That area of Southwark was the scene of Charles Dicken's Oliver Twist, where Bill Sykes is chased to his death in The Rookery. The pollution from the docks, leather works, spice wharves and factories combined with poor sanitation to make children die of infectious diseases whooping cough, pneumonia, bronchitis and tuberculosis were rife, although the hospital recovery rate was good. Child mortality remained high, mainly due to the weakened state of the children brought in and the fact they returned to the same conditions on discharge.
Charles Booth's Survey of London wrote of the area in 1899:
'This bit is known as The Grottos: many children [in the streets], all well fed but dirty; with sores on faces: clothes ragged, too large; too small, windows broken; patched : there may be a few thieves ; prostitutes but Barton does not know them as such : they make their appearance in the police court for drunks and assaults.'
The Evelina opened in June 1869 in a four storey building with 30 beds, expanding quickly to 100. The basement contained the kitchens and offices, while the ground floor had a Board Room and accommodation for the Matron and the medical staff. Two floors were devoted to the wards and the top floor contained dormitories for the nurses and servants, as well as a small quarantine ward. There was a separate kitchen for the preparation of food for Jewish patients. Outbuildings contained the wash-house, a disinfecting oven and a post-mortem room, while a detached wing held the dispensary and the Out-Patients Department.
|A Ward in the Evalina Hospital c1900. Reproduced from The Evalina: the History of a London |
Children's Hospital, 1869-1969, by Harold Priestley.
During its second year, the hospital charged 1d for each bottle of medicine, and began to recruit trainee nurses. Infants under two years 'should be refused save under very exceptional circumstances', but numbers continued to grow, and the rule was rescinded. By 1900 babies and toddlers accounted for 50% of all admissions.
A subscription scheme was established where those who promised 30 guineas a year or more could have a cot named after them. They were allowed to recommend patients for admission or out patient treatment, the number determined by the size of their donation. Even with a charity health was still bought.
|Matron Alice Cross|
The hospital always struggled for funds, and by 1900, only 60 beds were in use, although the hospital treated 20,000 patients a year .
Unlike Great Ormond Street, which had its own convalescent home, the Evelina relied on a network of seaside and country homes, places paid for through a special fund.
A local newspaper described the dilemma of local children:
'It is piteous … to see the little ones … return to the dark, unfurnished, overcrowded rooms … One of the nurses told us the pity she felt [when] she met a child who had not long left her care clinging to a drunken mother's skirts, and following her zigzag plunges from one side of the street to the other'.
Alice Cross was appointed Matron in 1879, though nothing is known about her other than she trained at St Bartholomew's, and some of London's best respected physicians and surgeons offered their services to the Evelina.
In 1946, The National Health Service merged the Evelina into Guy's Hospital and in the early 70’s, the building on Southwark Bridge Road was closed and the hospital moved onto the Guy's site and became the children's ward - its name and independence lost. In 2005, a new building was opened across the road from St Thomas's Hospital, named Evelina London Children’s Hospital, dominated by a huge glass atrium and multiple play areas.
It's nice to know Baron Rothchild's tribute to his lost wife and son continues.
|Evelina Hospital for Sick Children|
Historic Hospital Admissions Records Project - Which has some biographies of some of the children admitted to the Evelina and details about their families.
The Old Operating Theatre