Collecting Nursing History 39
Mary Richard - Mildmay Mission Hospital

Sarah Rogers.

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Mary Richard
Mildmay Mission Hospital, Shoreditch.



Nusing badge - Mildmay Mission Hospital

Mildmay Mission Hospital Badge awarded to Mary Richard 1931-1934.*


I was intrigued by this little badge, as the Mildmay Mission Hospital, was part of the London Hospital group during part of my training. When we started PTS in October 1981, about four nurses attached to our set were known as the 'Mildmay Nurses'; and they spent some of their training at this little hospital. Later on in 1986, I was based as a District Staff Nurse, in an office within the Mission Hospital.

Mildmay Hospital has an interesting history. During a cholera epidemic of 1866, the Rev. William Pennefather (1816 -1873), vicar of a church in Mildmay Park, decided to help the East End sick. In a bid to improve the living conditions of the poor, he recruited a team of christian women, who became known as Deaconesses, and whose  training as missionaries had included biblical tuition, sewing, cookery, housekeeping, singing and book keeping in preparation to work in a Mildmay Mission or abroad.(1)  Pennefather's missionary projects included; a Men's Night School, Sewing classes for widows', a Flower Mission, Lads' Institute, a Servants' training home and a Missionary Training Home, he took some inspiration from a Lutheran 'Order of Deaconesses' in Germany.

'Florence Nightingale had the greatest respect for both groups, hailing 'Every attempt to train in practical activity all female missionaries'... Her interest was no doubt particularly stimulated by the fact that, some of them [in other Mildmay Institutions]  specialised in nursing  and so were among some of the first trainee nurses in the country' (2)

Initially a small hospital, the first mission hospital in London was opened in 1877 in an old warehouse in Turville Square, Shoreditch with 27 beds, and the Deaconesses commenced nurse training. Turville Square was in an area of slums and London County Council decided to commence the first slum clearance programme, so a further site was found and in 1892, the Mildmay Mission Hospital. A charitable organisation, it opened in Hackney Road as a memorial to Rev. Pennefather and to serve the local population. The hospital now had 50 beds, with three wards; male, female and children's and in1948 it joined the NHS, but government cutbacks which singled out small district general hospitals as 'uneconomical', forced its closure in 1982. In 1985, the hospital was reopened as a charitable nursing home, with a GP surgery attached and caring for young chronically sick patients; In 1988, it became Europe's first hospice caring for people and their families with AIDS, with a worldwide reputation. The purpose of the Mildmay Mission Hospital had come full circle. In 2013 a new, bigger purpose built hospice was opened, which still maintains outreach work across the world.(3)

Mary Richards entered training at the Mildmay Mission Hospital in April 1931 and left after completing her training and receiving her certificate in May 1934. Mary was from Brixworth, Northants and aged 22 years when she started her training; she had previously learnt dressmaking, housewifery, and cookery, all skills previously required by women who became Mildmay Deaconesses prior to Nurse training becoming an option. Mary had worked in a Girls Village home for nearly two years, and her religious faith was described as C of E.(4) Many applicants to train as nurses at Mildmay were also Church Missionary Society candidates. Her report describes her as 'A kind, reliable capable nurse.' (4)

Mary returned in 1938-9 working for six  months as a Nursing Sister, for the last eight days she was in charge of the male ward, Mathieson.(4)

* The Mildmay Hospital records lack the detail of others , such as Fathers name and occupation, there are several Mary Richards born in the quarter she was born in, so it is very difficult to research her further; the GNC indexes record her names as Richards rather than Richard as on her badge; therefore adding more name variations to make the search more complex to trace her. Electoral roll registers for London show a Margaret Richard living in and around Tower Hamlets for many years after 1939; this may of course not be her…


1. D.Taylor-Thompson, 'Mildmay- The Birth and rebirth of a unique Hospital'. London, 1992.

2. D.Taylor-Thompson, 'Mildmay',   pg 8.

3. ,accessed 30/12/2013.

4. The Royal London Hospital Archives, MM/N/1/2 , Mildmay Mission Hospital, volume 2.


With many thanks to all those who provide encouragement and support, in particular to my husband Harry and Will for his seemingly boundless and energy time in getting these articles up on Schools of Nursing.

© Sarah Rogers 31/12/13. 


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