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Historic Hospital Admission Records Project


The children of Grotto Place

Twenty-eight children were admitted to the Evelina from Grotto Place and Lower Grotto Place, an area of great depravation close to the Hospital. In the 1890s this area was described in Charles Booth's survey of London:

'Grotto Place: very poor; like Lant Place; costers, barrows.

'Lower Grotto Place: the worst of all the lot in appearance. It is a continuation of but walled off from Goldsmiths Place. 5/6d for a two rooms, no wash house but a yard behind!

'This bit is known as 'the Grottos': many children all well fed but dirty & with sores on faces: clothes ragged, too large & too small, windows broken & patched: there may be a few thieves & prostitutes but Barton [the police constable who took Booth's researcher round] does not know them as such: they make their appearances in the police court for drunks and assault; many carmen.' (

The children admitted to the Evelina from these streets ranged in age from under one to twelve years old, and presented with a variety of conditions. Tellingly, the most common complaints were connected to accidents, included cuts and bruises.

James Sargeant (of 19 Grotto Place) was admitted after drinking Elliman's Horse Oil in 1897. James was only in hospital for two days and discharged completely cured.

John Hargreaves of 3 Grotto Place was admitted in 1889, with 'contusions to the foot' after being run over by a hansom cab. He probably broke his foot in the accident as he was given a plaster of Paris splint and discharged recovered after five days.

The hospital had a real family feel to it, and several families from Grotto Place made repeated use of its facilities.

The Smith Family

In 1891 the Smith family lived at 14 Grotto Place. Sydney Smith, the father, worked as a lighterman on a barge. (A lighterman worked on barges, carrying goods or wares up and down the river and from cargo ships to shore. See Both Sydney and his wife, Mary had been born in Southwark. They had five children living at home in 1891: Thomas, age 12; Mary Anne, 10; Alfred, eight; Henry, six and Sydney junior, three. In 1890 Henry (aged four according to the register) was admitted to the Evelina with whooping cough and bronchitis, which he had been suffering from for five weeks. His treatment with expectorants seemed to work and after 24 days in hospital he was discharged cured. His brother Alfred came in a year later (age eight), with an abscess on his thigh. Poor Alfred had to have an operation under chloroform to lance and drain the abscess, but he recovered well and was also discharged cured (after a 21 day stay). Little Annie (who was born c1892) was admitted when she was six, suffering from lupus, a disease then thought to be tuberculous in origin. (We now know it is a form of auto-immune disease). She underwent an operation of some sort, and was discharged after two weeks, relieved. Annie was found in the 1901 census, living with her father (who appeared to have remarried) and her brother Alfred. There was also a child listed called Henry, but as he was only eight years old he can't be the Henry who visited the Evelina, ten years earlier aged four. This suggests that our Henry might have died. His brush with whooping cough and bronchitis might have left him susceptible to more pernicious respiratory disease. Alfred, however, seemed to fully recover from his operation. In 1901 he was working alongside his father as a barge lighterman, and by 1911 he was married with four sons. He and his family occupied three rooms in a house in Townend Street, Walworth, a district within Southwark and still close by the river Thames.

The Sallis Family

In 1901 the Sallis family lived at 6 Grotto Place. Thomas Sallis, age 30, was working as a general labourer, and with his wife, Jane, he had four children living at home. The eldest was Sarah who was born c1891. She had been admitted to the Evelina aged only 14 months suffering from whooping cough and bronchopneumonia. She stayed in hospital for 28 days, receiving stimulants and expectorants. On discharge she was pronounced cured. Her little brother George was even younger when he went in - admitted in 1896 at only eight months, suffering from pneumonia and gastroenteritis. Such diseases were common in the slums of Southwark, brought on by close living conditions, poor sanitation and inadequate nutrition. Quite often the most effective element of hospital treatment was simply being moved from this noxious environment for a few weeks, accompanied by a good diet. Despite his young age, George recovered and was discharged after a 41 day stay. It seemed to become standard practice among the Sallis household, that new children should be sent to the hospital, and in 1898, their next child, William, also spent a short period there as an inpatient. Age 18 months when he went in, William was suffering from pneumonia. It can't have been a serious bout, as he was discharged relived after only seven days.

By 1911 the family moved out of Grotto Place to Guinness Buildings in West Bermondsey. George and William were still at home (now 16 and 14, respectively), both working as umbrella mounters. There were four younger children age 11 years to five months. (Thomas' wife, Jane, was 40 by this time, and hopefully young Jenny was her last child.) According to the 1911 census return, Jane had had 12 pregnancies which reached full term, but five of her children had subsequently died. Although Sarah was not listed on the return, I don't think she was one of these - there is a record of a marriage of a Sarah Sallis of the right age, in Southwark, in 1909 (when she would have been c 18 years old).

The Unfortunate Ones

The Richardsons

For one family, the hospital couldn't overcome the odds which were stacked against them and they lost two of their children while in its care. The Robinsons lived at 16 Grotto Place. William was a newsagent's porter. His wife Bridget bore him six children. Mary was their only daughter, born after two sons. She must have been her mother's particular delight when born. But the delight did not last long - she was taken in to the hospital in 1895, only one year old. Mary was a very sick little girl. She was admitted suffering from stridulous laryngitis, a very serious disease in which the airways become obstructed, and the breathing sounds quite frightening. It isn't hard to imagine the panic which must have gripped her parents as they hurried to the hospital, with their little daughter struggling for breath. For such a young child Mary's treatment was brutal. Almost immediately on arrival she was given a tracheotomy, in which a hole is made in the throat so a tube can be introduced into the windpipe - circumventing the obstruction and easing her breathing. It was a dangerous procedure, even in older children. At the Evelina, 73% of cases in the register which noted a tracheotomy had been performed resulted in death. In addition to the tracheotomy, Mary also received hypodermic injections of strychnine, and doses of brandy - often an indication that a child was close dying. She lasted only three days after admission.

Three years later, disaster hit the Richardson family again, when their young son Dan was struck down with a fearsome twosome of diphtheria and tubercular meningitis. He was only two years old, and on admission he too was given an operation, probably also a tracheotomy. Dan clung onto life for a lot longer than his sister, but eventually the struggle became too much and he died after 29 days in hospital.

Jessie Holsgrove

Jessie Holsgrove, by contrast, was twelve years when she was admitted in 1890. She lived with her family at 12 Grotto Place and her father, Henry, worked as a market porter - perhaps at nearby Borough Market. Jessie's condition must have been serious as she was in theory above the maximum age for admission. She had been ill for two weeks before her parents brought her to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with tuberculosis of the lungs (also known as phthisis). The hospital could do little for her, merely relieving her cough with expectorants. In reality, she must have been ill much longer than two weeks, as she died only six days after admission. Her post mortem results revealed that her right lung was riddled with small cavities; while tubercles were found in her left lung and intestines, indicating the disease had spread throughout her poor body.

Two other Grotto children died at the Evelina, William Skinner and Martha James. Young Martha's demise was rapid. She had only been ill a couple of days when admitted and diagnosed with bronchopneumonia, but despite the best efforts (which included the almost standard treatment with 'expectorants and stimulants') she died, aged one, after only six days. William Skinner, aged six when he was admitted, clung to life a lot longer. Despite being diagnosed with tuberculosis, he survived in hospital for 45 days before finally succumbing to the dread disease. On autopsy his abdomen was found to be riddled with tubercules, although none were found in the liver or lungs.