'Nobody is healthy in London, nobody can be'
In 1828 William Marsden, a London surgeon, opened the first free general hospital in London. Marsden’s hospital – which became the Royal Free – was free in the sense that the sick poor could obtain treatment without having to pay or provide a letter of recommendation. Marsden extended this principle when he opened a Cancer Hospital in Westminster in 1851, which moved to the Fulham Road in 1862.
Many physicians opposed the idea of specialist hospitals, fearing it would diminish their status as experts on all aspects of disease. And Marsden courted further controversy by employing Dr Robert Knox, an Edinburgh anatomist who thirty years earlier had been associated with the Edinburgh body-snatchers Burke and Hare.
But the Cancer Hospital thrived, and in 1939 it established a new research institute to the west of the existing hospital. This building had been erected in 1871 as the Chelsea Hospital for Women, providing obstetric and gynaecological treatment to poor local women, and in the early twentieth century was home to the Freemasons’ Hospital. The Cancer Hospital became the Royal Marsden Hospital in 1954, and is now a leading centre for cancer care in Britain.