Martha worked as the head housekeeper of the London Hospital for over 10 years. She was living there in the 1881 and the 1891 census, and I got to wondering just what her life was like. Once I understood the size and scope of the place, I realised she was not scrubbing those floors herself.
The London Hospital has many claims to fame - it had the first teaching hospital for doctors (The London Hospital Medical College) founded in 1785, and in 1873 the hospital opened its first nurse training school based on Florence Nightingale's principals. Earlier the hospital's nurses were under the control of Elizabeth Fry. Joseph Merrick the Elephant Man lived the latter part of his life there (d 1890), and one of the surgeon's on the staff was 'mentioned' as a possible suspect in the Ripper murders in 1888. It was also the largest general hospital of its kind, with 30,000 patients a year being treated in 1876. The average number in that year at any one time was 650, compared to the 675 beds the hospital has today.
The Ripper murders themselves occurred very close to the hospital and it has been said - many times, by many writers - that Jack must have had a surgeon's capabilities.
During Martha's tenure, she would have seen and possibly conversed with Joseph Merrick; she would have been acutely aware of the murders, and of the possibility that one of the doctors may have been responsible. Even though I suspect Martha's housekeeping duties had little to do with the medical processes in the hospital, we can get a picture of her environment. Anaesthetics and antiseptics were in use and the Crimea War had been and gone by the time she started work there. Women were being trained as nurses, Doctors understood what to do to prevent suppuration, and did not have to work on patients who were wide awake.