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A history of Mildmay Hospital

The Revd William Pennefather

William Pennefather (1826-1873)

by an unknown artist
stipple engraving, mid 19th century
NPG D11183
© National Portrait Gallery, London

Mildmay Hospital has its origins in the work of The Rev. William and Catherine Pennefather and their team of Christian women, later known as Deaconesses, who began their work of visiting the sick of the East End during the Cholera outbreak of 1866.

The Mildmay Medical Mission was opened in 1877 by William's widow Catherine Pennefather and eleven other women, in a converted warehouse behind Shoreditch Church, in Turville Square/Cabbage Court in the Old Nichol slums.

Dedicated to the memory of William, who had died in 1873, it consisted of twenty-seven beds in three wards, with one doctor, three nurses and five deaconesses-in-training. The Hospital was recognised for the training of nurses in 1883.

Although the hospital did not require letters of admission, like many other voluntary hospitals of the time, and it did not discriminate by religion, throughout its existence the Mildmay stressed its role as an evangelical Christian centre as well as a general hospital; prayers were held on the wards, and biblical quotations were painted on the walls. Staff regarded their work as a religious as well as a medical vocation. Despite this, the hospital had a strong tradition for treating Jewish immigrants to the East End.

An article from the wonderful Spitalfields Life by Linda Wilkinson explores the Mildmay Mission's Victorian origins.

