Queen Victoria Hospital Archive Project: the history of the hospital




The story of Queen Victoria Hospital (QVH) begins in 1863 with its founding as a cottage hospital on Green Hedges Avenue, East Grinstead, in the home of Dr John Henry Rogers. It was only the fifth cottage hospital to be established in England – from its earliest days the hospital was a pioneer.

The first Queen Victoria Cottage Hospital in Green Hedges Avenue, c 1860s

This original hospital had just seven beds and was run and funded almost entirely by Dr Rogers himself with help from a few local residents – possibly the reason for its closure a few years later in 1874. The hospital re-opened in 1888, moving first to Lansdowne House, and then in 1902 to an old coffee house in Queen’s Road, when it was named the Queen Victoria Cottage Hospital in honour of the recently deceased monarch. In 1931 a plot of land was donated by Sir Robert (later Lord) Kindersley and so began the building of the current hospital in Holtye Road, which was opened on 8th January 1936 with 36 beds and a team of trained staff.

Whilst there is very little in the QVH archive which dates from before the Second World War, the hospital’s annual report from 1939, the earliest annual report that we have, includes a list of subscribers which runs to several pages demonstrating the extent to which the hospital had the financial, as well as the moral, support of the local community.

New hospital on Holtye Road site, 1936

The looming threat of the Second World War radically changed the course of the hospital’s history, with the arrival of New Zealand-born plastic surgeon Archibald McIndoe. His appointment was announced with little fanfare in the 1939 annual report – there was little indication quite how great an impact McIndoe would have on the hospital. At the end of the 1930s, with war imminent, the British government had set up the centralised Emergency Medical Service which took responsibility for employing additional staff and arranging for treatment of the inevitable casualties in hospitals across the country. Mindful of the horrific nature of the disfiguring injuries suffered by soldiers in the First World War, there was recognition of the importance of plastic surgery. ‘The Great Four’ (Harold Gillies, Thomas P. Kilner, Archibald McIndoe and Rainsford Mowlem) – the only full-time, experienced plastic surgeons in the country at the time – were despatched to establish plastic units at various hospitals to treat servicemen from different branches of the armed forces.  McIndoe was appointed as civilian consultant to the Royal Air Force and sent to East Grinstead.

McIndoe, Gillies and Mowlem, three of the ‘Great Four’ outside QVH, 1940s

The impact of McIndoe on Queen Victoria Hospital cannot be understated. His dedicated and groundbreaking plastic surgery work and the inspirational stories of his patients, the ‘Guinea Pigs’, put Queen Victoria Hospital on the map, placing it at the forefront in the field of reconstructive surgery in this country – and renowned around the world.

With the rising reputation and profile of both McIndoe and the hospital came further physical expansion. 1943 saw the start of the construction of the Canadian Wing, paid for by the Canadian Government, to treat the many Canadian airmen who ended up at East Grinstead. This Canadian wing was at the forefront of treatment at the time with elaborate saline baths, one of McIndoe’s innovations to aid the healing of burns, and space for 50 patients. 1943 also saw the decision to drop the word ‘Cottage’ from the name of the hospital. With 230 beds, the ‘Cottage’ denomination hardly seemed appropriate!

Proposed new Surgical Centre at QVH, 1946

The hospital’s ongoing expansion saw the opening of a new surgical block in 1946 and new wards opening throughout the 1950s. In the post-war years Queen Victoria Hospital has continued to go from strength to strength, building not only on the areas of expertise developed by McIndoe and his team in burns treatment and in maxillo-facial surgery but also making a name for itself in fields such as orthodontics and corneo-plastics  thanks to other distinguished innovators such as Sir Benjamin Rycroft.

The strengths of the archive also lie in the Second World War and post-war period. Key among the records are over 650 files relating to the Guinea Pig Club which provide an important insight into the revolutionary work undertaken by McIndoe and his team. The story continues with nearly 14,500 patient case files which demonstrate how the practice of plastic surgery has changed and developed over the decades.

Two of the minute books from the QVH archive

The administrative records of the hospital, which include House Committee minutes from 1948, shed further light on the hospital’s story, recording its expansion and growing reputation. The annual report for 1941 even features a reference to the foundation of the Guinea Pig Club! Significantly McIndoe’s own papers form part of the archive, including plans for his revolutionary saline baths and notes and correspondence concerning the rehabilitation of some of his RAF patients. WSRO also holds copies of the Guinea Pig Club magazine for the 1940s-2002 (with gaps) which record the activities of club members during and after the war. Illustrated with cartoons and photographs they make interesting, and at times amusing, reading!

