St.Philip’s Church, NewarkStreet
London E1 2AA
Thursday May 22nd 2014
Having finished early at the Nunnery we hopped onto a Number 25 and stood for the short straight trip down the Mile End Road getting off, along with many other passengers, for the Royal London Hospital. When we last passed this way on Route 25 it was a very busy ‘bendy’ so had more seats; on the other hand the Royal London was midway through its 21st century rebuild, in 2014 still not fully complete but very impressive.
We walked through the new building along an art-filled broad sweep of a corridor asking two lots of receptionists where to find the Museum – out the back and turn left : the contrast between the state-of-the-art new building and the surrounding streets and location of the museum is quite striking – about two and half centuries in fact.
The Museum, located in the church crypt, tells the history of this hospital within the national context. The Museums of health and medicine have banded together and have an excellent website. Jo felt she had had her fill of surgical implements at the Herb Garret, so I shall try to focus on what makes this venue unique. Little does she know we still have 24 Museums of Science and Medicine in our future!
The Museum was founded not as part of a medieval monastic institution but in the spirit of 18th century social scientific and humanitarian philanthropy: in this part of London people were dying off more quickly than the birth rate replaced them. The main ‘killers’ were smallpox, cholera and malaria, not to mention alcohol abuse (as seen in an original Hogarth drawing) particularly prevalent in this, one of London’s more crowded areas. The links between poverty and health are longstanding and no-one knew it better than the founders of the London Hospital, one of five that date their origins to the second half of the 18th century. The plaques and display texts give details of names, costs and early buildings; the cabinets display the charters, the board members and the growing identity of ‘ the London’ – the dietary needs of the local Jewish population were acknowledged and addressed at a an early stage. The London’s own crockery has a very solid look to it too.
Several cases are dedicated to well-known men and women whose fame and contribution went beyond the London; Sir Frederick Treves, who from quite humble origins rose to be surgeon to Queen Victoria, is better known as the doctor whose humane treatment offered sanctuary to Joseph Merrick aka the Elephant man (and seen most recently on ‘Ripper Street’. )
By World war 1 the hospital was established as a sound teaching institution and when the young men enlisted the hospital took on women for training only to drop them again later… However it does number Elizabeth Garratt Anderson, the first woman to qualify in the UK , amongst its alumni.
Eva Luckes, who was made a matron at a very early age, was renowned for her organisational skills and the high expectations she held for her trainees and staff, which did not always make her very popular.
More famous still was Edith Cavell who completed her training at the London before heading out to Belgium – where she was subsequently shot by the occupying German Army in October 1915 for helping Allied prisoners to escape. Each year her heroism is remembered when the London nurses place wreathes on her statue in St Martin’s Place.
Amongst the short films/videos on offer was one showing a recruitment vehicle for nursing at ‘the London’ where a range of fresh faced young women support a patient through surgery to return home. With their neat little hats but no gloves we know that nowadays this kind of patient would be dealt with virtually by day surgery but we enjoyed the earnestness of this early Sixties documentary.
Nearby was a case with the evolution of nursing uniforms, and a rather pretty little china statuette of the London nurse.
Also of note was the effectively sad account of Ernest Harnack, who with three colleagues worked tirelessly to launch and improve X-ray services, but exposing himself thereby to excess and fatal doses of radiation.
The last text board announces the plans for the 21st century rebuild and, pleased with our brief but informative visit, we returned through the new building that offers all that is best in the UK’s National Health Service to the Whitechapel Road and our different routes home.