  • Mildmay Institutions and Missions
    "Of institutions for the training of women in Christian work and philanthropy, there is none more widely known than that of Mildmay. It has now two hundred and twenty workers engaged in its various departments, including deaconesses, nurse, probationers, and students in training for foreign work. It was one of the earliest institutions in this country, if not the first, to revive in modern times the ancient office of deaconess. This had been done by Pastor and Madame Fliedner at Kaiserswerth, on the Rhine, the Alma Mater of Florence Nightingale, and it was on a visit to Kaiserswerth that the Rev. William Pennefather and his wife Catherine received inspiration for founding the Mildmay Mission. This mission was started in 1860, when Mr. Pennefather was vicar of Christ Church, Barnet. Both he and his wife were deeply interested in foreign missions, and their first venture was a missionary training home for women. This formed the nucleus of Mildmay. The scheme was greatly developed when Mr. Pennefather removed to St. Jude's, Mildmay Park, in 1864. The training of women for parochial work was now begun. The name of deaconess was adopted for these workers, and in time the training home was changed to Deaconess House. The period of the foundation of the mission was one of great awakening on the part of educated women to the Christian Church's need for their service in the more public spheres of philanthropy. From her invalid's room, the "heroine of the Crimea" was calling to the leisured women of her day to be up and doing. One of Florence Nightingale's earliest essays was a plea for the revival of the office of deaconess. Mr. and Mrs. Pennefather chose this name for their workers (Deaconesses) after prayerful consideration. It was novel, but it was apostolic. The devotion of the founders to the mission is known throughout Christendom. Mr. Pennefather made Mildmay the centre for Evangelical Church conferences, which have now been held annually for fifty-one years; and Mrs. Pennefather organised the women's work and started clubs and meetings for poor people. Both have passed to their rest, and memorials to their noble work exist in recent additions to the institution. The headquarters of the mission are at Mildmay Park. The buildings which compose the Mildmay compound are grouped around a central garden. Captain F. L. Tottenham, the superintendent of the mission, has a house in the compound, and is assisted by Mrs. Tottenham as the directress of women's work. The Conference Hall is a handsome building, erected in 1869; and the conferences held there each June attract Christian workers from all parts of the kingdom and from abroad. Throughout the year it is used for services, meetings, and Bible classes connected with the mission. Below the hall are rooms which serve as storehouses for the garments sent to Mildmay for distribution amongst the poor. In one room a weekly sewing class is held for poor widows. They have hot coffee and buns, cheerful and kind people to talk to them, and receive sixpence for their work. The garments are well made and cut out, and the mission is glad to receive orders."
  • Mildmay Institutions And Missions, continued...
    "Lectures in physiology, nursing, health, tropical diseases, surgical work, and a short course of nursing at the Mildmay Medical Mission Hospital, keeping of accounts, sol-fa singing, cooking, and laundry. The directress, Mrs. Tottenham, thus describes the necessary qualification for candidates for deaconess work. " We first need as workers those who are truly converted to God, and really desirous of winning others to Him. There must also be some natural fitness in gifts, temperament, and health." The probation and student houses, situated in the compound, first receive the candidates, who remain for one month on probation. If they like the work and are considered suitable for it, they remain for a period not exceeding two years. The time varies according to the previous knowledge which the students possess. Part of their time is spent in theological study, and they attend classes for cutting out, needlework, cooking, and other practical subjects. They also engage in parochial work under experienced workers. After leaving the student house for the central deaconess house, candidates work, as a rule, in the mission for two or three years longer before they are regarded as qualified to be Mildmay deaconesses. The admission to full membership is signalised by a simple dedication service, conducted by the chaplain of the institution, who is at present (1911) the Rural Dean of Islington. The girls' hostel is provided for educated girls between the ages of eighteen and twenty-three who wish for experience in home mission work. The charge is twenty-five shillings weekly. The Nurses' Home has a pleasant frontage to Newington Green, and is the most historic portion of the settlement. There is a staff of fifty nurses attached to the house, who are sent out to private cases."
