Letter: Why shutting Bart's would be a crime

Derek Jarman
Tuesday 04 May 1993 23:02 BST

Derek Jarman, the film maker and painter, was diagnosed as HIV positive in December 1986 and announced the fact about a month later. His films include Sebastiane, Jubilee, The Tempest, Caravaggio, War Requiem and Edward II. He was 51 in January

From Mr Derek Jarman

Sir: I have been here now for two weeks, first in the casualty ward and now in Colston, which cares mainly for the dying. My 'own' ward, Andrewes, is full; and the construction of the new purpose-built Aids ward has been postponed.

Over the road is Rambling Rose, who was sedated out of kindness after two days' clucking like a chicken and screaming abuse. I escape to the 18th-century courtyard and read in the pavilion to the sound of the fountain, before retiring to the hospital church of Saint Bartholomew, which itself is cool and filled with the peace of time.

Time is running out for this great national institution. 'I am not in the heritage business,' says Virginia Bottomley. Heritage? Aren't we all in the heritage business? Without our past our future cannot be reflected, the past is our mirror. Every profession has a history and the medical profession's starts here.

This is the world's oldest hospital, founded in the 11th century by the monk Rahere. He fell ill with a quartan fever on a pilgrimage to Rome and was commanded by Saint Bartholomew in a dream to build a hospital. When he returned to England, he was given the gift of this land in 'Smoothfield' by the King. Henry VIII confirmed Bart's as a hospital, the old buildings were gradually replaced and new ones built. The architectural history can be traced from that time.

Bart's is not one of the new Habitat hospitals; its rooms are high and cool, but the voracious cashflow snake is out to strangle it. All criticism seems to pass Virginia Bottomley's curtained mind. Where an ideology has taken over, I see no doubt, and, since through doubt comes insight, a certain blindness. But of course this government is not in the heritage business. What business is it in?

All of you will one day be in hospital and you will be lucky to be near one, like Ray who lies opposite. Ray was surprised by the recent criminal bomb blast and was brought here, his face a mass of splintered glass. Today he is a hero with his photo on the front page of the tabloids. 'Thank God this place was here,' he says, as, I expect, do the city businessmen suffering corporate heart attacks.

There are some changes that are necessary, others not; there are decisions that we deeply regret later. To shut Bart's would be a crime against the past and against the metropolis, which needs its great institutions and would be impoverished without them. I am certain that there is no reader of this paper who would not be an 'activist' if they found their home under threat. Bart's is my second home and my life here is cherished.

Yours faithfully,


Colston Ward

St Bartholomew's Hospital, London EC1

4 May

(Photograph omitted)

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