Guy's Hospital

Guy’s Hospital first twenty of the set of sixty new recruits. I’m third from left, middle row
Guy’s Hospital with Thomas Guy’s statue

Guys Hospital

Guy’s Hospital was founded in 1721 by philanthropist Thomas Guy in the London borough of Southwark. He established it originally to treat ‘incurables’ discharged from St Thomas’ Hospital which was founded in 1550. Guy had been a Governor and benefactor of St Thomas. When Thomas Guy died in 1724, he was entombed at the hospital’s chapel in a tomb featuring a marble sculpture by John Bacon

In 1769 it was decided that Guy’s would teach mainly medical subjects, whereas St Thomas’ would focus on surgery and the joint teaching institution was generally known as The Borough Hospitals. However, a dispute between the two hospitals resulted in Guy’s Hospital establishing its own medical school in 1825. St Thomas’s Hospital Medical School and Guy’s Hospital Medical School are two of the oldest and most prestigious medical schools in the UK.

The hospital’s Tower Wing was originally known as Guy’s Tower and at the time it was built, it was the tallest hospital building in the world, standing at nearly a hundred and fifty metres with thirty four floors. The tower was overtaken as the world’s tallest healthcare-related building by The Belaire in New York City in 1988. As at June 2019, the Tower Wing, which remains one of the tallest buildings in London, is the world’s fifth-tallest hospital building.

Today Guy’s Hospital is an NHS hospital and part of the Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust; one of the institutions that comprise the King’s Health Partners, an academic health science centre. It remains a large teaching hospital and together with St Thomas’ Hospital and King’s College Hospital, forms the location of King’s College London GKT School of Medical Education.

Members of the public at the head of a queue well over half-a-mile long enter Westminster Hall, London, to pay tribute at the Lying-in-State of Sir Winston Churchill
In October 1964, sixty eager young women met at Nutfield, near Redhill in Surrey where we learnt many skills at a school for preliminary nurses before starting our proper training. We learnt exactly how to wear our uniform, which was terrifying as well as ghastly. The skirt of the pale mauve dress had to be exactly nine inches from the floor, and we wore terrible caps. They came starched and completely flat, like a board, and we were required to put them into shape with exactly eight scroll-things on the back. The construction was a nightmare and somewhere between origami and sewing; some people were good at constructing the caps and others, completely useless. When we reached our third year there was the addition of two great long pieces of starched fabric, which were folded, folded again, then two ends made into a little bow under the chin with the other two ends pinned on the top of your head under the cap. Of course, we all suffered starch rash under our chins in the first few weeks of our third year, but wearing these hats clearly meant we held some seniority. As the most junior of nurses we were nicknamed The Lambs – the nurses’ home was called Shepherd House; I was eighteen-years old soon to turn nineteen. One day a week we were coached up to London and let loose on the wards, and the rest of the time we were taught all the basics; bed baths, bed making, anatomy, drug regimes, how to give an injection (using an orange) and so on. I went up to Guy’s once a week to the wards. The first ward I worked on every Monday for six weeks was Wilkes, a very old-fashioned cardiac and medical ward in the old block of Guy’s. Then I spent six Mondays on Luke, a surgical ward, with a fierce sister, called Sister Russell. After I completed three months as a probationer, I returned to Wilkes in January 1965, which was when Winston Churchill died. When Churchill died, they decided (it was probably that he had decided) to do a ninety-gun salute from the Tower of London, and our poor patients leapt out of their skins every two minutes as the guns went off. Despite being junior nurses, we realised the historical significance of his death and decided we must go and see him lying in state in Westminster Hall. A group of us bundled into my red Mini, all in long cloaks, gloves, our black Sally Ally bonnets with the bows tied under our chins; we really stood out wearing the Guy’s walking out uniform. The queue snaked around Parliament but fortunately the Women’s Voluntary Service were there with great cauldrons of soup, which they handed out to people waiting in the queue. Londoners loved their nurses then and said, “Oh you go ahead of us, nurses. You must be tired if you’ve been working all day.” Eventually, well past midnight, we filed past the coffin with the Union flag draped over it and the four service personnel motionless on each corner with heads bowed. It was a tremendous experience and later we were to discover that one of Patrick’s godfathers (John Ross) had been a Baton Marshall at the funeral and the military had practised three nights in a row at two-thirty in the morning to ensure perfect timing.

