Summer Sites: The Royal College of Nursing Library and Heritage Centre

summersites

The Royal College of Nursing Library and Heritage Centre

Royal College of Nursing facade
Image of The Royal College of Nursing buidling by David Hawgood. CC BY-SA 2.0

The Royal College of Nursing’s major London site is located in a smart Georgian building in Mayfair. Members of the public can use the space, consult books and print journals, and access the internet using the free WiFi access. They can also use the computers and printing facilities. The College’s archives and special collections are also available by prior arrangement. Members of the College have full access to on-line journals and a dedicated mezzanine member’s area as well as book borrowing rights.

Image of RCN Library seating and journals area
RCN Library seating in the journals area

In addition to these services, the College houses exhibitions reflecting its important collections concerning the history of nursing. They also hold interesting events ranging from lectures to musical performances. There is also a shop and a cafe. For more details visit the website.

Near to the Royal College of Nursing Library and Heritage Centre:

Drawing room in the Wallace Collection
Drawing room in the Wallace Collection

A short walk away in Manchester Square you can find the Wallace Collection. Located in  historic Hertford House it contains paintings, decorative art and an armoury in a series of beautifully decorated rooms. The collection includes many world famous paintings such as Franz Hals’ ‘Laughing Cavalier’. Admittance is free and it is open seven days a week. The Photographers Gallery in Ramillies Street has fine exhibitions of contemporary photography. On a less cultural note you are very close to the shops of Oxford Street, Regent Street and Carnaby Street.

A sandwich and a cup of coffee?

The Workshop Coffee Company in Barnett Street serves a good flat white. On Wigmore Street is a branch of Comptoir Libanais which is a good place for light Middle Eastern snacks and mint teas. The Wallace Collection has a stylish restaurant in a glass atrium which serves afternoon tea and is worth a visit. Alternatively, the restaurants and cafes of Soho are a short walk away.

Royal College of Nursing Library and Heritage Centre
20 Cavendish Square, London W1G 0RN
(Henrietta Place entrance)
Tel: 0345 337 3368
Website link

Don’t forget– if you cannot make it in to St George’s Library over the summer, there are still many resources that you can access from a computer with internet access (logins may be required). See more information about our online resources.

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Summer Sites: The Wellcome Collection

summersites

The Wellcome Collection

Situated  close to Euston Rail Station and just behind University College Hospital the Wellcome Collection is a hub for research, education and study into Medical and Health Sciences.

The_Wellcome_Building
Facade of the Wellcome Building

The library is loacted within the same building and it is open to all: you simply need to bring personal ID, proof of address and a completed application form (this can be downloaded from the Library homepage at: http://wellcomelibrary.org/using-the-library/joining-the-library/) to the library to join.

Facilities include WiFi, printing, copying and access to online collections of journals and databases. There are also study rooms which can be booked in advance. For further information and opening times see their website.

napbrush
‘Napoleon’s toothbrush’: on display in the ‘Medicine Man’ exhibition.

The Wellcome collection is particularly famous for its exhibitions, which are always imaginatively curated and cover a wide range of interesting topics. These are free of charge and can be very popular with the general public so you may have to obtain a timed ticket at peak times such as weekends. There are two permanent exhibitions: ‘Medicine Man’ displays a series of fascinating objects collected by Henry Wellcome including Napoleon’s toothbrush and George III’s hair. The ‘Medicine Now’ exhibition covers more modern medical topics such as genomes.

There is a good shop on the ground floor selling a wide range of books on popular science and historical subjects. It also has an entertaining range of gifts including cuddly bacteria and syringe ballpoint pens.

Near to the Wellcome Collection

petrie museum
Archeological objects in the Petrie Museum.

