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Four candles. Original perspectives and insights into 18th century hospital child healthcare
  1. A N Williams
  1. Correspondence to:
    A N Williams
    Child Development Centre, Northampton General Hospital, Northampton NN1 5BD, UK;anw{at}


It has only recently been recognised that for more than a century before the opening of Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children (1852) children were treated and even admitted in English Voluntary Hospitals. Among the earliest English 18th century records, that contain the patient‘s age, are those found at the Northampton General Hospital within an archive dating from its foundation as the Northampton Infirmary in 1744. They afford a fascinating glimpse into both inpatient and outpatient child health. Although there are no medical notes as such, the hospital archive has recently rediscovered 1743 statutes, contemporary patient literature entitled Some Friendly Advice to a Patient (written by the Northampton Infirmary‘s founding physician Dr (later Sir) James Stonhouse), minute books, contemporary engravings of the outside and inside of the hospital and inpatient menus. Thus we can speculate with a high degree of certainty as to what would be the then current infirmary environment and treatments for illustrative examples of the children seen in the period 1744–45 (two inpatients and two outpatients). Interestingly one of the inpatient cases, Elizabeth Ager, a child with fever, was admitted against the infirmary regulations, suggesting already a stretching of boundaries in favour of paediatric admissions.

This paper gives a flavour of 18th century hospital child healthcare in an era before the formal recognition of paediatrics as a medical specialty and preceding by more than a century the construction of specialist provision through the foundation of the first children‘s hospitals.

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  • Competing interests: None declared.

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