Norway

The first year I was at Guy’s most of the ward maids were West Indian, but there was one wonderful ward maid on Wilkes, a Norwegian girl, Bente who originally came to England for a year as an au pair. The family that she went to work for was so ghastly she managed to change jobs and came to Guy’s and worked as a ward maid instead; she said her parents would be horrified if they knew. Bente was lovely. She contracted appendicitis and needed an operation and Mummy suggested she recuperate with her in Newbury. “Why don’t you send her to me, and I’ll look after her while she’s recovering from her appendicectomy?” After her recuperation, Bente’s parents invited Steve and I to visit them in Norway. I remember this was the first time I was delayed at an airport, and all because a seagull had flown into the plane’s engine in Stavanger. We were put up at a Heathrow hotel, which we thought was very smart. It was a wonderful holiday on the Oslo Fjord at their summer home and in Oslo at their main home. Steve, Bente, myself and Ingrid travelled all over Norway in Bente’s father’s Mercedes; it was cherry blossom time and we crossed the Hardangervida to the fjords. On the culinary front, my trip to Norway included my first introduction to yoghurt. We sailed on the Oslo fjord and explored Oslo; I particularly enjoyed seeing Thor Heyerdahls’ Kon-Tiki at the Kon-Tiki museum and going to Holmenkollen ski jump. Steve hadn’t suffered an epileptic fit for about three years and was well controlled, but one morning at their summer home, Bente’s mother came to me and said, “I think you’d better come quickly.” I was led outside to one of the loos in which Steve was having an epileptic fit; he’d locked the door of course. I knew what to do and found his tablets, but it was over. As soon as we returned from Norway he said, “That is it as far as I’m concerned. I cannot have any girlfriends.” He eventually married but they didn’t have children.
Bente who we stayed with in Norway
Steve and me, with Ingrid in the background, on our trip to Norway

State Nurse Registration training

When we arrived in London and lived in the nurses’ home at Guy’s Hospital, we all thought it was fantastic. One of the great joys of being at a London teaching hospital is that the theatres send a certain amount of free tickets out. Tuesday and Wednesday evenings weren’t busy nights and theatres sent all the hospitals twenty, sometimes thirty tickets at a time. You could go and uplift two tickets from the sister in charge of the nurses’ home, and say to some chap that you were going out with, “Oh I’ve got tickets for such and such, do you want to come?” It was great. You provided free tickets and they usually bought supper, so it made for a rather enjoyable cheap night out. Or you’d say to whoever was off duty, “Fancy going to the theatre?” “Sure, I’m free,” and off we went.

As Lambs we were required to be in by ten at night, which initially meant it was impossible to go to the theatre because you couldn’t get from theatreland back to Guy’s, which is on the south side of the river, just across London Bridge, in that time. Porters were stationed in a lodge at the entrance to the nurses’ home, and they were absolutely ghastly and always reported you even if you were only a minute late. Consequently, the hospital found that a lot of young nurses were falling pregnant because they didn’t return to the nurses’ home, instead they stayed out all night; contraception wasn’t easily available in the sixties. Eventually they changed the rules, and everybody needed to be in by midnight, which was so much more sensible as we were all eighteen at least.

When we first started, the duties were quite onerous. If it was day duty you started at eight in the morning, with two hours off either later in the morning, or two hours off in the afternoon, and you didn’t finish until eight in the evening, which left no time to prepare for anything apart from going to bed for the night exhausted. Other times we finished at six o’clock in the evening and that was great as it meant we had enough time and could go to the theatre.

