After having spent a year at the Hunterian School of Medicine, John Snow continued his education by studying clinical subjects during 1837 and 1838 at the Westminster Hospital. He was 24 years old when he started this phase of his medical studies.
History from Infirmary to Hospital
The Westminster Hospital has a long and famous history. It was started in 1719 as an infirmary for sick poor people and had about 18 beds. A few years later in 1721, it was replaced by a second infirmary, but this time with 31 beds. Subsequently, this too was replaced with a third infirmary, which lasted from 1735 to 1834. Along the way, the infirmary in 1760 was renamed Westminster Hospital and grew to 98 beds.
In 1827 a new surgeon named George James Guthrie (to the left) came to Westminster Hospital. He had been the foremost military surgeon of his day and was a man of strong opinions. Two factions quickly developed in the hospital, with one siding with Guthrie and the other with his opponents. An argument during Guthrie's first year at the hospital included insulting remarks, which lead to a duel between Guthrie's pupil, Hale Thompson and a member of the opposing group. The two men fired three shots at each other but no hits were scored. Someone suggested as surgeons that perhaps they would have been more deadly with scalpels rather than with pistols. Subsequently, Hale Thompson was cited in The Lancet as "bullet-proof Thompson." John Snow at the time was only 14 years old, but likely heard of the duel.
The New Building of 1834
After Guthrie was at Westminster for a few years, a building fund was started with plans to create a new hospital.
The site was identified on Broad Sanctuary across the street from the Westminster Abbey and a block or two East of the Houses of Parliament and the Thames river (to the left). The building was completed in November, 1834. A blowup map of London published in 1869 shows the exact location.
Including the site and new building, the hospital cost 40,000 pounds ($8.5 million in 1999 US dollars). At the time, it was considered to be state-of-the art, with each ward having its own water closet (the British term for a bathroom). The new building (shown below) was there to greet John Snow in 1837 when he started his clinical training at age 24. It remained in use as a hospital until 1939, or 81 years after Snow's death.
When the new Westminster Hospital opened in 1834, Guthrie proposed that a school of medicine be started in connection with the hospital. This was violently opposed by his colleagues, but fortunately no one suggested another duel. Soon thereafter the private Westminster School of Medicine was started, and in 1841 was incorporated as an official medical school attached to the hospital.
By 1841, John Snow had already completed his two years of clinical training (1837-38) and passed his licensing exams to administer and sell therapeutic drugs and practice medicine. Thus he never attended the Westminster School of Medicine. Nevertheless, he was viewed by many as a "Westminster man" and latter praised for having put anesthesia on a sound scientific basis and for his studies of the epidemiology of cholera.
Pulled Down in 1950
The building remained near Westminster Abbey for 116 years before it was destroyed in 1950. Now at the historical location sits the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Center.
Jones E, Sinclair DJ. Atlas of London and the London Region, 1968.
Humble JG. British Medical Journal 1, 156-162, 1966.
Humble JG, Hansell P. Westminster Hospital 1716-1974, 1974.
Watson I. Westminster and Pimlico Past, 1993.
Westminister & Victoria, 1869. Old Ordinance Survey Maps.