Twentieth Century Oliver Twists

Ruth Costello, Archivist

The surviving records of St. Michael’s Hospital in Braintree and the committee which ran both it and the Julien Courtauld Hospital in Braintree have now been catalogued (A/H 19 and A/H 20 respectively).

OS Map of Braintree, 1920s

OS map of Braintree showing the union workhouse, 1920s

St.Michael’s Hospital was the former workhouse for the Braintree Poor Law Union and many of the records deposited relate to the period before and just after the creation of the National Health Service, when the Hospital still maintained people due to poverty rather than illness.

Many of the records have to be closed to researchers as they contain confidential information regarding patients, although staff may be able to release information to next of kin.

One exception is the minutes of St. Michael’s Staff Welfare Committee (A/H 19/1/1/3).  In December 1947, the Committee discussed complaints by male residents concerning insufficient food.  It was suggested that this was due to a lack of understanding by long term residents of the effects of rationing.  At an earlier meeting in October of that year, the Committee had discussed the possibility of using whale meat in stews and meat pudding and decided that it would be a valuable addition to the diet when people had acquired a taste for it.  To modern readers, this would suggest that the quantity of food wasn’t the only problem for residents…