Great Ormond Street Hospital was founded as The Hospital for Sick Children by Dr Charles West, who was shocked by the high level of infant mortality in London. It was the first hospital in the UK dedicated solely to the treatment of children. The hospital has been supported by many notable individuals, including Charles Dickens, Queen Victoria, JM Barrie (who donated the rights of Peter Pan to the hospital in 1929) and Diana Princess of Wales.
The Hospital for Sick Children opened its doors at 49 Great Ormond Street, a 17th century townhouse, on 14 February 1852. The hospital originally had just 10 beds and two physicians.
Charles Dickens and the Great Ormond Street Hospital.
Charles Dickens was approached by Great Ormond Street Hospital to help it survive its first major financial crisis through a charitable appeal. Dickens, whose philanthropy was well-known, was asked to preside by the hospital’s founder Charles West, a friend of the author’s. He duly obliged with his writings and speeches. He reported anonymously in the weekly The Examiner in 1849 to help mishandled children and wrote another article to help publicise the hospital’s opening in 1852.
On 9 February 1858, Dickens spoke at the hospital’s first annual festival dinner at Freemasons’ Hall (near Covent Garden) and later gave a public reading of A Christmas Carol at St. Martin-in-the-Fields church hall (Trafalgar Square). The events raised enough money to enable the hospital to purchase the neighbouring house, No. 48 Great Ormond Street, increasing the bed capacity from 20 to 75.