Stories from St George’s: The Gunpowder Mill Worker

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This guest post is written by Dr Carol Shiels,
Museum Curator and Senior Lecturer at St George’s, University of London.

The anniversary of the failed Gunpowder plot is celebrated each year with fireworks and bonfires. If the plot had succeeded, the 36 barrels of gunpowder would have resulted in an explosion that would have destroyed Westminster. In this blog article we get an insight into the world of gunpowder production from an account of a patient at St George’s Hospital in 1850.

In London, a major site of gunpowder production was the Hounslow Powder mills, near Twickenham, in what is now Crane Park. In 1850 a large explosion occurred and a 21-year-old labourer was injured . He was only 5 metres away from the blast site and as a result of the explosion a beam fell on him and flames enveloped him as the loose gunpowder on his face and clothes caught fire. He was able to throw himself into one of the nearby rivers and was taken to St George’s Hospital at Hyde Park Corner. He was admitted to the hospital with his face black, his skin scorched and blistered and his hair and beard burnt away in places.  His major injury was a broken elbow joint; the pointed end of his elbow (part of the ulna) had broken off and the ulna was also fractured into three splinters.

Broken bones in the 19th century were often a life-threatening injury. Caesar Hawkins, a senior surgeon at St George’s, decided to amputate the arm just above the elbow joint. A few years previously this would have been a severe and painful operation, but the recent use of chloroform as an anaesthetic during surgery meant he had a pain free operation. It went well with little blood loss and the patient had an uneventful but restless night. He was given opium to help with the pain and over the next few days his arm healed well with no swelling. Unrelated to the accident, the patient had a bad cough, producing dark coloured foamy sputum. When questioned by Caesar Hawkins, he described this as commonplace in the men working in the charcoal house at the mill. This is most likely to be due to the inhalation of carbon dust from charcoal production and, as the patient confirmed, led to the early death of many workers at the mill.

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The elbow joint from the patient. It has been fixed in formaldehyde and displayed in a glass jar. This has been maintained in the Museum for 167 years.

Caesar Hawkins retained the patient’s elbow joint and added it to the collection of pathological specimens in St George’s Museum. He had discovered a piece of loose cartilage in the joint during the operation and described this as looking like a ‘bicuspid tooth from which the fangs had been removed’. Loose pieces of cartilage can be painful and can make movement of the affected joint difficult. Caesar Hawkins wrote an account of the case and it was published in a 1850 volume of the Lancet. Both the patient’s elbow joint and this early edition of the Lancet are still part of the St George’s Museums and Archives collections.

Such accidents were not uncommon and 55 explosions were reported at the same powder mill over its working life; some described as being like an earthquake.  It is likely that many workers ended up at St George’s as a result of these accidents and their stories will be uncovered with further exploration and research into our Museums and Archives collection.

 


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Gruesome and Ghostly: Tales from St George’s Archives

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To mark Halloween, our archivist Carly Manson, held two historical tours involving gruesome artefacts from our Archives and Special Collections.  Amongst the artefacts on display were a cloth used to wrap the dead body of King George II, and records relating to a scandal that provoked Charles Dickens to condemn post-mortem practices as “shocking”.

The history of each object on display was shared by the archivist, and the audience encouraged to ask questions. It was fantastic to learn about these fascinating artefacts and to see so many interested people in the audience.

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The artefacts from the events are also featured in this week’s Times Higher Education, in their article ‘The spooky secrets of London’s oldest medical school’:

https://www.timeshighereducation.com/blog/spooky-secrets-historic-uk-medical-school

 


If you are interested receiving updates from the Library and the St George’s Archives project, you can subscribe to the Library Blog using the Follow button or click here for further posts from the Archives.

Gruesome and Ghostly: Tales from St George’s Archives

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Come along to a spooky special event with exhibits from the archive. Archivist Carly Manson will delve into St George’s weird and wicked past in two afternoon sessions on Halloween. Expect tales of body snatching and ghosts that haunt St George’s, letters and lectures from the past with bloody intent, and images showing the fascinating history of St George’s.

Halloween Tuesday 31st of October – 2 sessions available

First session: 1.30pm – 2.15pm

Second session: 2.45pm – 3.30pm

Students and staff of St George’s University of London and St George’s Hospital are welcome to attend this free event. To book your place, or for more information, email archives@sgul.ac.uk.

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Body Snatchers and Red Rot: The Post Mortem Records of St George’s Hospital

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Archivist Carly Manson has recently been giving talks about St George’s Archives  (look out for the Halloween special!) and looking more in depth into our collections and how best to preserve them. One collection that deserves a special mention is our post mortem examinations and case books…


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Image from St George’s Archives

In the bowels of the medical school at St George’s, there lies a series of post mortem examinations and case books from St George’s Hospital, spanning the mid-19th and 20th centuries.

