This Week in History: January 25th – 31st

Hello all and welcome once more to another instalment in our This Week in History series, in which we examine a significant event in the history of medicine, science, or philosophy that occurred during the current week. This week, we’re going to be having a look at a landmark event in the history of British medicine by examining the opening of the London Lock Hospital on 31st January, 1747, which was the first venereal disease clinic to open in the United Kingdom.

M0006185 The Lock Hospital, Hyde Park Corner, Westminster. Engraving.

In the eighteenth century, a ‘Lock Hospital’ was a hospital specifically designed to combat sexually transmitted diseases, perhaps most notably the treatment of syphilis which affected a rather large percentage of the population at the time. Originally, these hospitals were designed to treat lepers away from the eyes of the public in a private, medical space, but as leprosy in the United Kingdom declined, their purposes were often turned towards the treatment of venereal diseases. At the time, veneral disease carried with it a number of sociological and moral notions, such as accusations of infidelity or promiscuity, and attitudes towards many venereal diseases far transcended a merely epidemiological definition, drawing together notions of class, gender, and even piety. In short, many sufferers from venereal diseases were often ostracised by mainstream society for having given into their temptations.

A charitable service, headed by Mr. William Bromfield (or Bromfeild as he himself preferred to spell it) began working in July 1746 for the establishment of a Lock Hospital in London to treat sufferers of syphilis and other venereal diseases. In November, 1746, the service bought a house in Grosvenor Place in London for this purpose, and two months later the clinic was opened. In its first year of opening, the hospital treated around 300 patients within its walls, with many more patients being treated in the following years, all sufferers of venereal diseases who hoped that the treatment offered by the hospital could alleviate their symptoms. Although the treatments provided were often not as effective as one might hope, the foundation of the Lock Hospital in London provided a template which many other hospitals utilised in the following decades to treat sufferers of venereal disease. In 1842, the location of the London Lock Hospital was moved to Harrow Road and, later in 1862, it was renamed ‘The Female Hospital’ when a new site opened in Dean Street, Soho. As the hospital developed and grew, it began to offer a wider range of maternity and gynaecology services, incorporating the treatment of women who were suffering from venereal diseases (often referred to as ‘fallen women’) as well as men, until it was eventually incorporated into the National Health Service in 1948 before it was closed in 1952.

Well, that’s about all we’ve got time for this week, I hope you have enjoyed reading about the very first venereal disease clinic in the United Kingdom. Join us next week for another weird, wacky, or wonderful event from the history of medicine, science or philosophy!

That’s all for now,


Image Attribution:

Fig. 1 – M0006185 The Lock Hospital, Hyde Park Corner, Westminster. Engraving. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images The Lock Hospital, Hyde Park Corner, Westminster. Engraving. Engraving circa mid 19th century By: Thomas Hosmer Shepherdafter: William WallisPublished: – Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0


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