We trained on the job and once a year attended a six-week block course when we purely studied and attended lectures. Our set’s academic block was always in the early summer. So, each year three friends and I all bought half-season tickets to the Promenade Concerts held at the Royal Albert Hall. We went along every night they played, six nights a week, regardless of what was on, to learn about music and see world famous conductors such as Sir John Barbirolli and Flash Harry, aka Sir Malcolm Sargent. We saw new works and listened to new music. There were the commentators in the BBC Box sometimes roaring with laughter, and you could tell when they were saying to each other, “God this is ghastly rubbish isn’t it?” But it was an exciting time and we were always off promenading in the summer. It was London in the swinging sixties; it was all go in Carnaby Street and Cranks Vegetarian Restaurant had just opened. Mini-skirts were a joy after our stultifying uniforms.

Night duty started at eight o’clock in the evening and finished at eight o’clock in the morning, and we worked fourteen days in a row with seven nights off. Whilst on night duty we didn’t stay at the nurses’ home as it was deemed too noisy for us to be able to sleep, so we were bussed all the way out to Earl’s Court and stayed at a place called Bramham Gardens, which was the night nurses’ house. Woe betide you if you made any noise in there; because there were much more senior night nurses than us trying to sleep, and we had to be extremely quiet.

I owned my car in those carefree car days, so I could drive anywhere in London, and I could easily park behind the hospital. I could drive out to Bramham Gardens if I wanted to and once, I did, and I got up in the evening to find somebody had unscrewed the small screw petrol cap (no lockable caps in those days) and siphoned all the petrol out of my car – quite a serious financial blow for a student nurse, not to mention being late on duty!

Dressed in 1960s haute couture for cousin Martin’s wedding
In my final year at Guy’s

Our courtship

The photo Graham left me when he was posted to Singapore

I returned home to Newbury to see the family in my time off and I went out a couple of times with a potter designer from Wedgewood’s, David, who’d exhibited at Heals, a posh furniture shop in London’s West End. “There’s someone on the phone for you darling,” my mother said. I raced to take the phone from her.
“I’ve come a long way to take you out for dinner,” said a voice.
“Oh hi, David. How are you, that’s wonderful,” I said thinking he’d come down from Staffordshire and the potteries.
“Who the hell is David?”
“Well who the hell are you?”
“This is Graham O’Riordan and I’d like to take you out for dinner at the Henwick Country Club,” he said.
I couldn’t believe it was him and found myself saying, “Oh that would be lovely, what time?”
“I’ll come down to you at seven-thirty, can we go in your car?” His parents’ house was about eight minutes’ walk from our house. Well, I went rushing to my mother, “Mummy quick I need some money to buy a frock from Richards’s Shops!”

