Taking London's Pulse - a medical history of the capital city

A great new source of local historical information has just been made available with the publication this week by the Wellcome Trust of annual reports from London’s Medical Officers of Health (MOHs).

The online resource – called London’s Pulse contains more than 5,000 fully searchable reports, from 1848 to 1973, detailing the health of Londoners in intimate detail - borough by borough and often street by street - written by the people responsible for keeping the city healthy over a period of drastic change.

As local authority boundaries change over time information on our own area is covered by the reports from the SouthgateWood Green and Edmonton officers. There is enormous detail in the reports which record vital statistics on births, deaths and illness, infant mortality, and infectious disease.

For example the Southgate report from a century ago in 1913 has a lot of information about the Southgate Isolation Hospital which was situated on the corner of Tottenhall Road and Wolves Lane – on a plot of land opposite the Bird in Hand pub. In 1913 the Isolation Hospital, (initially built in 1901), had just completed an enlargement and major rebuilding and the health officer, Sidney Ransome proudly shows-off the facy in his report with details of all the latest mod- cons including "steam disinfecting apparatus" – and the fact that the fire brigade can now be summoned by telephone.

In fact this hospital - in various formulations- remained in use on this site until the late 1980s. 

When the NHS was formed in 1948 it was renamed Greentrees. It became a maternity unit attached to the North Middlesex Hospital and later a children's hospital. It then treated the "chronically ill" and, before closing in 1988 it was used as a specalist geriatric unit. All the former hospital buildings have been demolished and the area rebuilt as housing.

London’s Pulse is a fascination collection of data and the stories behind the statistics. Not only is the content really interesting - it has been presented in a very accessible and user friendly format the full texts are searchable and you can also download PDF versions and view images from the reports. A really rich resource - which will no doubt, in time, provide further content for this website!

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