Thomas Guy, the 18th century bookseller, speculator and philanthropist gives his name to Guy’s Hospital, now part of the Guy’s and St Thomas’s NHS Trust. While it’s most well-known architectural feature is the Brutalist 1970s 34-floor tower (which I rather like by the way), the hospital’s grounds contain some things of historical interest that are not well-known to people outside the staff and students of the hospital.
The oldest buildings on the site, which face St Thomas St, date from the 18th century and comprise Boland House to the east, Conybeare House to the west and Old Guy’s House to the south. Walk through the open arches into Old Guy’s House and you’ll discover two quadrangles, one containing a statue of Viscount Nuffield (1877 – 1963), whose Trust continues to provide funding for medical research both at Guy’s and elsewhere. Over in the other quadrangle is a more recent statue of poet John Keats (who trained as a surgeon at the hospital) seated within an alcove from the old London Bridge.
Out in the main courtyard the first thing you’ll see is the robed figure of Thomas Guy himself, but there’s a better representation of him just to the left within Guy’s Chapel. Here the hospital’s benefactor stretches out his hand towards a poor, sick person lying in the street but there’s rather more to his statue than that - his body is interred directly beneath it under the fine marble tiles. The chapel is also notable for its stunning arts and crafts mosaic panels, depicting pink-winged angels and saints - I doubt there are any finer examples of this art form anywhere in London. On my visit I met a recently retired nurse who told me about a tradition peculiar to Guy’s. Every Christmas morning at around 3am the doctors and nurses gather at the statue of Thomas Guy in the quadrangle with lighted candles, and then proceed around the hospital wards singing carols before returning to the chapel – it must be a magical thing to watch but I wonder what the befuddled patients make of it all! Apparently they’ve been carrying out this tradition for nearly 300 years…
For anyone considering visiting the site I should also mention that the Old Operating Theatre Museum is just a little way up the street – I arrived too early in the morning to go inside but I’ll be returning soon so expect an entry on the Londoneer about it in the near future. Other photographs of my visit to Guy’s Hospital can be found here.