Graham and I just hit it off and it was great; it was really wonderful. He asked me, “Did you keep that little stone I gave you?” “Yes indeed.” And that was the beginning of the rest of our lives! Graham was being posted to Singapore and Mummy said, “Would you like to ask that nice young naval officer for dinner?” “Mummy, he doesn’t eat meat or fish, he’s a vegetarian.” My mother having lived on three pounds a week as a war widow meant we had eaten very frugally and simply, and she was a perfectly good plain cook. “Oh dear,” she said. “What am I going to cook?” She cooked cauliflower cheese for him, which he dutifully ate, while we all ate something else. Then she asked him over for dinner again about a week later. “Oh, what am I going to…well he liked cauliflower cheese so, I’ll make that again.” By the third time she asked him for dinner Graham said, “Do you think you could possibly tell your mother that cauliflower gives me the most dreadful indigestion, and I don’t eat it, and I don’t eat broccoli, and I don’t eat sprouts either”. “Oh” said Mummy. “He’ll do. He sat through two meals of cauliflower cheese without complaining, he’ll do!” While on leave from the Gulf we went out a few times, and before he left for Singapore, he gave me a framed picture and a pair of string-backed leather driving gloves, which he had asked a friend of mine to put under my pillow. While Graham was in Singapore, we wrote to each other often. I hadn’t properly met Graham’s family. Nick Gregory’s mum, Graham’s oldest friend’s mum who we called Mrs G, bumped into Graham’s mother one day in Newbury. “Hello Doreen, how are you?” Mrs G. said. “Oh, I’m fine Eva.” Then Mrs G. said, “I hear that your Graham has been writing three or four times a week to Liz Edwards.” “Oh!” said Graham’s mother. “He hasn’t written to me for three months!” This did nothing to help my status with his mother. Singapore’s climate didn’t agree with Graham and he was to be medevac’d home on a military trooping flight into Heathrow, and then bussed to the Knightsbridge terminal. I was in Newbury for a few days leave and I got all dressed up and drove from Newbury to Knightsbridge along the M4, which only went from Maidenhead to London, it was only a tiny stretch of motorway, the rest of the trip was through the towns, with much fussier driving. When I reached the terminal opposite Harrods, I was told that the plane was delayed until the next morning. I couldn’t return to the nurses’ home, that would look really stupid, so I drove back down to Newbury. On the way, who do I see on one of the bridges, George Fairley-Clark, who’d been at the grammar school and was now an articled clerk with an accounting firm. So, he got in the car, and then further down the road, whose thumb did I see (they all used to hitch hike because they didn’t have any money) but Nick Gregory’s, an articled lawyers’ clerk. We were all going to Newbury and I kept quiet, because Graham’s return was meant to be a secret. The next morning, he phoned me and said, “I’m here, I’m here!” “Okay right, I am driving to London right now,” which I did. We arrived back in Newbury and reached the Queen’s just after midday. I parked the car and walked in the door, obviously holding hands with someone behind me. As I walked in the door, Nick leapt up with a face like thunder. “Oh my,” he said. “I was going to write to you Graham and tell you that I had met Liz last night. She had obviously been stood up and was very cross and I was sure it wasn’t you!” “But it was your best friend that stood me up,” I said pointing to Graham. “Or rather it was the military trooping service.” Guy’s Hospital had many student nurses and not everybody could work three months in all the disciplines, so we rotated through various wards. I spent two weeks on a theatre observation course, followed by a three-month obstetric course and then I went to work at Saint Olave’s, a sister hospital of Guy’s, in the outpatient’s department. I was still a student nurse, but fortunately working normal hours at Saint Olave’s in outpatients, and with my red Mini in swinging-sixties-London, with Graham who was in England for several months – we just enjoyed the most wonderful time. By now Graham and I were a serious item.

Our engagement

We were both at home in Newbury when Graham proposed to me in his parents’ sitting room during the summer of 1966. His brother Cedric guessed, as did my stepsister Mary, but we swore them to secrecy because my mother was not very well and actually in hospital. In our third year at Guy’s we were allowed to live out of the nurses’ home, and I moved into an enormous house in Streatham with six others from my set, all for the princely sum of three pounds a week between us! The house belonged to a ‘Barrow Boy’ made good, and he and his family were off to the Canaries for a year to look at tomato importing. Because Graham and I were engaged by this stage, I was given the daughter’s bedroom, all decorated in mauve and white, with white carpet and a double-bed, and he stayed with me when he could. Included in our rent was a wonderful woman called Sue, who spent three hours every morning at the house. She did all the washing, ironing and cleaning, which was a boon for seven scatty girls. She thought Graham was wonderful and gave him breakfast and looked after him. The week we got engaged he stayed, and we went out every night after I came off duty. We went to see Doctor Zhivago in its first week at the Odeon in Leicester Square, where we found a friend of Graham’s in his top hat working a summer job as a doorman; we went to the proms and the theatre and each night we dined out. We enjoyed a great week and at the promenade concert we were fortunate enough to see the Leningrad Symphony Orchestra play Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony. They then played the national anthem with such gusto, I don’t think I’ve ever heard it played so brilliantly, and this was by a Russian orchestra; it was still the Cold War in those days. The BBC covered the proms on BBC3 Radio and once a week on TV. We went down to Newbury for the weekend and Mummy, who was out of hospital by this time, was watching television with us and saw us promenading in the front row. “Oh, look it’s you two, isn’t that exciting!” Bob was out and I said to Graham, “I think you have to tell Mummy” and he quietly did so. We then all went to Devon to stay with Grandma Harris so that Graham could ask Bob for my hand in marriage. Everyone else knew at this stage so when it came time to join Bob in his boat, we all made excuses not to go. “Who’s coming in the boat?” Bob asked eagerly, as normally we’d all be keen. “Oh no, I’m going to wash my hair,” someone said. “I’ve got to help Grandma with dinner,” said someone else. “I’ll come!” Graham said to a bemused Bob. They were gone for ages. Apparently, it took Graham a while before he plucked up the courage to ask him, and then Bob suggested going to the yacht club for some champagne. “I suppose I should ask you what your prospects are,” he said to Graham, who was so taken aback, he didn’t know what to say.
Our engagement announced in The Daily Telegraph
Our canoe at Newton Ferrers, 1965

