Barts possesses one of the finest collections of hospital records in Britain. The oldest record of The Hospital dates from 1137 and this treasure trove of historical artefacts also includes Henry VIII's Charter. In addition, records of other related hospitals, institutions, organisations and individuals are also held here. The vast majority of this material is available for research and a full list of the Archives contents can be found here and here, whilst a record of the works of art are listed and some can be viewed here.
Over the nearly 900 years of its existence, The Hospital archive has accumulated a large store of manuscripts, deeds, charters and records of great historical importance. Researchers visiting the archives have benefitted greatly from the many primary source documents that are held here, which have contributed to many books and theses.
We cannot document all the holdings on this site but have listed a few of interest.
1137: Rahere’s Grant to Hagno
This is the earliest document held, from the ‘Second year moreover of King Stephen in England’. This is the deed that documents how Rahere and the Convent of The Church of St Bartholomew granted The Church of St Sepulchre to Hagno the Clerk in return for 50 shillings per year for the use of the Canons and the poor within The Hospital. The deed still bears the 12th Century seals of both the convent and The Hospital.
1423: Deed bearing The Hospital Arms
The Master of The Hospital, John Wakeryng signed an agreement with the Prioress of St Helen’s for a drain and waterfall in Mugwell Street within the parish of St Olave’s. The deed is of interest as it is the first time that what is now recognized as the Arms of The Hospital appear on a document. The shield is ‘party per pale argent and sable a chevron interchanged’, surmounted by a crucifix with a tree at each side and an Agnus Dei at the apex. The border is inscribed “Sigillum magistri hospitalis sancti Bartholomei Smythfield ad causas”. The seal, born on Wakeryng’s signet ring subsequently passed into the common use of The Hospital.
1456: Cok’s Cartularies
When the City took over the running of The Hospital upon its refoundation in December 1546, the board of Governors that was formed in order to oversee the running of The Hospital sadly must have disposed of any archives that already existed at the site as little remains now. The exceptions are the original medieval property deeds and two legers. The deeds were vital in proving The Hospital’s right to endowments and there are around 2000 of these still in the archive. The two ledgers are called the Cartulary and The Little Cartulary and both date to the 15th Century.
The Cartulary, compiled by Brother John Cok between 1456-68 and sometimes referred to as Cok’s Cartulary, contains copies of the deeds of property mentioned above and also some others that have long since been lost. In his Cartulary he recalls having witnessed the coronation of Henry V at Westminster in 1413. Cok was the Renter at The Hospital when he compiled the book and inside it are two illuminated capitals that bear his portrait, as an elderly man in a red robe and a black cap. In the margins of the book he has decorated his work with various pictures of dragons, hares and dogs.
The Little Cartulary is also in Cok’s handwriting and documents additional properties owned by The Hospital, as well as the tenants in these buildings at different times and the rent that was due to The Hospital for their tenancy.
1522: Hospital Rules and 1549 Journals
A copy of The Hospital Rules, printed in 1552 has also been archived. This sets out the duties of the Governors but also the individual posts that they were instructed to maintain in paid employment. This included a Renter-Clerk, a Steward and Porter, Beadles (lay-church officials) and a Cook. We know many of the details of the Governors' roles as they have been carefully documented here: the Governors were required to meet regularly and the Renter-Clerk was responsible for not only the taking of minutes but also indexing them appropriately and binding for them for storage. The Archive holds over 35 bound journals of these carefully drawn up minutes, covering every year from 1549 onwards, although there are six years missing from 1561 onwards. We can learn much from these of the running and nature of The Hospital. For example, entries from July of 1554 tell us that Robert Prittlewell had finally managed to settle his rent arrears to The Hospital over 11 years but in addition to this had also given ‘one load of cheese for the poor’. Meanwhile a carpenter, Stephen Garlop, who had been appointed as surgeon at The Hospital was reassuringly dismissed ‘for that he hath no knolege in surgery’. The Governors also determined at this meeting that patients not obeying the instructions of the surgeon, must be turned away from The Hospital. These volumes also tell us much about what lengths the Governors went to in order to improve the conditions for patients and staff at The Hospital. By the 18th Century, the ledgers become more concerned with income and outgoings, which is hardly surprising given the financial state of The Hospital at this time, the settlement of extensive arrears that The Hospital needed to make and ultimately the rebuilding of The Hospital. We do discover, however, that continued improvements were required as time went on and as the understanding of what was necessary in a hospital changed. In 1829, The Hospital surveyor, Philip Hardwick, the second of three successive members of the Hardwick family to be appointed as Surveyor to The Hospital, presented proposals to install modern sanitization at Barts. He also proposed that The Hospital bought the neighboring Christ’s Hospital. After the dissolution of the monasteries, these buildings had been refounded for the education of the poor in 1552 and received a Royal Charter from Edward VI the following year. The building was to be left vacant when the ‘Blue Coat School’ was to move to Horsham in 1897. We know that the Governors agreed to the sanitation proposals but the next board of Governors did not buy Christ’s Hospital and most of this plot became owned by The General Post Office.
