Coram’s Foundling Hospital archive holds a wealth of fascinating and challenging material. The information revealed by records linked to the health and medical treatment of the children throws light on their physical and mental health and well-being, as well as the social conditions and attitudes of the time.
The skills share day is designed to support the work of heritage professionals, teachers, freelancers and facilitators. It will examine how the stories these materials tell can be made accessible and relevant through public engagement activities. Participants will gain insights into the range of material and will share and discuss ideas relating to outreach and engagement to schools, adult learners and academic audiences, including the creation of an exhibition.
The sessions will be led by London Metropolitan Archives staff who have worked directly with the project.
By Joanna McConville, Archivist: Wellcome Trust Project, West Sussex County Council
Here at West Sussex Record Office (WSRO) in Chichester, we are drawing to the end of a major project involving the archive of the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead, which became known during the Second World War as the centre for the treatment of the ‘Guinea Pig Club’, the RAF and Allied Air personnel who suffered severe burns and underwent major reconstructive procedures under the care of pioneering surgeon Sir Archibald McIndoe.
The origins of the project date back to 2013, when the hospital’s archive was first deposited at WSRO. Comprising a substantial, if incomplete series of administrative records, together with a number of McIndoe’s working papers and a vast collection of patient case files including those of the celebrated ‘Guinea Pigs’, the archive was recognised to be one of national and international interest and significance which shed light on the revolutionary plastic surgery carried out at the hospital by McIndoe and his team, work which formed a key part of the history and development of plastic surgery as a discipline. McIndoe’s approach was particularly notable in his concern with his patients’ long-term rehabilitation and re-integration into society following their injury and disfigurement and the Guinea Pig Club which was founded by a group of the airmen in 1941 provided a support network throughout their lives.
In 2015, WSRO and the Queen Victoria Hospital NHS Foundation Trust successfully submitted a bid to the Wellcome Trust for £72,952 to fund the cataloguing and preservation of the archive and the digitisation of over 600 Guinea Pig patient files, in addition to the digitisation of a collection of medical drawings produced at McIndoe’s behest by Mollie Lentaigne, a young VAD nurse who worked at Queen Victoria Hospital during the war. These drawings are held at the East Grinstead Museum, who have partnered WSRO in the project alongside the Guinea Pig Club and Queen Victoria Hospital. Work on the project began in earnest in 2016 with the appointment of the first of two Project Archivists and a dedicated Preservation and Digitisation Assistant.
As the current Project Archivist, the experience of working with this collection has been both a privilege and an eye-opener on a number of levels, offering up engagement with some fascinating archival material and inspirational human stories, but also presenting some considerable practical challenges. Some time after making an initial decision on what information to capture when cataloguing each patient file, it became clear that with over 15,000 files altogether and a very limited number of months to carry out the work, something would have to change in order to meet project deadlines. The original pro forma used for recording patient information was significantly amended to enable cataloguing at a rate which would allow the project to be completed on time.
The nature and content of the material has also tested our resources to a degree which was perhaps not fully anticipated. The patient case files, especially those of the Guinea Pigs, are image-heavy, filled with graphic photographs depicting individuals with severely disfiguring and distressing injuries, captured at all stages of treatment and recovery. On one level I was struck by how my tolerance for viewing such images increased and how normalised they became, yet there was always a tipping point, an image which I would wish had remained unseen, and which lingered uncomfortably in my mind long after the file was firmly shut and stored away in the strongroom. It raised some interesting questions for us on how to manage the possible psychological and emotional impacts of exposure to some types of archival material.
Issues around sensitivity and access have loomed large, as is perhaps inevitable with medical records, and particularly a collection which is comparatively recent and which contains such a high proportion of confidential patient files. This has been probably the steepest learning curve for me as a new archivist, and I have been immensely grateful for the input and advice of experienced colleagues both at WSRO and in the wider archival community. With the prominence and degree of interest in McIndoe and the Guinea Pig Club, and the value of the archive, especially the Guinea Pig patient files, as a unique resource which has great research potential, there has always been a delicate line to tread between our two-fold responsibilities: maintaining confidentiality and ensuring compliance with legislation on the one hand, and promoting and raising awareness of a remarkable collection on the other.
Following almost two years of work, the project has resulted in the creation of over 25,000 digital images and an extensive catalogue including all of the patient case files which will shortly be made available online. We are now in the final phase of organising various outreach events and activities to help ensure that knowledge of the archive – and of the compelling history of Queen Victoria Hospital, the Guinea Pig Club and the work of Archibald McIndoe can reach as wide an audience as possible.
In this post, Tiff Kirby, archives assistant at the Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire Archives, discusses her experience cataloguing the North Cambridgeshire Hospital records.
North Cambridgeshire Hospital, known as North Cambs, has served the people of Wisbech and North Cambridgeshire for a hundred and forty-four years. It was the initiative of philanthropist Margaret Trafford Southwell, who gave £8000 for the construction of the hospital, and £2000 as an endowment. It functioned as a voluntary hospital, paid for through subscriptions, until it became a General Hospital with the advent of the NHS. The records held at Cambridgeshire Archives span the period from before its construction to the 1990s, and they were catalogued in 2017.
