GOSH at 165

GOSH at 165

GOSH at 165

For 165 years, Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) has been at the forefront of paediatric medicine. Today, on the hospital's birthday, we take a closer look at just some of the many landmarks in our famous hospital's history, as well as the pivotal characters who made them happen...

Humble beginnings

Public health in 19th century Britain was a nightmare with no end. Mass poverty, poor living conditions, and extremely limited state help left Britain’s children the most at risk. Nearly a quarter were dying before the age of two, a third by the age of 10.

In 1852, something happened which would change the course of global paediatric healthcare…

In an ornate but modestly sized terraced house north of Holborn, Dr Charles West founded the Hospital for Sick Children on Great Ormond Street. Initially home to just 10 beds and two clinical staff, the hospital was both the city and the country’s first specialist medical institution for children.

Dr Charles West

Dr Charles West

Dr West was a paediatric pioneer. He wrote and lectured widely, building up a reputation that allowed him, after an exhaustive campaign, to gather the necessary support to purchase 49 Great Ormond Street. He remained at the hospital for 23 years and is rightly remembered as a vital figure in its foundation.

The year the hospital was founded, Charles Dickens visited Great Ormond Street. A long-standing campaigner for improving the living standards of the poorest in society, Dickens – who lived next door to GOSH doctor William Jenner – was spellbound by his visit.

"A sick child is a contradiction of ideas, like a cold summer."

Dickens understood the potential for a close bond between public and institution that would allow the hospital to thrive. A parent himself, he believed that any mother or father would understand the value of GOSH, and that this empathy would see the British people support the fledgling hospital.

“Its way to the general sympathy and aid, lies through one of the broadest doors into the general heart," he said, "and that heart is a great and tender one, and will receive it.”

Find out more about the pivotal characters who helped shape Great Ormond Street Hospital's history.

165 years of innovation


GOSH has long been at the forefront of innovation in child health. The hospital secured its first X-ray machine as early as 1903, enabling far more accurate and faster diagnoses.

In 1938, the Southwood Building opened to great fanfare. Seen at the time as a radical step forward in patient care, it was certainly wildly different from the large, open wards of the Victorian hospital. This more modern, hygienic design did offer patients more privacy, but it made it particularly difficult for ward nurses to keep an eye on several naughty children at once.

Of course, there were some fights the hospital could not win. The cataclysm of the Second World War saw all the patients moved out to the relative calm of Tadworth Hall. The hospital sustained significant bomb damage in The Blitz – but it continued to serve as an aid station for the local community throughout the city’s darkest hour.

From the rubble, GOSH grew back stronger.

In 1942, groundbreaking psychiatrist Mildred Creak became the first female consultant at GOSH and a founder of child psychiatry in Britain. She championed collaboration between paediatricians and psychiatrists, and set up the hospital's Psychological Medicine department.

The opening of the UK’s first Heart and Lung Unit in 1947, founded by David Waterston and Dr Richard Bonham-Carter, was a huge leap forward for respiratory and cardiac care in Britain. The advances driven by this specialist team led to the development of the first heart and lung bypass machine for children, transforming the potential of surgery worldwide.

The Hospital School at Great Ormond Street, a vital support that enabled children to continue living something close to an ordinary life while in the hospital, opened in 1951. The school continues to welcome patients to this day. Beyond the syllabus, the Hospital School is home to art programmes, after-school clubs, community events, and even the hospital’s own Scout and Guide troops (London 17th Holborn).

The hospital hopes to be a home-from-home for every child – but the true mark of successful care is sending more and more children home, happy and healthy.

One key clinical area in which GOSH has proved transformative is the treatment of cancer. Dr Roger Hardisty joined the hospital in 1958, becoming the first professor of paediatric haematology in Britain. At the time, leukaemia was thought to be incurable – despite the ability of chemotherapy to extend a child’s life, the death rate remained at 100 per cent. In 1961, a fundraising drive in memory of a GOSH patient led to the founding of the UK’s first leukaemia research unit. Hardisty was its first lead clinician.

After 30 years of critical care and research, Professor Hardisty retired. Thanks to many leaps forward from researchers around the world, including by Hardisty and the GOSH research unit, the survival rate for children with leukaemia was 70%.


