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Our history

Mildmay’s story starts in the 1860s with Catherine and William Pennefather.

Mildmay's timeline

Mildmay Deaconesses volunteer to go into some of the worst slums in London's East End to care for the sick and their dependents during an outbreak of cholera.

William and Catherine Pennefather developed a number of projects known collectively as Mildmay Institutions, providing spiritual guidance and care for the sick.

In 1866 there was a cholera outbreak in East London. Two Mildmay Deaconesses, trained in nursing by Catherine, volunteered to go into the Old Nichol, in the East End of London - one of the most notorious slums of the nineteenth century, where even the police feared to enter, to care for the sick and their dependents.

Although the water-borne transmission of the infection was understood, effective treatment remained elusive. Eventually, the epidemic subsided, but the Deaconesses continued their daily efforts and the principle of training nurses and caring for those most in need was established for the first time.

Directory of Mildmay nurses
Emily Goodwin, first matron of  Mildmay Mission Hospital, 1892 
This response to the cholera outbreak, by reaching out to those in great need, formed Mildmay’s first nursing service, and it has been our ethos ever since.

As well as cholera, typhus was also rife in the slums of the East End, as related in an article in the first edition of the East London Advertiser, launched in the same year.

East London Advertiser cover
St Judes Church, Mildmay Park, Islington, North London

Reverend William Pennefather was the vicar of St Jude and St Paul's, which is located in Mildmay Park, Islington. It was a lively Victorian church of over 1,000 people in Pennefather's day and still plays an active and important part in its local community.

Jude the Apostle mosaic
Did you know?

St Jude is the patron saint of hospitals and hopeless causes.

The work of the deaconesses developed and expanded. In 1877, the first Mildmay Medical Mission was established in a disused warehouse in Cabbage Court (now Little Bacon Street, south of Bethnal Green Road), near St. Leonard's Church, Shoreditch.

It consisted of twenty-seven beds in three wards, one doctor, three nurses and five deaconesses in training. This was the first embodiment of what was soon to become Mildmay Mission Hospital.

By 1877, the Mildmay Mission operated from a warehouse in Cabbage Court in the Old Nichol
Back point
Slum houses in the Old Nichol

The Old Nichol was situated between High Street, Shoreditch, and Bethnal Green.


It consisted of 20 narrow streets containing 730 dilapidated terraced houses which were inhabited by some 6,000 people.


The London County Council decided to clear the Old Nichol slums in the 1890s, and one of the first social housing developments in Britain, the Boundary Estate was built in its place shortly before 1900.

Rubble from the demolished slums was used to build an elevated bandstand that forms the centrepiece of Arnold Circus. Also around this time Charles Booth, a pioneer of social research, conducted an extensive survey of living conditions in London, publishing maps, colour coded according to the wealth of an area. He coloured the Old Nichol in black, the bottom of the scale, the poorest and most crime-ridden.

Booth Map 1889

Above: the location of the 1892 Mildmay Mission Hospital on Booth's London Poverty map of 1889.

Arnold Circus
Arnold Circus on the Boundary Estate. The bandstand is yet to be completed.
Map of the Old Nichol

Above: The Old Nichol

Part of the Ordnance Survey map (1893-1896)_LO.jpg

Above: part of the Ordnance Survey map (1893-1896) showing the site of the former Old Nichol

Right: detail showing Mildmay's location in relation to the site of the Old Nichol

Part of the Ordnance Survey map (1893-1896) DETAIL_LO.jpg

In 1892 the first purpose-built
Mildmay Mission Hospital was opened

One of few objects remaining from the first hospital is our clock, positioned above the main entrance, just as in 1892.

1948: Mildmay becomes part of the NHS

Anenurin Bevan, Minister of Health, on the first day of the National Health Service, 5 July 1948 at Park Hospital, Davyhulme, near Manchester.

Anenurin Bevan, Minister of Health, on the first day of the National Health Service, 5 July 1948 at Park Hospital, Davyhulme, near Manchester.

(Image credit)

A significant event took place in British history in 1948, with the birth of the National Health Service. This revolutionary system ensured everyone had access to healthcare. Britain was the first Western country to offer free at the point of use medical care to the whole population.

In 1948, Mildmay became part of the NHS, continuing its legacy of service and training within the broader healthcare system.


It 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.

Marjorie Gertrude Weeks Training Certificate 1951

Nurse training certificate from 1951 (click to enlarge)

Mildmay's fight for survival

A working group set up by Tower Hamlets Health Authority in 1980 examined the position of Mildmay in relation to the needs of the community. By 1982, as a hospital with less than 200 beds, Mildmay was regarded as uneconomic and, along with many other 'cottage hospitals', was closed.

Mildmay’s Trustee Board, under the Chair, Helen Taylor Thompson, and with many loyal supporters, began the fight for Mildmay's survival.

After many setbacks, approval was given by Government and the NHS for Mildmay to reopen in 1985. In 1988, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, Mildmay was asked by the government to accept patients with AIDS and became Europe’s first hospice caring for people with AIDS-related illnesses.

East End Life article, May 1995

An article about Mildmay from the East End Life newspaper, May 1995

Find out more about Mildmay's closure and subsequent reopening as and independent charitable hospital
HTT Diana and Veronica Moss.png

Diana, Princess of Wales

Diana, Princess of Wales, visited Mildmay 17 times - both officially and unofficially - from 1989 until her tragic death in1997, and famously shook hands with a patient at the height of fear around the condition, helping to break down some of the stigma surrounding HIV.

(Pictured here with Helen Taylor Thompson and Dr. Veronica Moss).


As knowledge about the virus grew, medication evolved and needs changed, Mildmay changed its focus from end-of-life care to specialised assessment and rehabilitation.

Mildmay evolved from AIDS hospice to an internationally-renowned HIV rehabilitation centre
The earliest history of Mildmay

Today Mildmay remains at the forefront of specialist HIV service delivery and care, continuing to adapt and respond to meet new, often complex and rapidly changing needs.

Photographs from our archive

We aim to get more of these great photographs online and to try and identify the subjects and give even more details, like the dates the photographs were taken. If you have any photographs of Mildmay from any era, do please let us know.