The hospital has come a long way from its humble beginnings more than 150 years ago, and many of these important changes are recorded in the archive. Despite the success and prestige, it remains firmly rooted in its local community of East Grinstead.

The hospital today

If you would like to know more about the Queen Victoria Hospital Archive project, Archibald McIndoe and the Guinea Pig Club, please come along to Joanna McConville’s illustrated talk to be given at the Record Office on 27th March at 7pm. Tickets are priced at £8.00 each and include light refreshments. Telephone 01243 753602 to book a ticket.

Tickets for the end of project event at Queen Victoria Hospital on 2oth April will shortly be available to purchase via Eventbrite, full details and a link will be published on this blog in the near future.


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A Slice of Life – The Quarter Sessions records

Roll as header

Back in January 2012, West Sussex Record Office Conservator Simon Hopkins and I thought up a plan to make the Quarter Sessions rolls more accessible. These are local government records: essentially the business of the courts which ran the administration of the county before the advent of the County Council.  The earliest ones are fascinating although difficult to read – and by the time they reached the late 18th century, they contain a mine of fascinating information.

The rolls themselves were created out of all the paperwork connected with

Pillow Cases

un-flattened Quarter Session rolls stored in pillow cases

the Quarter Sessions courts. The documents were gathered together, and presumably when they were no longer needed to be consulted very often, they were rolled up and tied into bundles.  They grew in volume – the early ones are quite slim, but the late Victorian ones are a nightmare.  At some point in their archival life they were put in pillowcases to keep the dust off them.  Those from 1780-1850 have been flattened, which is a great relief to the user.  When you open up an unflattened roll that hasn’t been consulted for some time – if at all – the documents jump out all over the place like a box of frogs. They won’t stay flat and they won’t stay where you put them.


Even flattened, they were still inaccessible to the untrained (and that’s most of us) user. There are formal printed documents, correspondence, accounts, summonses, lists of names – and they hold lost information that could be used by the family historian, or people interested in local history or agrarian history, judicial administration, technical innovation, engineering projects, transport, medicine, local power bases: the whole of life in West Sussex is here.  So Simon and I approached making these rolls accessible from two different approaches.  Simon would get funding to flatten as many rolls as possible, and I would look for a suitable way of indexing them, and the Quarter Sessions project was born.


Flattened and bound Quarter Session rolls

The quantity of these should be born in mind! There were four (as their name implies) Quarter Sessions held each year.  We know that in this county they had started at least by the 16th century, possibly a lot earlier; the enabling Act was enacted in 1392.  The earliest at West Sussex is from 1594.  By the 1780s there were usually two rolls per session; by 1850, there could be three or four.  On one roll for 1841, there are 385 different documents!  There will quite easily be a thousand names in that roll.


To cut a long story short, now there are about a dozen volunteers working regularly in the searchroom who know more than anybody else in Sussex – possibly in the world – about how the Quarter Sessions worked, and the information they contain. Over the last six years, they have done amazing work, and although none of them was prepared to come and talk about their work beside me, the Tuesday talk on 27th February is dedicated to their hard work and tenacity in the face of county council restrictions, Heritage Lottery Fund criteria and IT problems.  The talk explores the wealth of information that the rolls contain, and how we went about pulling this information out.  And indeed how wonderful the indexing volunteers are.

Caroline Adams

Read more about Quarter Sessions record in our previous blog posts, here and here.

Book tickets for Caroline’s talk ‘A Slice of Life – Exploring the Quarter Sessions Records’ at the Record Office on Tuesday 27th February at 7pm.  Tickets are £8 including refreshments, and must be booked in advance by calling our reception on 01243 753602.

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Queen Victoria Hospital Archive project: Introducing the project





As regular readers of this blog will be aware, since 2016 WSRO has been engaged in a major project involving the archive of the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead, which became known during the Second World War as the centre for the treatment of the ‘Guinea Pig Club’, the RAF and Allied Air personnel who suffered severe burns and underwent major reconstructive procedures under the care of pioneering surgeon Sir Archibald McIndoe.

Queen Victoria Hospital, 1936

This internationally significant archive was originally deposited with WSRO back in 2013 and included not only the 600+ case files of the original ‘Guinea Pigs’, but a further vast collection of around 14,500 other patient files (1930s-1980s) which provide a detailed record of the groundbreaking plastic surgery and reconstructive work which continued at Queen Victoria Hospital over these years. The archive also contained a range of documents and volumes relating to the history and administration of the hospital from 1930s onwards, as well as a number of Archibald McIndoe’s own files and working papers.


