Above: An obviously posed picture, dated 1896, taken at Christmas time. The ward was decorated in a festive way for the children.
‘Reminiscing the Past’
The year 2019 sees the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Evelina Hospital in Southwark Bridge Road. There is now a new hospital which stands on part of the St Thomas’s Hospital site. Having written a blog about the general history of the two buildings (see reference at the bottom of this article) this blog relates to more personal memories of the old building and the staff.
The Hospital Layout
The original building – actually called the ‘Evelina Hospital for Sick Children’ – was known simply as the ‘Evelina Hospital’ to those who worked there or knew it well. It had been built beside the curved part of Southwark Bridge Road, on the south side, with the main entrance at the junction of Southwark Bridge Road and Quilp Street. When the building was demolished, the land was developed as Mint Street Park. The hospital only occupied about half the land of the present park and it did not extend north beyond Quilp Street.
Being built on a curve, the wards which faced onto Southwark Bridge Road had curved walls and the corridor beside the wards was also curved. This meant that although the corridor was long, it was not possible to look along its whole length because of the curvature. By today’s standards, the hospital was small – having a total of 76 beds. It was regarded as small when the building was in use and the staff often jokingly called it the ‘Evelina Hospital of Six Children’. On the ground floor were the administrative offices, the pharmacy, the X-ray unit and the Out-patients Department. On the first floor were two large general wards (one of them being called the ‘Evelina Ward’). There was also a small ward which was split into three or four cubicles where sick babies were cared for, along with an adult bed to accommodate the mother. This baby unit, as it was often called, was called Rothschild Ward – after the founder. On the second floor were two more wards of which one was the surgical ward and next to that was the operating theatre. In the 1950s and 1960s, the common operation being carried out was the removal of children’s tonsils. That is an operation that is seldom carried out on children these days.
There was a third floor but that was laid out with rooms for nurses’ accommodation although only there were only rooms for a few of the nurses to ‘live in’. Many of the nurses working at the Evelina had to walk back to their accommodation at Guy’s Hospital after their shift at the Evelina. The hospital also had a basement where the staff dining rooms were along with the kitchens. In addition, there were also numerous storerooms.
General staff – like the pharmacists, the physiotherapists, the X-ray department staff and the consultants – worked in the hospital but lived off-site. Some of those staff worked a five-day week and others, like consultants, came for just one day. In addition, were also the administrative staff who looked after the day-to-day running of the hospital. The Evelina gradually became the children’s ‘annexe’ of Guy’s Hospital which, of course, is a huge hospital for adult patients on an enormous site. The nursing staff at the Evelina consisted of nursing Sisters who worked at the Evelina on a permanent basis. The majority of nurses were drawn from those in training at Guy’s Hospital. As part of their training, they would be seconded to the Evelina for six months before returning to Guy’s to work in various wards so that they could experience the many aspects of care which the hospital provided.
Guy’s being so large meant that it could be rather daunting to work in. Nurses who came to the Evelina loved being in a small environment and many of them cried on their last day of the six-month placement. The Evelina was loved by all who worked there and the staff became more like a family – although they were a highly professional team.
Uniform of Nurses
Until the 1960s and 1970s, nurses still wore uniforms, according to their rank, which included starched aprons and carefully assembled caps. This was a throw-back to earlier times – similar to the picture at the top of the article. The traditional uniforms have been updated with much more practical garments. No nurse wears any head-dress as a uniform. The only head-wear is to cover the hair for reasons of hygiene.
This account is, of necessity, a personal view because my father was the Chief Pharmacist from the late 1930s until the 1970s (shortly before the building was closed). That was a time when I was growing up – including my school years and the time I was at college. Of course, the nearly forty years that my father worked at the Evelina also included the years of my adulthood as well.