Our patients and professionals continue to achieve spectacular things together. The hospital saw its 500th successful heart or lung transplant in 2013, and recent advances keep GOSH and the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health (ICH) at the forefront of international paediatric medicine.

In partnership, GOSH has pioneered a world-first treatment that uses ‘molecular scissors’ to edit genes and create designer immune cells programmed to tackle drug-resistant leukaemia. The treatment saved the life of one-year-old Layla in 2015 – her lead clinician, Dr Paul Veys, described her response to treatment "almost a miracle".

Much has changed since 1852, but GOSH will always do everything possible to give seriously ill children the best chance to fulfil their potential.

Take a closer look at GOSH through the ages.

Vital support

We could not hope to achieve amazing results for children without the hard work and help of so many people. From talented clinicians and famous faces, to our incredible team of fundraisers and volunteers, there are thousands of people, past and present, who have dedicated their efforts to the survival and success of GOSH.

JM Barrie, creator of Peter Pan, was a long-term supporter of GOSH. While he and his wife never had children, Barrie later unexpectedly became the guardian of three boys – George, Jack and Peter. He raised them as his own, and they are widely understood as the inspiration for Peter Pan.

In 1929, Barrie declined a role on a committee of hospital supporters. Instead, he announced the most extraordinary gift – the donation of the copyright for Peter Pan, to help fund the hospital and be held in perpetuity. That Christmas, Barrie suggested that a troupe of actors perform the famous nursery scene for patients – a festive performance that became a GOSH tradition.

Today, Barrie’s legacy is visible throughout the hospital – in his words, his gift to the hospital, and a statue of Peter himself.

Being next door to Neverland may lend GOSH a touch of fairy tale magic, but in its time, GOSH has welcomed princesses. Diana, Princess of Wales, was President of the hospital from 1989 until her death. Over 50 years earlier, Princess Tsahai, daughter of Emperor Haile Selassie of Abyssinia, chose to train and work as a nurse at GOSH following the invasion of her home country by Mussolini’s Italy. She was inspired by her time at GOSH and returned home intent on revolutionising child health. Tragically, she passed away in 1942, aged just 24.

GOSH began its connections with royalty early in its history. Some of the hospital’s earliest doctors took on extravagant job titles as the trusted surgeons and physicians of the royal family, including the infant Princess Elizabeth. To this day, Queen Elizabeth II – the longest serving monarch in British history – remains a patron of GOSH. She first visited in 1952, shortly after her accession to the throne. She became a patron in 1965, taking up the mantle from her aunt, Queen Mary, who had trained as a nurse at the hospital. The Queen has visited GOSH many times during her reign – most recently as part of her unforgettable Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

However, throughout the history of this extraordinary place, it's the support of you, the public, that has enabled the hospital to give seriously ill children the chance for a better future. You have helped to fund groundbreaking research, advanced equipment, child and family support services, and the rebuilding of wards and facilities. Your support remains as vital as it has ever been.

The future

As one of the five most important centres for child health in the world, the future of GOSH is integral to the fight for better child health in the UK, Europe and beyond.

The hospital’s redevelopment plans are long-term and ambitious. The Southwood Building, a vision of the future in the 1930s, is no longer fit for purpose. The Frontage Building, which runs along Great Ormond Street itself, has the potential to provide far larger and more diverse clinical facilities. There is so much to do because there is so much more the hospital can achieve for children.

On Guildford Street, to the east of Great Ormond Street, the Zayed Centre for Research into Rare Diseases in Children is currently under construction and will be the cornerstone of the charity’s new research strategy when it opens in 2018. State-of-the-art research laboratories will allow the hospital’s greatest minds to achieve new breakthroughs and diagnoses in six core areas in which experts have identified the greatest need – muscle-wasting diseases, immune system disorders, hormone and biochemistry disorders, heart conditions, birth defects and cancer.

The Premier Inn Clinical Building, the second phase of the Mittal Children’s Medical Centre, is due for completion later in 2017. The new wing will add 48 vital inpatient beds, alongside a raft of new clinical facilities – including a post-anaesthetic care unit, two integrated theatres and a high-dependency area for the most vulnerable post-operative patients.

GOSH works closely with partners to push forward research and break new ground. Sharing research and facilities with partners in the UK and across the globe, GOSH will remain at the heart of paediatric research.

Our history is long
But our mission
never changes
Your support can help to give
thousands of seriously ill children
the chance of a better future