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Early 1800s

Early 1800s

In the early 1800s, the everyday lives of ordinary people living in Britain were unrecognisable when compared to today. Most of the country was still rural, and inland transport was still horse-drawn. London seemed as remote as another country to most.  Cities were generally overcrowded and dirty with no sewage systems. Diseases were rife and often fatal. The average life expectancy was about 40 years.

A visit to the doctor was expensive and there was very little effective medicine available beyond alcohol, opium and blood-letting with leeches. Most ‘medicine’ was herbal and came from apothecaries who made remedies and gave general health advice.  Scientists were still developing their understanding of how the human body worked, germs had yet to be identified, and antiseptics and antibiotics were unheard of. Hospitals as we know them today did not exist and surgery would be performed with no anaesthetic in dirty conditions. Patients often died from infection or shock.

But things were about to change - radically! Edward Jenner had already developed the first vaccine, which eventually eradicated smallpox, and Rene Laennec had invented the stethoscope. Over the next century, incredible medical and scientific advancements were made, and new government legislation was passed, which together transformed the lives, health and life expectancy of people throughout Britain.

Portrait

Edward Jenner
by James Northcote
1803
NPG 62

Related images

Leech jar

Leech jar

Carboy

Carboy

Pill Maker

Pill maker

Pestle Mortar

Pestle & Mortar (9727)

Poison Bottle

Poison Bottle

Senna Pot

Senna pot

 
1837

Queen Victoria comes to the throne, Victorian period begins.

Queen Victoria
replica by Sir George Hayter
1863 (1838)
NPG 1250

 
(1837 – 1901)

The Victorian period

The Victorian period was a time of extraordinary change. Key scientific discoveries, changes in understanding about the human body and reform of housing, health and education transformed people’s lives and greatly improved life expectancy.

In the 1830s and 1840s epidemics of cholera, typhoid and influenza killed people in their thousands; surgeons amputated limbs in dirty, badly-lit rooms with no anaesthetic; and many ordinary people lived in cramped conditions with no running water. By the end of the century, the link between poor health and living cramped together in back-to-back slums had been proven, Joseph Bazalgette had built sewers under London, Louis Pasteur had made the crucial discovery of germs and their link to disease, surgery was performed using both antiseptic and anaesthetic, and nursing reformers like Florence Nightingale had transformed hospitals from ‘gateways of death’ to clean, efficient places of healing.

It was also a time of great social change, particularly for women and children. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson became the first woman to practice medicine in Britain, and Millicent Fawcett led the campaign for votes for women. All children had access to education and became better protected from exploitation as miners, factory workers and chimney sweeps.

 
1842

Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury (1801-1885)

Mines and Collieries act

Shaftesbury was a key figure in improving the working lives of people, especially children, in Victorian Britain. He led the movement for improving conditions in factories and mines, and also argued for new laws to protect apprentice chimney-sweeps or 'climbing boys'. His work led to the Mines and Collieries act of 1842. The act made it illegal for all children under ten to work in mines, and for women and boys under fifteen years old to work underground.

Related images

The physical and moral conditions of the children and young persons employed in mines and manufactures. London: HMSO, John W. Parker, 1843. Folding plate showing children transporting coal in mines and collieries. Wellcome Library, London

The physical and moral conditions of the children and young persons employed in mines and manufactures. London: HMSO, John W. Parker, 1843. Folding plate showing children transporting coal in mines and collieries.
Wellcome Library, London

Did you know?

Before the Mines and Collieries act, some children worked underground for 18 hours a day.
 
1847

James Simpson (1811 – 1870)

Anaesthetics

Before the 1800s, operations were horrific. With filthy operating theatres and no anaesthetics, as many as eight out of every ten patients died from shock or infection. In the early 1840s, American surgeons began using ether as an anaesthetic. It was first used in Britain by Robert Liston, when removing a patient’s leg. In 1847, James Simpson discovered the anaesthetic properties of chloroform while experimenting with colleagues in his dining room. Chloroform soon became more widely used than ether as it was faster-acting and not inflammable. It had to be carefully measured though to avoid overdose and death. Anaesthetics were a revolutionary discovery and transformed surgery in the 1800s. In the Britain of today, it would be unthinkable to undergo surgery without them.

Portrait

Sir James Young Simpson, 1st Bt
by Robert Jefferson Bingham
1860s
NPG x22588

Manuscript

Patient being given chloroform on the corner of a towel drawn through a safety-pin as recommended by Sir Joseph Lister.

Patient being given chloroform on the corner of a towel drawn through a safety-pin as recommended by Sir Joseph Lister.

Drop-Bottle for chloroform.

From Anaesthetics and their administration: a manual for medical and dental practitioners and students, 1893

Wellcome Library, London

Related images

Bottle of ether

Bottle of ether

Amputation saw, c.1800 – 1884

Amputation saw, c.1800 – 1884

Snow-type chloroform inhaler, London, England, 1848-1870

Snow-type chloroform inhaler, London, England, 1848-1870

Wellcome Library, London

Did you know?

Queen Victoria made the use of chloroform popular in childbirth after she was given it to ease labour pains during the birth of her eighth child, Prince Leopold.
 
1847

Ignaz Semmelweis (1818 – 1865)

The ‘saviour of mothers’

Without knowing it, Ignaz Semmelweis laid the groundwork for aseptic surgery. While working in Vienna in the 1840s, he demonstrated that the high number of deaths among women who had just given birth could be greatly reduced if doctors washed their hands in a solution of chlorinated lime (bleach powder). Despite becoming known as the ‘saviour of mothers’, his ideas went against the scientific understanding of the time and were only recognised after his death.

Portrait

Portrait of Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis  Wellcome Library, London

Portrait of Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis
Wellcome Library, London

Did you know?

Many doctors at the time were deeply offended at being asked to wash their hands before dealing with patients and refused. Unthinkable today!
 
