Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

London hospital digs into its photo archive to reveal nursing history

  • Comment

An image of a steely eyed matron in the 1940s and nurses taking care of a glamorous training dummy are among a series of fascinating photos unearthed by London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust as part of the NHS’s 70th birthday celebrations.

The images, which provide compelling snapshots of nursing history and practice, were dug out of the trust’s archives and all relate to hospitals and settings that now come under its umbrella.

They include a photo of stern-looking matron Elizabeth Coultham at Central Middlesex Hospital in 1941.

Ms Coultham, who is shown sitting at her desk writing notes in a somewhat shabby office, originally trained at the London Temperance Hospital – later the National Temperance Hospital – which was managed by a board of teetotallers who discouraged, but did not ban, the use of alcohol for treating patients.

Another snap shows a nurse in a mask feeding a baby from a bottle, while another young child sits in a high-sided cot with a teddy bear.

The image from the 1930s is believed to be from Harrow Hospital, which changed its name to Harrow and Wealdstone Hospital in 1931 and became a training school for nurses in 1933.

Other photos thought to be from the late 1930s to the early 1940s show nurses working with an elegantly coiffed mannequin called Penelope, or “Peeps” as she was affectionately known, who was used for training purposes.

In one image, a nurse is shown carefully checking an unclothed Penelope’s pulse, while another shows a nurse making the dummy – this time dressed in a rather glamorous silken dressing gown – comfortable in bed.

London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust

Central Middlesex 1963 smog victim

Smog ‘victim’ at Central middlesex in 1963

Other photos include an off duty image of nurses from the 1920s or 1930s, relaxing on the roof of St Mark’s Hospital when it was located in the City of London and for many years known as St Mark’s Hospital for Fistula and other Diseases of the Rectum.

Fast forward to the 1960s and the photos include an image of a nurse treating a patient at Central Middlesex Hospital in 1963 for the effects of air pollution, with noxious smogs being a common problem at the time.

Dr Horace Joules, who worked at Central Middlesex was one of the earliest campaigners against air pollution, arguing “the air we breathe is as important as the water we drink”, and was one of the key clinical figures in supporting the introduction of the Clean Air Act

Meanwhile, photos from the 1970s show nurses in a classroom and a fleet of nurses in their capes and caps at Northwick Park Hospital.

The hospital, which opened in 1970, was the first to do away with the title of “matron” in response to the 1966 Salmon report, which recommended restructuring the traditional nursing hierarchy.

The replacement was called the chief nursing officer who was also known as “number 10”. While the image is black and white, the nurses would have been wearing red capes with pale turquoise uniforms while “number 10” – standing to the right of her team – did not wear uniform.

London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust

Penelope ‘peeps’ at Central Middlesex

Penelope (Peeps) ‘reading’ Keats at Central Middlesex Hospital

London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust

Penelope ‘peeps’ at Central Middlesex

Checking the pulse of Penelope (Peeps) at Central Middlesex Hospital


London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust

Northwick Park 1971

Northwick Park Hospital, 1971

London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust

St Mark’s nurses circa 1930s

St Mark’s nurses, circa 1930s

London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust

Northwick Park 1970s

Northwick Park Hospital, 1970s

London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust

Harrow Hospital circa 1930s

Harrow Hospital, circa 1930s

  • Comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.