Our history

St. Mark’s Hospital boasts a rich and varied history. From its initial inception in Aldersgate Street in the City of London it has led the way in colorectal medicine and surgery world-wide. You can explore our rich history, archive, appeals, photographs and more here.

A brief history of St Mark’s and its founder Frederick Salmon

Frederick Salmon
Frederick Salmon

Frederick Salmon was born in Bath in 1796, the sixth child of a practicing attorney. When he was a young man he showed an aptitude for medicine and was apprenticed at the age of 15 to a surgeon-apothecary (combination of a surgeon and physician). After serving his medical apprenticeship he came to London as a medical student at St Bartholomew’s Hospital. Salmon began to take a ‘special interest in rectal disease’ which, it has been stated, was a consequence of having lived in Bath where ‘patients with intestinal diseases tended to congregate for the purposes of ‘taking the waters’’ (Dukes, 1959:312). Motivated by his fervent interest in this area of medicine, Salmon set up a specialist ‘charity hospital’ in 1835.Such institutions were established to help alleviate the suffering experienced by the urban poor of Victorian society, as these hospitals provided a means by which they were able to gain access to medical treatments.

Salmon’s specialist hospital was named the ‘Benevolent Dispensary for the Relief of the Poor Afflicted with Fistula, Piles and other Diseases of the Rectum and Lower Intestines’, which was principally an out-patient dispensary, located at Aldersgate Street, City of London (Granshaw, 1985:1). Within the first year of opening, the new infirmary treated 131 patients for fistula, piles, rectal stricture or prolapse. In Victorian society, specialist hospitals were treated with a certain disdain by the established medical institutions, so it is a testament to Salmon’s personal endeavours that he was able to secure The Lord Mayor of London, William Taylor Copeland, as the first President of the Hospital. The relationship between the Lord Mayor of London and the Hospital was firmly established, as anyone who occupied this office remained a patron of the Hospital until it moved from City Road to the premises at Northwick Park in 1995.

The ‘Fistula Infirmary’ as it was known, became inundated with patients with the number requiring treatment having trebled by 1838. To accommodate the growing demand for specialist treatments, the Hospital moved to larger premises at 38 Charterhouse Square which had more beds and improved facilities for out-patients. However, due to the continually increasing demand for its services, coupled with its growing recognition within medical circles, these premises were no longer adequate to meet patient requirements. Hence, in 1851, a site on City Road, Islington, in the parish of St Mark’s Church was acquired and construction of a new building began. When completed it was given a new name: ‘St Mark’s Hospital for Fistula and other Diseases of the Rectum’ with the official opening taking place on the feast day St Mark, on the 25th April 1853.

Proposed extension of St Mark's Hospital
St Mark’s Hospital

Salmon continued to practice as a surgeon at the newly opened St Mark’s until his retirement in 1859. It was said of him when he retired that ‘“he could look back with honourable pride upon more than 3,500 operations performed by his hand without a fatal result”’ (1935a:2) this is a discernible feat by modern standards let alone for a surgeon in the 19th Century! Although, it must be stated that the nature of all the referenced operations are not fully known, nevertheless, this still stands as an accreditation of Salmon’s proficiency as a surgeon.

Salmon died on the 3rd January 1868, and upon hearing of his death, colleagues at the Hospital stated;

thus passed from this world a man whose kindness of heart induced, and whose indomitable perseverance enabled him to found an institution for the relief of the sufferings of his poorer fellow creatures which will stand an honourable monument to his memory’ (Dukes, 1959:316).

The determination, ambition and good will of Frederick Salmon is firmly imprinted in the ethos of St Mark’s. This is evidenced through the continued commitment at St Mark’s to pioneering research, which is the raison d’être of the institution. St Mark’s has not diverged from its specialism; rather it has grown to include the treatment of all aspects of bowel disease and bowel cancer, all of which is underpinned by the dedication to provide patients with the highest quality care. As one recent patient of St Mark’s stated; ‘to put it simply- being a patient at St Mark’s has transformed my life’.

There are numerous individuals who have dedicated their life to the work that is carried out at St Mark’s Hospital and they have played an integral role in its successful continuation. St Mark’s has grown from a charity hospital on the fringes of the Victorian medical establishment, surviving against the odds to become a world centre of excellence. It has come a long way from its humble beginnings, initiated by the social entrepreneur Frederick Salmon, who was passionate about his specialism, and committed his life to ensuring that the establishment would thrive. The legacy that he initiated has continued right up until this present time and it is set to continue along this trajectory; to create a future free from the fear of bowel disease.

Interesting to know…

In a lecture delivered in 1832 Salmon anecdotally recounted a novel incentive that he had devised to ensure that a patient attended follow up appointments. Salmon rewarded the patient with sixpence in exchange for their attendance, remarking that ‘he seldom fails in paying me a visit when his sixpence is due’ (1935a:3). This is arguably the first recorded instance of a ‘follow up department’ (1935b:11) and provides an insight into the keenness of Salmon as a surgeon, and which requires no inference to understand that this was a man who was wholly committed to his patients, whatever the cost!

One of Salmon’s private patients, who became a life governor, was the novelist and philanthropist Charles Dickens. Dickens was suffering from an anal fistula, attributed to, in his own words, ‘the consequence of too much sitting at my desk!’ At his home in 1841, he was successfully operated on by Salmon for his fistula. In gratitude for the excellent treatment that he received, Dickens donated several autographed copies of his latest work, The Pickwick Papers, and contributed 10 guineas to the Hospital.

References

Medical Committee. 1935a. The Collected Papers of St Mark’s Hospital, London, including a history of the hospital. Centenary Volume 1835-1935. London. H.K Lewis & Co Ltd.
Author Unknown. 1935b. ‘The Collected Papers of St. Mark’s Hospital’ in the Postgraduate Medical Journal. Vol 11, p. 233.
Dukes, Cuthbert E. 1959. ‘Frederick Salmon: Founder of St Mark’s Hospital, London’. Medical History, Vol 3 (4), p. 312-316.
Granshaw, Lindsay. 1985. St Mark’s Hospital London, A social history of a specialist institution. London. Hollen Street Press.

The St Mark’s archive

The historic archives of St Mark’s Hospital prior to its move to Harrow in 1995 are held at St Bartholomew’s Hospital Archives, part of Barts Health NHS Trust Archives and Museums.

Information and resources are also available at the British Library, Euston Road and Boston Spa.

You can find out more about the recent Wellcome Trust-funded project to catalogue and conserve the archives in the project blog here, and browse the catalogue online here.

St Mark’s at City Road documentary (2010)

To find out more about our time at City Road, you can watch a special film that was made for our 150th year celebrations in 2010, presented by James PS Thomson.