1847

Richard Oastler (1789-1861)

Ten Hours act

Richard Oastler led what is now known as the ‘ten hour movement’ to improve the working lives of factory workers, especially children, and became known as the ‘factory king’. His work, along with that of Shaftesbury and others led to the Ten Hours act in 1847. The act meant that women and children working in cotton mills could not be made to work more than ten hours in one day. In 1867, six years after his death, the act was widened to include women and children working in all factories.

Portrait

Richard Oastler
by James Posselwhite, after Benjamin Garside
1841
NPG D7845

Did you know?

Richard Oastler continued his ‘ten hour’ campaign even while he was in prison for unpaid debts.
 
1848

Edwin Chadwick (1801-1890)

First Public Health act

In 1842, Edwin Chadwick published a report that proved poor living conditions were directly linked to disease and low life expectancy. This led to the Public Health act in 1848. This act was the first in a whole series that would improve the living and working conditions of the poorest people during the 1800s. Following the Public Health act, local boards of health were set up to appoint a medical officer, build sewers, inspect homes and check the state of food on sale.

Portrait

Sir Edwin Chadwick
by Antoine Samuel Adam-Salomon
circa 1863
NPG 849

 
1853

Queen Victoria (1821 – 1910)

Popularises chloroform in childbirth

In 1853, Queen Victoria gave birth to her eighth child, Prince Leopold. After suffering seven painful births, the Queen was keen to try the relatively new anaesthetic, chloroform. Doctors were still divided in their views on whether chloroform was safe to use in childbirth. However, the Queen’s husband, Prince Albert was a strong supporter. With John Snow as her anaesthetist, Queen Victoria safely delivered her son having successfully used chloroform to ease her labour pains. She is said to have called the drug ‘that blessed chloroform…soothing, quieting and delightful beyond measure’. Chloroform had been given the royal seal of approval and was soon in much demand from women to ease the pain of childbirth. Queen Victoria was again given chloroform during the birth of her ninth child, princess Beatrice, four years later.

Portrait

Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany
by John Jabez Edwin Mayall
February 1861
NPG Ax46714

 
1853

Edward Jenner (1749-1823)

Vaccinations act

As far back as end of the 1700s, Edward Jenner developed the first vaccine, for smallpox. In a now famous experiment, he placed a small amount of pus from a cowpox blister into a cut on the arm of a small boy called James Phipps. When Jenner exposed James to smallpox – which was highly contagious – a few days later, he was found to be immune to the disease. His idea was dismissed and ridiculed by many at the time, but Jenner was so convinced, that he gave the vaccine to his 11 month old son. Over 50 years later, in 1853, it became compulsory for all babies to be given the smallpox vaccine. Many were still suspicious, or considered it ‘un-Godly’ and refused to have their children vaccinated.

Portrait

Edward Jenner
by James Northcote
1803
NPG 62

Related images

Edward Jenner vaccinating his young child Wellcome Library, London

Edward Jenner vaccinating his young child
Wellcome Library, London

Syringe in metal tin,1920s

Syringe in metal tin, 1920s
Walgreen Boots Alliance Archive and Heritage Collection

Did you know?

Queen Elizabeth I is thought to have suffered from smallpox and that, underneath her make-up, her face was covered in scars.
 
1854

John Snow (1813 – 1858)

Demonstrates cholera is spread through water

Cholera was a major killer in the 1800s. It spread quickly and there was no cure. By plotting the location of people who had died of the disease on his now famous ‘dot map’ of Soho, Snow showed that cholera was being spread through the Broad Street water pump. It would be another 5 years before Louis Pasteur proved this ‘germ theory’ and people began to believe and understand Snow’s ideas. John Snow went on to develop anaesthetics and was Queen Victoria’s anaesthetist during the births of her 8th and 9th children.

Portrait

John Snow, 1856 Wellcome Library, London

John Snow, 1856
Wellcome Library, London

Manuscript

Blue stage of the spasmodic cholera Wellcome Library, London

Blue stage of the spasmodic cholera
Wellcome Library, London

Did you know?

Cholera was nicknamed the ‘blue death’ because it turns the skin a blue-grey colour.
 
1854

Mary Jane Seacole (née Grant) (1805-1881)

Mother Seacole

In 1854, a party of nurses, led by Florence Nightingale, was sent to Crimea to nurse soldiers fighting in the war there. Mary Seacole travelled from her home in Jamaica to Britain to join nurses in this work. When she was turned down by the War Office, Mary funded her own trip to Crimea. There she set up the ‘British Hotel’ for sick and injured soldiers. She also tended soldiers on the battle field, putting her own life at serious risk. Mary became known as Mother Seacole.

Portrait

Mary Seacole
by Albert Charles Challen
1869
NPG 6856

 
1858

Henry Gray (1827 – 1861)

First publication of Gray’s Anatomy

Henry Gray developed his fully illustrated book Anatomy: descriptive and surgical to help medical students understand the inner workings and make-up of the human body. Along with his colleague, Henry Vandyke Carter, he carried out his research for the book by dissecting unclaimed human bodies from workhouses and hospitals. Gray’s Anatomy has been continually revised and updated as new discoveries are made and is still in print and used by medical students today, over 150 years after it was first published.

Portrait

Portrait of Henry Gray  Wellcome Library, London

Portrait of Henry Gray
Wellcome Library, London

Manuscript

Plate from Gray’s Anatomy  Wellcome Library, London

Plate from Gray’s Anatomy
Wellcome Library, London

 
1858

Elizabeth Blackwell (1821 – 1910)

The first woman on the Medical Register

In 1858 Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman on the Medical Register, licensed to practice as a qualified doctor. It would take more than another 150 years for the numbers of women doctors in Britain to equal the number of men. Along with Elizabeth Garret and Sophia Jex-Blake, Elizabeth Blackwell was a key pioneer of women in medicine during the Victorian period.

Portrait

Portraits of E. Blackwell, E.Garrett Anderson, S. Jex-Blake Wellcome Library, London

Portraits of E. Blackwell, E.Garrett Anderson, S. Jex-Blake
Wellcome Library, London

Did you know?

