England Hospital Records (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Education,Health and Contemporary Documents  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Hospital Records[edit | edit source]

Categories of Records[edit | edit source]

Phillips categorises records which may be available as:

  • Administrative, including estate records and finances, account books and minutes of meetings. People mentioned are the governors, tradesmen supplying the hospital, persons dealing with the hospital about property, employees (who usually lived in) and the occasional patient.
  • Medical records of three major types:
  1. Admissions and Discharge Registers may be very sketchy in earlier times, for example just the names, arranged by ward and unindexed. However some, for both in-and out-patients can be most useful for the family historian. They can contain ages and addresses for patients, the dates of admission and discharge as well as the treatment given. Sometimes indexes have been prepared.
  2. Death Registers which from the mid-18th century can include name, date admitted, date died, parish, if buried in the hospital or not. A century later there may, in addition, be the patient’s age, ward in the hospital, disease, civil state, occupation, address, name of friend or undertaker who removed the body. Do not expect them to be indexed but be joyful if they are!
  3. Case Histories still exist back to the early 1800s, and occasionally earlier and may be indexed by patient and by disease. However, because of volume and expense many were culled after 25 years from the time they were last opened. They can show the complete case history, the treatment and the outcome, including any post-mortems, and were originally intended for student instruction. The usual 100-year closure rule for public records applies, although archivists have some discretionary ability.

Chart: Examples from Dr. John Symcotts Medical Case-Book 1642 De tuberculis rubris faciei [red pimples on the face]

Mr. Oliver Cromwell (long since) taking abundance of mithridate to avoyd ye infection of ye plague, cured his pimpled face, and this year 1642 Mr Burrell’s eldest daughter having many small red spots breaking out of her face, was cured principally by ye use of mithridate taken every morning, ye quantity of about a dram at most at a time.

For casualties and outpatients there may be no records left in the hospital archives and Phillips suggest that local newspapers are likely to give details of accidents.

  • Medical and nursing administration and personnel records are dealt with in the course English: Occupations - Professions and Trades.
  • Other Sources
  • Subscription lists (those who donated money)
  • Files of newspaper cuttings about the hospital
  • Hospital annual reports and year books
  • Collections of photographs of hospital wards and operating theatres.
  • Records of associated facilities such as medical or nursing schools and convalescent homes.
  • Census Returns

Those residing overnight in any institution will be enumerated there in the census returns, so those missing from a family grouping may be found this way. Remember that superintendents of certain institutions such as mental asylums were permitted to enter only initials for the names of their patients. In electronic searches these can be found trying various combinations of the initial, initial and a period, and initial and a space; it will appear as the transcriber saw it on the original.

Many useful examples of hospital records and repositories can be found in Susan Bourne and Andrew Chicken’s Records of the Medical Professions: A Practical Guide for the Family Historian, and in Peter Amsden’s The Medical Professions and Their Archives although the latter’s book is primarily about medical personnel.

Location of Records[edit | edit source]

In 1957 hospital records were declared public records and as such could be deposited in county record offices, however, in practice they are too huge for these offices to handle. Only a few hospitals maintain an archivist, notably St. Bartholomew’s, the Royal Bethlem (see Allderidge and Gale’s Records of the Royal Bethlem Hospital ), and Oxford Health Authority. St. Bartholomew’s (Bart’s) Hospital in London has one of the largest, oldest and complete accumulations of records in the England. It was founded in 1123 and some 2,000 mediaeval deeds are extant; the majority of its records start in the 1530s. Cecil Humphery-Smith recounts his experiences with the Bethlem records, including a note on a Sussex vicar who committed himself because of dementia caused by a surfeit of choirboys!

The Hospital Records Database is a joint project of the Wellcome Institute and the Public Record Office. The aim is to record details of all known surviving hospital records in the UK. So far there are over 2,800 hospitals with entries, mainly of records deposited in archives. Researchers can find information in this database on:

  • The administrative details of the hospitals and their status and type.
  • The location and covering dates of administrative and clinical records.
  • The existence of lists, catalogues or other finding aids.

There may be closure periods of up to 100 years for individual patient records, except via a doctor or social worker. It is always wise to contact the archivist of the relevant repository before you visit to find which records are open and whether you need an appointment. The Medical Archives and Manuscripts Survey (MAMS) complements the above-mentioned Hospitals Records database by extending it into general practice, local authority public health departments, personal papers of patients etc. The Wellcome Library website is in its early stage of development to provide a consolidated finding aid for a huge number of scattered medical records. Hilton provides further details.

LMA (London Metropolitan Archives) holds records of over 100 hospitals and institutions, such as St. Thomas’ Hospital and the Nightingale Training School, Guy’s Hospital, Hanwell and Colney Hatch asylums, Moorfields Eye Hospital and Queen Charlotte’s Maternity Hospital. Many are not located within even the present, wide London boundaries but all around the home counties. In 1992 Foster listed those presently held by LMA.

You can also write to the Hospital Administrator or Patients Service Manager of a specific hospital. However, few hospitals have the resources to do searches, but their attitude towards archival records is changing and more are depositing records or hiring their own professional archivists.

Finding Records in the FamilySearch Catalog[edit | edit source]

There seems to have been no systematic collection or filming of English hospital records by the GSU (Genealogical Society of Utah) yet. The category of medical records only contains one item in the Great Britain section, about the 19th century vaccination acts. The section on England produces four general books and medical records—19th century contains only a medical directory. Similarly, a search of the county sections produces very little; two items on Eastbourne hospitals under Sussex, and one in Rutland, for example. Some can be found under a subject search for hospitals, but the majority of medical and hospital records that are at the FHL will be found with a place-name / locality search. They might be under medical records,history, public records, cemeteries, church records or poorhouses! A few selected to show the variety available include:

  • A centenary history of Halstead Hospital [Essex] 1884-1984. FHL book 942.67/H1 H2cc (not yet filmed).
  • Children and adults in various hospitals, schools etc. 1884-1899; and a list of births 1872-1873 in Bow and Bromley [Middlesex] on film 0254509.
  • Care and compassion: old prints and photographs of hospitals and nurses in Berkshire and Oxfordshire 1839-1930. FHL Collection (not yet filmed).
  • Bully’s Acre and Royal Hospital, Kilmainham [Dublin, Ireland - army] graveyards: history and inscriptions. FHL Collection.
  • Bishop’s transcripts of the Royal Navy Chapel of Hasler Hospital, Alverstoke Parish [Hampshire] 1831-1882 on film 1596021.
  • Baptisms at King’s College Hospital, Denmark Hill [London] 1887-1913 on film 2214953.
  • At the crossroads: a history of Arclid Workhouse and Hospital [Cheshire] on film 1559433.

Additional Information[edit | edit source]

See: England Lying-In Hospitals and 20th Century Hospitals

See: England Hospitals

See: England Hospital Museums and Archives


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course English: Education,Health and Contemporary Documents offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.