The weekly board meetings were held at coffee houses until a purpose-built hospital was erected near Old Street roundabout and each week about a dozen new mothers would be brought before the board (or Court as it was known) to ‘return thanks’ for the benevolence they had been shown. Other mothers attended to be admonished for their bad conduct while staying at the hospital. There is no record of what this bad conduct was but the rules for patients were very strict and they were inpatients for a long time, at least six weeks according to the regulations, though this must often have been shortened as most families would not have been able to do without a mother for so long.
From four days after delivery women needed matron’s permission to lie down on their beds and they were expected to produce needlework for the hospital from three weeks after delivering their child. Women in labour, expectant women and newly-delivered mothers were all in the same ward: when a separate room for labour was suggested it was vetoed in case the patients suspected experiments might be performed on them.
Mortality at all hospitals was high due to the lack of hygiene. ‘Childbed fever’ as post-partum infection was known, was usually caused by the doctors themselves and during the time Thomas was involved the hospital had to be closed temporarily due to rampant infection which must have been difficult given the need for the services the hospital offered. It would not be until the 1850s that simple precautions like handwashing would bring down the numbers of post-natal deaths.
Vermin such as bedbugs and mice were a constant issue, as was alcohol abuse, and as president Thomas had to ban the drinking of porter in the hospital due to its ‘evil effects’. Other issues he had to rule on included the lack of lighting at night - his solution of one candle per ward per night is surprising to us as it must still have been very dark. He also stopped the long-term practice of patients having to buy the nurses tea and sugar, he raised the nurses’ wages to include an allowance so that they could buy their own. Thomas was a generous benefactor: his usual donation of £20 can be seen in the donation lists again and again, when most people were donating around £5 and of course he donated his time and business expertise. Both he and William Gill were later presented with ‘staffs’ and made governors for life, a sign of devoted service to the hospital.
When Thomas was president of the hospital one of its senior physicians was Dr Lettsom of Camberwell and it is tempting to suppose they were friends, given that they also lived in south London at a time when there were far fewer houses in the area. Dr Lettsom was involved with the hospital for many years and was a noted philanthropist and a supporter of the abolition of slaves.