Women were not allowed in to medical schools in Britain in the 1850s. Elizabeth Blackwell gained her qualification as a doctor while living in America.
 
1858

Joseph Bazalgette (1819 – 1891)

The great stink and the modern sewage system

Victorian London in the 1850s was smelly, dirty and riddled with deadly diseases.  Cholera killed more than 10,000 Londoners in one year alone. The river Thames was a dumping ground for sewage, rubbish and even dead bodies. The hot summer of 1858 led to what became known as ‘the great stink’. The smell from the river Thames became so overpowering that politicians threatened to decamp from the newly built Houses of Parliament. Chief Engineer Joseph Bazalgette developed an extensive sewer system under the streets of London and along the banks of the Thames to take sewage away from the river. His extensive system transformed sanitation and health in London, and much of it is still in use today.

Portrait

Sir Joseph William Bazalgette
by Lock & Whitfield
1877 or before
NPG x646

Did you know?

The curtains in the Houses of Parliament were doused in chloride of lime (bleach) to try and combat the terrible smell coming from the Thames.
 
1859

Louis Pasteur (1822 – 1895)

Develops revolutionary germ theory

In 1859, French scientist Louis Pasteur made the groundbreaking discovery that diseases are caused by germs (tiny microbes). He also realised they could be killed by heating and so invented the process of pasteurization, named in his honour. Before Pasteur’s ‘germ theory’ it was widely thought that diseases literally appeared from thin air. Pasteur’s work transformed public health and medicine, led to vaccines and probably saved more lives than that of any other.

Portrait

Louis Pasteur
by Unknown photographer
before 1895
NPG P1700(10d)

Did you know?

Widespread pasteurisation of milk has transformed it from a breeding ground for killer bacteria into one of the safest foods in the world.
 
1859

Florence Nightingale (1820 – 1910)

Transformation of hospitals and nursing care

Florence Nightingale is probably best known for her nursing work during the Crimean war, where she became known as ‘the lady with the lamp’. But this was just the beginning of the story. Deeply affected by the appalling, filthy conditions in the army ‘hospitals’ and the numbers of deaths among wounded soldiers, Florence set about change. With the backing of Queen Victoria she led an investigation into army deaths. The results showed that out of 18,000 deaths only about 2,000 were due to war wounds. The rest were due to disease caused by unsanitary conditions. In 1859, she published her famous books Notes on Nursing and Notes on Hospitals. Over the following years, her work transformed hospitals into clean, efficient places of healing with well-trained and newly respected nurses, saving countless lives. Florence Nightingale is considered the founder of modern nursing. Many of her practices are still used in hospitals today.

Related images

Florence Nightingale
published by Illustrated London News
published 24 February 1855
NPG D5364

Did you know?

Florence Nightingale was the first woman to be awarded the Order of Merit, an honour awarded by the King or Queen for exceptional achievements.
 
1863

William Rathbone (1819 – 1902)

Founder of district nursing

In the mid 1800s, Liverpool was home to some of the most destitute people in Britain. Numbers of deaths from hunger and disease were high. In response to the suffering he witnessed, William Rathbone developed the first organized service to provide care from trained nurses to the poorest members of the Liverpool community. Nurses were trained at a school built specially by Rathbone in 1863, on the advice of Florence Nightingale. Services were soon developed in other areas of extreme poverty such as Manchester and East London. The service became known as ‘district nursing’.

 
1864

Octavia Hill (1838 – 1912)

The founder of social work

Octavia Hill believed that living in a community with open spaces and neighbours to ‘look out’ for each other is as important to people’s health and wellbeing as living in a clean, light, well-maintained home. She was also a great believer in helping people to help themselves. Octavia set up her first group of houses for the poor in central London in 1864. She collected rents personally, taking time to talk to the residents and listen to any problems they may be facing. She set up play areas and activities for the children, women and older people. In this way, Octavia pioneered a new approach to social housing and her methods were used in a number of different countries. Octavia Hill also successfully campaigned to preserve and create some of the most famous parks and open spaces in London, and co-founded the National Trust in 1885.

Portrait

Octavia Hill
by John Singer Sargent
1898
NPG 1746

 
1865

Joseph Lister (1827 – 1912)

Antiseptics and aseptic surgery

Victorian hospitals were dirty places riddled with disease. It was not uncommon for a patient to survive a brutal operation (with no anaesthetic!) only to die on the ward from infection.  In the 1840s, Ignaz Semmelweis discovered that washing his hands in chlorinated lime reduced infection – although many ridiculed him. Joseph Lister read about Louis Pasteur’s discoveries that diseases were caused by bacteria. In 1865, based on Pasteur’s work, Lister experimented with carbolic acid, using it to soak dressings applied to wounds after surgery. He discovered that this greatly reduced infection, and that washing hands and surgical instruments in carbolic acid (phenol) reduced infection even further. This was the beginning of aseptic surgery – something we take for granted today. However, in the 1860s this was a revolutionary discovery that significantly improved a patient’s chance of surviving surgery.

Manuscript

Use of the Lister carbolic spray from Antiseptic Surgery by William Watson Cheyne, 1882  Wellcome Library, London

Use of the Lister carbolic spray from Antiseptic Surgery by William Watson Cheyne, 1882
Wellcome Library, London

Related images

Carbolic steam spray used by Joseph Lister, 1866-18

Carbolic steam spray used by Joseph Lister, 1866-18

Advert for Lecture by Joseph Lister, 1857

Advert for Lecture by Joseph Lister, 1857

Wellcome Library, London

Did you know?

Carbolic acid (phenol) is still used today in mouthwashes and throat lozenges because of its antiseptic and painkilling effects.
 
1866

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836 – 1917)

Founds the Dispensary for Women

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was the first woman to qualify as a doctor and surgeon in Britain. In the 1860s, women were not allowed to take up medical posts in hospitals. Elizabeth set up her own practice, the Dispensary for Women, in 1866. Along with Elizabeth Blackwell and Sophia Jex-Blake, Anderson was a key pioneer of women in medicine during the Victorian period.

