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.
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!
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!”
The engagement ring
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.