History of the Great Hall

St. Bartholomew’s Hospital has led the provision of healthcare in London for almost 900 years. Founded in 1123 by the monk Rahere to give free medical care to the poor of the City of London, there is no other hospital in the country which can  begin to match its record of  continuous  service on the same site. The Great Hall is the central jewel in the crown of this magnificent if yet unrecognised Heritage Site, consisting of the Gatehouse (1703), the Parish Church of St. Bartholomew’s the Less, with its 12th century tower, the remaining three James Gibbs blocks forming the North , East  and West  Wings built between 1732 and 1769,  around a grand Square, with its elegant Fountain (1859).  Alongside the Gatehouse are some fine Grade II listed Victorian Hardwick buildings.

Click on the images to view a larger versions

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(copyright David Butler,

Easily the grandest of these buildings is the Grade I listed North Wing  with its 100 x 30 ft. Governors or Great Hall, which was built to house the financial and management functions of The Hospital.The costs of running The Hospital were not borne from taxes, insurance or private investment, but by voluntary donations from benefactors. The Governors used the Hall  to hold  its meetings and to welcome and entertain the great and the good of the City to attract them to become donors, whose names and the sums of their donation were inscribed on its walls. Patient care was provided in the other wings of The Hospital, as it still is today.

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(copyright David Butler,

St BartholomewThe Great Hall is situated on the first floor of The North Wing. It is approached by way of a grand staircase, The Hogarth Stair, the walls of which were decorated by William Hogarth (1697-1764). As the top of the staircase is reached, the Great Hall is accessed by a dominating doorway that opens up into the large Hall decorated with portraits and dedications to the early contributors to the redevelopment of The Hospital. Most striking is the portrait of Henry VIII at the West end of the room, hands on hips and glaring down at all who enter. A combination of the majesty of the stairway and the ever-watching gaze of this most belligerent of monarchs, makes this a suitably intimidating arena in which to examine final year medical students!


Henry VIIIThe Henry VIII portrait is a copy of an original that was hung in the Palace of Whitehall, until it was destroyed by fire in 1698. The original was a group that depicted Henry with Jane Seymour, along with his parents, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, the Queen Consort. The original hanging of the portrait in The Great Hall was supervised by James Gibbs and William Hogarth in 1738.


A central fireplace is decorated by a portrait of St Bartholomew. Opposite this is the Charter Window, not instlalled until 1743, depicting Henry VIII presenting his Charter to Thomas Vicary, arguably the savior of Barts in the 16th Century, on the foundation of the new hospital. Opposite Henry VIII and forever meeting his eye is a hung portrait of Edward VII.


Edward VII

Other important works include portraits of Percivall Pott painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds and of James Paget by Sir John Millais, which along with portraits of John Abernethy and William Harvey hang in the rooms surrounding the hall (they can be seen in our section on artwork and portraits).


The ceiling was decorated in gold leaf by Jean Baptiste St Michell and represents his only work in England. The Walls are lined with the names of the benefactors that supported The Hospital from its refoundation onwards and those that made the redevelopment of The Hospital possible after the near-bankruptcy that it faced after The Fire of London. The names run from 1546 until 1905, at which point space ran out. It is for this reason that we cannot, I fear, promise you space on the wall for your name should you contribute to the restoration of The North Wing. However, if you donate at our just giving page, you  do have the option of having your name listed there!


Following  the inception of the National Health Service in 1948, St Bartholomews 137the funding of Barts, like other hospitals, became the responsibility of the government and so the functions of The Great Hall gradually changed to more general uses such as an examination hall for students, award ceremonies, receptions, diners and cultural events. Many of the fine rooms around the Great Hall were used as administrative offices and meeting rooms, and a banal but inappropriate Finance block was tacked on to the east end in the 1960s, along with a hideously ugly Pathology Laboratory block  to the west end. How planners allowed these structures to mar the perfect symmetry of Gibbs neo-Palladian masterpiece is beyond comprehension.

20140407 st barts 0087The history of this Great H DSC1227all is remarkable and quite literally written on the wall. We are here, as we hope you are, to ensure that its future is not something already 'written on the wall'. We urge you to read The Chairman's letter, help us make room for a viable future for the architectural, artistic, cultural and historical splendours of this site by removing it from the NHS and in doing so, not just helping restore and preserve this heritage but also do the same for our beleaguered Health Service, which simply cannot afford to save these wonders.

Help us make The Barts Heritage site a reality!



We are eternally grateful to David Butler for providing us with many of the images above. David is a photographer with the Evening Standard and visited our Great Hall in order to provide illustrations for Philippa Stockley's article that featured in the paper. You can read the article through the links here and can see more of David's work here and Philippa's website can be found here.



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Contact The Friends

Write to us at:

Friends of the Great Hall & Archive
of St Bartholomew's Hospital
Ground Floor
12 Cock Lane

The Barts Charity

We are working with Barts Charity, Registered Charity No 212563 barts_charity