Before the National Health Service ensured free medical treatment for all, the sick were often dependent upon charity. The wealthy hospital of St Bartholemew's in Smithfield had Crown endowments given when Henry VIII refounded it after the Dissolution, as well as various bequests to fund its work, but public giving to help the impoverished was also encouraged.
Wealthier philanthropists could subscribe to bodies such as Deptford's Kent Dispensary, giving relatively large amounts of money in return for the ability to recommend patients. Those of less commitment or more slender means could simply put money into a hospital poor box. Such boxes had a history at least as old as Bart's Hospital's refoundation: legislation of 1536 required them to be placed in every church, and their use soon spread to other places including hospitals. Charitable donations to the poor were encouraged by both church and state.
Some of the finest survivals are still in situ, in the Henry VIII Gate of St Bartholomew's Hospital. These red boxes, bearing the message 'Remember the Poor's Box', are believed to date from the early nineteenth century.