Portrait

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson
by John Singer Sargent
1900
NPG L254

Related images

Portraits of E. Blackwell, E.Garrett Anderson, S. Jex-Blake Wellcome Library, London

Portraits of E. Blackwell, E.Garrett Anderson, S. Jex-Blake
Wellcome Library, London

 
1870

Thomas Barnardo (1845 – 1905)

Homes for destitute children

Thomas Barnardo opened his first residential home for destitute children in 1870. At the time of his death in 1905, Dr Barnardo’s charity was running 96 homes caring for more than 8,500 children and thousands of lives had been saved. The focus of care was on children’s physical and moral welfare, some children saw the charity as a ‘family’ while others experienced harsh treatment and even cruelty. Thousands of the children taken by Barnardo were sent overseas to Canada and other British colonies as part of the child migration schemes, often into lonely and exploitative environments.

Today, the Barnardo’s charity has transformed from its institutional past, providing support for vulnerable children and championing the rights of the child.

Portrait

Thomas John Barnardo
by Stepney Causeway Studios
1900-1905
NPG P1700(83a)

Related images

Hope Place, where Dr Barnardo began his work

Hope Place, where Dr Barnardo began his work

Group portrait of children outside a Barnardo home

Group portrait of children outside a Barnardo home

Wellcome Library, London
 
1874

Sophia Jex-Blake (1840 – 1912)

Schools of Medicine for Women

Sophia Jex-Blake was one of the first qualified female doctors in Britain and a leading figure in the education and professionalisation of women. In the 1870s it was very difficult for women to find a medical school that would allow them to study for a medical qualification. In response to her struggle to qualify as a doctor, Sophia co-founded the London School of Medicine for Women. Following its success she set up the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women in 1886. Along with Elizabeth Garret and Elizabeth Blackwell, Sophia was a key pioneer of women in medicine during the Victorian period.

Portrait

Sophia Louisa Jex-Blake
by Margaret G. Todd
1880s-1890s
NPG x29548

Related images

Portraits of E. Blackwell, E.Garrett Anderson, S. Jex-Blake Wellcome Library, London

Portraits of E. Blackwell, E.Garrett Anderson, S. Jex-Blake
Wellcome Library, London

 
1875

Richard Assheton Cross (1823 – 1914)

The second Public Health act and the Artisans Dwelling act

Richard Assheton Cross was a government politician. He played a large part in shaping the social reforms of the 1870s, which greatly improved the lives of the poorest people living and working in Victorian Britain. By the 1870s, living conditions in many towns and cities were filthy and full of disease. Sewage, rubbish and even dead bodies lined the streets and the poor still lived in cramped dwellings with no running water. The Artisans Dwelling act and the Public Health act of 1875 brought together a number of changes to clean up towns, stem the spread of disease, demolish slums and provide better housing.

Portrait

Related images

Lodging House in Field Lane, 1848 Wellcome Library, London

Lodging House in Field Lane, 1848
Wellcome Library, London

 
1876

John Burdon-Sanderson (1828 – 1905)

Cruelty to animals act

John Burdon-Sanderson led the experimental study of contagious diseases in England. Like many, Burdon-Sanderson practised vivisection and argued that these experiments were essential, leading to life-saving discoveries. Vivisection – experimenting on live animals - was widespread in Victorian science and involved many practices that are viewed as unacceptable by today’s standards. When The Handbook for the Physiological Laboratory, co-authored by Burdon-Sanderson was published in 1873. It fuelled the ongoing vivisection debate leading to legislation preventing cruelty to animals and regulations for laboratories using live animals for experiments.

Portrait

Did you know?

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (later the RSPCA) was founded in a coffee shop in London as early as 1824.
 
1877

Patrick Manson (1844 – 1922)

Mosquitoes - the deadliest creature on earth

In 1877, Patrick Manson discovered that parasites can be transferred through the blood by mosquitoes and so became known as the founder of tropical medicine. This breakthrough led the way for Ronald Ross to prove, twenty years later, that malaria is transmitted by mosquitoes.

Portrait

Sir Patrick Manson
by John Robert Pinches
1922
NPG 4058

Did you know?

Only female mosquitoes bite people.
 
1878

Robert Koch (1843 – 1910)

Discovers germs for different diseases

In the late 1870s, German doctor Robert Koch began to develop a process and set of criteria for determining which germs cause different diseases. By growing different types of bacteria in the laboratory, and testing them on animals, Koch was able to find the germs for 21 different diseases including anthrax, cholera and tuberculosis. Koch’s work built on Louis Pasteur’s germ theory and, in turn, led Pasteur and others to develop vaccines that would save millions of lives. Koch was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1905.

Portrait

Portrait of Robert Herman Koch (1843 – 1910) Wellcome Library, London

Portrait of Robert Herman Koch (1843 – 1910)
Wellcome Library, London

Related images

Robert Koch working in his laboratory Wellcome Library, London

Robert Koch working in his laboratory
Wellcome Library, London

 
1885

Henry Fawcett (1833 – 1884)

Royal Commission for the Blind

Henry Fawcett was the first blind person to be elected to parliament. Despite the development of braille, few blind people were educated and it was widely assumed blind people were not fit to work. Fawcett supported a royal commission to investigate and improve the lives of blind people. It was set up in 1885, a year after his death. The Commission recommended compulsory education for blind children and training for work. This was the first step in a long campaign for rights and equality for blind people.

Did you know?

Henry was also a strong supporter of votes for women and was married to the suffragist Millicent Garret.
 