  • The life of a Deaconess
    "The Deaconess House adjoins the Conference Hall and has about forty deaconesses in residence. Miss Hankin is deaconess-in-charge. The house is bright and pleasant, with a large room, No. 6, for devotional services and various meetings, and a very spacious drawing room arranged with writing tables and lounges. Each deaconess has her own room or cubicle. The rules of the house are very simple. No vows are taken, but it is expected that love and devotion will keep the residents at their appointed tasks. Ladies are expected, if it is in their power, to pay £50 per year for board. Many who cannot do this are accepted according to their circumstances. Some receive a small allowance for personal expenses. The Mildmay deaconesses work under the clergy in fifteen London parishes. They are engaged in devotional exercises at home, and in house-to-house visitation in the very poorest districts. They pay between forty and fifty visits a week. Each deaconess, as a rule, has charge of a mothers' meeting in her district and gives the address herself. Girls' clubs, boys' clubs, work amongst children, and other good works are also carried on by the deaconesses. Besides parochial work carried on from the central house, some of the deaconesses are employed in the various institutions and homes belonging to the community. Others work further afield - in Malta and Tunbridge Wells; at the Prison Gate Mission, Dublin; the House of Refuge, Oxford; and the Deaconess House at Kingston, Jamaica. One Mildmay deaconess is in charge of the Diocesan Deaconess and Missionary Training House, Toronto, Canada: and another has charge of the Church Ladies' House, founded by the Bishop of Liverpool. The training of a Mildmay deaconess is in accordance with the principles of the Church of England. The curriculum embraces the following subjects: (1) The Old and New Testament, Christian doctrine, history and contents of the Prayer Book, outlines of early Church history and outlines of Christian evidence."
  • The Medical Work of the Mission
    "The Mildmay Mission Hospital, in Austin Street, Bethnal Green, is the centre of a most useful and beneficent work amongst the very poor of East London. There are fifty beds devoted to the needs of destitute patients. A medical mission is held at the hospital on Tuesday and Friday, beginning with a short mission service. There is an average attendance of 150. On other days some 80 or 100 out-patients come for dressings. Patients are also visited in their own homes. "Home," the dearest word in our mother tongue, means a scene of heartbreak to thousands of London's poor. One example may be quoted to show how bravely many bear the misfortunes of poverty. The attention of one of the deaconesses was called to a family who had lately removed to her district. The man and his wife were steady Christian people. They had seven children. The eldest boy (away from home on a training ship) sent them ten shillings per month, the second, earning eight shillings per week, gave his mother five or six shillings per week, keeping a little for clothes. The rent was seven shillings a week, and, through the father being out of work, had fallen into arrears. When the deaconess called she found the family in great distress, without food or fire. "The children never worry me for food, miss, if I haven't any for them," said the mother, " but just say their prayers as usual when they go to bed." She was very grateful for a little help given. A few days later a gift of butter came to Mildmay from the Country House Mission, and the deaconess took a quarter of a pound to this poor family as a special treat. A Pathetic Story It was getting late and dark when she reached the house. Her knock was soon answered, and she stepped inside, to find mother and children quietly gathered together in the little sitting-room without a glimmer of light. A penny in the gas-meter soon remedied that, and the mother said, "My boy was just praying for God to send someone, and when he heard the knock he said, ' There's someone come, mother.'" The deaconess found them without food or fire, but wonderfully patient. She sent one of the boys for bread, and with the nice country butter the family had a nourishing meal.... ...An annual sum of £25,000 is required to support the various agencies connected with Mildmay, and for this amount the mission relies chiefly on voluntary help. Some of the very poor set a wonderful example as donors to its charities. A dear old woman of sixty-seven, who lived in a top attic, earning a precarious living by making patterned rugs and mats out of bits of cloth, sends one of her rugs every year to the Mildmay sale. She only earned four and sixpence a week, and out of that paid two and sixpence for rent, yet she could afford to be generous!"

