Princess Diana, the Queen Mother and WWI soldiers – hospital's 165 years

Prince Diana visited in 1986 to open a refurbished palliative care unit

Prince Diana visited in 1986 to open a refurbished palliative care unit - Credit: St John & St Elizabeth Hospital

This week’s opening of the first phase of the new £35m wing at St John & St Elizabeth Hospital is the latest milestone in its 165-year history.

Nuns and World War soldiers, royal visits and a major relocation all feature in the archives of London’s largest independent charitable hospital.

It started life at number 46 and 47 Great Ormond Street, next to the children’s hospital. Founded by Cardinal Wiseman, the hospital was placed under the care of the Sisters of Mercy, an order of nuns who had worked with Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War.

In 1897, in her Jubilee Year, Queen Victoria personally decorated four of the sisters with the Royal Red Cross, some 40 years after the Crimean War.  

Originally, there were just 20 beds for women and children only. Records show most of the patients at the time suffered with tuberculosis, paralysis or chronic disease of the spine and joints. 

By the end of the century, the hospital had become too small, and a site was found in Grove End Road, St John’s Wood with the foundation stone laid by the Duke of Norfolk in 1899.  The hospital’s famous domed chapel was moved from Great Ormond Street, brick by brick, to its current location.

During World War One, some 2,500 naval and military personnel were treated at the hospital. In January 1915, King George V and Queen Mary visited the military patients and spoke to each one of them.

Soldiers on the ward in 1915

Soldiers on the ward in 1915 - Credit: St John & St Elizabeth Hospital

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And there have been further royal visits. The Queen Mother visited twice – once in 1984 to open the purpose-built St John’s Hospice and again in 1991 to open a new wing. And in 1986, Princess Diana opened a refurbished palliative care unit. 

The Queen Mother visited in 1984 to open the purpose-built St John’s Hospice

The Queen Mother visited in 1984 to open the purpose-built St John’s Hospice - Credit: St John & St Elizabeth Hospital

In the 1970s, high inflation rates meant the hospital had to stop providing free medical treatment for those facing financial hardship and appeals were launched for funds to develop more facilities for private patients.  

However, St John & St Elizabeth became a charity and all profits from private treatments were used to fund St John’s Hospice to enable it to provide free palliative care to terminally ill patients – and this continues today.

The early years...

Soldiers on the ward in 1915

Soldiers on the ward in 1915 - Credit: St John & St Elizabeth Hospital

Soldiers outside the hospital in 1915

Soldiers outside the hospital in 1915 - Credit: St John & St Elizabeth Hospital

Nurses and the Sisters of Mercy outside the chapel in 1988

Nurses and the Sisters of Mercy outside the chapel in 1988 - Credit: St John & St Elizabeth Hospital

Royal visits...

Prince Diana visited in 1986 to open a refurbished palliative care unit

Prince Diana visited in 1986 to open a refurbished palliative care unit - Credit: St John & St Elizabeth Hospital

And today...the new wing at St John & St Elizabeth 

The new wing at the St John & St Elizabeth Hospital

The new wing at the St John & St Elizabeth Hospital - Credit: St John & St Elizabeth Hospital

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