Bart’s Hospital

St Bartholomew’s was refounded in the reign of Henry VIII. Courtney Dainton describes how, for nearly two centuries, it was one of only two major hospitals in England for the care of the general sick.

Henry VIII’s statutes for the suppression of religious houses brought about the disappearance of many hospitals, for most of them were closely associated with the monasteries; and a desperate situation was created, particularly in London.

Some of the leading citizens persuaded the Lord Mayor to submit a petition to the King for the refoundation of St. Bartholomew’s and St. Thomas’s Hospitals, which were among those that had ceased to function. Henry authorized the refoundation of St. Bartholomew’s, and Edward VI instructed the citizens to repair St. Thomas’s. For nearly two centuries after their refoundation these two hospitals were the only important ones for the general sick in the whole of England.

It is not until after the refoundation of St. Bartholomew’s that we find any record of trained medical men on the staff. Three surgeons were appointed in 1549 and a physician in 1568. Some years later there were four surgeons and four physicians, and these numbers remained unchanged until 1895, although there were also assistant surgeons and assistant physicians.

One of the first surgeons appointed at the hospital was Thomas Vicary. In 1548 he wrote a book called A Treasure for Englishmen, containing the Anatomie of Man’s Body - the earliest English textbook of anatomy. Vicary was the first Master of the newly-formed Barber-Surgeons’ Company. Until 1540 there was often trouble between the surgeons, most of whom had received a fairly good education and training, and the barbers, who acted as the general practitioners of the time, drawing teeth and carrying out minor surgery.

When they became united in one company, the barbers agreed to restrict their surgery to dentistry, and the surgeons undertook to cease to practise as barbers. By an Act of Parliament the new company was allowed to fine unlicensed practitioners in London and to have the bodies of four executed criminals each year for dissection.

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