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.

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.

St George’s Archive Explored

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Last week  (19-27 November 2016) we participated in and celebrated Explore Your Archive week, a campaign organised by the UK National Archives and the Archives and Records Association, which encourages everyone to explore archives. Using the twitter hashtag #ExploreArchives the library has tweeted about some of the fascinating items held here in the St George’s Archives as part of this UK and Ireland-wide campaign to explore and celebrate archives.

For Explore Archives week, ‘handling sessions’ were organised in which St George’s students and staff were invited to come and get hands-on with original items from the historic collections – a first for St George’s! In the lunchtime sessions, attendees were walked through the history of St George’s by Elisabeth, the University’s first archivist.

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Elisabeth selected a variety of items from the collections to demonstrate the wealth of history and stories that the archives contain – including items on John Hunter’s pupil and vaccination pioneer, Edward Jenner. A first edition copy of Jenner’s ground-breaking essay on his experiments with cowpox was displayed. We explored its handwritten inscription from Jenner to a lesser well-known figure in the history of St George’s, Sir Everard Home. Home is best remembered for burning Hunter’s unpublished manuscripts in an attempt to hide his plagiarism of Hunter’s work. However during his career he also served King George III as his sergeant-surgeon and following Hunter’s death became surgeon to St George’s Hospital.

Other items showcased during the sessions included a Post Mortem Case Book charting an outbreak of cholera in 1854, a photograph of two of the first female medical students admitted to St George’s during the First World War, and a photograph album showing nursing students in the mid-20th century following the introduction of the National Health Service.

Another favourite item was a set of Victorian surgical instruments awarded to student Edward Walker for the ‘best dissection’. See below for some photos from the event.

We asked attendees what they enjoyed the most from the sessions and received a lot of positive feedback:

“Hearing about other aspects of our history”

“Everything! Particularly the stories and the chance to touch the items”

“Being able to touch and turn pages of very old books and objects”

“Hearing the stories behind the artefacts”

During Explore Archives week we also posted many photos from the archives using the hashtag #stgeorgesarchives. If you would like to see more, we have put together a Storify of the tweets.

 

 

Sounds from St George’s Archives

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While exploring the archives we discovered Nine Medical Songs, a song book written and composed by staff and students at St George’s Hospital and published in 1895.

A digitised version can be seen online via the Wellcome Library. Our Library staff member Dan Jeffcote has recorded a snippet of the melody for one of the songs, ‘A Song for St George’s’, played on the guitar, bringing a sound from St George’s past to life!

Exploring our archives further, we were able to find out more about the individuals who produced the song book.

Joseph Blomfield (previously Blumfield) was a junior Anaesthetist to St George’s Hospital, and was also an assistant teacher of anaesthetics. He contributed to and later edited the St George’s Hospital Gazette, the Hospital’s staff magazine. His forte was the recital of humourous poems, usually of his own composition, performing them at students’ and nurses’ concerts. Many of his poems survive today, printed in the Gazette.

Charles Nugent Chadborn and Gilbert Holland Ransome both joined the Medical School as students in 1891. Ransome also edited the Gazette, and both Ransome and Blomfield played for the School’s rugby team (with Blomfield scoring his first try at the age of 50). Chadborn followed Blomfield to become an anaesthetist, whilst Ransome became a surgeon.

If you are interested in finding out more about St George’s archive, sign up for our handling sessions open to all St George’s staff and students (including Trust staff).

  • Monday 21st November from 12.30pm-1.30pm  H2.6 Boardroom
  • Thursday 24 November 12.30 – 1.30pm  JB 3+5

Booking is required and places are limited, so please contact archives@sgul.ac.uk to reserve your place. We will have exclusive postcards featuring some of our archive treasures for attendees to take home.


During Explore Archives week we will be sharing more stories from the archives on Twitter. Follow @SGULlibrary and the hashtag #stgeorgesarchives.

Second Explore Archives handling session added: Thur 24 Nov 12.30 – 1.30pm JB.3+5

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The response to our first ever Explore Archives handling session has been great, and we’ve almost fully booked! Due to this, we will be running a second session on Thursday. The two dates for the events are:

  • Monday 21st November from 12.30pm-1.30pm  H2.6 Boardroom
  • Thursday 24 November 12.30 – 1.30pm  JB 3+5

Staff and students are invited to attend to see what is held in our archives and hear what stories they can tell us about the history of St George’s.

Booking is required and places are limited, so please contact archives@sgul.ac.uk to reserve your place. We’ll excited to  have exclusive postcards featuring some of our archive treasures for attendees to take home.

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During Explore Archives week we will be tweeting throughout with interesting facts and items from our historical collections. Follow @SGULlibrary and the hashtags #stgeorgesarchives and #explorearchives

Find out more about Explore Archives (http://www.exploreyourarchive.org/)

View a timeline of the history of St George’s, University of London

Library ♥ Archives: Explore Archives

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As well as taking centre stage during November for our Library Loves Archives promotion, this month the St George’s Archives will be taking part in a campaign to encourage everyone to explore archives. Explore Archives runs from 19th-27th November and last year over 300 archives from across the UK and Ireland took part.

This is the first time St George’s will be taking part in the archives campaign, which aims to show the potential of archives to excite and bring people together, and tell amazing stories.

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Last month we introduced you to the St George’s Archive Project, and now we are holding an archives handling session inviting staff and students to get hands on with history with a selection of treasures from our archives.

The Explore Archives handling session will be held on Monday 21st November from 12.30pm-1.30pm and staff and students are invited to attend to see what is held in our archives and hear what stories they can tell us about the history of St George’s.

Booking is required and places are limited, so please contact archives@sgul.ac.uk to reserve your place. We’ll also have exclusive postcards featuring some of our archive treasures for attendees to take home.

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During Explore Archives week we will be tweeting throughout with interesting facts and items from our historical collections. Follow @SGULlibrary and the hashtags #stgeorgesarchives and #explorearchives

Find out more about Explore Archives (http://www.exploreyourarchive.org/)

View a timeline of the history of St George’s, University of London