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Bloomsbury Institutions


London Infirmary for Diseases of the Legs, Ulcers and Varicose Veins

Also known as London Dispensary for Diseases and Ulcerations of the Legs/London Infirmary for Diseases of the Legs


It was founded in 1857 by Thomas Westlake as the London Dispensary for Diseases and Ulcerations of the Legs

Westlake was a surgeon who wrote on ulcers of the leg and campaigned for better treatment of them (The Lancet, vol. II, no. 3, September 1856)

Walford says it was founded under the auspices of Florence Nightingale, but this seems to have been an erroneous, if commonly-held, belief (Edward Walford, Old and New London, vol. 4, 1878)

Florence Nightingale was, however, among those who endorsed its work (The Times, 3 June 1867)

In 1858 she had written to her father about Westlake and his hospital, explaining its importance (and clearly finding Westlake’s persistence in a neglected area of medicine congenial):

“Do you remember introducing to me a Mr Westlake of Romsey, who wished to establish a dispensary for ulcerated legs in Bloomsbury? Out of a provincial tenderness for him, and knowing that half the suffering of workmen is from that disease, which is nevertheless never received into London hospitals, I broke through my usual rule of never being patroness where I cannot give personal assistance, and became his president...His method of treatment is thought very much of by medical men who know but will not take the trouble to attend such tedious cases”
(Florence Nightingale to W. E. Nightingale, 23 September 1858; Wellcome MS 8997/73)

Its location in Red Lion Square had nothing to do with proximity to St Paul’s Hospital for Skin and Genito-Urinary Diseases, as suggested in the Camden History Review (F. Peter Woodford, ‘Provident and Non-Provident Dispensaries in Camden,’ Camden History Review, vol. 25, 2001), as this Hospital was not itself established in the Square until 1898

It seems to have been battling disapproval from the medical establishment from an early stage; in 1863, the BMJ published this note:

“A correspondent inquires if we can give him any information respecting the “noble charity” at No. 1, Red Lion Square, referred to in the Holborn Journal in the following terms:–

‘Last week, a correspondent drew the attention of our readers to one of those noble charities with which our neighbourhood abounds; viz., the Infirmary for Diseases of the Leg, Red Lion Square. Though not strictly a local charity, our district nevertheless greatly benefits by its presence amongst us. Up to the year 1857, there was no institution established for the special treatment of a malady which so frequently afflicts the working classes, as that of disease of the leg. It was in that year that Mr Thomas Westlake, the eminent surgeon, opened the hospital in our district; and, up to the present time, the expense of maintaining this establishment, including the payment of rent, has been mainly borne by the founder. The committee of the institution have considered it unjust that Mr Westlake should continue to bear the burden any loner, and have made an appeal to the public to take a share of it upon their own shoulders. To this, we have no doubt there will be an adequate response. An institution whose beneficial results have been so appreciated, that there have been four hundred applicants weekly, and one thousand cures of an almost incurable disease effected, will, we are persuaded, not be permitted to fail for want of funds’
[We were unaware of the existence of this noble charity. We find, on reference to the Directory, that 1, Red Lion Square, is the address of T. H. Westlake, Esq. We suppose, therefore, that there must be some mistake on the subject. EDITOR.]
(BMJ, 24 January 1863)

It subsequently became a victim of its own success, like so many specialist hospitals

In 1866 it treated more than 22,000 patients, and in 1869 more than 25,000, and its funds were increasingly insufficient to support this work (The Times, 3 June 1867; 18 June 1870)

Its in-patient facility had to be closed for lack of funds by 1867, and was still closed in 1870; it may never have reopened (The Times, 3 June 1867; 26 March 1870)

It seems to have closed permanently some time after 1873; leg ulcers and varicose veins subsequently became once again a neglected area of medicine until another determined effort to improve it by Robert Rowden Foote (d. 1969) in the mid twentieth century

What was reforming about it?

It was the only hospital of its kind in the country (The Times, 3 June 1867)

Where in Bloomsbury

It was founded in a house somewhere in Bloomsbury, later moving to Red Lion Square under the new name of the London Infirmary for Diseases of the Legs, Ulcers and Varicose Veins

It was at 1 Red Lion Square by the 1860s and was still there in 1873, when it was appealing for funds in The Times (The Times, 1 January 1873)

It was still listed at 1 Red Lion Square in the Royal Blue Book of 1879 and Dickens’s Dictionary of London of the same year, but not listed at all in his revised edition of 1888

Website of current institution

It no longer exists

Books about it

It seems to have been ignored by medical historians


None found

This page last modified 13 April, 2011 by Deborah Colville


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