Sketch by Mollie Lentaigne of hand surgery, 1940s © East Grinstead Museum, reproduced with their kind permission.

In 2015 WSRO and the Queen Victoria Hospital NHS Foundation Trust were awarded a Wellcome Trust grant of £72,952, enabling them to catalogue and preserve the archive. Part of this was to include the digitisation of the Guinea Pig case files in order to increase their accessibility for medical research, as well as to digitise a collection of medical drawings by Mollie Lentaigne, a young VAD nurse who worked at Queen Victoria Hospital during the war. These drawings, held at the East Grinstead Museum, depict in vivid and meticulous detail the surgical procedures and treatments undertaken by McIndoe and his team and provide a fascinating visual record of their extraordinary work.

Preservation and digitisation assistant, Lucy, at work

The Queen Victoria Hospital Archive project has been a truly collaborative undertaking, involving two Project Archivists, a dedicated Preservation and Digitisation Assistant and the considerable efforts of the WSRO collections team, in addition to project partners Queen Victoria Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, East Grinstead Museum and the Guinea Pig Club. Following almost two years of work which has resulted in the creation of over 25,000 digital images and an extensive online catalogue, the project is now reaching its final phase with various outreach events and activities designed to raise awareness and promote access to the archive, as well as to celebrate the remarkable history of Queen Victoria Hospital.


This post marks the first of a series on this blog relating to the archive and the wider history of the hospital which will be continuing throughout the coming months. Whilst working as Project Archivist I have become aware of just how many different narratives are bound up with Queen Victoria Hospital – the hugely significant work carried out there having such an impact on the lives of the patients and the East Grinstead community, and forming a key part of the broader stories of the Second

An example of one of the document from the archive – the annual report for 1940

World War, the evolution of plastic surgery as a discipline and societal attitudes to facial disfigurement amongst others. It would be impossible to do full justice to every aspect without taking over this blog on a permanent basis (!), but this series will hopefully enable the exploration of some worthwhile and interesting topics in a little more depth with – fingers crossed – the contribution of some guest bloggers too.

March 2018 will mark the launch of our touring exhibition, aimed at ‘spreading the word’ more widely and providing an accessible general overview of the Queen Victoria Hospital archive project and key aspects of the history. This will be moving to a number of local libraries around West Sussex over the coming year, staying for around 3-4 weeks in each location. The exhibition will first be displayed here at WSRO, moving to East Grinstead in April. A full schedule of dates and locations will be published here as soon as it becomes available.

On 27th March 2018, I will be delivering ‘Stories from the Surgeon’s table – Exploring the Queen Victoria Hospital archive’ as part of our regular series of ‘Talks on Tuesdays’ at WSRO. This will be a chance to hear the story of Queen Victoria Hospital with a specific emphasis on the ways in which this is revealed through the documents in the archive, illustrated with plenty of slides. There will be the opportunity to ask questions and to peruse a selection of original documents.

This will be followed by an event on 20th April to be held at Queen Victoria Hospital to celebrate the end of the project. This will include a talk from Consultant plastic surgeon Baljit Dheansa, who will be discussing the medical significance of McIndoe’s work at the hospital, as well as a short talk about the archive.

If you would like to know more about the Queen Victoria Hospital Archive project, Archibald McIndoe and the Guinea Pig Club, please come along to Joanna McConville’s illustrated talk to be given at the Record Office on 27th March at 7pm. Tickets are priced at £8.00 each and include light refreshments. Telephone 01243 753602 to book a ticket.

Tickets for the end of project event at Queen Victoria Hospital on 2oth April will shortly be available to purchase via Eventbrite, full details and a link will be published on this blog in the near future.


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Women’s Suffrage in West Sussex

Women Vote Headline for Blog

This month sees the centenary of a major success for women’s suffrage. When the Representation of the People Act became law on 6th February 1918, women over 30, who were occupiers of property or married to occupiers, became entitled to vote for the first time in British history.

West Sussex Libraries have been finding out what happened locally in the campaign for women’s suffrage. Our team of volunteers have been searching local newspapers, starting with the Worthing Gazette 1909-1919: one of eleven local newspapers available as searchable pdfs in all 36 West Sussex Libraries and West Sussex Record Office. They have been looking for stories about local suffrage organisations, and significant figures in the suffrage movement such as Ellen Chapman, the first female mayor of Worthing, and Rustington residents Lady Maud Parry and her husband Sir Hubert Parry, who wrote the music to William Blake’s Jerusalem which later became the Women Voter’s Hymn.

