The Jewish community
Contributed by Jil on June 13, 2017
The small terraced houses behind the London Hospital were occupied by local residents for much of the time I worked there in the 1960s. Previously I had very little contact with the strict Jewish community, apart from the occasional Liberal Jewish patient in the hospital in Brighton, where I had trained as a nurse. One day, on my way back to John Harrison House, the new nurses' home, in uniform, having just come off duty, I was called out to by an elderly woman at her front door asking if I could help her. When I went to her door, she asked me if I could come in and light her fire. Surprised at this request, I went in to find the fire already laid and it just needed a match put to it. I lit the fire and then asked her why she had not been able to do this herself. She gently explained that it was past dusk on Friday evening, her Sabbath, and her religion prevented her from doing any work, including lighting the fire. My first, but not my last, experience of the strict Jewish community in the area at that time. From then on, each week, when I could, I called into the same woman to light her fire and have the occasional cup of tea with her; which I made and drank without milk. To this day, I still drink tea without milk!
Contributed by steve on Nov. 5, 2016
I made my way into the world in the Marie Celeste Ward of the London Hospital in December 1949. I have many memories of visits to this hospital for broken arms, a stiff neck and other forms of accidents etc. A lasting memory, which although at the time did not mean much to me, was being asked by my headmaster Rhodes Boyson to deliver a letter to a Professor Francis Camps.
Like others who lived in the East End, this hospital holds many memories, some good, some not quite so good but again like many others, we owe so much to this place and the marvelous staff who, throughout the years, have worked within its walls.
My life in Whitechapel
Contributed by Shila_B on Sept. 13, 2017
Shila B, interviewed by her neighbour Jil Cove, August 2017:
I went to Blue Gate Fields Primary School and then to Mulberry. I really enjoyed school and left with General National Vocational Qualifications (GNVQ) in health and social care. I volunteered at the London Hospital until I got a part time job there which later became full time job. I worked in admin in the gynae department for 8 years. I loved the work and sometimes, I was asked to use my bilingual skills if an advocate was not available.
When I was at The London there was a great fish and chip shop opposite – the chips were fantastic and the fish was really good too. I often went there at lunch time, it was very traditional and when the owners changed I could taste the difference in the quality of the cooking. I really missed it when it I stopped working and still miss it, even today; I can still taste the chips! Sometimes after work a group of us would go to the Pizza Hut opposite, but I didn’t miss that so much when it closed.
My marriage was arranged when I was 20 and took place in Bangladesh. I carried on working until my first son was born; I now have 3 sons aged 16, 11 and 9. The 16 year old has recently received his GCSE results and my husband and I are very proud to say that he passed all eight subjects one with an A* and the others were A’s and B’s. He is going to start college soon to study for his A levels.
My husband is a butcher by trade but has now got heart problems that prevent him from working. His English is rather limited though it has got better over the years with the children speaking to him in English. At first, he was unable to go to English classes as locally we couldn’t find one that fitted in with his work hours and now he is reluctant to go as the ESOL classes are predominantly for women, so he would be the only man in the class.
My dad came to the UK from Bangladesh before I was born, and I was about 6 or 7 when my mum brought me and my three brothers to join him. My eldest brother who was 16 or 17 at the time had to stay behind because of immigration rules but he eventually joined us about 18 months later; my youngest brother was born here. Dad originally worked in textile factories in the north of England and I don’t know why he moved to London. His English was always very limited and my mum has virtually no English as she was isolated when we lived in Shadwell and busy with looking after 6 children. She didn’t know anyone to give her any support or guidance so never had time to learn. My dad died in 1987 and now my mum lives with my youngest brother. I’m really pleased that she is involved in lots of activities every day enjoying various groups including Arabic classes, and though she still has no English she is quite independent of the family and is out and about every day.
I come from a very big extended family and we all live in the Whitechapel area so see each other often. Just recently one of my nieces got engaged which meant a large celebration party; about 40 members of my extended family came along with a similar number from the soon to be groom’s family. We all had a good time with lovely food and a very late night. I was telling my neighbour about this and she was amazed at having such a large family and that we are all in such close contact with each other.
I’ve lived in this same street with my family for about 15 years now and moved with all my neighbours into a new block of flats in 2013. Though my new flat is much bigger, I do miss the very big balcony I had before where the children could play safely outside. I think that Whitechapel market has changed as there are now too many clothes stalls so there is not the variety of things any more. I tend to go to Wapping for my fish and herbs, and do the big shopping at Iceland as they delivery to my door.
