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Last Updated:  Monday, 7 April, 2003, 17:02 GMT 18:02 UK
Hospital staff 'branded spies'
Jane Elliott
BBC News Online health staff

The German Hospital. Photo Credit: Barts Hospital
Patients waiting for treatment
The entire staff of one London hospital were once branded a "nest of spies."

Less than 30 years later they were forcibly moved to an internment camp on the Isle of Man.

For the staff were members of The German Hospital, in Dalston, Hackney.

The interesting, but little known hospital was set up in 1845 to care for "all poor Germans and others speaking the German language."

At that time there were thought to be over 30,000 Germans living in the UK and because the hospital was founded for them all the medical staff and servants were German.

The hospital also cared for the local English-speaking population - but only in the case of emergencies.


The female protestant nurses, from the Kaiserswerth Institute near Wessendorf, were called "Deaconesses" and provided patients with spiritual as well as medical care.

It was their example which prompted Florence Nightingale to visit the hospital on two occasions and then to enrol for training at the Institute in Germany in 1851.

Thousands of people had left the German states to escape economic privation in their homeland.

Most ended up in the East End of London and many were employed in harsh or dangerous jobs, so often needed to use the services of the hospital.

During the first year alone over 10,000 sick people were treated at the German Hospital, so a bigger and better hospital had to be built.

Staff. Photo credit: Barts
The nurses were called Deaconesses
When it opened, the hospital had just 12 beds, but new hospital buildings, constructed according to the highest standards in hospital design, were added in 1864.

By this stage the hospital had four wards for the male patients; several rooms for the female patients and a sanatorium for patients "not belonging to the lower classes".

They proved to be invaluable in the epidemics which swept London in the 1860s and 1870s.

The hospital was strongly supported by the local community, and even the German Royal Family took a keen interest in its affairs.

However, during World War One the hospital fell out of favour after it was revealed that it was treating German prisoners of war. Rumours started to circulate that the hospital was a "nest of spies".

Before the outbreak of war there were 100,000 Germans living in England, but by 1916 this had fallen to just over 13,000 as many had been interned or forcibly repatriated.


The history and fortunes of the hospital closely reflects that of London's German community
Spokeswoman for Hackney Museum
Generous donations helped revive the hospital, but it was brought to a halt by the start of World War Two when the staff like all most other UK Germans were moved to an internment camp over fears they could be potential spies.

The staff never returned and following the war there were few Germans still living in East London, so in 1947 the hospital became part of the NHS.

At first it was used as a general hospital, but from 1974 it was used as a psychiatric hospital, before finally closing in 1987.

Now it has been converted into private flats.

A display tracing the history of The German Hospital is on show until April 29 at the Hackney Museum, in Hackney, London.

A spokeswoman for the museum said the hospital showed the historical importance of London's German community.

"This display about the German Hospital highlights the size and importance of the German speaking community in London in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

"The history and fortunes of the hospital closely reflects that of London's German community."


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