A history of King's

There have been many changes at King's over the past century but our roots still lie firmly in the heart of our community. Here we trace our journey as medical pioneers from the 19th to 21st century. We also tell the stories of some of the people who’ve given their names to our wards and buildings. A shorter read is also available in our key moments.


Established in 1840, the original hospital – a former workhouse – was based on Portugal Street, Holborn, close to Lincoln’s Inn Fields. It was first used as a training facility for students at King's College London, but quickly developed into a major hospital for the area. Over the next 60 years, it became respected for both its medicine and teaching, and remains so to this day.

Move to Camberwell

King’s moved to its Camberwell site in 1913. The land we now stand on was donated to the hospital in 1903 by the Hon William Frederick Danvers Smith (later Lord Hambleden), a member of the WH Smith family.

Laying the Foundation Stone

Our first buildings here were funded by an anonymous donation of £50,000. On 26 July 1913, King George V and Queen Mary officially opened the new 300-bed King's College Hospital.

The next time you come into the Hambleden Wing, glance to your right as you walk up the steps outside and you will see the foundation stone that was unveiled on the day.

World War One

Following the outbreak of WWI, a large part of the hospital was requisitioned by the War Office for use as a military hospital. At that time we were known as the Fourth London General Hospital with only four wards and the Casualty Department available for civilian patients.

As the war went on, we handled so many casualties from France that the hospital was extended into nearby Ruskin Park. Huts and tents were erected and a wooden bridge built across the railway line to provide access.

By 1917 we had 369 beds for officers and 169 for enlisted men, with 60 of them reserved for casualties receiving Carrel-Dakin treatment – periodic flooding of infected wounds with an antiseptic solution.

Between the wars

During the 1920s we set up three new departments: diabetes, neurology and antenatal care. This was followed, in 1923, by the opening of the Dental School. But like many other voluntary hospitals of the time, our finances were stretched and we had to close several wards in 1931 to save money.

World War Two

During WWII we became a casualty clearing station for air raid victims. Once treated patients were evacuated to Epsom or Leatherhead.

The operating theatres were transferred to the basement of the hospital, as were patients in the upper wards during bombing raids. Luckily, King's survived virtually unscathed: apart from a few incendiaries landing around the site, the hospital sustained only minor damage from one small bomb, which hit the casualty entrance.

King's in the NHS

We joined the NHS in 1948 as a teaching hospital group managed by a Board of Governors. The King's College Hospital Group included the Royal Eye Hospital, the Belgrave Hospital for Children, the Belgrave Recovery Home and the Baldwin Brown Recovery Home.

In 1966, the Camberwell hospitals – St Giles’ Hospital, the Dulwich Hospital and St Francis Hospital – were added to the group. We consolidated all the Camberwell hospitals on the Denmark Hill site.

We completed a new Dental School building in 1965 and, in 1968, a new maternity block – currently the Ruskin Wing.

In 1972, King’s built a new School of Nursing, opening in 1974 as the Normanby College of Nursing, Midwifery and Physiotherapy. Following the 1974 reorganisation of the NHS, we became part of the King's Health District (Teaching). The Board of Governors was disbanded and replaced by a District Management Team.

After a further NHS reorganisation, in 1982 the King's Health District (Teaching) became the Camberwell District Health Authority. In 1983, the Medical School was reunited with King's College London to form the King's College School of Medicine and Dentistry.

In 1993, the newly formed King's Healthcare Trust took over management of the hospital, and in 1994 we opened the Caldecot Centre for sexual health. The Weston Education Centre opened in 1997, to house the medical school, library and lecture theatres, and a new Accident and Emergency Department opened in the same year.

The 21st century

Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the Golden Jubilee Wing in 2003. Built on the site of the old outpatients department, it contains outpatient clinics, maternity services and support services such as physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and speech and language therapy.

King's Health Partners (KHP) was created in 2009. This comprises South London & Maudsley and Guy's & St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trusts, King's College London University and us. As an Academic Health Sciences Centre, the new organisation is bridging the gap between research and patient care, both physical and mental. By working more closely together, we are able to speed up the delivery of pioneering treatments to patients.

In May 2010, the Princess Royal opened the Cicely Saunders Institute for Palliative care, while the new Assisted Conception Unit opened its doors to patients in 2012.

In October, 2013, the Trust acquired the Princess Royal University Hospital in Farnborough. This followed the dissolution of South London Healthcare NHS Trust (SLHT), which previously ran the hospital. We also took over responsibility for Orpington Hospital.

The future

We have recently received planning permission to build a helipad at our Denmark Hill site to enable us to offer specialist emergency care much faster. As a regional hub for major trauma and surgical services, the extra time this development will give us has the potential to save lives.


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