Pioneering physician Sir William Osler once described the post mortem records of St George’s Hospital as the “finest collection of its kind”. Osler stressed the importance of the post mortem in medical education and it has played an important role in the history of the medical school, today St George’s, University of London.

Henry Gray signature- Post Mortem book 1855
Henry Gray’s signature- Post Mortem case book 1855

Today the hospital and medical school are located in Tooting, but until the 1970s were situated in central London at Hyde Park. The deaths and diseases recorded within the case books therefore offer an insight into shifts in the population health of central London. They feature detailed autopsy reports written by noted surgeons including Henry Gray, Caesar Hawkins and Timothy Holmes, and later eminent figures such as Claude Frankau and William Duke-Elder.

Today, post mortems are more commonly associated with forensics and criminal investigations. In the 19th century, the purpose of the post mortem was for physicians to support their diagnosis made when the patient was alive, and to identify any other unrecognised factors that contributed to the cause of death. Bodies were also examined in order to identify the internal functions and structures of the body and the relationships between these.

As well as the post mortem examinations undertaken, the case books chart the bodies which went unexamined, many of which were transported to the medical school for the teaching of anatomy. At a time when ‘body snatching’ was still fresh in the public consciousness, the case books reveal issues around consent and the changing way in how we see the body after death.

Dissection was prohibited in England until the 16th century.  At that time, limited rights were given allowing around ten bodies a year for dissection.  In 1752 the Murder Act was passed, allowing medical schools more access to bodies by providing the corpses of executed murderers. This meant there was still a great shortage of bodies for the pursuit of medical knowledge. This shortage resulted in the growth of the illegal body trade and those known as the ‘body snatchers’, or ‘Resurrection Men’, as they were commonly known at the time.

In 1832, the Anatomy Act was passed, allowing the lawful possession of a body for anatomical examination provided that relatives of the deceased did not object.  Until this point, it was extremely difficult for physicians and surgeons to contribute advancements in medical science.  The practice of dissection was still mostly condemned on moral and religious grounds at this time, and protests against the Act continued into the 1840s.  Many protesters believed that the Act still failed to stop the sale of paupers’ bodies for medical research without their consent.

Rosie Bolton, Conservator from the Leather Conservation Centre, recently visited the St George’s Archives and Special Collections to examine the red rot found on the leather covers of the post mortem case books. ‘Red rot’ is a typical deterioration where the leather becomes degraded and turns into thin powder. Rosie inspected the condition of the covers and took PH tests to check the acidity levels of the leather.  It is hoped that the medical school will be awarded funding from the Wellcome Trust to fully conserve these fascinating case books and their histories.

Conservator Rosie Bolton, examining our post mortem case books.

Did you know…

Red rot (or redrot) is a degradation process found in vegetable-tanned leather. Red rot is caused by prolonged storage or exposure to high temperatures, high relative humidity, and environmental pollution.  Red rot commonly appears as a red dust or powder on the surface of the leather.  Unfortunately, the deterioration processes associated with this also affect the fibrous structure of the leather, and if left untreated, leather suffering from red rot can disintegrate completely into a red powder.

For further information relating to the history of St George’s Hospital and the medical school, please contact the Archivist at archives@sgul.ac.uk or go to the following webpage: http://library.sgul.ac.uk/using-the-library/archives

The Dissection of an Egyptian Mummy at St George’s Hospital Medical School

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Our Archivist Carly Manson has been looking more in depth into the history of St George’s. One of the interesting stories that you may not know about, is that the med school once dissected a mummy!


 

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1835 saw the opening ceremony of St George’s Hospital Medical School. It also saw the opening of an ancient Egyptian mummy, in the hopes of impressing an expectant crowd.

Physicians and surgeons were permitted to have a limited number of pupils in the early days of St George’s Hospital, but there was no established medical school. Students would travel to various places for the different studies needed in their professional education.  A medical school was eventually formed in 1831, and established on Kinnerton Street in 1834, a few minutes walk from the hospital at Hyde Park Corner in central London.

According to The Lancet, one of the world’s oldest general medical journals, there was an official opening of the St George’s Hospital Medical School at Kinnerton Street in July 1835. To attract visitors to the opening, it was advertised that an Egyptian mummy was to be dissected in front of the audience in the new Anatomical Theatre.

