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Over 250 years ago, in 1750, a room was opened in the Hackney Union Workhouse on Homerton High Street, to allow sick paupers to be treated away from other residents.

 Hackney Hospital Ward 1950S

This room became known as Hackney Hospital and was run by one matron and one nurse; by 1751 a larger room was needed and the hospital started to look after the 'insane' as well as the sick.

By 1801 the demands for healthcare due to the poor social conditions of the area had soared; land was purchased on Homerton High Street but nothing was built or modernised until 1834 when the Guardians of the Poor took over the management of poor relief from the Trustees of the parish of St John, who had previously managed the workhouse. Known primarily at this time as the workhouse infirmary, the building was quickly filled way beyond its capacity due to a cholera epidemic, which was worsened by overcrowding, poor drainage and the resignation of the parish Medical Officer in 1849.

Hackney Hospitalnurses Signing Up

Although the Guardians continually expanded and improved the buildings, workhouses were seen as miserable, depressing places; there were very few comforts and the decoration consisted of brown and white walls and barely any ornaments. There were hardly any books or games (cards were strictly forbidden), and patients had to sleep on flock beds with wooden or iron bedsteads. Food was unappetising, consisting of mutton, bread and beer with no fruit or vegetables; it was also generally cold from being carried a long distance from the kitchens. Nurses were sparse and many had not been trained; in addition, with beer and gin being used to supplement their wages, many nurses were also prone to being drunk.

Further rebuilding took place at Hackney Hospital following the Metropolitan Poor Law Act in 1867 and the hospital became a separate building from the workhouse. By the end of the 1800s this building, which started as a small room, now housed 606 beds and the nursing staff (who were now completing training programmes) had risen to a matron, her assistant, 11 staff nurses, 26 students and six maids.

Hackney Hospital Laundry Services

Nurses at this time worked 57 hours per week or 72 hours if on night duty. Today the average nurse works 37 hours per week. 

In 1930, London County Council gained control of the workhouse, now known as the Hackney Institute; within four years the workhouse had closed and the building was used for hospital accommodation, with it formally coming under the management of Hackney Hospital in 1938. With the creation of the NHS in 1948, further funds were made available allowing the hospital to build a new outpatients department in 1956 and physiotherapy rooms in 1957. In addition, a new oncology unit was opened in 1976. By this time Hackney Hospital was one of the largest general hospitals in London and was the first hospital in country authorised to accept male nurses for training.

Hackney Hospital

The Department of Health restructured services in 1974 and created a number of health authorities to oversee the hospital and service developments within their designated boroughs. The City and Hackney Health Authority opened Homerton Hospital in 1986 and over time services from the Hackney Hospital were transferred there. 

You can now see the original buildings of Hackney Hospital being restored as part of East London and the City Mental Health Trust.

More information

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Homerton Hope relies on the generosity of individuals and organisations to enable us to add those 'extras' that make all the difference to patients.

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