Our History

Mildmay’s origins stretch right back to the mid-1860s and the work carried out by The Reverend William Pennefather, a vicar at St Judes, and his wife Catherine.

St Judes, which was located in Mildmay Park, Islington, was a lively Victorian church of over 1,000 people. William developed a number of projects known collectively as Mildmay Institutions, providing spiritual guidance and care for the sick.

In 1866 there was a cholera outbreak in East London. Two of the Mildmay deaconesses, trained by Catherine, volunteered to go into some of the East End's worst slums in the Old Nichol*, where even the police feared to enter, to care for the sick and their dependents.

This response to the Cholera outbreak, by reaching out to those in great need, formed Mildmay’s first nursing service

The Revd William Pennefather

Catherine Pennefather

*The Old Nichol was situated between High Street, Shoreditch, and Bethnal Green. It consisted of 20 narrow streets containing 730 dilapidated terraced houses which were inhabited by some 6,000 people. The London County Council decided to clear the Old Nichol slums in the 1890s, and the first council housing development in Britain, called the Boundary Estate, was built in its place shortly before 1900.

**Before 1874, the Mildmay Mission operated from a warehouse in Cabbage Court in the Old Nichol (Little Bacon St), south of Bethnal Green Rd.

Slum houses in the Old Nichol

Arnold Circus, Boundary Estate

Etching on front cover of pamphlet about the history of the Mildmay written on its centenary in 1966

The work of the deaconesses developed and expanded and within a few years the first Mildmay Mission Hospital was established in a disused warehouse in Cabbage Court**, near to Shoreditch Church. It consisted of twenty-seven beds in three wards, one doctor, three nurses and five deaconesses in training. 

In 1892 the first purpose-built Mildmay Mission Hospital was opened.

In 1948, the hospital became part of the National Health Service.

By 1982, as a hospital with less than 200 beds, Mildmay was regarded as uneconomic and was closed, along with many other 'cottage hospitals'.

Mildmay’s Trustee Board, under the Chair, Helen Taylor Thompson, and with many loyal supporters, began the fight for Mildmay's survival.

After many setbacks, approval was given by Government and the NHS for Mildmay to reopen in 1988 as Europe’s first hospice caring for people with AIDS related illnesses.

Diana, Princess of Wales, made many visits, both officially and unofficially, and famously shook hands with a patient at the height of fear around the condition, helping to break down some of the stigma surrounding HIV.

As medication evolved and needs changed, Mildmay quickly changed its focus from end-of-life care to specialised assessment and rehabilitation.

Today Mildmay is at the forefront of specialist HIV service delivery and care, continuing to adapt and respond to meet new, often complex and rapidly changing needs.

Helen Taylor Thompson introduces Diana, Princess of Wales to Mildmay staff

Some historical photographs from our archive

Waiting at Outpatients


Kitchen staff

The Mildmay Mission Hospital clinical staff

Outpatients treatment room

A traditional open ward

Princess Diana spends time with an HIV Patient (Diana visited Mildmay 17 times during the 1980s and 90s)

The old, out-of-date Mildmay Hospital, demolished to make way for our new state-of-the-art building, formally opened by Prince Harry in 2015

The new Mildmay Hospital, main entrance

A recent addition to the archive

We were kindly sent this photograph of Mildmay taken during the Second World War (there isn't any tape in the windows so it's possible it was just after), to add to our archive.

The Nissen huts in the foreground were, we believe, used as additional ward space. Do please let us know if you know different.

Do you or someone you know, have a story about Mildmay (from any era) that you would like to share?

"I was admitted to the Mildmay when I was 6 years old in 1946. Had a pain in my leg due to a fall. The doctors there realised I had Osteomyelitis, which was very rare then.

If it was not for Mildmay, I would not be here at nearly 80 years old and still enjoying life.

Thank you all."

- Renee P

Mildmay has been caring for people since the 1860s and in that time thousands of people have passed through its doors. Each one of them had their own unique experience of the hospital and its dedicated staff.

We are assembling a collection of patient and former staff stories and memories to share online and to add to our archive. If you would like to share your story...

The Bert Miller Photographic Archive

During some building work, Bert Miller saw some photo transparencies lying in a skip. He retrieved them and took them home. On inspection he found that they were photographs of the Mildmay and Mildmay staff dating back to the early 1960's.

In total, Bert was at Mildmay for 30 years; employed for 7 and a volunteer for 23.

Mildmay New Hospital June 2014 Image thanks to Kois Miah/East End Life.

Mildmay is Europe’s only centre dedicated to the rehabilitation of people living with HIV-Associated Neurocognitive Disorders (HAND).

Mildmay’s new, purpose-built hospital opened in September 2014, within the footprint of Mildmay’s sprawling, old building.

Our two inpatient wards are named Catherine and William after our founders.

Prince Harry officially opened the new hospital In December 2015, and cut our anniversary cake to mark the opening of our 150th anniversary celebrations in 2016.

Prince Harry arrives to open our new hospital...

... and cuts the Mildmay 150th Anniversary Cake

Mildmay in Africa

In the 1990s, Mildmay was called to extend its expertise to some of the areas where HIV and AIDS were hitting hardest – firstly Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya then Zimbabwe and Rwanda and later into Eastern Europe.

Mildmay currently supports over 100,000 people living with HIV in East Africa. Our ground-breaking work in this region encompasses training and education as well as comprehensive health and HIV care.

Our work in Africa has expanded to address and treat other HIV-related conditions, including screening and treatment for: TB, STI’s and cervical cancer.

We work with some of the most vulnerable and hard to reach adults and children, enabling them to grow and realise their potential. We continue to mobilise communities, developing local partnerships and helping to build in-country capacity that is sustainable.

Some of our international work has been scaled back as funded projects come to an end. 

In many respects this marks the successful conclusion of programmes, as Mildmay will hand over a legacy of work to government or to local organisations.

Registered Charity no: 292058

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