During the record survey, it was evident that stickers surviving on the spine of some of the records, specifically volumes and substantial files, were evidence of a filing system. Unfortunately not enough of these stickers survived to reconstruct this system. To preserve it in an accessible way, the number on the sticker was included in the catalogue description so that this relationship between records was evident. In 1962 a survey of the hospital records was carried out by the then County Archivist. This showed that minutes and reports were kept in the secretary’s office, and patient registers and cash books kept in a nearby cupboard. This appeared to show sequences that, where possible, were followed while cataloguing. But these two systems conflicted. For example, in the 1962 survey, minutes of the Hospital Committee came before any other record, but in the sticker number sequence the first volume of the minutes was numbered 141. Files and other material held in four large boxes showed no apparent order, by chronology, subject, function or department, so original records of the endowment and construction of the hospital were held in a box with records of a time capsule excavation and application for trust status in the 1990s. The structure of the catalogue was based on function, but incorporated elements of original order and sequences wherever possible.
The collection includes the complete minutes of the Hospital Committee for the period North Cambs was a voluntary hospital. The Deed of Trust includes the constitution and provision for four Trustees, who were part of the management committee, along with 8 additional members who had subscribed a guinea a year for at least three years. The Committee met every Tuesday at midday. Details in the records include the purchase of a new chloroform inhaler at the beginning of the twentieth century, preparations for war such as blacking out and the purchase of gas masks, and controversy and opposition to the loss of the Hospital’s independent voluntary status with the advent of the National Health Service.
To develop services and expand capacity for increasing numbers of patients, North Cambs worked in partnership with other hospitals. Between 1925 and 1962 it worked with Addenbrooke’s hospital for the training of nurses, and from 1933 the provision of specialist services with a weekly Orthopaedic clinic by H.B. Roderick of Addenbrookes. 1946 – 9 saw the assistance of Addenbrooke’s to provide Medical and ENT Outpatient sessions. Lack of space post-war led to collaboration with the Clarkson hospital in Wisbech, which supplied two post-operative wards, enabling North Cambs to increase the number of surgeries.
From its opening in 1873 to the introduction of the NHS, North Cambs was governed by the Committee formed at the foundation of the hospital. From 1949 it was developed into a General Hospital providing a full range of specialist services, and was part of Peterborough Area Hospital Management Committee. In 1953 Peterborough Hospitals separated from North Cambridgeshire, and the hospital came under North Cambridgeshire Hospital Management Committee. In 1974 the Regional Hospital Boards were abolished and North Cambs came under West Norfolk and Wisbech Health Authority. From 1982 to 1990 the hospital came under the West Norfolk and Wisbech Health Authority Unit Management Team. In 2002 the Regional Health Authorities were replaced with Strategic Health Authorities. Today North Cambs is administered under Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust.
Selection of documents that have been scanned and are available through the King's Fund Digital Archive
The King's Fund is a charity that works to improve health care in England. Established in 1897 as an initiative of the then Prince of Wales, the initial purpose of the Fund was to raise money for London's voluntary hospitals, which at the time offered the only health services available to poor people in the capital. The charity has been renamed over the years (firstly, King Edward's Hospital Fund for London and then later, The King's Fund) and our role has evolved accordingly, reflecting the significant and ongoing changes to health care in England.
Our digital archive records nearly 2,000 digitised King's Fund publications dating from 1898. This unique resource not only records our history and our work, but also the health of people living in the capital and the development of the NHS. The collection doesn't contain any medical records, but it does provide a rare insight into the early voluntary hospital system in London. In the early 20th century, before the NHS was established, there was no central body responsible for collecting information about hospitals, such as bed numbers, costs and expenditure. However, the considerable funding provided to London hospitals gave the Fund influence to achieve reform and improvement. For example, the Fund made it a condition of awarding grants to hospitals that they produce, for the first time, standardised accounts and hospital statistics.
While our digital archive reflects the nature of our work, I should point out that it is really a digital repository for King’s Fund publications. We don’t use the system to store any archival material (our original archive collection is kept in the safe custody of London Metropolitan Archives), so effectively it is a digital library. However, we called it a ‘digital archive’ to reflect the nature of the collection within and to differentiate it from our extensive physical library collection, which includes non-King’s Fund publications. As a former archivist, I originally found the title hard to accept, but I admit that it does have a better ring to it than ‘digital repository’.
We currently use E-Prints as the underlining repository system for the digitised images, and the Universal media viewer (originally the Wellcome digital player) for rendering the images into viewable packages on our library website. At the moment, we are investigating other digital repository systems as we want to expand the collection to include new materials, such as images and born-digital documents and files. One system we’re interested in is the open-source Hydra repository, particularly because of its ability to utilise plugins that enhance collection management and curation. It’s a new area that we are excited to explore, as it will allow the library to showcase these materials in more dynamic ways.
EXPLORING HOSPITAL RECORDS AND ARCHIVES: A Symposium Event for Researchers and Archivists
The event is relevant for people starting their research (undergraduate or postgraduate) or those wanting to explore new routes into academic or historical explorations
Researching hospital records offers opportunities and presents challenges. Records from the Royal Free Hospital will provide a main focus for the event, alongside other related material from the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) collections.
There will also be the opportunity to share research ideas, exchange information and network with others researching a range of topics relating to hospital records.
12.30 – 2pm
Registration and Welcome
• Networking Lunch
• Behind the Scenes Tour – an introduction to the archive and its work
• Document / Collection Viewing – a chance to see and discuss original materials
Presentations and Open Forum: Accessing and Using Archive Collections
LMA staff will:
• Introduce the range and type of collections held on site
• Discuss ways of working with sensitive and challenging material
• Open up ideas about how Royal Free Hospital record collections have been used to engage and inform the public
Workshop and Knowledge Share
This practical session will provide participants with an opportunity to discuss, plan and share current research or project work, discuss new proposals and consider the potential of partnership working.