(Click the title to expand this section)

Deaconesses

Training nurses

Florence Nightingale

"Florence Nightingale had the greatest respect for both groups, hailing "Every attempt to train in practical activity all female missionaries"... Her interest was no doubt particularly stimulated by the fact that, some of them [in other Mildmay Institutions] specialised in nursing and so were among some of the first trainee nurses in the country"

D. Taylor-Thompson, 'Mildmay'. page 8

Florence Nightingale
Training nurses
Mildmay Deaconnesses

Deaconesses

In a bid to improve the living conditions of the poor, the Pennefathers (for Catherine was as much, if not more involved than her husband) recruited a team of Christian women, who became known as Deaconesses, and whose training as missionaries included biblical tuition, sewing, cookery, housekeeping, singing and bookkeeping in preparation to work in a Mildmay Mission or abroad.

A portrait of Catherine Pennefather

Catherine Pennefather

Waiting at Outpatients
Waiting at Outpatients
  • Mildmay Institutions and Missions
    "Of institutions for the training of women in Christian work and philanthropy, there is none more widely known than that of Mildmay. It has now two hundred and twenty workers engaged in its various departments, including deaconesses, nurse, probationers, and students in training for foreign work. It was one of the earliest institutions in this country, if not the first, to revive in modern times the ancient office of deaconess. This had been done by Pastor and Madame Fliedner at Kaiserswerth, on the Rhine, the Alma Mater of Florence Nightingale, and it was on a visit to Kaiserswerth that the Rev. William Pennefather and his wife Catherine received inspiration for founding the Mildmay Mission. This mission was started in 1860, when Mr. Pennefather was vicar of Christ Church, Barnet. Both he and his wife were deeply interested in foreign missions, and their first venture was a missionary training home for women. This formed the nucleus of Mildmay. The scheme was greatly developed when Mr. Pennefather removed to St. Jude's, Mildmay Park, in 1864. The training of women for parochial work was now begun. The name of deaconess was adopted for these workers, and in time the training home was changed to Deaconess House. The period of the foundation of the mission was one of great awakening on the part of educated women to the Christian Church's need for their service in the more public spheres of philanthropy. From her invalid's room, the "heroine of the Crimea" was calling to the leisured women of her day to be up and doing. One of Florence Nightingale's earliest essays was a plea for the revival of the office of deaconess. Mr. and Mrs. Pennefather chose this name for their workers (Deaconesses) after prayerful consideration. It was novel, but it was apostolic. The devotion of the founders to the mission is known throughout Christendom. Mr. Pennefather made Mildmay the centre for Evangelical Church conferences, which have now been held annually for fifty-one years; and Mrs. Pennefather organised the women's work and started clubs and meetings for poor people. Both have passed to their rest, and memorials to their noble work exist in recent additions to the institution. The headquarters of the mission are at Mildmay Park. The buildings which compose the Mildmay compound are grouped around a central garden. Captain F. L. Tottenham, the superintendent of the mission, has a house in the compound, and is assisted by Mrs. Tottenham as the directress of women's work. The Conference Hall is a handsome building, erected in 1869; and the conferences held there each June attract Christian workers from all parts of the kingdom and from abroad. Throughout the year it is used for services, meetings, and Bible classes connected with the mission. Below the hall are rooms which serve as storehouses for the garments sent to Mildmay for distribution amongst the poor. In one room a weekly sewing class is held for poor widows. They have hot coffee and buns, cheerful and kind people to talk to them, and receive sixpence for their work. The garments are well made and cut out, and the mission is glad to receive orders."
  • Mildmay Institutions And Missions, continued...
    "Lectures in physiology, nursing, health, tropical diseases, surgical work, and a short course of nursing at the Mildmay Medical Mission Hospital, keeping of accounts, sol-fa singing, cooking, and laundry. The directress, Mrs. Tottenham, thus describes the necessary qualification for candidates for deaconess work. " We first need as workers those who are truly converted to God, and really desirous of winning others to Him. There must also be some natural fitness in gifts, temperament, and health." The probation and student houses, situated in the compound, first receive the candidates, who remain for one month on probation. If they like the work and are considered suitable for it, they remain for a period not exceeding two years. The time varies according to the previous knowledge which the students possess. Part of their time is spent in theological study, and they attend classes for cutting out, needlework, cooking, and other practical subjects. They also engage in parochial work under experienced workers. After leaving the student house for the central deaconess house, candidates work, as a rule, in the mission for two or three years longer before they are regarded as qualified to be Mildmay deaconesses. The admission to full membership is signalised by a simple dedication service, conducted by the chaplain of the institution, who is at present (1911) the Rural Dean of Islington. The girls' hostel is provided for educated girls between the ages of eighteen and twenty-three who wish for experience in home mission work. The charge is twenty-five shillings weekly. The Nurses' Home has a pleasant frontage to Newington Green, and is the most historic portion of the settlement. There is a staff of fifty nurses attached to the house, who are sent out to private cases."
