I have a personal reason for asking this question. I'm researching my family tree and I have some ancestors who lived in Mile End Old Town, London between 1850 and 1900, but gave birth in Mile End New Town, London which was a nearby but not neighbouring area.

Civil parishes of Whitechapel, 1870

Mile End New Town is in the pinky/purply area at the left, and Mile End Old Town is in grey close to the centre of the map.

I've looked on a modern map of London and I can't see a hospital in the area that used to be Mile End New Town, although the Royal London Hospital (then just the London Hospital) was nearby, possibly in Mile End Old Town.

However, according to this page, the poor did not give birth in hospitals in Victorian times anyway.

It seems women, or at least my ancestors, didn't give birth at home but went to a specific place to have their babies. Where did they go?

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    Maybe at their mother's or sister's house?
    – Spencer
    Sep 8, 2019 at 15:37
  • Intuitively, if the midwife doesn't come to your place, it seems logical that you'd go to the midwife's place -- whoever that was. That said, are you sure about your assertion that the poor didn't go to some kind of hospital? Anecdotally, and if memory serves me well, the fact that doctors should wash there hands before helping women with childbirth was discovered at a poors' hospital. Sep 8, 2019 at 16:26
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    I can't write an answer right now, but look up the Vallance Road Workhouse, which IIRC was in Mile End New Town, and built in the 1840s. Sep 8, 2019 at 17:22
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    If you have the birth certificate(s) for your ancestors, the place(s) of birth should appear in the first column "When and Where Born". Sep 8, 2019 at 22:39
  • @sempaiscuba I have the information extracted from the birth certificates, but not the certificates (or images) themselves. The multiple England and Wales censuses I've found show the whole family lived in Mile End Old Town and birth certificates for all the children say Mile End New Town. No more information than that is available to me.
    – CJ Dennis
    Sep 8, 2019 at 22:45

1 Answer 1


Echoing the sentiment in my earlier comment, hospitals were chiefly a venue where the poor would go until the mid-century, and births occurred at home with ad hoc midwives otherwise.

The story behind hand washing before childbirth (an interesting read in its own right) elaborates on the reasons why hospitals attracted the poor:

Maternity institutions were set up all over Europe to address problems of infanticide of illegitimate children. They were set up as gratis institutions and offered to care for the infants, which made them attractive to underprivileged women, including prostitutes. In return for the free services, the women would be subjects for the training of doctors and midwives.

The article further notes that Semmelweis' theories were rather well received in the UK. So I'd suggest that a poor in London in the send half of the 19th century would indeed have given birth at the hospital (or more specifically a maternity institution) if they couldn't afford a midwife, and at home if they could.

  • The only "hospital" in the district of Mile End New Town in the 2nd half of the 19th C was the Whitechapel Union Workhouse in Vallance Road, which became the Whitechapel Union Infirmary in 1876, & St Peter's Hospital in 1924. Workhouses fulfilled the function of hospitals for the poor in England for most of the 19th C. Sep 8, 2019 at 19:24
  • @sempaiscuba: Interesting. It's rather late over here so I won't read the link until tomorrow, but... Is that to say the answer is wrong in your opinion, or merely incomplete? Sep 8, 2019 at 22:01
  • @sempaiscuba According to that link "The [Mile End New Town] workhouse still existed in 1829 (fn. 45) but it was closed after the passing of the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834. The buildings were demolished by 1838, when the site and four more houses adjoining on the east side were conveyed to the Church Building Commissioners." So it looks like it wasn't in service in the latter half of the 19th century.
    – CJ Dennis
    Sep 8, 2019 at 22:41
  • @CJDennis Read further down. Mile End New Town Workhouse was not the same place as the Whitechapel Union Workhouse. Sep 8, 2019 at 22:46
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    @CJDennis But you don't have all the documents, so you don't have that information. You need the actual address from the birth certificate if you want to be able to say exactly where they were born. I understand that pdf copies of certificates currently cost £7.00 each. Sep 8, 2019 at 23:12

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