in November 1966: left to right, Sally Carroll (Sally Sweeney), Helen Wynne-Griffith (Helen Sandover), Glen Couper (Glen Wright) and Carolyn Kerr (Carolyn Howe), on their reunion at the Wellcome Library on 20 April 2010.

Not only can visitors get to see the paintings from The Middlesex which in some cases they have not seen for many years: they can also bring us new information about the past history of the paintings and the hospital.

Here is a photograph showing the installation of one of the Cayley Robinson paintings in the entrance hall of The Middlesex Hospital. It is set behind a colossal sheet of plate glass in a massive architectural frame with a polished maple veneer. The same maple finish was used for other architectural woodwork in the entrance hall of the hospital. Helen Wynne-Griffith is looking at the brass plaque set into the frame: the plaque, recording the gift of the paintings by Edmund Davis, is now in the Wellcome Library. The grand boiserie inside the building responds in scale to equivalent features in the façade (see top photograph above).

In the dark 1930s interior, the glass and the frame set the pictures apart, cloaking the paintings’ deliberate mysteriousness with a further layer of remoteness. The current display in the Wellcome Library is the exact opposite: the paintings are exposed without glass on bright white walls, and are felt as physically present in the room. Both approaches have their rationales.

Above, the Acts of Mercy in the Wellcome Library, March 2010

We should be delighted to receive more visitors to see the Cayley Robinson paintings, but the paintings will be taken down when the Wellcome Library closes for its annual Closed Week on Monday 28 June 2010. They are being taken down in order to go on display in the Sunley Room of the National Gallery in a free exhibition (supported by the Wellcome Trust) from 14 July to 17 October 2010.

At the National Gallery other works by Cayley Robinson will also be shown alongside his Acts of Mercy, including Pastoral (1923-24, Tate), The Old Nurse (1926, The British Museum) and Self Portrait (1898, National Portrait Gallery, London). With Cayley Robinson’s modern works, National Gallery paintings by Piero della Francesca (The Baptism of Christ, 1450s), Sandro Botticelli (Four Scenes from the Early Life of Saint Zenobius, about 1500) and Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes (Summer, before 1873) will be shown. Cayley Robinson was a learned painter who spent four years as a fine art student in Paris and three years studying art in Tuscany, which accounts for the wide and unusual range of influences from Piero to Puvis which he absorbed and reconfigured in his own paintings.

Further good news is that, while the Acts of Mercy are at the National Gallery, a new selection of paintings from the Wellcome Library will be temporarily on display in the Library. More will be revealed in July. After the exhibition closes in October 2010, the Cayley Robinson paintings will be returned to the Wellcome Library entrance hall.

New information about the paintings continues to arrive at the Wellcome Library: more in another posting.

The photographs of The Middlesex Hospital were kindly supplied by Sally Carroll.

Author: William Schupbach

18 comments on Remembering The Middlesex Hospital
  • Frank (ne Francis) Charlton


    Thank you for reminding me of my wonderful stays in The Middlesaex Hospital for then cutting-edge heart surgery.

    What a great hospital, great staff and a great and unique inner courtyard garden.

    So sad that’ it ws flogged off as a hotel in the early days of ripping-the-heart-out-of called privatisation..

  • Frank (ne Francis) Charlton


    Huge thank yous

  • Mrs. Christine Jean Preston


    I was the 1st child [11 yrs ] that underwent open heart surgery at the Middlesex hospital in 1957.My op could not be done in South Africa as there was no Dr. Christian Barnard at that time.
    I was attended by Dr. Evan Bedford and Sir Thomas Holmes Sellers and I stayed in the Wolavington wing. [I do not know if that spelling is correct ] From my room I had a lovely view of the garden and saw it change from winter into a lovely spring.Everyone on the staff was fantastic and went out of their way to help me recover, and supported my parents as well.
    I am now 72 years and have lead a healthy life with 2 children [which the doctors told my parents I would never be strong enough to have ] and am blessed with 3 grandchildren.
    The Middlesex hospital has always been in my thoughts and if it was not for the wonderful doctors there I would not be here today. So it was with sadness I read that it had been demolished.
    My name back then was Christine Jean Bromilow. I am so pleased to have been able to contact you and wish you well i8n the future.

    • Lalita Kaplish


      Thank you for sharing this with us Christine.

      Lalita Kaplish
      Wellcome Library web editor

  • Dr Simon Nicholas


    In the late 1970’s probably 76 or 77 I lead a team to record the Christmas Hospital medical student show on videotape. I have a copy of the recording on VHS and would like to discover whether any of those involved in the production would like to have a copy. The show was interrupted by a bomb scare and the hall cleared for half an hour and there was a young girl called Jane who starred in it. The plans to digitise the VHS and make copies available on DVD if there is sufficient demand and I would be very grateful if you could assist in publicising this. This is not a money making scheme but there will be some costs. Any profit could be donated the junior doctors association. Thank you for your assistance
    Simon Nicholas

    • Annie


      What was the name of the show? Could then work out the year.
      Know past cast members who might be interested.
      Ex Middlesex nurse.

      • Dr M Curtin


        Dear Annie,
        Concert still going strong
        The current students are planning a retrospective exhibition of archive material next month,
        All former cast members very welcome indeed, please let me know if you would like details

    • Dr M Curtin


      Dear Simon,
      The Christmas concert is still going strong and a retrospective exhibition is planned.
      We would be very interested in any archive material for future students

  • Adrian Shervington Ball


    I remember my time as clinical student at The Middlesex (1975-78) and a houseman (1979) with very great affection. The clinical training was outstanding, the consultants, many of whom such as Adrian Marston and Prof Le Quesne, are sadly no longer with us, were all characters who were featured in memorable reviews by the Manic Depressives. It is tragic that the hospital has been demolished. It was the stomping ground of many famous medics (especially in surgery in the 19th and 20th centuries), whose portraits adorn the walls of the Royal Colleges, and I am very disappointed to find that there appears to be no official history of this great institution that has contributed so much to medical progress – please let me know if I am wrong. I would also be interested to learn of any photographic archive as my memory of the layout is fading with time/age.