  • The life of a Deaconess
    "The Deaconess House adjoins the Conference Hall and has about forty deaconesses in residence. Miss Hankin is deaconess-in-charge. The house is bright and pleasant, with a large room, No. 6, for devotional services and various meetings, and a very spacious drawing room arranged with writing tables and lounges. Each deaconess has her own room or cubicle. The rules of the house are very simple. No vows are taken, but it is expected that love and devotion will keep the residents at their appointed tasks. Ladies are expected, if it is in their power, to pay £50 per year for board. Many who cannot do this are accepted according to their circumstances. Some receive a small allowance for personal expenses. The Mildmay deaconesses work under the clergy in fifteen London parishes. They are engaged in devotional exercises at home, and in house-to-house visitation in the very poorest districts. They pay between forty and fifty visits a week. Each deaconess, as a rule, has charge of a mothers' meeting in her district and gives the address herself. Girls' clubs, boys' clubs, work amongst children, and other good works are also carried on by the deaconesses. Besides parochial work carried on from the central house, some of the deaconesses are employed in the various institutions and homes belonging to the community. Others work further afield - in Malta and Tunbridge Wells; at the Prison Gate Mission, Dublin; the House of Refuge, Oxford; and the Deaconess House at Kingston, Jamaica. One Mildmay deaconess is in charge of the Diocesan Deaconess and Missionary Training House, Toronto, Canada: and another has charge of the Church Ladies' House, founded by the Bishop of Liverpool. The training of a Mildmay deaconess is in accordance with the principles of the Church of England. The curriculum embraces the following subjects: (1) The Old and New Testament, Christian doctrine, history and contents of the Prayer Book, outlines of early Church history and outlines of Christian evidence."
  • The Medical Work of the Mission
    "The Mildmay Mission Hospital, in Austin Street, Bethnal Green, is the centre of a most useful and beneficent work amongst the very poor of East London. There are fifty beds devoted to the needs of destitute patients. A medical mission is held at the hospital on Tuesday and Friday, beginning with a short mission service. There is an average attendance of 150. On other days some 80 or 100 out-patients come for dressings. Patients are also visited in their own homes. "Home," the dearest word in our mother tongue, means a scene of heartbreak to thousands of London's poor. One example may be quoted to show how bravely many bear the misfortunes of poverty. The attention of one of the deaconesses was called to a family who had lately removed to her district. The man and his wife were steady Christian people. They had seven children. The eldest boy (away from home on a training ship) sent them ten shillings per month, the second, earning eight shillings per week, gave his mother five or six shillings per week, keeping a little for clothes. The rent was seven shillings a week, and, through the father being out of work, had fallen into arrears. When the deaconess called she found the family in great distress, without food or fire. "The children never worry me for food, miss, if I haven't any for them," said the mother, " but just say their prayers as usual when they go to bed." She was very grateful for a little help given. A few days later a gift of butter came to Mildmay from the Country House Mission, and the deaconess took a quarter of a pound to this poor family as a special treat. A Pathetic Story It was getting late and dark when she reached the house. Her knock was soon answered, and she stepped inside, to find mother and children quietly gathered together in the little sitting-room without a glimmer of light. A penny in the gas-meter soon remedied that, and the mother said, "My boy was just praying for God to send someone, and when he heard the knock he said, ' There's someone come, mother.'" The deaconess found them without food or fire, but wonderfully patient. She sent one of the boys for bread, and with the nice country butter the family had a nourishing meal.... ...An annual sum of £25,000 is required to support the various agencies connected with Mildmay, and for this amount the mission relies chiefly on voluntary help. Some of the very poor set a wonderful example as donors to its charities. A dear old woman of sixty-seven, who lived in a top attic, earning a precarious living by making patterned rugs and mats out of bits of cloth, sends one of her rugs every year to the Mildmay sale. She only earned four and sixpence a week, and out of that paid two and sixpence for rent, yet she could afford to be generous!"

