Hackney Union Infirmary (1874-1930)

Male nurse training
By Alex Kitchener

Prior to 1930 the Hackney Union Infirmary was administered by the Hackney Union Guardians of the Poor.  Looking at the Union's hospital records from 1898 to 1930 we can see that 621 nurses received training certificates during this period. Of particular interest is the number of male nurses qualifying at this time with their female counterparts. While infrequent, it does appear that more male nurses were being trained and qualifying in Hackney than in other parts of the UK. Paradoxically, the relative rarity of men is highlighted by the requirement of certificates to be altered by hand to obscure HER with the required HIS (a procedure that was not always adhered to).

With details of certificates starting in 1898 the first record of a man qualifying as a nurse is Patrick Dennen on the 31 May 1905 with the added observation of his being “a excellent nurse”. We do not see another man feature in the book of certificates until the 8 July 1908 when Charlie Izzard, in a hand written certificate, is added to the end of the volume. Only two men qualified in ten years against a figure of 99 female nurses.

Over the next seven years with the increase in qualifying nurses we can see a relative increase in the frequency of men. We have three men all qualifying on the same day on 7th August 1909, two in 1912, one in 1914, three in 1915, and one in 1916. In total nine men, still very much the minority, against 235 women.  However, these figures must be interpreted in the context of the outbreak of the the First World War in 1914.  After Walter Henry Buck on 15 October 1916 there were no men until Frederick William Shalton qualified on 17 September 1920. It is not possible to ascertain from these records the number of men who may have been in training but subsequently became involved in the War and did not qualify from the Hackney Union Infirmary. What we do have are handwritten notes on the certificates of Herbert James Logan on the 30 May 1915 and Walter Henry Buck explaining they did not complete full courses in qualifying due to their involvement in military action as officers.

Whilst there are the two examples above and a possible indeterminate number of men failing to complete courses in the early years of the First World War it is clear that it had a profound effect on their participation in the late-1910s and the following few years. It is not until 1922 that men start to qualify with any regularity and in the period up to spring 1926 men actually accounted for just over one in ten nurses. The last man to qualify before the infirmary came under the control of the London County Council was Victor Clarence Hedger on 15 March 1930. Overall the numbers of men relative to women continued to be consistent with seven men and 94 women qualifying.

Therefore, despite a total figure for the period between 1898 and 1930 of men only accounting for 4.7% of nurses there are periods and circumstances that suggest male nurses were not as unusual a sight as one might have first thought.


Hackney Hospital, 1948 (Pathé news)

Photo:Hackney Infirmary Block Plan, c.1914

Hackney Infirmary Block Plan, c.1914

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This page was added by Lisa Rigg on 16/03/2010.

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