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Our History

A little about the RHN's history:

1854 Andrew Reed, one of the 19th century’s great philanthropists, sees a need ‘to give permanent relief to such persons as are hopelessly disqualified for the duties of life, by disease, accident or deformity.’ He subsequently establishes ‘The Hospital for Incurables’ in Carshalton, Surrey.
1857 Author Charles Dickens, who has been keenly following Reed’s project, helps raise funds for the Hospital. Other well known fundraisers include pianist Otto Goldschmidt, his wife Jenny Lind, a renowned soprano of the day, and actor Sir Squire Bancroft.
1858 Demand for the Hospital grows and it relocates to the larger premises of Putney House, Putney, London. The following year Reed and his Board of Management begin to search for much larger site, and it isn’t until 1863 that the Hospital finds its permanent home – Melrose Hall, on West Hill, Putney.

It has an impressive heritage: formerly part of Lord Spencer’s Estate at Wimbledon Park, parts of its gardens were landscaped by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. The property extends to 25 acres and has its own farm complete with livestock, orchard and market garden which supplies fresh produce for patients’ meals.
1861 Florence Nightingale agrees to advise on the design of the Hospital to best support the welfare of the people.
1862 The Hospital's founder, Andrew Reed, dies.
1868 A new wing is built to accommodate the ever increasing number of patients. It is the first of many sympathetic extensions, but none, perhaps, are as impressive as what becomes known as the ‘great extension’ of 1879. This forms the main northern facade seen from West Hill, and includes a bakery, dining room, kitchen and offices. Its foundation stone is laid by Edward, Prince of Wales.
1880 The Prince of Wales becomes the Hospital’s patron.
1885 A seaside retreat is established for patients, and later pensioners, in St Leonard’s-on-Sea. It is sold in 1901.
1898 Seven ladies are nominated to be ‘Authorised Lady Visitors’. Amongst other duties, their role is to visit four to six patients a week and help them with writing letters, reading, and playing cards.

The Ladies Association is also established in 1898. Amongst its distinguished members is Queen Victoria’s daughter, Princess Christian. The ladies collect money to help ‘unbefriended candidates’ (those who need the service but lack the funds to pay for it) gain admission to the Hospital.

Today, 150 volunteers from the local community support the Hospital, helping it raise the £2 million it needs each year to secure the extra staff and resources basic patient fees cannot finance. It is this money that helps people at the Hospital benefit from the very best technological, therapeutic and recreational services.
1901 King Edward VII and Princess Christian become patrons.
1903 Reverend Robert Henley is appointed as the Hospital’s first Chaplain. Today, the Hospital has a team of Free Church, Church of England, Roman Catholic and Muslim Chaplains.
1908 Thomas Hardy, the great British author and poet, writes a Christmas Appeal for the Hospital. The Princess of Wales becomes a patron.
1909 Hydraulic lifts are succeeded by electric ones. The original lifts were operated by hand!
1910 King George V and Queen Mary become patrons.
1917 The Hospital changes its name to the Royal Hospital and Home for Incurables; it receives its Royal Charter two years later.
1932 King George V and Queen Mary become the first of many members of the Royal Family to visit the Hospital. Our current patron, Queen Elizabeth II, has visited several times; the late Diana, Princess of Wales, delighted patients with a visit in 1991, as did Princess Anne in 2001.
1935 Nurses, who up until now have lived in the Hospital itself, are given their own accommodation. It is built behind the Holy Trinity Church and is opened by the Duchess of York (the late Queen Mother). Today it can house 80 of our 400 nursing staff.
1936 King Edward VII becomes a patron, along with Queen Mary and The Duchess of York (formerly Princess Christian).
1937 King George VI also becomes a patron.
1946 The NHS Act is passed with the aim of nationalising all hospitals in the UK, but the Royal Hospital resists, and does so with success. It believes that if it remains independent it will be able to provide more specific care to its patients and focus on long-term care.
1952 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II becomes a patron.
1959 Celebrated poet, John Betjeman, helps raise £5,200, then a considerable sum, for the Hospital.
1960 Patients have always been encouraged to lead as active a life as possible, and in 1960, 14 patients taking part in Occupational Therapy become employed by the toy company Lines Bros. Working for three hours a day, it contributes to their rehabilitation and, because they are paid for their work, gives them some extra money to boot.
1967 A day service is launched.
1974 John Howard House in Brighton is donated to the Hospital to offer patients a short break by the sea. It is sold in 1997.
1985 The Hospital continues to lead the way in care for the disabled, opening the UK’s first dedicated Brain Injury Unit. It also builds a new wing to formally house a rehabilitation unit, a day hospital and a large gym.
1987 More patients in what's known as ‘persistent vegetative states’ are being seen; the Hospital responds by opening the Vegetative State Unit, the only one of its kind in the UK.
1993 It’s another first for the Hospital as it opens the country’s first Transitional Rehabilitation Service which helps people prepare for a return to independent community living.
1995 The Hospital changes its name to the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability to better reflect the nature of its work.
1997 The Neuro-Behavioural Rehabilitation Unit opens to provide dedicated rehabilitation to people whose acquired brain injuries have led them to develop challenging behaviours that mean they are excluded from mainstream rehabilitation.
2003 The Institute of Complex Neuro-Disability (now the Institute of Neuropalliative Rehabilitation) is launched to research advances into the science of care for individuals with neuro-disabilities. It is the Hospital’s academic arm and also provides training and education on different aspects of neuro-disability.
2011 Occupational therapist, Helen Gill-Thwaites is honoured with an MBE for developing SMART (Sensory Modality Assessment & Rehabilitation Technique - which accurately diagnoses disorders of consciousness) right here at the RHN.

Today, we continue to improve the dignity, independence and quality of life of every single one of our patients and residents across our rehabilitation and long-term care provisions. We are respected as an authority on neuro-disability care, influencing policy makers, medical professionals and commissioners, providing training in neuro-care, and researching advances into the science of care for individuals with neuro-disabilities.
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