From Every Woman's Encyclopaedia Volume 2 (1910 - 1912)

Various Authors

Publisher: London S.N.

Directory of Mildmay nurses

Emily Goodwin, first matron of  Mildmay Mission Hospital, 1892 

'The Pennefathers' missionary projects included; a Men's Night School, Sewing classes for widows, a Flower Mission, a Lads' Institute, a Servants' training home, and a Missionary training home. William took some inspiration from a Lutheran "Order of Deaconesses" in Germany'.

D.Taylor-Thompson, 'Mildmay- The Birth and rebirth of a unique Hospital'. London, 1992

Mildmay institutions
Ceremonial laying of the foundation stone of the hospital

Ceremonial laying of Mildmay's  foundation stone 

The slum clearances carried out by the London County Council in the 1880s and 1890s threatened the original site, and in 1890, a foundation stone was laid for a purpose-built hospital at Austin Street and Hackney Road.

The new Mildmay Mission Hospital opened in 1892, with 50 beds in 3 wards; male, female and children's.

(The Mildmay Mission itself was based from c.1870s-1950s at Central Hall, Philpot Street, close to the Royal London Hospital).

The portico of the 1892 hospital
 The portico above the main entrance of the 1892 hospital 
A postcard of Mildmay from 1907
A postcard of Mildmay, posted in 190.
Click to enlarge
The back of a postcard that pictures mildmay Hospital

Mary Richards

Mary Richards entered training at the Mildmay Mission Hospital in April 1931 and left after completing her training and receiving her certificate in May 1934. Mary was from Brixworth, Northants and aged 22 years when she started her training; she had previously learned dressmaking, housewifery, and cookery, all skills previously required by women who became Mildmay Deaconesses prior to Nurse training becoming an option.

Mary had worked in a girls village home for nearly two years, and her religious faith was described as C of E. Many applicants to train as nurses at Mildmay were also Church Missionary Society candidates. Her report describes her as 'A kind, reliable capable nurse.'

Mary returned in 1938-9 working for six months as a Nursing Sister, for the last eight days she was in charge of the male ward, Mathieson.

MRMM-Hospital-Badge

Mildmay Hospital nursing badge awarded to Mary Richards

With thanks to Sarah Rogers for this information and image.

Show your support for Mildmay

Mildmay badge

We have created this special commemorative lapel badge, based on the original Mildmay nursing badge, to mark 145 years since the opening of the first Mildmay Medical Mission in 1877.

By purchasing a badge you are making an invaluable financial contribution towards the running of our charitable hospital while at the same time, helping to raise awareness of, and demonstrating your commitment to our cause and support of our work. 

Women's ward
 Women's ward 

A  postcard donated to us in April 2021 

1892 Hospital
Mary RicardsNursig Bage
Hospital with a difference

The hospital with a difference!

This is a fundraising booklet for the new hospital extension, circa 1939, featuring a visit by Queen Mary. Towards the back of the pamphlet are some great adverts from local suppliers to Mildmay of all kinds of goods, from paint to laundry services, affirming the hospital's place within the local community.

This booklet was sent to us by someone who has a story about their aunt, who worked at Mildmay. Read it here.

In 1948 the hospital was incorporated into the National Health Service as part of the North East Metropolitan Regional Board's Central (No. 5) Group of Hospitals and transferred in 1966 to the East London Group. In 1974 it became part of the Tower Hamlets Health District.
But by 1982, as a hospital with less than 200 beds, the NHS regarded Mildmay as no longer economically viable, and it was closed down.

1988: Mildmay becomes Europe's first AIDS hospice

In 1985, the hospital was reopened outside the NHS as a charitable nursing home, with a GP surgery attached and caring for young chronically sick patients.

 

In 1988, it became Europe's first hospice caring for people with HIV/AIDS and their families, acquiring a worldwide reputation.

 

It was famously visited by Diana, Princess of Wales, several times in the 1980s and 90s.

Princess Alexandra met patients when she officially re-opened the Mildmay Mission Hospital on 19 May 1988.

Diana, Princess of Wales, helps to break down the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS

Princess Diana greets well-wishers upon arrival at Mildmay

Diana, Princess of Wales, made three official and 14 unofficial visits to our Shoreditch hospital between 1989 and 1997, sometimes arriving at 11 pm and staying until the early hours. She would sit with dying patients, holding hands and offering comfort.

Diana in conversation with families
A Time to Care foreword by Diana

Princess Diana's foreword to the book, A Time to Care - Mildmay Hospital's response to people with AIDS, by Ruth Sims.

By 2014, the old hospital was demolished and our new, purpose-built specialist HIV hospital was opened.

Timelapse video of the demolition of the old Mildmay Hospital buildings in 2011

Mildmay, prior to its closure by the NHS in 1982

Mildmay, prior to its closure by the NHS in 1982

No-Details-02.jpeg

The Bert Miller Photographic Archive

Bert Miller was at Mildmay for 30 years; employed for 7 and a volunteer for 23. During some building work, Bert saw some photo transparencies lying in a skip. He retrieved them and took them home. On inspecting them, he found that they were photographs of the hospital and staff dating back to the early 1960's.

Read Bert's inspiring story and see the photographs he rescued
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