The area around the Wellcome Collection is London’s university district and is particularly rich in museums. The Grant Museum of Zoology with its historical collection of specimens gives you the chance to look at the skeletons of lost species such as the Dodo and the Quagga (a now extinct form of zebra). Also nearby is the Petrie Museum which contains an amazing 80,000 ancient Egyptian artifacts, the most interesting of which are on display.  Also close by is one of the most famous museums in the world: The British Museum.

British_Museum_Dome
Entrance hall of the British Museum.


A sandwich and a cup of coffee?

speedy's
Speedy’s cafe in Gower Street.

There is a large airy cafe on the ground floor of the Wellcome Collection although it can get crowded. Fans of the television programme ‘Sherlock’ can follow in his footsteps and grab a cup of tea and a sandwich in Speedy’s cafe just down the road in Gower Street. The best coffee nearby however, is to be found in Tinderbox which is on the first floor of the Tottenham Court Road branch of Paperchase.  If all that museum visiting has made you thirsty and you are a real ale/craft beer fan the Euston Tap and Cider Tap now quirkily occupy the small stone buildings on either side of the entrance to Euston station. For the ravenous there is a branch of Brixton stalwart, Franco Manca Pizza, on Tottenham Court Road.

euston tap
The Euston Tap real ale house outside Euston Station.

Wellcome Collection
183 Euston Road
London NW1 2BE
Tel: 020 7611 2222
wellcomecollection.org/

Don’t forget– if you cannot make it in to St George’s Library over the summer, there are still many resources that you can access from a computer with internet access (logins may be required). See more information about our online resources.

Nursing and the First World War.

 

Nurses and the first world war

Nursing before the War.
Until the 19th century nurses had been regarded as low level domestic servants with very basic skills. In 1865 the Medical Superintendent of Glasgow Municipal Hospital, Dr J. B. Russell, described the profession thus:

‘at present nursing is the last resource of female adversity. Slatternly widows, runaway wives, servants out of place, women bankrupt of fame or fortune from whatever cause, fall back on hospital nursing‘ (Gaffney, 1982, p.140).

In 1867 Florence Nightingale dismissed her predecessors as: ‘those who were too old, too weak, too drunken, too dirty, too stupid or too bad to do anything else‘ (Gaffney, 1982, p. 194).

gamp

Barnard, F. (1874) Mrs. Gamp, on the Art of Nursing. This image depicts Dickens’ dissolute, drunken and slovenly stereotype of the early Victorian nurse.

Nursing often involved close physical contact with strangers. This, combined with the cleaning and feeding elements of the role, led to it being regarded as somewhat degrading and thus unsuitable for respectable women. Furthermore, a social stigma attached itself to any woman required to work for a living rather than being supported by her husband or family. As the 19th century advanced however, the social class of hospital patients had begun to diversify. Advances in surgery and care at hospitals resulted in the presence of patients who had previously been tended to at home under the management of personal physicians. This, along with developments in medical science and technology, fuelled the demand for skilled presentable nurses.

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Professional nurses at George’s circa 1900 (St George’s archive).

By 1914 there were an estimated 12,000 nursing personnel with some kind of recognised training in Britain (Dingwall, Rafferty and Webster, 1988, p. 47). Such training might have included lectures in pharmaceuticals, hygiene, anatomy and nutrition. There was also plenty of work available as hospitals expanded and new ones opened but there remained no recognised formal skill base. Old prejudices towards the profession lingered and very few middle class women were recruited (Maggs, 1983, p. 47). Nurses, who were largely drawn from respectable working class backgrounds, regarded themselves as educated and genteel. Nursing itself however, remained a new and vulnerable profession.

nurseschool

Advertisement for St George’s Hospital Institute for trained nurses (St George’s Hospital Gazette, May 1914).

