It was a hospital for German immigrants, staffed by Germans nurses recruited from the Kaiserworth Institute in Germany; at this time Germans were the largest immigrant community, with approximately 30,000 living in England. Many lived and worked in very poor conditions in east London, this combined with poverty and the inability to speak English properly left the German community unable to use the medical resources available. A German pastor and a doctor made it their mission to build a hospital to meet the needs of their community, enlisting the help of the rich inEngland.
It was the work that the nurses did at the German Hospital that actually inspired Florence Nightingale to visit twice and then enrol for training at the Institute in Germany in 1851.
Not conforming to the other foreign hospitals which were being opened, the German Hospital followed the traditional English system of healthcare by being run as a voluntary general hospital i.e. non teaching hospital. The hospital was primarily for those who 'spoke with German tongue', but it did also see English speaking people as outpatients. In addition, it boasted a sanatorium for the more affluent patients who could afford treatment but couldn't be nursed at home (e.g. young single professional men or those with no family).
New hospital buildings, meeting the highest standard in hospital design, were opened in 1864, which proved invaluable during the fever epidemics raging across London during the 1860s and '70s.
During the First World War, the hospital stayed open and was still run by German doctors and nurses despite anti-German feeling in England and the shortage of medical staff back home in Germany to treat war casualties.
Between the First and Second World Wars, the hospital undertook a number of improvements and extensions to the buildings. At this time there was a decline in the German population in London and a need for more beds for Londoners.
The main building, opened in 1936, was primarily for maternity and children wards, and was seen as a leading architectural and medical development; particularly with the introduction of roof gardens with panoramic views across London.
After the outbreak of the Second World War, staff of the German Hospital were arrested and sent to be confined on the Isle of Man. From this point on the hospital was German by name only.
The hospital became part of the NHS in 1948, ceasing its function as voluntary. Then in 1974 it became part of the City and Hackney Health Authority. The focus of the German hospital shifted after this time, providing care for psychiatric and elderly mentally ill patients. These services were transferred to Homerton Hospital in 1987, when the German closed its doors.