The mummy was said to have been a high ranking lady who belonged to the Temple of Ammon in Thebes.  Its exterior casing was ornate and varnished black, while the inner casing was made of sycamore wood covered with hieroglyphics which acknowledged the Egyptian deities.

It was announced that the mummy had been gifted to the school by the high ranking Lord Frederick Fitzclarence. But according to the ‘intercepted letters’ section of The Lancet article, a Mr Turner stated that the mummy was actually an old present to Mr Robert Keate, the hospital Surgeon:

“You would notice in your card of invitation, that the mummy was presented to the school by no less than Sir Frederick Fitzclarence, but on inquiring I found that, like Brodie’s other trickeries, it had not been presented to the school at all, but that Lord Fitz had given it to Bobby Keate ages ago.” (Wakley, 1835)

Unfortunately, The Lancet goes on to state that “the mummy gave more than the usual trouble to Mr P. and his assistants, and, after all, presented nothing singular to gratify the eye or the curiosity…. All appearance of flesh was destroyed, and the corpse looked like a skeleton dipped in pitch.” (Wakley, 1835)

Not everyone was disappointed by the event, The Lancet cites Mr Turner as stating “I do not regret going, as it turned out to be a fine intellectual comedy” (Wakley, 1835).  Despite the Lancet’s somewhat negative article, news spread of the opening, and the American Railroad Journal acclaimed that “much curiosity has been excited in the scientific world by the opening of a mummy”. (Minor, 1835)

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Prospectus for a course of lectures on anatomy at the St George’s Hospital Medical School at Kinnerton Street for 1837-1838

For further information relating to the history of St George’s Hospital and the medical school, please contact the Archivist at archives@sgul.ac.uk or go to the following webpage: http://library.sgul.ac.uk/using-the-library/archives

Did you know…

The word ‘dissection’ originates from the Latin ‘dissecare’, meaning ‘to cut to pieces’. Dissection, also known as ‘anatomisation’, has been used for centuries to explore the body of a deceased animal or plant to study its internal structures and functions. Dissection is still practised in medical schools worldwide, although computer models are also increasingly used to teach anatomy. One resource that St George’s Library currently subscribes to is Acland’s Anatomy, an accessible online tool with realistic 3D visuals.


Reference list

Wakley, T. (ed.) (July 1835), ‘Kinnerton Street School’, The Lancet, vol. II, pp.457-463

Minor, D.K. (ed.) (August 1835) The American Railroad Journal, and Advocate of Internal Improvements, Vol 4. no 33, pp.526

 

New Staff Profile – Carly and James

Today we present the staff profile of two new members to St George’s Library, Carly and James.


Hello my name is: Carly Manson

Carly Manson

My role in the Library is: Archivist

Talk to me about: Anything relating to the History of St George’s Hospital and the medical school. I work in the Archive where we keep lots of old manuscripts, photographs, rare books, and artefacts ranging from the 16th-21st century. Our earliest item is a rare book dating back to 1562.

The Archive collection connects St George’s to its historical past and can be used to enhance new research in the history of medicine, uncovering stories of our famous alumni such as Edward Jenner, John Hunter and Edward Wilson (amongst many others).

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Photograph showing Blossom the cow, used in Edward Jenner’s cowpox experiment, mounted on the wall in the Robert Barnes Pathology Laboratory at St George’s Hospital, c.1907

Archives are primary research material and it’s very important that they are looked after properly- they are unique and irreplaceable! A project has recently been put in place to make the materials in the Archive more accessible to students, researchers and members of the public. In the near future, we are looking to catalogue our collections and create a number of finding aids to help enable access.

Visitors to the Archive have included students and members of staff from St George’s, and external researchers. Our previous visitors have included scientists, historians, television production staff, and family history researchers, amongst others. Here is a taster of the types of records they have consulted in the Archive:

  • Minutes and papers of the School Council, Academic Board and other committees
  • Student registers which include the names of our famous alumni (e.g. Henry Gray and Edward Jenner)
  • Student nurses records
  • Publications including School yearbooks and Hospital magazines
  • Photographs of students, staff and former hospital sites
  • Personal papers of Dame Muriel Powell
  • Artefacts including historic surgical instruments
  • Artworks/illustrations
  • Oral history interview recordings with former students and staff
  • Rare and historic books from the original medical school library
  • Post mortem case books spanning 100 years of history
  • Pathology registers from 1920-1946

If you would like to access the Archive for your research, or if you are interested in our history and would like to look at some of our treasures, please feel free to drop me an email at archives@sgul.ac.uk. Note that the majority of our records relate to the medical school rather than St George’s Hospital. The records of the hospital are largely held by London Metropolitan Archives.