1886

William Hesketh Lever (1851 – 1925)

Sunlight soap

William Hesketh Lever was co-founder of the firm Lever Brothers, which later became Unilever, one of the biggest companies in the world. The company began with a new product – Sunlight soap, the first branded and packaged laundry soap. Widely available, Sunlight soap transformed cleanliness and hygiene in Victorian Britain and, only a decade after its launch in 1886, 40,000 tons of Sunlight soap was being sold each year. The company took a keen interest in the welfare of its employees, and developed ‘Port Sunlight’, a ‘model village’ next to the soap factory. As well as 800 houses, the village included an art gallery, a cottage hospital, schools and an open-air swimming pool. The ‘garden’ village still exists today and includes a museum and garden open to the public. Lever was a strong supporter of the expansion of the British Empire, as production of his soap relied on the supply of palm oil, produced in British colonies of the time.

Related images

Advert for Sunlight soap, c.1890 Wellcome Library, London

Advert for Sunlight soap, c.1890
Wellcome Library, London

 
1886

Josephine Butler (1828 – 1906)

Refuge and rights for destitute women

Josephine Butler campaigned for the rights of women throughout her adult life. In 1866 she helped found refuges for destitute women in Liverpool. Many of the women had become prostitutes in a desperate need to earn money. Josephine brought some of these women to live in her own home and set up an envelope factory to provide them with paid work. In the 1860s, sexually transmitted diseases, like syphilis and gonorrhoea, were rife and often deadly. Acts were passed to curb the spread of them in the army and navy. This gave police the power to detain any woman thought to be a prostitute and force them to be medically examined. Josephine led a successful campaign against these acts, for which she became famous. The acts were repealed in 1886.

Portrait

 
1890

Francis Maginn (1861 – 1918)

Founds the British Deaf Association

Francis Maginn became deaf after suffering scarlet fever as a child. In 1890 he proposed the need for an organised group in Britain to represent the ‘educational, moral and social interests’ of deaf people, who were often also without speech. The British Deaf and Dumb Association was set up that same year. The word ‘Dumb’ remained until as late as 1970. It was not until the 1980s that the Association had its first deaf Chair, Jack Young.

Portrait

Francis Maginn  (1861 – 1918) British Deaf Association

Francis Maginn  (1861 – 1918)
British Deaf Association

 
1894

Florence Boot (1862 – 1952)

Welfare at work

Throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s Florence and Jesse Boot set the standard for the wellbeing of workers. They created safe and modern places to work, provided free education and training  - with free tea! - and made sure all staff working for Boots were well looked after. Florence was particularly concerned with the welfare of women. She arranged outings to beaches and beauty spots (places otherwise out of reach for many) and invited staff to parties and celebrations at her home. Keen to promote health and wellbeing outside work, Florence encouraged employee sports and social clubs. She visited sick staff members, insisted on being notified about any serious hardship they may be suffering and arranged for girls arriving at work without having breakfast to be given cocoa at the start of the day.

In the early 1900s Eleanor Kelly was appointed as a full time staff welfare officer. In 1928 Florence Boot personally funded the building of a hall of residence for women at Nottingham University. In 1934 Boots became the first company in the UK to introduce the five day working week.

Portrait

Portrait of Florence Boot

Manuscript

Programme from staff trip

Programme from staff trip
Walgreens Boots Alliance Archive and Heritage collection

Related images

Factory canteen

Factory canteen

Staff outing

Staff outing 1922

‘Utopia factory’ press cutting

‘Utopia factory’ press cutting

Factory to offer 5 day working week, 1930s

Factory to offer 5 day working week, 1930s

Women’s athletic club

Women’s athletic club

Walgreen Boots Alliance Archive and Heritage collection

Did you know?

A journalist describing the Boots ‘Wonder factory’ in 1933 wrote “The factory of Utopia has just been opened in Nottingham…an industrial crystal palace where thousands of men and women work in full daylight under conditions that must be the envy of every man and woman employed in the orthodox factory”.

Manufacturing Footage with voiceover by John Boot

 
1894

Jesse Boot (1850 – 1931)

Chemists to the nation

Before the mid 1800s, there were few medicines. Most of these were herbal remedies that could only be bought from doctors or apothecaries, making them unavailable to most ordinary people. Jesse Boot wanted to make the highest quality medicines available and affordable for all.  His ethos led to a long-lasting public trust and a revolution in healthcare. By 1894 ‘Boots’ stores were offering half price prescriptions dispensed from qualified pharmacists. During World War I, medicines were available overseas by mail order. When a deadly flu epidemic hit Britain in 1919, Boots kept stores open until midnight to meet the demand for medicines. In the 1920s, Boots offered their customers consultations with qualified nurses, and offered 24-hour access to affordable medicines. Long before it became law, Boots tested all their products for quality and safety. Jesse also established a pharmaceutical research division which developed new medicines, but also designed techniques to mass produce some of the new ‘wonder drugs’ such as Insulin and Penicillin.

Along with his wife Florence, Jesse made sure their staff were always well looked after. In 1934 they became the first company in the UK to introduce the five day working week. Today, Boots dispense over 100 million prescription items each year - nearly 275,000 every day!

Portrait

Manuscript

medicines price list

Medicines price list

Related images

Photo of pharmacist (Ipswich store 1896 pamphlet p. 10): 1028

Photo of pharmacist (Ipswich store 1896 pamphlet p. 10): 1028

Photo of shop exterior (history booklet cover): 1113

Photo of shop exterior (history booklet cover): 1113

Interior of Pelham St store 1895

Interior of Pelham St store

Factory image: tablet production 2032

Factory image: tablet production 2032

Boots laboratory (1920s): 2224

Boots laboratory (1920s): 2224

Advert: Largest Best and Cheapest

Advert: Largest Best and Cheapest

Did you know?

Ibuprofen – one of the world’s best selling painkillers - was invented by Boots.

Pharmacy For You Film 1959

 
1894

Edward Sharpey-Schafer (1850 – 1935)

Discovers adrenaline

Sharpey-Schafer became known as the founder of endocrinology (the study of hormones) following his discovery of adrenaline in 1894. Adrenaline is released by the body when we’re stressed. It causes the heart to race, pumping blood to the brain to focus the mind, and priming the muscles for ‘fight or flight’ – for rigorous or sudden action. Today, adrenaline is used in EpiPens to treat anaphylactic shock. Sharpey-Schafer’s work led to the discovery of insulin and a treatment for diabetes.