One of the downsides to living where I do, is that as a car driver, we are less that 100 yards inside the congestion zone which means, that even with my residents discount, I have to pay just to take my car out of the garage during the charging hours. But I still think that Whitechapel is a lovely place to live and it really feels like home to me. There is such a mix of cultures here and I can meet people from other countries. It feels very comfortable and safe to me, everything is here and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.
Memories of the London Hospital: Summer of 1968
Contributed by Marianne Rapalus Hurley on Dec. 20, 2017
While a nursing student at the University of California Medical Center in San Francisco, California, I was accepted to a summer work-program at The London Hospital in Whitechapel. Four women from our nursing class participated, two at The London Hospital and two at another hospital in the suburbs.
My father worked for United Airlines, so I flew on a stand-by ticket direct from San Francisco to London. I think it was June since I remember seeing daffodils. I had no idea how to get from Heathrow Airport to the hospital, so I took a large black cab that cost a small fortune. The cab delivered me at the main entrance along Whitechapel Road. I checked in at Matron’s office where I was assigned a room at Edith Cavell Nurses House, behind the hospital.
Cavell Home, a stately brick building, housed student nurses then and was named for the World War I heroine, Edith Cavell. Upon entering the building, there was an office to the left of the foyer. The office contained the one telephone at Cavell for the nurses’ use. Separating the foyer from the front office was a counter where a pitcher of milk would sometimes sit (covered with a folded cloth). Students who wanted milk could help themselves. To the left of the foyer along a corridor was a reception room to meet visitors. Opposite the front door was the stairway to the rooms above. I had a private room on maybe the first or second floor in the rear. It was quite comfortable with a bed, desk or dressing table, the usual. There were separate bathrooms (aside from toilet rooms) somewhere in the building; each had a large old-fashioned tub, great for soaking.
The London Hospital student nurses wore the hospital’s puffy-sleeve (gingham) uniforms with long skirts, white aprons, and small starched caps. In cooler weather, the uniform also included a beautiful long cape. At the time, the students there loved their “old-fashioned” uniform. In fact some were worried that the National Health or maybe the hospital would modernize it to look more like my uniform, a plain light blue shirtwaist that resembled something a cafe waitress might wear. Apparently The London Hospital’s uniforms were updated sometime after I left. I wonder what the student uniform looks like today. I wonder if the hospital has its own nursing program any more.
I remember working three days a week in exchange for room and board. I helped out where needed and ran errands. In 1968 hospital care was simpler with fewer “gadgets” and far less technology. My first assignment was in Pediatrics; the “Kids” ward as they called it. Metal cribs with infants and toddlers filled the large room. I held and rocked many of them during my time there. It was located I think on an upper floor toward the rear of the main hospital building and looked out onto the courtyard.
My next assignment was in Men’s Surgical Ward (wish I could remember the exact name) maybe on the first or ground floor. It was a large ward with 20 or more beds arranged I think in long rows. I was instructed to make and serve morning tea on my first day of duty there. I had never done that before, so had to be taught. A large kettle provided the hot water and I had to remember that the milk went in first, then the hot tea. I served it to the patients using a rolling cart. The men were so kind and friendly. I learned that it was the ward sister who was in charge of not only the patients, but to a large extent, the doctors too. Sister (named for the ward) was the one who decided when the dressings and bandages came off. During morning rounds, she participated completely in the discussions.
Meals for the nurses were in the dining room of the hospital. I think it was somewhere on the ground floor off the rear courtyard. There was an extensive buffet to select from. What was new to me was the yellow custard sauce that was poured on all types of cake and sweets. I came to like it and missed it when I returned to the states. My friend Kay (the other student nurse from California) worked in the Accident Department. In pleasant weather we would meet in the courtyard for lunch. While eating outside, we would often comment on the residual bomb damage from World War II still visible on the courtyard walls of the hospital.
The English student nurses would sometimes invite us along for socials on the weekends. It seemed they used to hang with policemen. At one party we were driven home by a young policeman who had an old Volkswagen beetle; we fit at least six nurses in it for the ride home. When a student nurse celebrated a birthday, we would eat at an Indian restaurant. I may be mistaken, but I seem to remember we could get a shrimp curry dinner for 11 shillings. (Until that summer, I had never eaten Indian food). Of course, the money then was the ancient system of pounds, shillings, and pence; I still miss the old coins when I visit England.