The engagement ring

We went to John Earthy, a tiny jewellery shop owned by the Earthy brothers who were goldsmiths in Newbury. Being only a junior lieutenant, Graham couldn’t afford a huge amount, so he bought a beautiful Victorian green tourmaline surrounded by rose diamonds. He said to me, “One day I’ll buy you an emerald,” which he did much later in our life. The jewellers told me to be careful not to wear it too much as it was a claw setting and one which sat up and caught on anything; I wore it on a ribbon around my neck when I was nursing. We’ve subsequently had it rebuilt in exactly the same fashion as the cage was wearing really badly.

Matron’s Ball

Because there were a thousand student nurses at Guy’s, there was a limited number who could attend the annual Matron’s Ball, which was held at the Grosvenor House on Pall Mall; a very smart affair. You could only go to one Matron’s Ball, and it depended on when your name was taken out of the ballot as to when you attended. I was working on the female medical ward by this time and a ‘string’, in my third year. I told the old ladies on my ward that I was going to the ball. “Oh nurse, do you think you could bring your fiancé in, so can we see him?” I thought, ‘Graham is going to love that; a whole ward full of little old bronchitic ladies all in bed’. The ball started at eight and just after seven he collected me, and we made our way over to the ward. “Don’t you look lovely. Oh, isn’t he handsome?” they all cooed. Graham stepped up to the occasion as he always does and as he walked round the ward, he kissed each lady’s hand, it was so funny, and I didn’t hear the end of it for days afterwards. We were engaged, and I was feeling rather grand in a fabulous chiffon dress with full length evening gloves, alongside Graham who was wearing his smart dinner jacket. We were greeted at the top of the steps by a flunky, people who wear powdered wigs; they watch everybody, and they have seen thousands of people enter such occasions. One of them said to me, “Excuse me madam. Do be careful, your dress is a fraction long.” He was dead right and could spot it due to his experience. Later, whilst dancing, I caught my heel in the back of my dress.

HMS Duncan

When Graham was in HMS Duncan, I went to a ‘Ban the Bomb’ party. My Mini, full of girls all dressed in Flower-Power, headed through the gate into the naval dockyard. The dockyard police weren’t too happy with this and asked who we were and ended up calling somebody from the ship to vouch for us. It wasn’t easy to get into a naval dockyard even in those days, and of course the IRA was starting up in the late 1960s. Another time I was running late to meet Graham, and the police stopped not just us, but other people too. “I’m supposed to be going to the dockyard and I’m going to be late,” I explained. I must’ve been convincing as a police escort took me through the dockyard to the ship. One of the most exciting things that happened at this time in my life was a cocktail party I attended with Graham in Malta. It was the farewell of the last Royal Navy Commander in Chief Mediterranean and a very elaborate affair. I was able to go to Malta as the timing coincided with my leave period from Guy’s and I found a flat in Sliema for us to share for only a pound a day. I was twenty-one years old and just one of a few women among all the diplomats and big wigs from the services at the party. It was something else. The venue was just amazing and as a twenty-one-year-old the whole affair was extremely impressive. Everyone at the cocktail party was talking about the American Sixth Fleet, which had sailed from Naples, and the Russian fleet which was off Valletta; there was lots of tension in the air and political stuff going on; it was rather exciting. The next morning Graham raced into the flat, “We sail in two hours and I don’t know when I shall see you again. We are going to rescue British personnel from Libya.” The Arab Israeli war had started, the Six-day War, which is why all the fleets were moving about. In fact, HMS Duncan was never required to help evacuate Britons, but they were primed to take two hundred people from Libya if the whole thing exploded. I’d specially arranged to only take two weeks leave instead of the statutory three weeks, so I could have a week when Graham was back from the Mediterranean. I telegrammed Guy’s (no mobile phones in those days) and asked to take my third week now as it was far too exciting to leave. Mummy and Bob didn’t know where I was, and the hospital called them. “What is going on, we don’t know where Nurse Edwards is?” Mummy told them that I’d probably gone to join a Kibbutz. I spent the extra week in Malta, and it was very exciting to be a witness to history unfolding right before my eyes.