Nurses operated within a regimented, hierarchical system with their status demarcated by their uniform and experience. They were expected to be obedient and calm under pressure. Most would have had experience of treating wounds and infections. To modern eyes it seems surprising therefore that they were not immediately acknowledged as an indispensable resource in fighting the war. However 1914 Britain remained a patriarchal culture and there was a resistance to placing women anywhere near the fighting. Nurses were therefore initially regarded as being most useful where they could free able-bodied men for service. Nevertheless due to the sheer numbers of wounded being evacuated from the front, it rapidly became clear that professional nurses were urgently required as close to the battlefields as possible.

archive1

Photograph of St George’s nurses taken close to 1914 (St George’s archive).

Professionals and Volunteers.
As the casualties mounted it also became apparent that the number of nurses deployed was, in fact, grossly insufficient. Voluntary Aid Detachment Workers (VADs) were recruited to carry out the auxiliary, unskilled parts of the job such as laundering, cleaning and applying basic dressings. It was dirty, challenging work yet paradoxically recruits were usually drafted from the middle and upper classes. This was partially because the other opportunities to aid the war effort such as work in munitions factories were considered socially unacceptable. There was also a perception that these young women were, due to their class and temperament, ‘natural’ nurses. Providing light care to the poor and elderly had long been considered appropriate pastimes for wealthy young women, as long as they did so out of charity rather than the need to earn a wage. VADs received a salary but were expected to pay for their uniforms and basic training themselves.

nursing vad poster

Dennys, J. (1915) VAD Recruitment poster (image courtesy of the Imperial War Museum).

As a consequence professional nurses found themselves cast in the role of manager and educator of VADs alongside their nursing duties. Moreover they had to supervise women from higher echelons of society than themselves and may have felt threatened by this influx of unskilled labour. This caused some friction. The professional nurses were occasionally irritated by the sense of entitlement of young, untrained women whom after the war would naturally occupy higher social positions than them. The volunteers in turn, unused to the discipline of the nursing system sometimes found their supervisors harsh and disciplinarian (Hallett, 2014). The VADs however, generally admired the professionalism and skills of their seniors and more often than not the challenges of dealing with the dying and wounded brought them together. The VADs’ contribution was essential and many finished the war as highly capable nurses (Hallett, 2014).

muddy field nurse

French and British soldiers and German prisoners having their wounds dressed by nurses at a clearing station in 1918. (image courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)

Nursing at the Front.
Life for nurses near the front was difficult. Trained to preserve cleanliness and hygiene they had to struggle to even keep themselves clean and louse-free. Casualties would arrive caked in mud and dirt (Lomas, 2014, p.20) and conditions at both clearing stations and hospitals could be rudimentary. E.M. McCarthy the Matron-Chief of British Troops wrote of the clearing stations near the Western Front in 1915:

In the wards there were rows of stretchers with brown blankets only and on bare floors…There were no trolleys or dressing tables, an empty petrol can served for the soiled dressings and a clean piece of paper as a tray for the soiled dressings, and the floor or next stretcher for a table. The cases, acute and light, were all mixed in the same ward.’ (McCarthy, 1919).

Nurses also had to cope with brutal injuries and aggressive infections. Their work included carefully removing shrapnel, irrigating wounds and cutting away infected tissue; activities that more closely resembled surgery than nursing care. Due to the heavily manured soil in Belgium and France many soldiers succumbed to tetanus and gangrene, the only practical treatment for which was often amputation. Anaesthetics and pain medication could be scarce; nurses would work on wounds as orderlies forcibly held patients down. The term ‘triage’ was popularised during the First World War. Nurses found themselves making decisions that would have dramatic and lasting effects upon their patients’ lives.

Despite the damp, unsanitary conditions of the trenches this was the first modern war during which more combatants died from their injuries rather than infectious disease (Hallett,2014). In 1915 Nurse Clare Gass described the arrival of casualties:

… some terrible cases, oh so much better dead (one young lad with eyes and nose all gone- one blur of mangled flesh –and body whole and sound), heads shattered to pieces or limbs hanging by a thread of tendons. Oh why must such things be?’ (Lomas, 2014, p.21)

These wounds were the consequence of advances in conventional weaponry. The use of chemical warfare such as chlorine, phosgene and mustard gasses however, took combatants and medical staff by surprise. It was particularly hard to treat. One nurse described the effects of mustard gas:

‘Poor things burnt and blistered all over with great mustard-coloured blisters, with blind eyes… all sticky and stuck together, always fighting for breath, with voices a mere whisper, saying that their throats are closing and they know they will choke’ (Blodgett, 2009).

