Learn about the history of Charing Cross, Hammersmith, Queen Charlotte's & Chelsea and St Mary's hospitals.

Long before the NHS was created in 1948, there were two types of hospitals in west London:


  • Workhouse hospitals
  • Voluntary hospitals

Voluntary hospitals were independent charities established for the benefit of the ‘deserving poor’, who, according to Victorian values, were respectable working-class people who had fallen on hard times because of sickness. 

People who were destitute had no alternative but to seek admission into a workhouse. Because many of these people had been reduced to poverty through either sickness or old age, the workhouses opened hospital wards and even purpose-built infirmaries to treat them.

Charing Cross Hospital

Charing Cross was originally a voluntary hospital called the West London Infirmary. It was also an undergraduate teaching hospital. It was founded with only 12 beds by Dr Benjamin Golding in 1818 near the Strand in Charing Cross, in buildings now occupied by Charing Cross police station. In 1827, it changed its name to Charing Cross Hospital and later set up a medical school. It moved to its present location on Fulham Palace Road in west London in 1973.

Download our brochure to learn more about the history of Charing Cross Hospital. 

Hammersmith Hospital

Hammersmith was a workhouse infirmary built by the Hammersmith Poor Law Guardians in 1912. Its buildings were used during the First World War for military orthopaedics, before it became a general acute hospital in 1926. Along with all workhouse hospitals in London, Hammersmith Hospital came under the control of London County Council in 1929, and in 1935 it was chosen as the new home for the British Postgraduate Medical School.

Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea Hospital

Queen Charlotte's was originally a voluntary hospital. Its name came from its patron, the wife of George III. Dating back to 1752, Queen Charlotte’s is one of the oldest maternity hospitals in the country and at different times has been located in Bayswater, on Marylebone Road and at Ravenscourt Park. Chelsea Hospital also moved site and used to be based in Chelsea, in the building now occupied by the Chelsea wing at the Brompton Hospital. In 1998 Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea moved adjacent to Hammersmith Hospital.

St Mary’s Hospital

St Mary’s Hospital was founded in 1845 as a voluntary hospital for the benefit of the sick poor of north and north west London, and has been based at the same site in Paddington for over 100 years. The hospital originally opened with 50 beds in what is now the Cambridge Wing.

The Western Eye Hospital

Western Eye started out life as a Georgian shooting box before it became a voluntary hospital. Since 1856, it has been based at a number of different sites before finally moving to Marylebone Road next to the Samaritan Hospital for Women.

Our archives

The Trust holds extensive archives that are open for the public to access. These document the history and heritage of the Trust and give an insight into the origins of modern healthcare and the NHS. The collections also hold information about past staff and students that may be of genealogical interest to researchers.

The archives contain administrative records dating back to the 1790s, including minute books, annual reports, correspondence, historical financial information and photographs. There are also some papers deposited by former staff and students.

No personal health records are kept in the archives.

Major collections include:

  • St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington
  • St Mary’s Hospital Medical School 
  • Hammersmith Hospital
  • West London Hospital
  • Wright Fleming Institute
  • Western Eye Hospital 
  • Paddington Green Children’s Hospital
  • Princess Louise Kensington Hospital for Children
  • Samaritan Hospital
  • Parkside Health Authority
  • St Luke’s Hospital for Advanced Cases
  • St Mary’s Hospital, Harrow Road 
  • St Charles’ Hospital (after 1948)
  • St Columba’s Hospital
  • British Hospital for Mental Disorders and Brain Diseases
  • West End Hospital for Nervous Diseases
  • Marylebone General Dispensary
  • Sir William Willcox
  • Donald Winnicott

Catalogues may be consulted in the archives.

Members of the public can access the collections by making an appointment during opening hours, which are Monday - Friday 9.00 to 17.00. The archives are located on the ground floor of Salton House, St Mary’s Hospital.

Education services

Archive staff can visit schools, universities and other establishments to give lectures and presentations about the archives that are tailored to suit the audience. Popular topics include Alexander Fleming and the discovery of penicillin, the history of hospitals and nursing and a variety of topics on the history of medicine.

To enquire about the archives or book an appointment, please contact Kevin Brown, the Trust archivist:

Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust
St Mary’s Hospital
Praed Street
W2 1NY 
020 3312 6528