Something else about me: I’m a huge fan of horror movies. The Archive has a number of creepy looking surgical instruments from the 18th and 19th centuries so I think I fit right in at St George’s!

 


Hello my name is: James Calvert

My role in the Library is: Information Assistant

When I am at the Library helpdesk you can ask me about:

  • General enquiries
  • Finding information
  • Issuing, renewing and returning items
  • Problems with your Library ID card
  • Problems logging off a PC
  • Printer issues
  • Password resetting
  • Booking a group discussion room
  • Topping up printing credits
  • Paying fines!

You can also contact the helpdesk between 8am-6pm

Telephone: 020 8725 5466
Email:  library@sgul.ac.uk

Something else about me: I am returning to university in the autumn to study part-time for an MSc in Information Science. Along with developing a career in Library and Information Science, my main interests are practicing Tai Chi and Meditation.

 

St George’s Library in 2016

As 2016 draws to an end, we bring to you the highlights for St George’s Library.

Supporting RAG Week

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This year, the Library supported St George’s Students’ Union’s Raising and Giving Week by donating fines for a day and raised £137.45. The supported charities were Equip Africa, MACS and St George’s Hospital Charity.

App Swap

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We’ve been continuing with our App Swap events. where staff and students get to talk about the apps that they have used, or have been involved with. Response has been great from student and staff who have attended, include Learning Advocate Ele Clancey. We aim to run more next year.

Supporting 10 Days of Wellbeing

June was the month for peace and relaxation in the Library, not least because it saw the St George’s Staff Development team launch its first “10 Days of Wellbeing” programme. We supported the new initiative by putting out a book swap trolley in the library foyer, where students and staff were encouraged to pick up or drop off books to share with others. We also added a selection of Mood-Boosting Books to the library collection.  To date, the most popular title of the Library’s 2016 Mood-Boosting collection is The President’s Hat by Antoine Laurain.

Library Refresh

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Regular library users might have noticed a few changes to the look of the library, especially the main Quiet Study Group area; this year we replaced all our chairs, brought in round tables, and then brought back rectangular tables due to student demand. We also added screens to create a more flexible study space and help reduce noise. We’re always looking for ways that we can make the space work better for all our users and are open to feedback – let us know if you have any thoughts by speaking to staff or filling in a feedback form at the Library helpdesk.

Extended Opening Hours

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In response to student feedback and after running some successful trials, this July we were pleased to announce that during the 2016/17 academic year we would once again be offering extended opening hours.

We’re now open longer than ever before; offering 24 hour access to the Library from 8am on Monday mornings to 9pm Saturday evenings and 9am-9pm on Sundays.

Library Treasure Hunt

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The start of the new academic year is always very busy for library staff and this September/October was no different as we welcomed all our new undergraduate and postgraduate students – we hope you are all now well settled in to life at St George’s! Alongside our busy programme of induction sessions, we ran a Treasure Hunt featuring a number of clues and activities to help new students find their way around the Library and its resources.

Fresher’s Fayre Winners

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Thank you to everyone who took part in our Social Media competition by liking our Facebook page and following us on Twitter. Our lucky prize draw winners went away with Honest Burger vouchers, Blossom tote bags and a St George’s teddy among other prizes. We also gave away a £20 Amazon voucher in our Treasure Hunt prize draw. Best of all, everyone who took part in the Social Media Competition can now get useful Library updates straight to their Twitter and Facebook feeds!

New Book Display

In September we introduced a book display to showcase various resources that we think you will find helpful.  Previous displays included our best books on study skills, and online resources recommended by the Learning Advocates.  Come and take a look to see what delights we have in store for the New Year!  You’ll find the display near the Library Helpdesk.

Children in Need

On 18th November we raised £100 for BBC Children in Need’s annual fundraiser by raising money through our staff sweepstake and donating fines. Pudsey was spotted all over the library waving hello.

Explore Archives

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In November we also participated in and celebrated Explore Your Archive week, a campaign organised by the UK National Archives and the Archives and Records Association. We ran two handling sessions where selected objects were taken from the archives and displayed.  The history of each object was shared by the archivist Elisabeth. It was enlightening to find out more about our history and wonderful to share in the positive reactions and interest from staff and students at St George’s who attended.  The sessions were supported by a series of daily hashtags showcasing photos from our archives. We loved taking part in Explore Your Archives and learnt more about the fascinating history of St George’s’.

Christmas at St George’s

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We end our blog with an original photograph from the archives showing St George’s Hospital at Hyde Park Corner at Christmas time in the mid-20th century.

In 2017 we are looking forward to working with all our users and the Students Union to continue to improve the study environment for everyone.