Prior to the founding of the NHS in 1948, patients who were unable to pay for their treatment were cared for by either charitable organisations or by local authorities under the Poor Law. For this reason the surviving records will often be found in county and local archives. In some instances records have been retained by the institution itself, for example St. Bartholomew’s Hospital (aka ‘Barts’) in the City of London. The Barts archives also contain records from the Alexandra Hip Hospital, St. Mark’s and several hospitals in Hackney including the German, Metropolitan, St. Leonards, the Mothers’, the Eastern and Homerton, and the old Hackney Hospital itself. At this point I should mention that the medical records of individuals are normally closed for a period of one hundred years.
The Historic Hospital Admission Records Project is owned and maintained by Kingston University and facilitates the searching of a database of some 140,213 children who were admitted to four children’s hospitals between 1852 and 1921. Three of the hospitals are in London: the Hospital for Sick Children Great Ormond Street (GOSH), the Evelina and the Alexandra Hip Hospital for Children. Also included is the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow. The database is fully searchable and a great resource for family history researchers and medical historians alike. A quick registration is required before a search can be made but usage of the database is free for normal use. The website also contains background material on the hospitals including their history and staff.
The Wellcome Collection
The large and broad ranging Wellcome Collection can be searched from its website. The Library collections may be searched from here. Digitised content can be accessed following a short online registration which is also the first stage of registering to visit the Library in person. Should you be planning a trip, you could also take in the Quaker Centre and, with a tail wind, the Camden Archives found at St Pancras or even Holborn Library.
The National Archives
The mother of all archives in partnership with the Wellcome Trust, hosts the Hospital Records Database which contains information regarding the location of the reords of hospitals in the UK. Whilst some of these records are kept by local authorities, the majority are now held by local record offices. The database now contains over 2,800 entries including:
- The administrative details of the hospitals, and their status or type
- The location and covering dates of administrative and clinical records
- The existence of lists, catalogues or other finding aids
- Links to some online hospital catalogues previously on Access to Archives (A2A) and now on Discovery (The TNA search engine).
The Hospital records database may be interrogated by the name of the hospital, its location (town) or both of these.
Searching for Edgware General (‘my family’s hospital’ until the 1980s) reveals information relating to its name and location, Administrative history, Status/Type, the location of records and ‘other information’ (of which there isn’t any). We discover that records are held at London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), L.B. Barnet Archives and Local Studies Dept., as well as the new hospital itself which holds clinical records between the years of 1962 and 1987. The search page also provides links to the records held at the different repositories but I understand they may have all now all been transferred to the LMA.
Lost Hospitals of London
Lost Hospitals of London is a personal favourite which I return to often. It appears to be an individual rather than institutional project and contains potted histories of literally hundreds of London’s ‘lost’ hospitals. The author helpfully explains what he or she means by ‘lost’ and offers helpful clues to help identify a hospital which is in danger of demise. The author has in many cases revisited the site following the hospital’s closure and provides some information with photographs of the current situation e.g derelict, rebuilt as a Community Hospital with half the land sold for housing or converted into flats. For the implacably curious the website provides a link to a book ‘from the same stable’, which proved to be a cracking read.
The History of the Workhouse
Broadly speaking, prior to the formation of the NHS in 1948, those who could not afford private hospital care were reliant on charities and workhouse infirmaries, to which a number of present day hospitals can trace their origins. No internet search of workhouse infirmaries can be complete without recourse to The History of the Workhouse and Peter Higginbotham’s impressive and extensive collection of material. The website is searchable by section headings and via a search box.