Search

Heritage: Pre-NHS hospitals served gruel and rarely changed the sheets

PUBLISHED: 09:00 07 July 2018

King George V, Queen Mary and Princess Mary visit a hospital in 1914. Photo: PA

King George V, Queen Mary and Princess Mary visit a hospital in 1914. Photo: PA

PA Archive/PA Images

As the NHS celebrates its 70th birthday, Prof Ged Martin looks at health care pre-NHS

Our dedicated NHS medical staff provide professional service, but it’s no fun being in hospital.

It was infinitely worse 200 years ago.

There were no medical facilities locally.

Around 1200, a leper hospital opened at Brook Street, near Brentwood, on the corner of Spittal Lane. Probably just a wayside chapel, it closed in 1553.

In 1588, residents of Havering Liberty secured royal permission to establish a hospital – probably, in our terms, a hospice – but nothing came of the project.

During an outbreak of plague in 1666, Romford opened a “pest house” (isolation ward) in Collier Row Lane. It was used for over a century, but no medical care was provided.

Serious cases were sent to London. Each parish was responsible for its own poor people. Sending a pauper patient to hospital was complicated and expensive.

In 1811, Upminster officials humbly petitioned St Bartholomew’s Hospital (Barts) to admit Eleanor Hummerson because she was “afflicted with sickness and lameness”.

Hospitals didn’t ask: is this patient sick enough to need a bed? They wanted to know: who will pay?

Upminster promised to take Eleanor back when she left hospital, “and to bury her if she dies there”.

Conditions were terrible. Nurses were untrained, often illiterate and usually forced to work 16-hour shifts.

Everybody stank of tobacco, the only defence against the stench.

There were no anaesthetics. Patients were tied down for surgery.

Hardened medical students smoked and joked as they watched operations.

If you think NHS food is dull, listen to Francis Freeman, a patient in the Middlesex Hospital in 1813.

He apologised to Upminster officials for his “rud[e]ness in writen to you”, but asked for money: “wee have so litel in the hospitel to live on”.

The Middlesex supplied meat three times a week, with broth and gruel on other days. The daily allowance of bread was inadequate, and “wee have no tee no sugar no buter no chis [cheese]”.

“Wee ar all most starved for wont I thank god I am geten beter”.

I’d get “beter” too to escape from such conditions.

A shattered leg put Thomas Briggs in the London Hospital (now the Royal London) in 1806. He begged Rainham officials for “a triffel of Money to pay for my washing and to Gett me Some Little nourishment”.

Hospitals rarely changed bedsheets: you paid for your own laundry.

Thomas also thought he was “a Getting a Littell Better”, but he was still in hospital two months later.

“I have no Prospect of coming out soon I expected my leg comeing off a Fortnights ago but, Sir Wm Blizards alterd his mind and would not take it off.”

Sir William Blizard was a prominent surgeon who treated his patients as human beings, actually visiting them on ward rounds.

Unfortunately, he refused to retire. By the time he performed his last amputation, at the age of 84, he was nicknamed Sir Billy Fretful. Medical students jeered in his operating theatre.

We don’t know if Francis and Eleanor returned to Upminster, or Thomas had his leg removed.

Romford’s Victoria Cottage Hospital opened in 1888, celebrating the Queen’s Golden Jubilee.

It’s now Pettits Lane’s medical centre. Oldchurch Hospital was added to Romford’s workhouse in 1893, based on an earlier infirmary.

Rush Green Hospital was built in 1900. West Ham Council started a convalescent home at Harold Wood in 1909.

It became a major hospital, but is now the Kings Park housing development. St George’s in Hornchurch cared for elderly patients from 1939 to 2012. It was sold for housing in 2018. Now apartments, the Shepherds Hill mansion Harold Court was a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients from 1919 to 1958.

In 2006, the Queen’s Hospital brought centralised modern healthcare facilities to Havering.

We rightly demand high standards of medical care. But at least there’s been progress over 200 years.

Related articles

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Romford Recorder visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Romford Recorder staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Romford Recorder account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

Latest Romford News Stories

17:00

A Romford band has helped raise more than £1,400 for a Hornchurch family who are part of their group after a fire tore through their home.

15:00

William Shakespeare’s story of a naive Prince who flees his home and embarks on a sea-ward journey will be produced by the National Theatre in an exciting new partnership with Queen’s Theatre.

14:12

Havering’s Fire Cadets celebrated a year of picking up valuable life skills and learning what it takes to be a firefighter at a special pass-out parade ceremony.

52 minutes ago

“The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining,” so the saying goes. So if some warm weather is making your conservatory uninhabitable, think about replacing its roof with a flat one and adding a roof lantern instead.

12:00

The number of pubs in Havering has fallen by 29 per cent and the Mayor of London is calling for a “united effort” to save the remaining ones.

10:42

An 11-year-old boy from Hornchurch who has ADHD has raised more than £1,500 by shaving his hair off to help save an important social skills class his younger brother goes to.

07:00

The number of burglaries in Havering has increased by 12per cent in the last year, according to data from the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC).

Yesterday, 17:21

Gifted youngsters were delighted to be recognised for their talents at a special awards ceremony.

PROMOTED CONTENT

“The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining,” so the saying goes. So if some warm weather is making your conservatory uninhabitable, think about replacing its roof with a flat one and adding a roof lantern instead.

The next step in renewable energy could be right beneath your feet as you walk through a Romford shopping centre.

There are many reasons people decide to join a gym. Some want to pack on muscle for strength, train for endurance, or lose weight. But did you know it also does wonders for your mental health? Two members at Romford’s Better Gym in the Market Place talk about their personal fitness journey and the importance of replacing bad habits with good ones.

Newsletter Sign Up

Romford Recorder twice-weekly newsletter
Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Most read news

Show Job Lists

News from your area

Digital Edition

cover

Enjoy the
Romford Recorder
e-edition today

Subscribe

Education and Training

cover

Read the
Education and Training
e-edition today

Read Now