Related images

Advert: Insulin further reduction in price, 1924

Advert: Insulin further reduction in price, 1924 (5296)
Walgreen Boots Alliance Archive and Heritage Collection

Did you know?

It’s adrenaline that causes ‘butterflies’ in your stomach.
 
1895

Wilhelm Roentgen

Discovers X-rays

In 1895, Wilhelm Roentgen discovered a special form of electromagnetic radiation he called X-rays. For the first time, the inside of the body could be seen without cutting into it. This marked a revolution in diagnosis. His discovery made him world famous and he was awarded the first ever Noble prize for physics in 1901.  The first picture Roentgen took using X-rays was of his wife Anna Bertha's hand, the image showed her bones and wedding ring. When she saw her skeleton she is thought to have said: “I have seen my death!”

Portrait

Portrait of W.C. Roentgen after a photograph by Nicola Perscheld, 1906 Wellcome Library, London

Portrait of W.C. Roentgen after a photograph by Nicola Perscheld, 1906
Wellcome Library, London

Related images

Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen looking into an X-ray screen placed in front of a man's body and seeing the ribs and the bones of the arm, c.1896

Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen looking into an X-ray screen placed in front of a man's body and seeing the ribs and the bones of the arm, c.1896

Radiograph of hand by W.K. Roentgen, 22 December 1895

Radiograph of hand by W.K. Roentgen, 22 December 1895

Wellcome Library, London

Did you know?

It was later discovered that repeated exposure to X-rays is harmful, which is why radiographers hide behind a screen when X-raying their patients.
 
1897

Ronald Ross (1857 – 1932)

Discovers malaria is transmitted by mosquitoes

Building on Patrick Manson’s work on tropical diseases, Ronald Ross discovered that malaria is transmitted by mosquitoes, in 1897. Ross was awarded the Nobel prize in 1902. Despite great advances in prevention, one child still dies of malaria every minute. Nine out of every ten deaths from malaria occur in Africa. Microsoft mogul Bill Gates and his wife Melinda set up a foundation in 2000 which aims to eradicate malaria once and for all.

Portrait

Sir Ronald Ross
by Walter Benington, for Elliott & Fry
1920s
NPG x94126

Related images

Essence of cinnamon and Quinine, used to treat malaria

Essence of cinnamon and Quinine, used to treat malaria
Walgreen Boots Alliance Archive and Heritage Collection

Anti-mosquito spray gun (1914-18) Wellcome Library, London

Anti-mosquito spray gun (1914-18)
Wellcome Library, London

Did you know?

It is thought that malaria has killed more than half of all humans who have ever lived.

Malaria: Bill & Melinda Gates foundation

 
1897

Millicent Fawcett (1847 – 1949)

President of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies

Millicent Fawcett was a tireless campaigner for votes for women and, in 1897, led the formation of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. The NUWSS was a political organisation that aimed to achieve women's suffrage peacefully and legally. Members of the NUWSS were known as ‘suffragists’, as opposed to the more militant ‘suffragettes’ who became famous for chaining themselves to railings, causing explosions and going on hunger strikes in their campaign for the vote.

Did you know?

Millicent was the sister of Elizabeth Garrett, the first woman to qualify as a doctor in Britain. She was married to Henry Fawcett, the first blind member of parliament and a strong supporter of votes for women.
 
1897

Henry Havelock Ellis (1859 – 1939)

Sexology

Henry Havelock Ellis led the development of sexology (the scientific study of sex) in Britain in the 1890s. At the time, scientific writings about sex were widely considered to be ‘obscene’ and homosexuality among men was illegal. Ellis was a supporter of sex education and birth control and published groundbreaking surveys on homosexuality and transgender identity to demonstrate their natural nature.

Portrait

Henry Havelock Ellis
by Henry Bishop
mid-late 1890s
NPG 6626

Did you know?

The first volume in his series Studies in the Psychology of Sex (1897-1928) was banned in Britain.
 
1898

Marie Curie (1867 – 1934)

Discovers radium

Marie Curie worked with her husband Pierre to discover an amazing substance, which they called radium. Their breakthrough discovery would lead to new treatments for reducing tumours caused by cancer – known today as radiotherapy. Marie Curie became world famous and was the first woman to be awarded the prestigious Nobel Prize, along with Pierre. She was also the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris. Although Marie and Pierre didn’t know it at the time, radioactive substances are highly dangerous if not carefully controlled. Marie died from leukaemia, caused by working with highly radioactive materials.

Portrait

Marie Curie
by Pacific & Atlantic Photos Ltd
1923
NPG x138968

Did you know?

Marie Curie’s papers are still radioactive over 100 years after her research and are kept in a lead-lined boxes.
 
1901

Queen Victoria dies

Queen Victoria died in January 1901. Her eldest son came to the throne as King Edward VII. Edward reigned for nearly ten years until he died in 1910.

Related portrait

King Edward VII
possibly by W. & D. Downey
9 August 1902
NPG P1700(62a)

Image

Queen Victoria's Funeral Cortège
by James Russell & Sons
4 February 1901
NPG x135124

 
20th century

Early 20th century

The early years of the 20th century were dominated by three things. The first was the reform through health services and unemployment insurance that transformed the lives of the most vulnerable people in society. The second was the First World War, which resulted in the deaths of over 800,000 British men and devastated families and communities, but also led to major innovations in medicine. The third was the transformation in the role and lives of women brought about by birth control, steadily enabling women to plan their families, and by a new law which meant women over 30 could at last vote in elections alongside men.

