This blogpost introduces a project in the Archives and Special Collections to uncover the origins and history of the charitable funding model of St George’s prior to the establishment of the NHS in 1948. The project is on-going, and much of the research into the backgrounds of these donors and funders has been undertaken by Arianna Koffler-Sluijter, and research is currently conducted by Patrick Worsfold. This blogpost was written by Archivist Juulia Ahvensalmi.
St George’s history reaches back to the 18th century: St George’s Hospital was founded in 1733 at Hyde Park Corner, and although the medical school (now university) was not formally founded until 1834, its history is closely linked with that of the hospital from the early days: the physicians and surgeons took pupils from the very beginning, and the student registers go back to 1752. Although the hospital and the university are now separate entities, their history is closely intertwined, from shared premises (then, as now) to staff working across both and students learning not only through lectures but also through practice at the hospital.
Prior to the establishment of the NHS in 1948, the hospital was funded by charitable donations and subscriptions. SGUL Archives and Special Collections hold various lists of these early donors to St George’s. There are thousands of names; some only donated a small amount of money once, others larger amounts, sometimes spread over a long period, with investments contributing to the income of St George’s.
The annual subscription model provided a means for people to support the hospital, and regular appeals for local subscribers were staged. Those donating above a certain threshold were named governors, allowing them to recommend specific in-patients to the hospital. An endowment of £1,000 in 1895, for instance, provided a bed, and entitled the donor to have an inscribed plate placed over the donated bed. Legacies, as a report in 1895 notes, ‘enabled the Governors to meet all the expenses of the year … without any expenditure of capital’. Various funds provided funds for specified purposes, such as the Samaritan Fund (formerly known as the Convalescent Fund) for instance provided funds for those discharged from the hospital but unable to immediately resume work, or assisted in purchasing clothing, equipment or travel home for convalescing patients.
The project aims to record the names of those listed as donors and subscribers, and add them to the Archives’ online catalogue, where they are searchable. The catalogue currently contains 532 names, and more are added regularly as we continue our research. The lists are digitised and, with the aid of OCR (optical character recognition), the names transferred to spreadsheets and standardised, enabling the results of the research to eventually be imported to the catalogue.
Although for many we only have a name (a Miss Jones or a Mr Smith are impossible to trace any further), many of the donors were very wealthy and well-known at the time, often from aristocratic backgrounds, and we can find out a lot about their backgrounds. An additional layer of difficulty in identifying names is that those with titles are usually listed only by the titles – Lord Brassey, Marquis of Aylesbury, Dowager Marchioness of Lansdowne and so on: this can sometimes make it difficult to distinguish a son from a father for instance. While men are often referred to by their first name or at least initials, women are frequently not afforded those, making a Miss Lambert or a Mrs Smith very difficult to trace.
Slavery and colonialism
The lists in the archives record donations from 1733 up to the turn of the 20th century and beyond. In some cases, the wealth of the donors was based on proceeds from slavery, either directly or through family connections. There were also many connected with or employed by or within the empire, including in companies such as East India Company , South Sea Company, Royal Niger Company and Mississippi Company, companies that were involved in or, as in the case of South Sea Company, were explicitly founded as slave trading companies.
Slavery was formally abolished in the British Empire in 1807, with the Slave Trade Act (An Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade) making slave trade (but not slavery) illegal. In practice, however, many continued to profit from slavery even after 1833, when slavery itself was made illegal in British colonies. The very beginnings of St George’s were tied to these companies: in 1734, the year after the hospital was first established, the governors invested the capital accumulated thus far from subscriptions and donations in East India Company; any further surplus money was to be invested in either South Sea Company or East India Company bonds.
The catalogue shows those donors or subscribers who have been found to have direct links to slavery, based on the information recorded in the UCL Legacies of British Slavery database, which is based on the records of the Slave Compensation Commission, established to compensate slave owners for freed enslaved people. The British government borrowed £20 million for these compensations, amounting to 40% of the Treasury’s annual income, a debt that was not paid off until 2015. For many later donors, their family wealth was derived from slavery, and many continued to profit from companies that were or had been directly connected with slavery.
Subscribers and donors
Bathshua Beckford (1673-1750) was born in Jamaica, the daughter of Colonel Julines Herring, a prominent plantation and slaveowner. She went on to marry Peter Beckford Junior, son of the lieutenant-governor of Jamaica, and a slaveowner. Bathshua and Peter had 13 children; one of them, William Beckford, became Lord Mayor of London, as well as one of the wealthiest sugar plantation owners in Jamaica, with approximately 3,000 enslaved people. Three of their sons became Members of Parliament, and their grandson Thomas Howard eventually became the governor of Jamaica.
Bathshua moved to England following her husband’s death in 1735. The Legacies of British Slave-ownership database (UCL) shows the details of his will: on his death, he owned nine sugar plantations as well as being the partial owner of seven others, and the owner of property both in Jamaica and in England. He was the sole owner of 1,737 enslaved people, and half-owner of 577 others. Bathshua herself died in 1750. Her will granted her ‘Negro servant Susan and her son their respective freedom’, and for Susan to be paid £8 ‘for life’. To St George’s she left £100, the equivalent of about £15,000-20,000 – or the worth of 21 cows, or a 1,000 days’ worth of skilled tradesman’s time.
Edmund Antrobus (1792-1870) was a ‘life’ subscriber to St George’s in 1845, meaning he donated more than £50. His son Hugh Lindsay Antrobus (1823-1899) was likewise a subscriber in 1858. They were both bankers at Coutts (now Coutts & Co., private bank and wealth manager), and the Antrobus estate in Wiltshire included the site of Stonehenge. Edmund Antrobus was compensated for his ownership of hundreds of enslaved people in Guyana and Jamaica by the British Government under the Slave Compensation Act 1837. Angela Burdett-Coutts (1814-1906), collector and philanthropist, and inheritor of much of the banking fortune of the Coutts family, was also a subscriber to St George’s in 1837.
