Exploring...'Kindness'

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This fortnight, marking Mental Health Awareness Week (18 - 24 May), we are exploring the theme of Kindness - to each other, ourselves, to animals and the planet.

We've picked out some highlights below - take a look at our Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for more.

Five Brides, One Dress

In the austere London of the Great Depression and the Second World War, a little kindness went a long way. Read the fascinating story of this unassuming vintage dress which was shared between five different brides. Read the full story from Museum of London.

vintage image of a couple and guests at a wedding
© Museum of London

Who was Dick Whittington?

A wealthy mercer of the 1400s, dealing in valuable cloth from abroad, including silks, velvets and cloth of gold, Sir Richard Whittington assumed the role of Lord Mayor of London four times - in 1397, 1398, 1406 and 1419. In his will, he bequeathed his fortune to charitable purposes, such as founding the Greyfriars and Guildhall libraries and rebuilding Newgate Gaol. He later became a well-known figure in legend and traditional pantomime.

© London Metropolitan Archives
Collage: London's Picture Archive

Early ambulance service in the City

Did you know that before the NHS and the ambulance service we have today, that police often took sick people to the hospital? Before 1907 this meant making doors into stretchers and carrying people to hospital or borrowing people’s carts to use as ambulances. Read on to learn how the City of London Police provided an early ambulance service from 1907.

The City of London Police had been trained in administering First Aid from 1890. In 1904 the City of London Police Commissioner, Sir William Nott-Bower, submitted a request to the City of London Corporation for his men to run a mounted ambulance service. He said:

“At present there are no means available in the City for removing a person taken suddenly ill, or the victim of an accident, from the streets to a hospital, save on foot, by cab horse drawn, of course or cart, or by hand litter. Patients suffer exposure to public gaze and the often unpleasant comments of the crowd.”

He did have an ulterior motive, though. He asked for horse-drawn ambulances so that he could have a real mounted division in the City Police. When horses were needed for large events, they were hired in.

The City of London Corporation decided to give Nott-Bower the ambulances, but not the horses. Two electric ambulances were bought in 1907. By 1915 there were three of them and they were stationed at St Bartholomew’s Hospital and behind Bishopsgate Police Station (where there was a long-standing hospital for sick and injured police officers).

A system of call-boxes for calling the ambulances, only for use by the police, were set up around the City. There were 52 of them and they were white with red crosses on them, set quite low down on various buildings.  These were replaced with red call boxes around 1920 and then by the familiar light blue call-boxes that look a little like the Tardis, which were established in the 1950s.

By this time the ambulance service had been taken over by the National Health Service.

black and white image of an early 1900s ambulance in the City of London
One of the first ambulances in the City of London, circa 1910.

Flower Messages

9th Edition Sculpture in the City artist Elisa Artesero has an ongoing series entitled 'Flower Messages', in which the artist projects messages onto flowers. Created as part of a project with stroke survivors at Sheffield Stroke Rehabilitation Centre (SPARC Centre), the series is now a permanent window display at the centre." With many of us sustaining long periods of isolation, as well as others working in challenging circumstances...these messages seem relevant for the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic" says Elisa. The SPARC project was funded by Sheffield Hospitals Charity and Arts Council England. During Stroke Awareness Month this May, you can support the Stroke Assocation's work by donating.

Donate to Stroke Association to mark Stroke Awareness Month

a yellow flower with lettering
© Elisa Artesero

A short story of philanthropist Baroness Burdett-Coutts (1814 -1906)

Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts was born on 21 April 1814 at 80 Piccadilly, London, the youngest of the six children of Sir Francis Burdett, a politician, and his wife Sophia, the youngest daughter of banker Thomas Coutts.

The fame that Burdett-Coutts achieved as a philanthropist was acknowledged in 1871 when she was raised to the peerage in her own right as Baroness Burdett-Coutts of Highgate and Brookfield, Middlesex. Public recognition of her work in London came with the award of the Freedom of the City on 18 July 1872, the first woman to be awarded the Honorary Freedom. Several of the Livery Companies paid her a similar tribute including the Turners, the Clothworkers and the Haberdashers.

vintage image of a woman with a headdress
© London Metropolitan Archives

Discover more hidden histories of women in the City of London through the Celebrating City Women website and research report.


London Hospitals during the First World War

Hospital care in London in 1914 was provided by an uncoordinated and haphazard combination of charitably run voluntary hospitals, Poor Law infirmaries, lunatic asylums, isolation hospitals, and sanatoria. The voluntary hospitals varied in size from major teaching hospitals, such as the London Hospital with 922 beds, to small specialist hospitals and cottage hospitals with less than 20 beds. By far the most hospital beds were provided by the Boards of Guardians of the Poor in their infirmaries which, since the Metropolitan Poor Act of 1867, had to be run separately from the workhouse under the control of a medical superintendent. Mental hospitals (other than for those whose families could afford private treatment) were run by the London County Council (LCC) and the Metropolitan Asylums Board. The Board was also responsible for isolation hospitals for patients suffering from smallpox and other infectious diseases.

The existing military hospitals, which included Queen Alexandra's Military Hospital, Millbank, and the Royal Herbert Hospital, Woolwich, could provide only 9,000 beds dispersed throughout the country. To prepare for a possible war, the Territorial Force Nursing Service was formed in 1908. Trained nurses were recruited who continued to work in civilian hospitals or in private nursing. On the outbreak of war in August 1914 they were mobilised to staff 23 territorial force hospitals which were accommodated in schools, colleges and other public buildings. Four territorial hospitals were rapidly opened in London. The First London (City of London) General Hospital staffed by nurses from St Bartholomew’s Hospital took over St Gabriel's Teacher Training College in Camberwell. The Second London General Hospital, based in another teacher training college, St Mark's College, Chelsea, was staffed by nurses from Guy's and the London Hospital. The Third London and Fourth London General Hospitals were accommodated in the Royal Victoria Patriotic Schools, Wandsworth, and the recently opened King's College Hospital at Denmark Hill.

Private individuals offered their houses as hospitals and convalescent homes and other public buildings were requisitioned. These auxiliary hospitals were organised by the Red Cross, the Order of St John, and the Soldiers and Sailors Help Society. From the autumn of 1914 the War Office paid grants to the auxiliary hospitals and most of the voluntary hospitals for each occupied bed. One of the largest of the auxiliary hospitals was King George Hospital, opened in May 1915 in an HM Stationery Office warehouse in Stamford Street conveniently close to Waterloo Station, where boat trains of wounded soldiers arrived in London. A few private houses, such as Grovelands at Southgate and Harefield Park, which became hospitals at this time, continued in use after the war as hospitals or sanatoria.

Read more about hospitals during and after the First World War.

black and white image of three nurses and a young patient on a horse
Nurses and a young patient at Grovelands in 1924 © London Metropolitan Archives