After the War.

handling prisoner of war over

British nurses watching a German patient being handed over in 1919 (image courtesy of the Imperial War Museum).

Hospitals such as St George’s continued to deal with the effects of the war long after the armistice in November 1918. Amputees and those poisoned by gas or suffering from disfiguring injuries required continuing care. Nonetheless, demobilisation and the closure of military hospitals naturally led to a dramatic reduction in the need for nurses, leading to a sudden loss of employment and income for many. This particularly affected married women who could no longer serve after the war (Dean, 2012).

Many nurses returned to their pre-war lives but the war had provided not only horrors but opportunities. Some had travelled to places they had never imagined visiting and experienced freedoms and responsibilities they would never have been granted before 1914. It had a lasting effect on many. Agatha Christie, for example, served as a VAD and was able to qualify as a pharmaceutical dispenser after the war. Many of her novels would subsequently feature death by poisoning. Her most famous detective, Hercule Poirot, was a Belgian refugee from the war.

nurse picnicNurses having a picnic in Egypt (image courtesy of the Imperial War Museum).

Medicine itself remained a male dominated field but it had become difficult to refute the value of a qualified, skilled nurse in the light of the resilience, stoicism and determination they had demonstrated during the war. Nurses’ fears that the large numbers of volunteers taking on nursing roles during the war would ‘dilute’ their claim to professional status proved unfounded and in 1919 official registration for trained nurses was introduced. In 1933 Blomfield described the post-war body of nurses at St George’s:

‘There is little in common between the kindly, but poorly instructed female of a hundred years ago, and the healthy, young, cultured and highly skilled woman who is the finished hospital nurse of today (Blomfield, 1933, p. 102).’

He goes on to describe the training and rigorous application procedure at the hospital concluding that:

‘The high standard demanded at St. George’s has given her nurses a reputation second to none’ (Blomfield, 1933, p.103).

Bibliography.
Barnard, F. (1879) Mrs. Gamp, on the Art of Nursing [Pen and Ink]. Available at: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fred_Barnard00.jpg (Accessed: 4 November 2014).
Blodgett, B. (2009) ‘Germany’s use of chemical warfare in World War I’, First world war.com, Available at: http://www.firstworldwar.com/features/chemical_warfare.htm (Accessed: 4 November 2014).
Blomfield, J. (1933) St George’s 1733 – 1933. London: The Medici Society.
Dingwall, Robert, Anne Marie Rafferty, Charles Webster, eds. (1988) An Introduction to the Social History of Nursing. London: Routledge.
Gaffney, R. (1982) ‘ Women as Doctors and Nurses’, in Checkland, O. and Lamb, M. (eds.) Health Care as Social History. Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press pp. 134–148.
Hallett, C. (2014) ‘A very valuable fusion of classes’: British professional and volunteer nurses of the First World War.’ Endeavour, 38 (2), pp: 101 – 109.
Hallett, C. (2014) ‘Stoicism and care in the face of carnage’ Nursing Standard, 28(48).
Imperial War Museum. Collections and Research. http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections-research .
Lomas, C. (2014) ‘In the thick of it’, Nursing Standard, 28 (24) pp: 20-22.
Maggs, C.J (1983) The Origins of General Nursing. London: Croom Helm.
Mc Carthy, E. M. Report 31.7.1919. The National Archives WQ222/2134. Available at: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ (Accessed: 4 November 2014).
St George’s Hospital Gazette, July 2014.