 
1902

Edward VII (1841 – 1910)

Pioneering operation for appendicitis

Just days before his coronation in 1902, the new King, Edward VII, became dangerously ill with appendicitis. Today, an operation to remove an appendix is fairly straightforward but, in 1902, this was a brand new and potentially risky procedure. Despite the King insisting that the coronation must go ahead, pioneering surgeon Frederick Treves operated on him. The coronation was postponed and the King’s life undoubtedly saved, paving the way for many more life-saving appendectomies to follow.

Portrait

King Edward VII
replica by Sir (Samuel) Luke Fildes
1902-1912, based on a work of 1902
NPG 1691

Related images

Sir Frederick Treves, 1st Bt
reduced replica by Sir (Samuel) Luke Fildes
1896
NPG 2917

 
1903

Ernest Starling (1866 – 1927) and William Bayliss (1860 - 1924)

Hormones and vivisection – the brown dog affair

Ernest Starling and William Bayliss are famous for coining the word ‘hormone’, in 1905, to describe the chemical messengers that regulate the body and behaviour. Like many of their time, they are also known for using vivisection (experimenting on live animals) in their research. In 1903, Bayliss performed a dissection on a live dog in front of 60 medical students which would spark protest, debate and legal battles that raged until 1910. This became known as the ‘Brown dog affair’.

Portrait

Related images

Statue of Brown Dog in Battersea Park c.1906 Wellcome Library, London

Statue of Brown Dog in Battersea Park c.1906
Wellcome Library, London

Did you know?

The ‘brown dog’ had his own statue in Battersea, but it was destroyed soon after it was erected in 1906. A new statue commissioned, by anti-vivisectionists, was erected in Battersea Park in 1985.
 
1903

Emmeline Pankhurst (1858 - 1928)

Campaign for votes for women

Emmeline Pankhurst was a leading figure in the long and difficult suffrage campaign to secure votes for women. In 1903 she co-founded the militant Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). Along with her supporters, Emmeline fought tirelessly and aggressively for her cause. She was arrested a number of times for acts ranging from leading protest marches, to conspiring to plant explosives. Like many of her fellow suffragettes, she went on hunger strike in prison and was force-fed. In one of the suffragettes’ most famous acts of protest, fellow WSPU member Emily Davison ran out in front of the King’s horse during the 1913 Epsom Derby. She died of her injuries a few days later.  In 1918 women over 30 were finally granted the vote. This was extended to all women over 21 (in line with men) in 1928, just weeks after Emmeline died.

Emily Davison (Suffragette) killed by King's Horse at Derby (1913) British Pathe Ltd.

 
1908

William Beveridge (1879 – 1963)

Old Age Pensions and National Health Insurance

William Beveridge advised the Liberal government on old age pensions and National Health Insurance. Pensions for people over 70 were introduced in 1908. National Insurance was introduced in 1911, providing a ‘safety net’ for the poorest people. Workers earning less than £160 per year now paid some of their wages into National Insurance schemes; their employer and the government also paid into the schemes. This money paid for sick leave and unemployment benefit. A similar system still exists today.

The ‘Beveridge report’ of 1942 would be a key factor in the development of the National Health Service.

Related images

National Health Insurance, Boots store

National Health Insurance, Boots store
Walgreen Boots Alliance Archive and Heritage Collection

 
1909

Paul Ehrlich (1854 – 1915)

Cure for syphilis

Paul Ehrlich developed the theory that different chemicals could be used to target and kill the bacteria in them body of an unwell patient that was causing a particular disease. He called this the ‘magic bullet’ theory. He went on to carry out a number of experiments with a team of scientists that would prove he was right. In 1909, Ehrlich, and his assistant Sahachiro Hata, discovered that arsphenamine kills the bacteria that causes syphilis – a deadly sexually transmitted disease. They also discovered that arsphenamine caused no harmful side effects when taken by people. They had discovered a cure for syphilis. Ehrlich coined the term ‘chemotherapy’ to describe the process of using chemicals for medicinal purposes.

Portrait

Paul Ehrlich, 1915 Wellcome Library, London

Paul Ehrlich, 1915
Wellcome Library, London

Related images

Photograph of the manufacture of Stabilarsan. Boots were the first to manufacture the drug for syphilis in Britain.

Photograph of the manufacture of Stabilarsan. Boots were the first to manufacture the drug for syphilis in Britain.

Did you know?

Not everyone was happy that a cure for syphilis had been found. Many feared it would trigger a major moral breakdown in attitudes to sex.
 
1910

George V comes to the throne

Edward VII died in May 1910. His second son came to the throne as King George V. George reigned until his death in 1936.

Portrait

King George V
by Unknown photographer
circa 1901
NPG P1700(57c)

Related images

Coronation programme George V

Coronation programme George V (355/19)
Walgreen Boots Alliance Archive and Heritage collection

 
1910

Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939)

The father of psychoanalysis

Sigmund Freud is known as the father of psychoanalysis and one of the most influential – and controversial – figures of the 20th century. His theories centre around the idea that our development is shaped by early experience, that thoughts and behaviours are driven largely by our ‘unconscious’ mind, and that these can be unlocked through methods such as skilled guidance, hypnosis and analysing dreams. Freud co-founded the International Psychoanalytical Association in Nuremberg in 1910. Freud radically advanced understanding of the human mind and his theories still underpin many branches of psychology and psychotherapy today.

Portrait

Mathilde Hollitscher (née Freud); Sigmund Freud; Alfred Ernest Jones
by Unknown photographer, for International News Photos
1937
NPG x135930

Did you know?

The International Psychoanalytical Association still exists today and has over 12,000 members.
 
(1914 – 1918)

World War I

The First World War was a war like no other. The need to treat a huge number of casualties led to major advancements in medicine and surgery. Men fighting on land, at sea and in the air came under attack from new and sophisticated weapons. Explosives, gas, shrapnel and machine guns caused horrific injuries to the military and to civilians. Over 800,000 British people died, and nearly 2 million more were injured.

Harold Gillies developed new techniques in plastic surgery to repair disfigurements, Hugh Owen Thomas’s splint saved thousands from having their legs amputated and William Rivers greatly increased our understanding of the effects of traumatic stress.