The Wedding ring

In the summer of 1966, we decided to buy the wedding ring from Richard Ogden, a famous jeweller in Burlington Arcade near Bond Street in Piccadilly. It’s a beautiful regency arcade with little bow-fronted shops and it’s one of the most original shopping arcades you can ever go to; it’s fearsomely smart. I just love Burlington Arcade for window shopping. I finished duty and Graham came to the nurses’ home, so I quickly got changed and we hurried off. We were walking to the arcade along Bond Street, past Fenwicks, when I said to Graham, “Oops, I haven’t got any knickers on. I have to go and get some. I cannot possibly buy my wedding ring in Burlington Arcade not wearing knicks!” We bought the wedding ring and after it was put on my finger in 1967 it’s never been off my finger, even when I’ve had operations and they tell you to take your rings off. “No. I know you can put tape round it; I don’t have to take it off.” Just one of the advantages of having a nursing background. The ring had a bark pattern and Graham’s father who was a sheet metal worker and very practical said, “Well, that pattern won’t last long. I give the pattern about ten to fifteen years.” He was dead right, and it’s completely smooth now.

Graham, being a naval officer, never wore a wedding ring because it was dangerous to do so on a ship as it might become caught in something. Many years later I suggested that I buy him a signet ring at Richard Ogden in Burlington Arcade. We decided to have it made with the O’Riordan crest on it. Our boys were with us, and were then about ten and six, and they sat admiring the jewels and Graham suddenly said to me sotto voce, “Oops, I’ve forgotten to wear any pants!”
“Why did Daddy say he hasn’t got any pants on?” asked the sharp-eared boys. Of course, the assistant was quite shocked, so we explained our history, and it was really quite funny. I bought Graham a beautiful green and red flecked onyx signet ring, but sadly he lost it a few years later, so we had it replaced.

Richard Ogden in Burlington Arcade

The Dress

I returned to Guy’s and I was furiously trying to organise the wedding, complete my state registration examinations and do my Guy’s finals, and it was a very hectic time. I ordered my wedding dress from Harrods and arranged to have it specially made in the wedding department where I went for several fittings. It was an off-white cream colour with tiny buttons all the way down, the little bridesmaids were to wear the same fabric. The sleeves were Swiss lace, with a long veil and a Jackie Kennedy pillbox, which was all the rage in 1967. The three adult bridesmaids wore burgundy velvet dresses. Very close to the wedding date, Harrods rang to say the dress was finished and after one final fitting, it was ready to be collected the next day. By this stage I had swapped my red Mini for a brand-new green one for my twenty-first birthday. I went into the wedding department to pay and they said, “Your dress is downstairs with the doorman.” Harrods has several doors and at each there was a doorman wearing a top hat and a green tailcoat (Harrods’ colours and very distinctive). I trotted downstairs and found the right door and said to the footman, “I do believe you have my wedding dress.” “Oh yes madam,” and he eventually came out carrying it in his outstretched arms. “So, which is your car, madam?” Parked in the waiting bays were gleaming Rolls Royces, beautiful Bentleys and other luxury cars, and there amongst them was my little green Mini. The doorman looked at it and said, “Do we think it will fit madam?” They are terribly snooty at Harrods! He managed to put it in the car, and I drove home to Newbury feeling very excited.