Maude Parry, Mary & Bev Taylor's collection

Lady Maud Parry leading a Suffragist march in Littlehampton (1913)

At the meeting of the Women’s Franchise Society in Liverpool Terrace in Worthing on 6th February 1918, the chair congratulated the members of the Society upon the decision of Parliament to at last extend the franchise to women. Men, it was humorously observed, had had the vote in the past because they had property, and now the women were going to get it because they had age… and brains!

Celebrating the victory for women’s suffrage, the president of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies came to Littlehampton in April 1918 to speak at a meeting of the local NUWSS. By 1918, Millicent Garrett Fawcett, widow of Henry Fawcett, the blind and radical Liberal MP for Brighton and then Hackney, had been campaigning for women’s suffrage for over 50 years. For Millicent Garrett Fawcett it was the first time in the history of this country that women had ever had a shred of political power. She urged that women must hold and use the vote as trustees for the younger and working women, whose splendid work and enthusiasm Fawcett Meeting Headline for Bloghad helped women over 30 to secure the vote. Chairing the meeting, Lady Maud Parry argued that although some people may say there was nothing else to do, they were only just beginning. Lady Parry confidently anticipated that women would use their vote “for the good of the country”.

Just as the fight for women’s rights continued, so did the Great War, and a message was read out from British explorer Sir Harry Johnston of Poling, near Arundel. He was still confined to his house, the result of a whiff of mustard gas inhaled while on a visit to the Western Front.

“We look now to the men and women of the masses to save this country and all the best things that this great Empire stands for…

Over in France I realised a few weeks ago that our struggle there against the malign power of Germany is more and more a women’s war as well as a man’s fight….

I saw … near to the battle front many a Red Cross nurse [and] the Women’s Army … trudging, bicycling, riding, driving, clerking, manufacturing, bookkeeping, serving out stores, mending, tending and doing everything but fighting with lethal weapons, yet longing to do that if they might advance the cause of freedom.

I never met one British officer or soldier who had anything but good to say of women’s work in France, nor one instance of cowardice on the part of women workers….

The behaviour of the women in the War area has, I think, won over five million fighting men to the future championship of the rights of women; it has laid the foundation of a lasting partnership between the sexes.”


Amy Perry, Local Studies Librarian, West Sussex Libraries

Images reproduced with the kind permission of Mary Taylor, from her publication ‘Winds of Change in a Sleepy Sussex Village – Rustington’, by Graeme Taylor and Mary Taylor BME (2015)


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Record of the Month

The letters of Miss Dorothy Hartley – AM 1192

Picture1.pngIn the countdown to my departure from the Record Office, I have been busying myself with cataloguing lots of small accessions, in an attempt to ‘do my bit’ and decrease the ever-growing list of archives that are deposited at the Record Office every year.

It was therefore to my absolute delight that I came across a rather unassuming packet of letters from the 1970s, now catalogued as WSRO AM 1192. They are not that old in terms of the other documents we hold (Oslac’s charter anyone?) but rather it was the association with the author of the letters which I think warranted them as the first Record of the Month for 2018.

This small packet of letters came from the estate of Miss Dorothy Morgan, who resided in Chichester for over 40 years and was the vice-president of Bishop Otter College (now the University of Chichester). Writing to her is Miss Dorothy Hartley (1893-1985), the image4eminent historian, author and illustrator, and the subject of a BBC documentary hosted by Dr Lucy Worsley in 2015 (a book accompanied the series consisting of newspaper articles Dorothy wrote for the Daily Sketch in the 1930s).  Miss Hartley wrote many books on the history, folklore and rural crafts and customs of England with her most famous book being ‘Food in England’, which has been continuously in print since it was published in 1954 and is regarded a classic by many cookery writers.  It was as a result of the BBC documentary that copies of this text were bought by the masses, making them hard to find for a while and the few copies for sale priced in their hundreds.

