Intended for healthcare professionals


The challenging isle: a walk through Soho

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 21 December 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:1325
  1. Nick Black, professor of health services research
  1. 1London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London WC1E 7HT

    To enhance our understanding we usually read books or surf the net, but it is more fun to go out and visit the past by seeing the buildings where events unfolded. To learn about the history of health care in England, there is no better place than London. It was in London that most of the key developments in health care took place and it was there that the key battles over healthcare policies were fought, where conflicts were resolved, and where many innovations occurred. Some of the important buildings in the history of health care have been destroyed, but many still remain.

    Walking London's Medical History aims to inspire and educate through a series of seven walks in central London.1 These walks help to tell the story of how health services developed from medieval times to the present day. The walks also help to preserve our legacy by informing us of the original function of healthcare buildings as increasingly they are being converted into hotels, offices, residences, and shops. Finally, the walks help to increase our understanding of the challenges to improving health care in the 21st century. To give you a flavour of the walks, let us consider the one through Soho.

    At the heart of London lies an island, a foreign land in a sea of Englishness. Since its development in the 17th century, Soho has always been different from the districts surrounding it. The region has challenged and threatened the rest of London while at the same time enticed and nourished it. The reasons are bound up with its origins.

    Soho, a brief history

    Until the 1660s the Soho area was hunting country. Development close to London was forbidden for fear of contagious diseases spreading to within the city walls. When the great fire of 1666 left around 100 000 …

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