Frederick Ellis’ (1830-1899) donated £5.5 in 1883. His family wealth was derived from slavery, and the ownership of sugar plantations in Jamaica. Although the family had been forced to ‘emancipate’ the enslaved people working on the plantations in 1832, many had no option but to continue working, albeit on very low wages, which were even further reduced in an attempt by Ellis’ father to improve the profits. Ellis himself assisted in overseeing the plantations later, including installing new machinery to boost production, though unsuccessfully. In 1893, his divorce was the ‘cause celebre of the year’, with accusations of ‘undue intimacy’ outside the marriage, cruelty and physical abuse, threats and accusations of ‘filthy and hoggish habits’.
Roger Palmer (1832-1910) was a ‘life’ governor in 1870, donating more than £50 to St George’s. He was a senior officer in the British Army, and fought in the Crimean War in the 1850s. He was also a landowner and a Conservative MP for Mayo in Ireland. During the Irish Famine in 1848, it was reported that his family’s
‘crowbar invincibles’, pulled down several houses, and drove forth the unfortunate inmates to sleep in the adjoining fields. On Thursday we witnessed the wretched creatures endeavouring to root out the timber of the houses, with the intention of constructing some sort of sheds to screen their children from the heavy rain falling at the time. The pitiless pelting storm has continued ever since, and if they have survived its severity, they must be more than human beings’
Although Palmer’s Wikipedia entry refers to the evictions as having occurred under Palmer himself, he was only 16 at the time the article was written, so the reference is more likely to be to his father.
The project aims to not only uncover links to slavery, but to get a more comprehensive view of the origins of St George’s and the funders who contributed to it. The list of the donors forms a colourful picture of the society, with many well-known names among those who gave money to support St George’s.
Many of the donors were prominent politicians, for instance, such as Leopold Agar-Ellis, a Liberal politician, Percy Wyndham, a Conservative politician and a spiritualist, and Thomas de Grey, Conservative politician and entomologist who donated his butterfly collection to the Natural History Museum. Robert Walpole(1676-1745), who was a Whig politician and is regarded as the de facto first British prime minister, was an early supporter; he also owned shares in the South Sea Company. Arianna Koffler-Sluijter examined the life of Frederick James Halliday (1806-1901), Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal through East India Company, in an earlier blogpost.
Others were merchants, bankers, aristocrats and cultural dignitaries. John Bligh was an amateur cricketer and Jacques Blumenthal was a composer and pianist to Queen Victoria. Charles Booth was an industrialist, social reformer and philanthropist, whose poverty maps starkly illustrated the levels of poverty in 19th century London. Edward Guinness, a philanthropist and the richest man in Ireland due to his family’s brewing business, was a subscriber in 1884. Halford Halford-Adcock was a prison chaplain. Eleanor Louisa Hawkes was a socialite known for her lavish parties, while Emily Danvers Smith was married to William Henry Smith, whose chain of newsagents W.H. Smith still continues strong. Helen Farquhar was one of the founders of the British Numismatic Society, with a particular interest in coins believed to ward off and cure disease. Margaret Jackson, a subscriber in 1880, was a mountain climber, described as ‘one of the greatest women climbers of her time’.
Donations were also made by companies, not only individuals. These include the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway Company, the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers, the Natural History Museum, Army and Navy Club, Harvey Nichols & Co and Lloyds’ Bank (who have apologised for their role in the slave trade).
Anne Crayle (?-1768) left £1,000 to St George’s in her will, stating that the money was used ‘for the use and benefit of such persons who shall be admitted as patients therein’ and to build wards and other accommodation for patients, in particular the ‘incurable sick’. She lived in the parish of St George’s Hanover Square, where St George’s Hospital was located at the time at Hyde Park Corner.
SGUL Archives holds a painting of Crayle, in which she is depicted as a young woman holding a yellow rose in her hands. There is a note in the archives stating that the portrait had been donated by her cousin’s son, Sir Richard Heron, and the hospital board is recorded to have placed it in a ‘new neat gilt frame’ in 1814 (the note adds that the portrait is said to have been cut in half to remove Anne’s sister from the picture).
The money left to St George’s was invested in ‘various stocks’, and in 1812 in ‘Navy five per cents’, and South Sea annuities, yielding an income of £53,520 that year for St George’s – worth millions of pounds today. St George’s was therefore still profiting from slavery, through the investment in South Sea stock, several years after slavery had been made illegal. Anne’s own wealth was also invested in the South Sea Company.
She died unmarried in 1768, leaving most of her possessions to her nephew (who changed his name from Crayle Bellamy to Crayle Crayle), including a country estate in Gloucestershire and her jewellery: the last-mentioned included a ‘brilliant necklace of 38 collets’ and ‘the picture of the late king of frame set with 18 diamonds’. She had stipulated that on the death of her nephew, the remaining estate should be transferred to St George’s.
Anne was clearly very wealthy, and her mother Sarah also directed money in her will towards benefiting the poor people of Acton. Records held in the archives shed more light on the family background: many of the Crayle family appear to have been watchmakers and goldsmiths, but the family also had other sources of wealth. In her will Anne also bequeathed a considerable sum to the sons of her cousin Robert Heron: Reverend Robert Heron of Grantham in Leicester, Sir Richard Heron and Thomas Heron of Chilham Castle in Kent, whose son Robert was compensated by the government for his shared ownership of 1,004 enslaved people in Grenada.
Want to learn more about the project and our collections? We would love to hear from you! Get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter (@CollectionsSGUL) or Instagram (@CollectionsSGUL).