My secondary school stood near Tower Bridge and so, during those years, I was about a 30-minute walk from the Evelina Hospital. On occasions I popped in to see father, for one reason or another, and, therefore, I got to know many of those working in the Evelina. As I stood around the pharmacy, housemen and registrars at the Evelina and also consultants would come in to see my father to obtain advice about new medicines. The dose stated on a box of tablets or on a bottle of medicine is, in general, what is prescribed for adults. The Evelina was at the ‘cutting edge’ for treating seriously ill babies and small children. The main discussion between the doctors and my father was to consider what the dose should be for small children. Basically, medicine is related to body weight. For a baby, probably a tenth the weight of an adult, they had to consider whether the dose for a new medicine should also be a tenth that for an adult. Would such a small dose work for a baby or should it be increased slightly? These were questions that, for a new drug, were not known and even the consultants did not always have the answers. Father often spent hours researching the dosage and spending further hours deliberating with the doctors who were trying to get the dose just right.
Because of the nature of his work, everyone in the Evelina knew my father. The pharmacy supplied medicines for all the wards on a daily basis. In addition, medicines and ointments were supplied to the Outpatients for them to take home after being seen by a doctor. Not only were medicines supplied to the wards but there were also large bottles of disinfectant, bandages and sticky Elastoplast adhesive bandages as well as all the different types of anaesthetics used in the operating theatre and sometimes in the Outpatients Department. The pharmacy was the hub for the efficient running of the whole hospital.
The Christmas Parties
By the time I had reached my teens, we used to go to the Evelina on most Boxing Days with my family. In those days nearly all the consultants also used to come in, with their wives and children, for the afternoon and possibly stay until 6.00 pm, sometimes later. As a child – being used to seeing the bare walls of the wards and the plain doors – to see the place at Christmas time was quite a surprise. Some of the doctors and nurses also had great artistic talents. Using paints, they would draw large murals onto the plain walls and use other colouring materials to draw animals and characters onto the glass panes in the doors and also onto the large glass windows.
On Christmas Day and Boxing Day, entertainers came into the wards, putting on shows for the children. There were general entertainers as well as magicians. Children’s films were shown in the wards. television was then in its infancy. It does seem a long time ago!
In those far-off days, there were three evening newspapers in London – the Evening Standard, the Evening News and the Star. They used to have articles about children in hospital over Christmas and ran a campaign called ‘Give a toy to a sick child’. Members of the public would wrap up presents of toys and dolls and hand them in at the main entrance for children staying in the hospital over Christmas. In addition, toy manufacturers, of which there were many in London, would load up a van full of toys and sent it to each children’s hospital a few days before Christmas. Borough Market not only handled fruit and vegetables but, at the festive season, it also handled Christmas trees. Many large trees were delivered but only a fraction of those delivered was ever used in the wards because they were often too large even for the wards and also because they were so numerous.
As a child, visiting the Evelina on Boxing Days, it was like walking into a toy shop. When we visited, the children who were patients had already taken as many toys are they wanted and there were still heaps of toys remaining, including jigsaw puzzles, books, boxes of pencils, and toys of every description. Remember that when a van turned up from a toy-factory, each toy probably came in groups of 50 to 100 of the same item. My father, seeing my eyes almost pop out of my head, used to say ‘If you would like any of them, then help yourself – it will all end up on the rubbish tip tomorrow’. I also remember the hospital having a very strict matron (yes, there were hospital matrons in those days). Her rule was that the Christmas ‘chaos’ ended at the end of Boxing Day. All the decorations, all the murals and window paintings, all the unwanted toys and all the Christmas trees and any other decorations had to be cleared away late on Boxing Day evening and by 27th December the who hospital had to return to ‘normal’.
The Final Days
Even in the 1970s, the Evelina Hospital was seen as too small to cater for the many needs of the sick children. The site was not able to be expanded and so closure became inevitable. The wards for the children were moved to Guy’s Hospital where they remained for a few decades. Eventually, a new ‘Evelina’ on a new site was built, allowing the new premises to take care of even more sick children than was possible in Southwark Bridge Road.
See also: Evelina Hospital for Sick Children – 7 January 2019.