Nick Black

Author of The Honourable Doctor


During an extraordinary forty years, this small area of London attracted reformers who changed health care in fundamental ways that shape today’s services. Prior to that time, the only health care provided here was the 18th century Foundling Hospital, one the most magnificent buildings in London of which only the entrance and childrens’ playsheds can be seen today. On this walk you will see the first hospital for children in England, the only hospital for Italians, the first hospital established by nurses, the first hospital for those paralysed and epileptic, and the medical school created by and for women who were otherwise excluded from such a career. This was an area where several types of patients who were previously ignored finally were recognised and where new opportunities for staff were initiated. While Bloomsbury is rightly recognised as the home of radical changes in literature, art and penal reform, it was also a cradle of reform for health care.

At the heart of the great metropolis lies an island, a foreign land in a sea of Englishness. After the wealthy and gentry departed Soho in the middle of the 18th century, successive waves of refugees arrived creating a multi-cultural world that attracted artists, revolutionaries, writers and musicians. The atmosphere has encouraged individuality, creativity and entrepreneurship. It has been somewhere to take risks, including in health care. It was here that the first hospitals in London for women, for ear diseases and for men with venereal disease were established. It was also where the first and most famous private anatomy school was built. The contrast between bohemian Soho and establishment London is well illustrated by two towering figures in the history of health care, Mary Seacole, who you will encounter at the start, and Florence Nightingale, who you will meet at the end of the walk, in St James’s.