The period between 1840 and 1920 saw unprecedented developments in medicine, health and social conditions, transforming the lives of people living in Britain. Explore this fascinating story of discovery and progress and the key personalities behind it through this interactive timeline.

The timeline features portraits from the National Portrait Gallery’s Collection, and historical objects and images from the Boots Archive. It has been developed along with medical entries in the Gallery’s online Later Victorian Portraits Catalogue, which features further information and a list of all known portraits for key sitters.

Discover who saved more lives than anyone else, who made medicine affordable for all, and what killed more than half of all humans who have ever lived – and much more.

Scroll down to find out how to use this timeline, and how the timeline can support Historical Enquiry.

How to use this timeline

Explore by clicking on the icon for these themes – you can open one or more theme at a time:

  • Preventing illness, staying healthy
  • Understanding what makes us unwell
  • Diagnosis, treatment and cure

Clicking on an entry reveals a portrait and leads to further information. ‘Super entries’ unfold to show additional information including videos, images and objects, and are indicated by a double outline.

The full-scale portrait clicks through to Collection entry information on the Gallery’s website. Use the ‘Extended Catalogue Entry’ link on the top right for further information and a list of all known portraits for the sitter on the online Later Victorian Portraits Catalogue.

Simply journey through the timeline by scrolling down and delve into individual stories.

Historical enquiry

This timeline is primarily for young people, students and their teachers. It supports the development of skills in historical enquiry and promotes knowledge and understanding about medicine through time and social reform, supporting study of GCSE History.

The timeline supports the development of the following skills:

  • Identifying and using primary sources
  • Gathering, selecting and assessing evidence
  • Questioning and looking at multiple perspectives
  • Assessing reliability and bias
  • Thinking about what/which voices might be missing
  • Developing and substantiating an answer, argument or narrative

The timeline supports enquiries such those below: 

  • How did World War I contribute to the development of medical treatments?
  • How did government reforms help the prevention of illnesses in the Victorian period and later?
  • Which key discoveries and advancements helped to prevent illness in the Victorian period and/or early 20th century?
  • How did surgery change during the Victorian period and who were the key contributors?
  • Who do you consider to be the most important contributor/s to the improved health of people living in Britain during these times?

Tell us what you think: education@npg.org.uk