National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery celebrates its 150th Anniversary
In 1860 a woman from Soho became the first patient to pass through the doors of a new hospital in Queen Square. Mary Warwick was cured and discharged and 150 years later thousands of people like her have been treated at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery.
But it would never have happened without the Chandlers, a small, close-knit family of two orphaned sisters and a brother who were living with their grandmother in modest circumstances in Regent’s Park.
When their beloved grandmother was paralysed by a stroke, the Chandler siblings were dismayed by the lack of medical and nursing facilities available for chronic neurological patients. Louisa, Johanna and Edward realised that, if it was a calamity for them, poor people faced an even greater plight. The old lady died and the Chandlers were determined to fill this healthcare gap and also provide care for people with epilepsy who tended to be put in lunatic asylums.
Over the next few years, the two sisters raised £200 by making and selling artificial flowers and ornaments made of beads and pearls to friends. But it wasn’t enough. In spring 1859 they approached the Lord Mayor of London, David Wire, who had had a stroke and was partially paralysed. He was sympathetic and keen to get involved in the project. The Chandlers wanted to establish a home for “incurables”, but Mr Wire insisted on providing a hospital where active treatment would be provided.
In November 1859, the Mayor organised a special meeting at the Mansion House, where his wealthy friends and business acquaintances donated £800 to establish a special hospital for the investigation, care and treatment of patients suffering from paralysis and epilepsy. Within months a public appeal had raised the £5,000 the hospital needed to open.
By spring 1860 a house at 24 Queen Square had been leased for £110 a year and the National Hospital for the Paralysed and Epileptic was opened, with its first physicians, Dr Jabez Ramskill and Dr Brown-Sequard. The hospital provided eight beds for females, the front and back parlours were converted into consulting rooms and a waiting area for outpatients and the butler’s pantry became the pharmacy. A ward for male patients was opened a few months later.
Items in the Board’s first minute book record other appointments. Mrs M Maling, a 32-year-old widow, was appointed as nurse, a husband and wife joined the team as porter and cook and the Board resolved to appoint another female nurse, not younger than 45, for the male ward.
The hospital grew rapidly in size, importance and prestige, expanding into adjoining premises, including the William Morris factory at 26 Queen Square and number 32, which had been occupied by Benedictine nuns.
So did its staff. In 1864 the hospital advertised for a Matron, seeking “a well-educated protestant lady of evangelical principles, aged 30 to 45” stressing that “no lady need apply whose character will not bear the strictest enquiry”.
A century and a half later, the NHNN is a leading centre for the diagnosis, treatment and care of patients with a wide range of neurological conditions such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, stroke and head injuries.