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Bloomsbury Institutions


Metropolitan Provident Medical Association

Also known as Bloomsbury Provident Dispensary (branch)/Metropolitan Medical Association


It was founded in 1881 to help prevent abuse of the hospital system and “to extend self-supporting and self-governing provident dispensaries throughout the metropolis” (The Times, 16 April 1881; 27 April 1882)

The Indian civil servant Sir Charles Trevelyan was prominent among its founders; after his death in 1886, both C. S. Loch and William Bousfield wrote to The Times to draw attention to his involvement with, and commitment to, the Association (The Times, 26 July 1886; 31 July 1886)

Each branch dispensary was funded by subscriptions from its members, and staffed by locally resident medical practitioners who were paid a fixed percentage of its income (The Times, 27 April 1882)

By 1885 it had established 11 branches, of which 4 were already financially independent; by 1891 there were 16, by 1894 18, and by 1901 21 (The Times, 6 July 1885; 5 June 1891; 16 May 1894; 13 June 1901)

The members paid 6d a month if a single man, 10d per month if a married couple, and 2d a month for up to three children under 14; the remaining children were not charged for (The Times, 27 April 1882)

Members had the right to choose which practitioner they saw, and could also be treated in their own homes if need be; each dispensary also provided medicines, had a midwife and dentist, and sent out for trained nurses when necessary (The Times, 27 April 1882)

It was described in 1900 as being designed to help prevent abuse of the hospital system, and to provide medical treatment for those lower-middle-class working people who neither received free treatment nor had subscriptions to medical institutions (Burdett’s Hospitals and Charities, 1900)

Its Organising Secretary in 1881 was Mr Radley (The Times, 15 September 1881); by 1886 the Secretary was W. G. Bunn (The Times, 10 June 1886), and by 1897, the Secretary was Charles H. Warren, who remained in post until at least 1912 (The Times, 30 September 1912)

It was assisted in its establishment by the Hospital Saturday Fund (The Times, 9 June 1887), whose members had originally organised a meeting with the Charity Organisation Society and medical professionals to discuss the formation of a ‘Metropolitan Medical Association’ in June 1879 (The Times, 13 June 1879)

The Association was working very closely with the Hospital Saturday Fund by 1894 (The Times, 16 May 1894)

In 1896 it began another innovative experimental collaboration with the Hospital Saturday Fund, providing through its network of doctors the necessary certification for the hundreds of Fund applicants requesting letters to chest hospitals (Charles H. Warren, ‘The Just Claims of the Provident Dispensary System and the Need for its Wide Extension in the Interests of the Medical Profession’ (paper read at a special meeting of the Charity Organization Society, 4 January 1897), 1899)

The Treasurer of the Hospital Saturday Fund at that time, H. Hamilton Hoare, later became the Association’s Hon. Treasurer (The Times, 5 April 1902), while the Association’s former Secretary, W. G. Bunn, later became Secretary of the Hospital Saturday Fund (The Times, 28 June 1894)

Although at times controversial, it was supported by some hospitals and their administrators, including Charles Burt, Chairman of the Royal Free Hospital (The Times, 13 June 1901)

In 1902 it received a grant of £200 from the Hospital Saturday Fund, more than many hospitals

It became partly obsolete with the passing of the National Health Insurance Act of 1911, which effectively provided a nationalised system of fixed contributions by workers and their employers towards medical insurance

However, this system only operated for the benefit of workers, not their families, and the Committee of the Association wrote to The Times to urge continuing public support for its work on behalf of those (mainly women and young children) left uninsured (The Times, 1 July 1913)

It was still listed in Low’s Handbook to the Charities of London in 1913, but thereafter disappears from The Times and other sources; no. 5 Lamb’s Conduit Street was occupied by the Cassio Press by 1916

What was reforming about it?

It was founded on a new co-operative system of mutual assurance (The Times, 16 April 1881)

It took a holistic approach to the problematic issue of providing affordable medical care for Londoners, being designed from the start to cover the whole of the city with a target of 50 branches (although there were still only 21 in 1902: The Times, 5 April 1902)

It also worked to try to co-ordinate all the independent provident dispensaries in London, ensure that all followed a fair system of placing an upper limit on the wages of would-be subscribers, and calling for the general reform of medical practice in England (Charles H. Warren, ‘The Just Claims of the Provident Dispensary System and the Need for its Wide Extension in the Interests of the Medical Profession’ (paper read at a special meeting of the Charity Organization Society, 4 January 1897), 1899)

Where in Bloomsbury

Its first meeting was held in Marchmont Hall (The Times, 16 April 1881)

One of its first two branches, the Bloomsbury Provident Dispensary, opened in 1881 at 5 Lamb’s Conduit Street (The Times, 16 April 1881), where it remained until at least 1900 (Burdett’s Hospitals and Charities, 1900)

No. 5 Lamb’s Conduit Street later also became the headquarters and office of the Association from about 1902 until some time before 1916 (The Times, 16 May 1894; 5 April 1902; 5 April 1902); the Association had earlier been based at 24 Bedford Street, Covent Garden, south of Bloomsbury (The Times, 8 May 1882)

Website of current institution

It no longer exists

Books about it

Charles H. Warren, ‘The Just Claims of the Provident Dispensary System and the Need for its Wide Extension in the Interests of the Medical Profession’ (paper read at a special meeting of the Charity Organization Society, 4 January 1897) (1899)

O. Wunderlich, ‘The Work of the Metropolitan Provident Medical Association’, British Medical Journal, 6 March 1897 (which is mainly about the Tottenham branch of the Association)

See also Peter Woodford, ‘Provident and Non-Provident Dispensaries in Camden’, Camden History Review, vol. 25 (2001), which gives a general picture of the development of dispensaries without discussing the Metropolitan Provident Medical Association or Bloomsbury Provident Dispensary themselves


There are some papers relating to the Metropolitan Provident Medical Association in the Millicent Garrett Fawcett collection in Manchester City Archives, ref. M50/5/20; details are available online from the Manchester Library archive website (opens in new window)

Most of its records, however, seem to have disappeared without trace

This page last modified 14 April, 2011 by Deborah Colville


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