Evelina Children's Hospital

The Evelina Children's Hospital was the thirteenth children's hospital to be founded in Great Britain, the result of a great personal tragedy to its founder, Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild. Baron Ferdinand left his native Vienna in 1860 to live in London and five years later married his cousin Evelina. In 1866, whilst pregnant, Evelina was involved in a train crash and a short while afterwards both she and their son who had been born prematurely died. Baron Ferdinand wanted to build a hospital to perpetuate the memory of Evelina and first thought of founding a maternity hospital. At the beginning of the 19th century opinion was against special hospitals for children, believing that a sick child was best nursed at home by his mother. In time, dispensaries for sick children were opened where the physicians made home visits should the child not be well enough to attend at the dispensary and when the physicians saw the insanitary and unhealthy conditions that many of their patients were living in they realised the impossibility of proper care being administered to the sick child at home. Campaigning by physicians and members of the church in the first instance gradually broke down the prejudice against special children's hospital until the establishment of children's hospitals became a cause.

Baron Ferdinand was a close friend of Dr Arthur Farre who had attended his wife Evelina and was obstetrician and physician to Queen Victoria and other members of the royal family. It was probably due to his influence that Baron Ferdinand changed his mind and founded a children's hospital instead of the originally intended maternity hospital. He found a site in one of the worst slums in London that followed the curve of Southwark Bridge Road in The Borough, adjacent tothe Mint,and cleared South Sea Court which was insanitary and home to cholera to make way for the hospital.

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The Evelina Children's Hospital opened in 1869 and The Lancet wrote "No expense has been spared to make this a model hospital." The hospital was four storey's high with long wards on the first and second storeys which were well lit and well ventilated. In addition there was an out-patients department, treatment roooms and isolation wards. The hospital could accommodate 100 patients but only 30 cots were available at the time of opening whilst waiting for donations from the wealthy to enable the admittance of more patients. Baron Ferdinand and Evelina's mother supported the hospital totally for the first two years but gradually subscriptions came in and by 1882 the number of cots had increased to 68. 12,000 cases were seen in out-patients in the first two years. An article that traces the history and development of the Evelina Children's Hospital can be found on the Historic Hospital Admission Records Projectwebsite.

The hospital attracted many visitors. One of these was a journalist for the Morning Post who wrote the following, sometimes heart-rending, article after a visit at Christmas in 1875:

"... the hospital receives any child at the discretion of the resident medical oficer, but no cases of infectious fever are admissable, yet if fever breaks out amongst the resident patients, there is an isolated building where such sufferers can be removed. When a child has once been admitted its every want is provided for - food, clothes, medicine - without the slightest cost to its parents or relations.

"Yesterday afternoon the annual treat was given to the children. In every ward that is at present in use was set up a Christmas tree, lighted and decorated, and it was a pleasant site to see how the wan, pinched faces of the little patients shone as the gifts from off the tree were being distributed ... the children are taken from all parts of London, though the ... Mint and its surrounding streets furnish the largest proportion: street arabs, gutter children, starved, illused, neglected and uncared for, are all taken in. There are children in the hospital who are expiating the sins of their fathers; there are children who have been brought to the hospital, starved - and in nine cases out of ten these starvation cases are owing to the national curse, drink - whose arms and legs are even now, after long and careful treatment, but little thicker than two of one's fingers, and whose faces bear the curious wistful look which all starved animals acquire; there are children who are mained - some for ever - from accidents occurred in the streets, in which they were left unguarded before they could scarcely walk; and there are children suffering from the ordinary maladies peculiar to childhood. No doubt such sights are saddening. But look round the cheerfully painted, bright, clean wards, well lighted and well washed - look at the little beds, each with its snowy linen and pretty coverlet. Observe the little movable table on every bed on which the child can arrange its toys. Notice the large aquarium standing in the window, which must be a never failing source of amusement to children; and look at the nurses in their soft grey or blue dresses and white caps and aprons; and then think of the other side of the picture, and try to imagine out of what scenes of poverty and squalor, misery and vice, the inmates of the Evenlina Hspital have been taken. ... it is not too much to say that but for the hospital not one of the 56 children who are now inmates would at the present moment be alive. The difficulties in proper medical treatment are experienced in the houses of the wealthy; but it does not require a moment's consideration to understand how insuperable these difficulties are among the poor and often the degraded.

"The children in the Evelina Hospital receive the best treatment that modern science can prescribe. In cases of pneumonia and croup, for example, the patient is placed in a tent bed and not only does not breathe cold air, but only air that in addition to being warm is moistened. It may be mentioned, by the by, that among the children cures of diptheria and croup by tracheotomy have been very numerous and successful. The relations that exist between the patients and their nurses are plainly very cordial. The only support that the hospital receives beyond voluntary contributions is derived from training fees, these come either from ladies who intend to make nursing a profession, or from those who are sensible enough to perceive that when the day comes for them to possess homes of their own they wll be none the worse for having acquired a most useful art under proper tuition. The good effects of the hosptial may not end with the bodies of the patients,or at least the following anecdote would seem to say not. The children being of all religions no distinct doctrinal teaching is given to them; nothing beyond simple prayers at morning and nights, and a grace before meals. Some time ago a little child of about 4 years of age, who had previously been in the hospital, had been discharged cured, and had had, through want of nourishment to be readmitted, was saying the Lord's Prayer to one of the nurses, when he interrupted himself with the words, "Do you know, my mother didn't know that. I taught it her."

...

"To those who cannot afford the time to personally visit the building it may be mentioned - and with some appropriateness at this time of the year - that toys, books, fruit, flowers and clothes (especially for boys) will be thankfully accepted by the lady superintendent."

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A plaque that commemorates the original home of the Evelina Children's Hospital at a junction of Southwark Bridge Road and a pathway across Mint Street Park

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Sources:
H E Priestley, The Evelina: the story of a London Children's Hospital 1869-1969(1969) London
The Morning Post,30 December 1875