The reason I was so excited to catalogue these letters is because I am one of perhaps a small gathering of Dorothy Hartley fans, and I have collected her books wherever I manage to find them. Food in England is a rather large but very cosy book, one that you could curl up on a Sunday afternoon with a image1cup of tea, and read all about old English recipes, foods and culinary customs.  Accompanying the text are her own illustrations, and to my delight, one of her drawings even feature in one of the letters, a pair of oxen horns (typically Dorothy, I think).  What makes it all the more enjoyable is the fact that Miss Hartley travelled around England on her bicycle, speaking to local characters and gathering together all this local history that is considered lost now.  I would consider her one of those wonderful people who take the time to record and gather local history, much like the researchers we have in the Record Office.  It is thanks to these people that we have such a wealth of history at our fingertips and that we know so much about the past, particularly information which would otherwise have been lost and never known about.

For those who wish to find out more about Dorothy Hartley, obtain one of her books, visit the Record Office to see these letters, or perhaps go and indulge in seeing Dorothy’s very own archive, which is housed at the Museum of English Rural Life at the University of Reading.

Holly Wright

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What’s on: 2018 at the Record Office

Happy New Year to all who follow and support West Sussex Record Office!

We have a lot planned for 2018, and thought we would use the start of the new year to highlight some of our upcoming talks and events that may interest you in the coming months.

Our regular ‘Talks on Tuesday’ series will continue with ‘Learning by Rote’ – Going to school in Victorian West Sussex, an illustrated talk by Ruth Brown, on Tuesday 30


Ruth Brown and Andrea Martin, a descendant of headmaster Thomas Slatford, who kept the school logbook

January. Ruth’s talk will expand on the subject of Victorian schooling as explored in her Sussex Record Society publication Littlehampton School Log Book 1871-1911. Previously featured on this blog as one of our favourite 70 records celebrating WSRO’s 70th birthday, the Littlehampton Log Book provides a fascinating insight in to the daily lives of pupils, parents, and teachers in Victorian West Sussex.


On Tuesday 27 February, former WSRO Archivist Dr Caroline Adams will be giving an illustrated talk on West Sussex’s collection of Quarter Sessions records, and the work volunteers have been doing to open up access to the collection. ‘A Slice of Life’ – Exploring the Quarter Sessions records, will highlight the records as a valuable but underused resource for local and family historians. It was in these courts that Justices of the Peace sat in judgement over minor criminal cases – anything from theft and poaching to assault and vagrancy. Amongst their many civil responsibilities, the JPs also supervised the poor law, oversaw relationships between apprentices and masters, and licensed alehouses.

You may have previously read on this blog about the collection of pioneering surgeon Sir Archibald McIndoe, who treated and rehabilitated injured WW2 airmen who called themselves the ‘Guinea Pig Club’. In 2015 West Sussex Record Office and the Queen


Sir Archibald McIndoe and members of the Guinea Pig Club, Christmas 1948 (Acc.14373)

Victoria Hospital NHS Foundation Trust were awarded a grant from the Wellcome Trust to preserve this nationally and internationally significant archive. Working in partnership with the Queen Victoria Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, East Grinstead Museum and the Guinea Pig Club, this funding has enabled the Record Office to catalogue and conserve the archive  and to digitise the patient case-files of the Guinea Pig Club so that these records can be made accessible for medical research and for future generations. On Tuesday 27 March 2018, one of the project Archivists who has been cataloguing the collection will give the talk ‘Stories from the surgeon’s table – Exploring the Queen Victoria Hospital archive’, and highlight the fascinating and unique archive at the centre of this project.

Later in the year, we will see events focussed around the Representation of the People Act (1918), which gave some women the right to vote in the UK for the first time in history, along with our ongoing First World War commemorations and the changing role of women in society. We will be looking at the impact and aftermath of the Great War, and how West Sussex welcomed its returning soldiers, and mourned those that did not return.

Our monthly ‘coffee time’ workshops will also be continuing throughout 2018, offering introductions to family history resources online, as well as a more in-depth look at dating photographs, reading old handwriting, house histories, wills and other probate records. These popular workshops are held on the 1st Monday or Wednesday of every month, and often sell out, so book a spot early to avoid disappointment!

Our full schedule of events can be found online, and tickets can be booked by calling the Record Office on 01243 753602.

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Merry Christmas from WSRO!

Christmas Card 2017 - Bignor Old Shop 1940 Garland N19052

Wishing all of our friends and followers a very Happy Christmas from everyone at West Sussex Record Office!

Many thanks to everyone who has been following our posts and supporting us through 2017. We’ll be back in 2018 with more exciting stories from the archives!


Christmas/New Year closures

– Saturday 23 December to Tuesday 26 December 2017 inclusive, reopening on Wednesday 27 December

– Saturday 30 December 2017, reopening on Tuesday 2 January 2018


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