St Bartholomew’s Hospital, or Bart’s as those who study and work here know it, has the distinction of being the oldest hospital in London to still stand on its original site. It origins stretch back to 1123, when it was founded as part of the monastery of St Bartholomew, by Rahere (see page***), a court jester, turned man of God. In the depths of the hospital there is a elevator, which generations of doctors and nurses have come to know as the “coffin lift.” In the silent hours of early mornings, it has been known to take bemused passengers down to the basement, irrespective of which floor they have pressed for. Once there, its lights go out and it will not move. After a few moments of madly pushing the buttons, staff will pull open the gates and walk back to the ground floor. Here they find the lift waiting, its gates open and its lights on. Should they then choose to walk up to the required level, they suffer the unnerving experience of having the elevator follow them up the lift shaft, around which the staircase twists. Tradition maintains that the ghost of a nurse, who was once murdered in the lift in the basement by a deranged patient, is responsible for the malfunction.
The spirits of former nurses also haunt other parts of the hospital. Grace Ward is the spectral domain of the Grey Lady, a nurse in old-fashioned uniform who, in life, is said to have administered a fatal overdose to a patient and to have killed herself in remorse. Now, whenever nurses are about to make a similar mistake, they are said to feel a light tap on their shoulders and, looking up, they see the grey lady, shaking her head in warning. A similarly attired lady has been seen on Bedford Fenwick Ward, although she appears to administer comfort. Nurses have long grown used to patients, shortly before they die, asking them to thank the old-fashioned nurse for bringing them a cup of tea.