The history of
Mildmay Mission Hospital
William Pennefather (1826-1873)
by an unknown artist
stipple engraving, mid 19th century
© National Portrait Gallery, London
Mildmay Mission Hospital has its origins in the work of The Rev. William Pennefather and his 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, 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.
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.
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 (1).
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 (2).
1. D.Taylor-Thompson, 'Mildmay- The Birth and rebirth of a unique Hospital'. London, 1992
2. D.Taylor-Thompson, 'Mildmay', pg 8
Ceremonial laying of the foundation stone of the hospital
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).