Online glimpse into Victorian children's lives

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Indy Lifestyle Online

A new online database of medical records is offering a glimpse into the difficult lives of chronically ill children during the Victoria and Edwardian eras.

Around 10,000 records of admissions to Great Ormond Street Hospital's (GOSH) Cromwell House convalescent home in north London have been added to the Small and Special website which already features 84,000 records of young GOSH patients.

The stories include that of six-year-old Sarah Coulson who suffered terrible burns and was admitted to GOSH on 16 August, 1875 after a long journey from her home in Derby.

The records show she moved to Cromwell House after initial treatment but suffered a relapse eight months later and had to return to the hospital.

A year later Sarah was back in Cromwell House and her burns had improved.

She was finally allowed to go home after her mother pleaded with doctors and in the 1891 census Sarah is listed as working as a waitress.

Research project manager Dr Sue Hawkins said the medical care, food, warmth and education they received were "lifelines" for sick children who often came from extremely poor families.

"Life for some of these desperately sick children involved being passed from pillar to post.

"With so few hospitals willing to treat children, and their home circumstances not ideal for recovery, Great Ormond Street and Cromwell House were lifelines.

"Often, like Sarah, children were many miles from friends and family, and some spent months or even years moving between the hospital and convalescent homes in London, Margate, Brighton, Torquay, Eastbourne and Rhyl among others."

Dr Hawkins said: "The new records make it possible to piece together the lives of some of the children, not only during their time at Great Ormond Street Hospital, but afterwards when they went on to recover at Cromwell House.

"The records give a real glimpse into the hospital process, the way it was embraced by the public and the personal journeys made by patients."

Cromwell House which opened in 1869, was funded through donations and captured the hearts of the public. Local visitors took flowers and fruit from their gardens and a barrel organ, complete with dancing monkey, played outside the house in the summer. Wealthy female supporters even taught the patients how to read and write.

Dr Andrea Tanner, an archivist at GOSH, said the new records, combined with those that went live last year, brought to life the early workings of the hospital and convalescent home.

The records show 10 per cent of the children visiting GOSH between 1852 and 1914 were suffering from an infectious disease and one in five of them died.

Dr Tanner added: "The hospital was not supposed to accept children with such severe conditions but the doctors obviously felt unable to turn them away."

The Small and Special database is the work of the GOSH NHS Trust and academics and volunteers from Kingston University's Centre for Local History Studies.

It includes a database of admissions to the main hospital between 1852 and 1914, including the children's names, addresses, ages, symptoms and outcome, plus images of hand-written patient records and photographs and articles about the hospital.

Cromwell House admissions are recorded from its opening in 1869 until 1904.

The free website is the first to digitise hospital records of such historic significance and was funded by Kingston University, the Wellcome Trust, the Nuffield Foundation and the Friends of Great Ormond Street Hospital.

It has already proved a popular resource for medical historians, demographers and people compiling family histories.

The website's name was taken from Dr Elizabeth Lomax's 1996 book, Small and Special: the Development of Hospitals for Children in Victorian Times.