As time passed, more committees were formed at The Hospital, especially during the 19th and early 20th Century and minutes of their meetings are also stored in the Archive. Where these meetings and those of the board of Governors is brief, holes in our understanding are filled by letters sent out by the Clerk to the Governors, which have also been bound and preserved.
Three documents relating to the reopening of The Hospital shortly before the death of Henry VIII are in the possession of the Archive . These include the intial Charter that reconstituted The Hospital, The Deed of Covenant by which The Hospital along with its former contents and possessions are granted to the Mayor and the common folk of the City by the King and finally the grant of letters patent from January 1547 that further established the possessions and buildings of The Hospital. It is on The 1546 Deed of Covenant that the present constitution of The Hospital was founded.
1544-47: The Repertory
Drawn up by the Renter of The Hospital, these documents catalogue the foundation of The Hospital, its possessions and also include maps and plans of The Hospital properties.
1546: The Inventory of The King's Commissioners
The inventory that was drawn up by The King’s Commissioners before its refoundation is also preserved.
1762: The Death Books
The Steward of The Hospital had always been responsible for the purchasing of food for The Hospital since his role came into existence in the 16th Century and this continued during the 18th Century. The Archive holds documentation of some of these transactions but sadly few have survived. The other role of the Steward was to keep account of admissions, discharges and deaths at The Hospital. That these became known as the ‘Death Books’ gives an unsettling view of the expected outcome of an admission to hospital at the time! We have copies of these dating to 1762, although we know that the records were kept prior to 1653 when the role of the Steward in maintaining them is reiterated. Sadly, sequential years from 1762 are no longer in existence, only 1762-69 and 1807-16, but a complete set dating from 1826 to the present day has been preserved. Through these volumes it is possible to track the changes in the causes of death and the age at which people died as medicine advanced over the years. It is particularly notable that many of the causes of death listed would not be considered fatal today and that the age of death is typically very young, with many being under 20 .
Clinical records have also been stored but none prior to 1826 have survived and the earliest of these tend to focus on ‘interesting cases’ rather than providing a complete survey of treated inpatients at the time. It was not until 1848, when The Medical Council advised that full clinical records should be stored ‘in the interest of the advance of medicine’ that keeping complete records for all patients became common practice. From 1880 onwards, these records have been preserved and are filed under each individual consultant at The Hospital – 55 volumes with an index to patients’ names and their diagnosis. After 1920 it became mandatory to store all clinical records in the Medical Records Department.
The Archive also holds documents pertaining to the other hospitals that have been associated with Barts over the years, many of which have long since been closed, including The Alexandra Hospital for Children with Hip Disease, The Eastern Hospital, The Homerton Hospital, The German Hospital, The Hackney Hospital, The Metropolitan Hospital, The Mothers' Hospital, St Leonard's Hospital and St Mark's Hospital. Also preserved are the parish records, church plate and historical artifacts of the Church of St Bartholomew-the-Less, held on deposit from the church and parish. Other parish records include those of St Audoen alias St Ewin and St Nicholas Shambles.
No other hospital in England has such a well-furnished archive such as that it requires the care and expertise of a full-time archivist. Its contents continue to expand with more contemporary documents and medical artifacts and we hope that its future will see the addition of documents and medical volumes relevant to Barts but currently held elsewhere. The Archive department remains an active and vital part of The Hospital's history but also its current life and the number of visitors recorded year upon year – students, sociologists, historians, genealogists and many others – is a continuing testament to its vitality and value.
Visiting the archives
The archives are open to researchers by appointment only, Monday to Friday, 9.30am-5pm (closed over Christmas and New Year, Easter and public holidays). Please telephone 020 346 55798 to make an appointment. Admission is free. (Please note, no appointment is necessary to visit the Museum.) The archivists are happy to help or advise researchers, and may also undertake research on their behalf. This research service is undertaken at the discretion of the archivists.