The first blood banks were set up on the Western Front. Blood was mixed with sodium citrate to stop it coagulating (thickening) and preserved by keeping it on ice, ready for life-saving transfusions close to the battlefield. By the end of the War, there were around 41,000 amputees in Britain alone. Every serviceman who lost a limb was entitled to an artificial limb, and specialist centres were developed to fit prosthetics.

The War led to great change for women. Thousands served as nurses, saving lives through treating casualties and developing new ways to reduce infection and diseases. More were needed at home for jobs previously only open to men. These essential roles finally led to votes for women in the UK in 1920.

Related images

 ‘Barricade’ leaflet: medicines for men at the front

‘Barricade’ leaflet: medicines for men at the front

Compressed medicine (First World War first aid kit)

Compressed medicine (First World War first aid kit)

Walgreen Boots Alliance Archive and Heritage collection

Amputees learn to use artificial limbs (Roehampton, 1916)

British Pathe Ltd

 
1915

Maud McCarthy (1858 – 1949)

Army Matron-in-chief

Born in Australia and trained at the London Hospital, Maud McCarthy sailed on the first troopship to take soldiers out to France in August 1914, only a few days after the outbreak of the First World War. In 1915 she was made Matron-in-chief, in charge of the Army’s nursing operation. Thousands of trained nurses served in the War. They lived and worked in dangerous conditions, often treating wounded men close to the frontline and while under fire. McCarthy's exceptional skills as a nurse and administrator were vital to the Army. One general is reported to have said of her: '… she could run the whole Army…she'd never get flustered, never make a mistake. The woman's a genius'. 

Portrait

Dame (Emma) Maud McCarthy
by Francis Owen ('Frank') Salisbury
1917
NPG 5831

Related images

Ampoules of Iodine Tincture

Ampoules of Iodine Tincture

Acriflavine Emulsion (burns)

Acriflavine Emulsion (burns)

Lysol

Bottle of antiseptic

1914 Price list

1914 price list

Walgreen Boots Alliance Archive and Heritage collection

 
1916

Hugh Owen Thomas (1834 – 1891)

Thomas splint: saviour of life and limb

Hugh Owen Thomas was an orthopaedic (bone) surgeon who came from a family of bone setters. He combined the secrets and traditions of this, often brutal, practice with his medical knowledge to develop new treatments and devices. His most famous invention was the ‘Thomas splint’. It wasn’t until twenty-five years after his death that his splint became widely used, saving thousands of limbs and lives of soldiers in the first world war.  At the beginning of the war, most soldiers with broken femurs (thigh bones) died. After the Thomas splint was introduced in 1916, over 80% of soldiers survived this injury.

Portrait

Hugh Owen Thomas
by Hermann Fleury
1880s
NPG 3167

Related images

The application of Thomas's splint, for fractures of the femur and leg bones Wellcome Library, London

The application of Thomas's splint, for fractures of the femur and leg bones
Wellcome Library, London

Did you know?

Hugh Owen Thomas constantly kept a lit cigarette in his mouth which he believed would ward off cholera and other diseases.

 
1916

William Halse Rivers Rivers (1864-1922)

The talking cure

WHR Rivers is best known for his treatment of servicemen suffering from ‘shell shock’ during World War I. It is now known as ‘post traumatic stress’, caused by the horrors and trauma of war, with symptoms that include twitching, stammering, nightmares, blindness and an inability to eat or sleep. Throughout most of the War, shell shock was not well understood, it was seen as a sign of weakness and there was little sympathy; some were even executed for cowardice. Rivers disagreed with the harsh views and treatments of the time. Inspired by Freud’s psychoanalysis, he developed a new, successful form of therapy, which encouraged those he treated to talk about their experiences and face their fears. This became known as the talking cure.

Portrait

Did you know?

80,000 officers and ordinary soldiers are thought to have suffered from shell shock during World War I. Rivers’ most famous patient was the war poet, Siegfried Sassoon.

 
1917

Harold Gillies (1882 – 1960)

The man who mended faces

Harold Gillies became known as the father of plastic surgery. During the First World War, thousands of men received horrific facial injuries from bullets, explosives and flying shrapnel which could literally rip a face apart. Men lucky enough to survive were often left disfigured - badly scarred and with parts of their faces missing. Gillies convinced the army to set up a special plastic surgery hospital in Kent. Gillies developed innovative techniques in skin-grafting and reconstructive surgery to repair and restore the men's faces. He continued his work after the war and was a strong influence on his cousin, Archibald McIndoe who became famous for developing new techniques to treat RAF pilots who had been badly burned during World War II. Harold Gillies would go on to carry out some of the first gender reassignment surgeries in the 1940s and ‘50s.

Portrait

Related images

Henry Tonks
by Henry Tonks
1900-1925
NPG 3072(7)

Did you know?

As well as surgeons and nurses, Gillies set up a team of artists, like Henry Tonks, at the Sidcup hospital to take casts of the men's faces and record their injuries and recovery as detailed portraits.
 
1921

Marie Stopes (1880 – 1958)

First family planning clinic in Britain

Marie Stopes was a campaigner for women’s rights and birth control. For poor families living in the early 1900s, ‘another mouth to feed’ often proved financially impossible, it was also still relatively common for women to die in childbirth. Being able, and having the right, to choose the number of children they had was a crucial issue for women. When Marie published her book ‘Married Love’ in 1918, it was publicly condemned but widely popular, and thousands of women wrote to her to ask for advice. In 1921 Marie opened the first birth control clinic in Britain, paving the way for a revolution in women’s rights and freedom.

Portrait

Marie Stopes
by Bassano Ltd
26 June 1924
NPG x127854

Related images

'Prorace' cervical cap, London, England, 1920-1950

'Prorace' cervical cap, London, England, 1920-1950

Rubber Condoms

Rubber condoms

Advert for birth control lecture

Advert for birth control lecture

Wellcome Library, London