‘I had my kids at Whittington Hospital...but I know so little about it!’
- Credit: John M Fulton
From leprosy to Florence Nightingale, budding thespians from Grafton Primary School helped shed light on Whittington Hospital’s rich but oft-forgotten history. James Morris was there.
If you’re reading this article, chances are that you live in – or have lived in – the London Borough of Islington. In which case, it’s highly likely you were born in, or have visited, the Whittington Hospital. But be honest: do you know any of its history?
Nitsa Sergides, headteacher at Grafton Primary School in Eburne Road, Holloway, has been using the hospital for five decades. And she had no idea.
“I grew up round here, in Hornsey Road. I’ve known this place for 50 years.
“I had my children here. My grandchildren were born here. And I knew so little about it!”
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It was why, on Friday, Grafton pupils took part in a performance with Archway theatre company Scarabeus paying tribute to the hospital’s heritage.
Preparing for the performance, which took place in a disused hospital ward, the pupils used source material ranging from the History of Whittington Hospital book to Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn, who spoke to them about his own experiences there.
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“I’m so happy they had this opportunity,” Mrs Sergides said.
“They have learnt about Edith Cavell and Florence Nightingale [who both worked there as nurses]: amazing women who went on to fight for freedom.
“That can only be inspiring for them.”
The Whittington was named after Richard Whittington in 1948 after three of its wings combined.
Its history goes back to 1474, when a house for leprosy sufferers was built in Highgate Hill. This plot was sold in 1653: not for expensive luxury flats as it might have been today, but for the land to be put to agricultural use.
In 1848, a new smallpox and vaccination hospital was built in Highgate Hill to serve the sick from north London’s Victorian workhouses.
Between 1855 and 1859, 1,185 patients were admitted with a 20 per cent mortality rate.
The Grafton performance demonstrated some of the more gruesome medical treatments of the times.
Mrs Sergides said: “Apart from being on our doorstep – and that many of the pupils were born here and have been to A&E here – this is important because it’s heritage that goes a long way back. It’s relevant to all of them.
“We as schools need to value these kinds of projects. The hospital is the nucleus of our community.
“People, whether rich or poor, come here. Background doesn’t matter and this hospital treats people the same in a world that often discriminates.
“So that is something valuable for the children to take away from this, as well as learning the hospital history.”