Health scan­dal at Han­well

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - WORKHOUSE CHILDREN -

Oph­thalmia, a se­vere in­fec­tion of the eye that can cause blind­ness, was very preva­lent in Han­well. It was brought to the workhouse by in­fected pau­per chil­dren who were mal­nour­ished and liv­ing in crowded con­di­tions. The worst out­break in the school oc­curred in 1862 when 686 chil­dren out of 1,162 had the dis­ease – sev­eral of them los­ing their sight. A sep­a­rate in­fir­mary was built, but in 1874 Mr Net­tle­ship, an in­spec­tor of the metropoli­tan schools, re­ported that Han­well was ex­cep­tion­ally bad. As a re­sult iron huts were built as iso­la­tion wards.

De­spite the fact that by 1888, 2,649 chil­dren had been iso­lated in the iron huts, the prob­lem per­sisted. It be­came a na­tional scan­dal with the mat­ter be­ing tabled in the House of Com­mons. Fi­nally the school’s man­agers agreed to build an oph­thalmic school with ac­com­mo­da­tion for 400 cases at a cost of £30,000. It was built south- east of the main school on an 11-acre area en­closed by a six-foot wooden fence and con­sisted of sev­eral cor­ru­gated iron build­ings con­tain­ing 15 wards. There were sep­a­rate build­ings for the nurses’ quar­ters, school­rooms, kitchens and dining halls. Here the af­fected chil­dren would live and con­tinue their ed­u­ca­tion un­til they were well. In fact the Oph­thalmic School, later called Park School, took in chil­dren from all 27 Lon­don unions, not just those at Han­well, the great­est num­ber com­ing from South­wark.

Ten years later, con­trol of the dis­ease had so im­proved that only 39 out of 272 cases of oph­thalmia came from the Han­well school and out of all those dis­charged, only in two in­stances was there a re­lapse.

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