Barts Nurses Remember – an oral history
In 2008 the League Executive Committee, in conjunction with the Oral History Unit at Kingston University, commenced a project to collect the memories of a number of League members to ensure that a significant part of the nursing history of Barts was not lost.
Forty-five League members who qualified between 1939 and the late 1980s were interviewed, along with one surgeon, Mr William Shand, and one physician, Professor James Malpas.
“There is something about St Bartholomew’s Hospital, it may be its age, its history or its associations – which creates towards it and in its strength, a unique feeling among its members.”
[Isla Stewart, Matron 1887-1910 and founder of the League 1899]
In 2018 a subgroup of the Executive Committee revisited the transcriptions selecting memories to go alongside photographs of the different aspects of life at Barts. Barts Nurses Remember was published in 2019 to celebrate the 120th anniversary of the League. Below is just a small fraction of the memories we’ve managed to record.
1. Starting at Barts
“On our first day at Aldenham Cottage there were three of us in our room. We had no idea what we should be doing and we pressed all the bells. I can remember at supper that evening, Miss Watts, who was really quite a splendid and formidable lady, say that she wondered if the nurses in Room 3 thought that were was room service as they had pressed all the bells. Of course, there was no room service at PTS (Preliminary Training School)!”
Jennie Ingram, 1955
3. Barts' Wards and Ward Sisters
“The Night Sister used to come around and you’d hear her feet squeaking on the parquet floors. You made sure you were doing something that you ought to have been doing! You had to know who all your patients were, their diagnosis, how they were, because when Night Sister came you had to take her round and give a full report without any notes or the Kardex. Now I think about the responsibility we had as student nurses in charge, it’s really scary!”
Anne Lanceley, 1976
4. World War II
“The square was white with ash with bits of flames blowing about. Fifteen or more incendiary bombs fell on the hospital roof and were dealt with. The night was bright as day. Little Britain was in flames, and if the wind had changed direction, Barts would have burnt to the ground, as there was not enough water to save it. The next day we had no gas or water, or lights on the wards.”
Betty Levack, 1941
6. Religion at Barts
“The Christian ethos was interwoven into the whole fabric of the place and how it was run. Many nurses chose to train at Barts because of this aspect of the hospital and enjoyed the benefits of the spiritual and emotional support it provided in good times and in bad and it was certain to have been a source of support to many.”
Shelia Cubey née Balch, 1957
8. Celebrations at Barts
“View Day was originally called Founders Day when the Governors inspected the hospital centuries ago. They used to inspect the fabric of the building, inspect the patients and ask the patients if they were being cared for properly. Everything had to be perfect on the ward on that day. Lots of nurses who had worked at the hospital came back with their families and so it was a very social day as well.”
Joan Orford née Capps, 1962
9. Barts Today
To survive as a hospital until its 900th anniversary in 2023, Barts needed to change. In order to achieve this, the hospital has been transformed into a world-renowned cardiac and cancer centre. Sadly this has meant the loss of buildings. Change is not always easy, but those that love Barts can be reassured that it is a positive and exciting new phase in its extraordinary history.