Visitor staff from London hospital

1801-1870 in England

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Long green painted wooden staff decorated with painted coat of arms and inscribed St.B.H., English, 1801-1870. Long
Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Long black painted wooden staff, decorated with gold paint, and inscribed Bridewell and Bethlem, English, 1801-1870

Who made sure English hospitals were up to scratch 200 years ago? The doctors? It was usually successful local businessmen who inspected English voluntary hospitals, visiting once or twice a week to monitor patient welfare. They took tours of the institution, checking the condition of the building, visiting patients on the wards, and tasting the hospital food.

To identify them on official duty, hospital visitors had a staff or stick, much like doctors now who wear their stethoscope slung around their necks. Why do you think it was important for the visitors to be recognised? It was not for fear of being caught out, as most staff and patients would have known their local visitors.

It was more likely for showy ritual, for the successful businessman to appear like a shepherd among his flock. The best funded London hospitals, including St Bartholomew’s, St Thomas’s and Bethlem Royal Hospital, gave visitors these tall green staffs with painted hospital crests. Several smaller charitable hospitals outside London gave visitors a small white wand to carry.

So did the inspections work? Some historical accounts of hospital life suggest the visitors were far from thorough, sauntering through the hospital, rather than checking anything fully. Hospital reformers campaigned for no-nonsense inspectors with a keen eye, ready to uncover any neglect or lack of care. This probably spelled the end for showy visitors’ staffs.

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Science Museum: Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries

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Nursing & Hospital Furnishings
Object Number:
  • furnishing and equipment
  • tools & equipment
  • walking stick
  • furnishing and equipment
  • weapons and ammunition
  • weapon
  • ceremonial weapon

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