Mildmay Hospital’s doors have always been open to those in need
- Credit: Mildmay hospital
Under threat of closure, Mildmay Hospital will now be used to treat homeless patients recovering from Coronavirus and people with HIV/AIDS. The Shoreditch hospital’s staff are ready to help in the national effort, like the doctors and nurses of Mildmay before them, who cared for the sick and dying during epidemics that swept through east London and shook the world.
This is not the first time Mildmay has dealt with threats of closure. World War Two veteran Helen Taylor-Thompson chaired the hospital’s board and was instrumental in re-opening it in 1988 as Europe’s first hospice caring for people with AIDS related illnesses.
She told the Gazette: “Then the troubles started. Oh my goodness! We had all sorts of things happening like bottles being thrown through the windows, people wouldn’t come near us cause they thought we were going to give them AIDS.“
A writer and DJ who goes by the name Stewart Who? remembers the stigma surrounding AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s. It was an epidemic that devastated the gay community.
Stewart said: “It was a very horrible time to be a teenager who was about to come out. If you were in any way effeminate the kids at school would say you had AIDS and you didn’t want that. I also kind of understood that the HIV/AIDS thing was going to be a large part of my life.”
Stewart visited Mildmay for the first time in 1989 to visit a friend of a friend who was dying of AIDS.
“[He] was dying and none of his family would go and see him – they had abandoned him.
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What hit me when I walked into the Mildmay was that combination of the senses; the medical smells, the atmosphere just that quietness. You just had to block it out and override it – in order to speak to people and be social.”
Stewart said clubbers on the guestlists at the discos where he worked, like club night Fiction, had to donate to Mildmay - it was that important.
Mildmay MIssion hospital originally opened in 1892 but it’s origins go back to the mid-1960s.
Reverand William Pennefather, a vicar at St.Judes in Mildmay Park, his wife Catherine and Mildmay deaconesses cared for some of London’s poorest people in the slums of East London during the Cholera outbreak of 1866.
“Reverend Pennefather’s wife knew Florence Nightingale and they taught very elementary hygiene. They went into the slums of the east end and found it totally impossible to do anything because the sanitation was so appalling.
They had to commandeer two warehouses which were, more or less, where Mildmay is now. It was right in the middle of the east end – did a lot of work and very much beloved,” said Helen.
After the Reverend died his wife built a hospital in his memory which became part of the National Health Service in 1948 but it was said to be ‘uneconomic’ and too small so closed down in 1982.
Mildmay reopened as a HIV/AIDS hospice in the 1980s and, as antiretroviral drugs improved, it became a hospital - later specialising in HIV associated neurocognitive disorders.
It is the only specialist hospital in Europe providing neurological rehabilitation for people with HIV and was made famous when Princess Diana shook the hand of an AIDs patient there dispelling many myths surrounding how the illness is transmitted.
Helen told the Gazette: “Course, Princess Diana came. We didn’t actually ask her she just rang up one day and said she wanted to come. After that she became a friend.
We had lots of different people who came; princesses, various archbishops, cardinals and actresses. Some quite well known ones – Elizabeth Taylor visited – she had such high heels she could hardly walk.”
To support the campaign to save Mildmay Hospital click here.
Or to find more groups, networks and organisations like this in Hackney providing support during the Coronavirus lockdown visit our There With You Essential List.