As part of the program I accompanied a visiting nurse on her rounds in East London. The nurse wore a uniform suit, maybe navy blue. I remember visiting mothers and young pre-school children. The families we visited lived in new high rise buildings that had replaced their older one- and maybe two-story homes. The mothers complained about the unpleasant elevators, the lack of private garden space, and the overall drabness of the new buildings. The visiting nurse was interested in how the neighborhood was changing, so she shared with me a lot about the history of the East End. What I found fascinating was the physical evidence of that history still there in 1968. There were still so many brick residences along narrow streets, the waterfront pubs, and simple shops, 19th century buildings that were slowly being replaced. In general Whitechapel did not draw tourists then, (there were no ‘Jack the Ripper’ tours), but there were many historic areas “off the beaten path” to explore.
The last time I visited The London Hospital, (well, now the Royal London) about eight or ten years ago, I could not find Cavell Home. They were constructing a very tall bright blue high rise (incompatible architecturally) behind the old hospital. Things looked very different and I became disoriented. It was disturbing and sad to see the loss of the hospital complex that I had experienced long ago. I assume the old London buildings along Whitechapel Road are now abandoned on the interior; online photos show the wards, surgeries, and offices empty. I wonder what they are planning now.
Yes, I wish I had taken more photographs during that time, especially in light of the drastic recent changes. With its human-scale Georgian brick buildings, The London Hospital in 1968 felt like a unique combination of stepping back in time while participating in modern medical care. I treasure my memories and very grateful for that experience nearly 50 years ago.
Bad memories of the London
Contributed by patricia on July 5, 2017
I used to hate to go to the London Hospital (when did it become The Royal London?) if we had to visit a sick relative. Plus any of my relatives who went in didn't come out. It always smelled of antiseptic and food and the uniforms the nurses wore looked so old fashioned to me (a young, modern girl) as opposed to the modern uniforms you would see on hospital shows on the telly. My father died in 1954 when I was 5 and was taken to the London, but they couldn't save him from a massive heart attack. He was only 35. The London had bad memories for me. Plus I had an accident at school when I was about 8 or 9, at Robert Montefiore Primary on Deal Street, opposite where I lived. I was running up the stairs with a tray of glass jars they used for painting, fell over and cut my hand on one of the broken jars. They called an ambulance and took me to the London, where they gave me a few stitches in my hand. An awful memory for a young child. My auntie Ann lived in a street behind the hospital, Nelson Street, and I hated walking past the place when we went to visit her.
Memories of Priscilla Church
Contributed by Shahed Saleem on Aug. 31, 2016
Priscilla Church was a student nurse at the Royal London Hospital from 1982 to 1985, and a staff nurse until 1986. She then returned to the hospital as a midwife from 1993-1996. These are some of her recollections of her time there:
The flats [Knutsford House] were really nice – a tiny kitchen and bathroom, a living room and bedroom. I was very comfy for the year I lived there when I was working as a midwifery sister, in the 1990s. I looked out at the front and the helicopter landed just outside which was really interesting especially as it was quite a new ‘ambulance’.
The other homes I lived in as a student nurse were initially Mildmay Mission hospital in Shoreditch (now an HIV/Aids hospice); Luckes; Cavell; John Harrison and Brierley. The last two were in Philpott Street.
We never discussed the uniform either. When I started as a student nurse the hospital had a uniform room where seamstresses made the uniforms to measure. We had detachable collars so that you would change your collar and apron each shift and the dress a couple of times a week. We had removal buttons as well as a collar stud which all had to be removed for laundering, which was done at the hospital too. We also had a starched cap which took some time to make up. Aprons were starched white cotton and only ever worn on the ward. Any duties that took you off the ward e.g. going to pharmacy, one took the apron off. I always get very annoyed in films, or tv where a nurse will where an apron when not on the ward. We had lovely purple cloaks for travelling between the nurses home and the ward. They were also useful on night duty during our breaks – they made a good blanket to keep us warm – four o’clock in the morning is a very cold time. The students wore purple gingham; staff nurses were in purple and sisters wore blue and had detachable sleeves and frills on their caps. ‘Purple passions’ were ill-fitting uniforms worn by students in their first eight weeks when we might visit a ward for a few hours. This was during our induction when we were based in the school of nursing (Philpott Street) (and before our made to measure uniforms were ready). Although modern uniforms are easier to wear and launder I always felt that we looked very smart and professional in the old uniform. One of the seamstresses in the uniform room was willing to make a copy of the student uniform for a ‘big doll’; which I had made and still have and love.