  • Jane


    I spent three long stays in the Bernard Baron children’s ward in the 1950s. I was under the care of Dr Hart and always remember the kindness of the staff. The beautiful tiling was only spoilt by medical students asking me to pick out the coloured tile that most closely resembled the colour of my urine! ( I was suffering from acute nephritis)
    One vivid memory was being held up at the window to see above, what must have been one of the last, London pea-souper fogs as, being on the top floor, we were above the level of it. My father was so grateful for the care I received he would travel up to the hospital to take gifts for the staff every Christmas right into his old age.

    • Lalita Kaplish


      Thank you for sharing such a lovely story Jane.

  • Michele Clark


    My father was a patient at the middlesex in the 80’s for many years in Blend Sutton and other wards. He was under the care of Mr Russell with whom he got on with very well and spoke highly of. I remember the chapel on the ground floor and cannot believe that it is no longer there! I used to visit the chapel often as Dad had some close calls having had a ‘Whipples’ ( not sure of spelling ). He sadly passed in 2007 but had lived over 25 years following this operation., enjoying his family and five grandchildren.A heartfelt thank you to all who cared for Robert Clark.

    • William Schupbach


      Michele: you will be glad to know that the chapel of the Middlesex Hospital, a Grade II* listed building, is indeed still there, and its glorious Byzantine fittings have been very well restored. It’s now called The Fitzrovia Chapel and belongs to an independent charitable trust: see its website at In the entrance hall are the original plaques preserving the memory of many members of the Middlesex staff.

  • Adrienne Evers


    I was born on September 2nd 1939 in the Middlesex Hospital the day before the start of World War 2. My mother arrived to find sandbags being piled up outside, presumably as protection against expected air raids. The ward sister told my mother she had “picked a fine time to have a baby”
    There was great excitement a few days after I was born when the queen (later the Queen Mother) paid a visit to the hospital and toured the ward my mother and I were in. This must have been one of the earliest demonstrations that she and her family were going to remain in Britain throughout the war.

  • Francis Mortimer


    I spent two happy years in the 1970s as a night porter. I cannot remember the name of the ward which was on the top floor of one of the wings. It was not accessible by the lift and I only discovered it by accident in the middle of the night when I saw some stairs and wondered where they went. The ward was full of people sleeping / snoring. Why did I not know about this “secret” ward, and who were the patients? I experienced 2 ghosts in the hospital – one of who was an Edwardian Psychiatrist who wandered the corridors of the Psychiatric block. I was doing a nightly patrol and this doctor appeared from nowhere out of a cul-de-sac corridor where I had personally checked all the rooms and made sure they were all locked. I said Good Morning to him and wondered why he was dressed in such an old-fashioned manner. Only later did I find out he was a Doctor who had committed suicide in his office.

  • Jonathan Ward


    I qualified from this fine hospital in 1971. Our medical school has also been demolished. Thank goodness someone had the foresight to save the magnificent chapel which should now be open daily, rather than just on Wednesdays. With a realistic entrance charge it would certainly be self-financing.
    The basement of The Middlesex Hospital was a remarkable place. Next to the Chapel was a permanent branch of Coutts Bank, so Mammon was a constant threat. Hellfire was not far distant in the shape of the huge boiler-room and constant temptation was offered to those of a romantic disposition by a subterranean entrance to the Nurses’ Home, (only to be repulsed by the redoubtable Sister Bender at the top of the staircase!).
    Those were the days!

  • Emma Gordon


    I was born on the 20th August 1966 at the Middlesex Hospital. I understand during my mother’s labour the football match between West Ham and Chelsea was playing. It seems the nurse had asked my mother to wait as the doctor was watching the game. Apparently the whole ward was empty that particular Saturday afternoon! It’s been a treat reading these memories.

  • Philip Ferguson


    My father was greatly involved in the Middlesex and therefore so was i as a child cycling round from harley street with notes or even surgical instuments and full time raising money as the “middlesex mice”.
    There was no christmas without the manic depressives concert and no opening a present on christmas day before spending the morning on the bland sutton ward with the turkey being carved by the surgeons.
    His mother also ran the nurses kitchens at foley street.
    As well as the hospital being part of my life my mother also died there.
    It was difficult for me to comprehend when on a visit back down memory lane i could not see the hospital but a flattened building site and others have documented the lamentable transformation from a hospital for the poor to a luxury block of penthouse flats.
    Some of us are more concerned about the march of progress than others but what should concern all of us is the money that the developers were willing to lavish on “preserving” the chapel to gain planning approval for their profiteering.
    The millions spent on re gold leafing and fluffing up the chapel are to me a sign of the modern politics that breed a money wins all society.
    I visited on an open day and found myself disorientated and confused as were many other visitors who were ex staff.
    As i tried to leave the packed newly gilded chapel of babel the only door i could leave through led directly into a restaurant with an army of brightly lit optics and a zero houred waitress asked if i wanted anything.
    This was the door i had probably entered through at my fathers memorial service at the end of his life of service to that hospital built for the poor.
    I resisted having a drink for him in the restaurant and left….disgusted with what modern society has been allowed to ferment into….
    Philip Ferguson
    (Son of JHL Ferguson aka Fergie to colleagues and friends)

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