Guy's Hospital Memories

This article was first published on the old Nurse Uniforms - Past & Present website ( around 1999-July 2018, created by Kevin Dycken. It is now offline, this is a remake in a modern look.

From Sarah, 2001

I have done some research about the uniforms worn at Guys Hospital before it combined with St.Thomas's in the mid-1990s. All this comes as a team effort from a couple of colleagues at work who trained at Guys. We all agree that this site is an important record of our professional uniform, and hope it will help encourage a return to the professional nursing uniforms that many of us would prefer.

A traditional uniform with white apron etc was worn until sometime in the mid 70s but nobody is totally sure when that was changed and nobody has any pics so far. From then until about 1985 the uniform was a plain pink dress worn with a hat and belt. The style of the dress was identical to the Staff Nurse dress I wore at St Georges, basically the same style as the "national" but in a nicer, more cotton rich material. But pink! Sounds awful. An interesting variation on the hat was a style where it was tied under the chin for senior Staff Nurses. This was apparently known as "getting your strings" and was awarded after a year as a Staff Nurse. A nice tradition but looks a bit uncomfortable. I imagine they stopped wearing hats about 1990 along with most other hospitals, sadly.

Uniform style worn before 1985

Uniform style worn after 1985

This is the style which was worn after 1985 in lilac for Students and blue for Staff Nurses.

The current uniform

This is the current uniform worn by Staff Nurses at Guys & St Thomas' Trust. There's not that much difference, really. I don't know what the Student Nurses wear now as the combined hospitals no longer have their own training schools. Nurse education is university based and Student Nurses attend different hospitals for practical work. This means they no longer feel part of an individual hospital which is rather sad.

From Ciel, 14 October 2003

Hi there, I've just read Sarahs work on the nurses caps at Guys hospital.

I was a student nurse there between 1986 - 1989, with a year post registration working in the operating department 1990/91.

As I remember it, when I started training we were all getting paper caps, and the lovely starched versions were being phased out. By my third year, the strings were no longer in evidence and then when I qualified, all staff nurses had to change to the paper variety. A real shame that, because I had spent hours learning how to make the pleats on the Mitten Caps!

From Susan, February 2005

Hello there - came across your site whilst I was surfing for Guy's Hospital Nurses pictures and noted the piece by Sarah.

If it is any help, I trained at Guy's between 1969 and 1972, then did their Intensive Care Course subsequently working on the surgical intensive care unit until the beginning of 1974. Our dresses were lilac and white striped with a bustle at the back - for Students, Staff Nurses and Charge Nurses - the colour changed only when you became a Ward Sister.

Photos of us wearing aprons would be rare since they were worn on the wards only (for hygiene purposes) being taken off even when you went for meals. I do have one taken on the ward, which was used in an advertisement as a drawing showing strings and apron, which I've enclosed. The photo was taken in 1973 and the advertisement published in 1974. The nurse on the left is in the uniform of a Guy's Staff Nurse. The grumpy-looking one on the right (me!) is in a Charge Nurse's uniform despite the fact that I wasn't and the drawing doesn't quite match the photo. Confused?? - you will be..

My uniform was the same as the Staff Nurse's but with a blue instead of a purple belt. Since this wouldn't have shown up, they have drawn me with a darker dress. You will see that I do not have an apron. This is the same as the photo, but is misleading. To explain: On Christmas Day 1972 the laundry in the nurses' home burnt down. (At a time when males and females were kept firmly apart, it transpired that when the fire alarm went off, as many men poured out of the nurses' home as women - the home warden was mortified and needed the smelling salts!). But I digress. Because of the fire, our laundry had to be outsourced for months and never arrived back on time. Despite the fact that we all had 14 aprons apiece, this meant that we frequently ran out. It wasn't possible to wash one's own (too much starch needed) - according to one patient, she could always hear us coming due to the starchy swish. The day of the photo, my laundry hadn't returned, but luckily had for the left hand nurse.

To explain, a Charge Nurse was a female Staff Nurse who had at least a year's post grad experience AND was especially appointed to the position. They were somewhere between a Staff Nurse and a Sister - hence the Staff Nurses uniform but with a blue belt. They worked at night. At a time when all normal wards were staffed only by Students at night, it was obviously necessary to have at least some trained staff. Thus there would be a small number of Night Sisters who did the rounds. I don't remember any Charge Nurses when I first started in 1969 but they seemed to appear at the beginning of the 1970s (but I could be wrong). My guess is they were introduced to provide Nights Sisters on the cheap. Of course, Charge Nurses were also what male Sisters were called. The male Charge Nurse (Sister equivalent) was above a female Charge Nurse (Senior Staff Nurse). This wasn't as complicated as it sounds since male nurses were virtually non- existent at the time. Unless of course you had a male Charge Nurse on at night and then you didn't know which level he was. Students worked on ITU and thus there was the usual structure of Ward Sister (albeit 3 instead of the normal one), Staff Nurses and Students. Circa 1971 it was felt that Student Nurses should no longer work there, only SRNs (RGNs). Around this time Guy's introduced an ITU course for SRNs. This meant that there were 2 sorts of Staff Nurses there - those doing the course and those who had completed and passed it. To differentiate, blue belts were given to SRNs who were ITU trained, making us look like Charge Nurses but with the title of Senior Staff Nurse.

Our outdoor uniform consisted of a victorian black bonnet that looked as if it was tied under the chin (in fact it made use of a press stud) with a black cloak lined in red - wonderfully warm in the winter getting to work on the trains. If you "lived in" there was a smaller version of the cloak. Both of these were turned inside out on Christmas Day to show the red - one poor patient being woken by nurses in their "red cloaks" walking through the ward at 6am Christmas morning singing carols, thought they were angels and that he'd died and gone to heaven! The outdoor uniform was discontinued in 1973 and we had to change out of uniform and into mufti before going home (a real nuisance since the extra few minutes spent doing so could cause you to miss your train which at 10pm ish was only every half hour). We were given the choice of buying our own black gabadine mac + beret but most didn't since it looked so naff.

When I left in Jan 1974, aprons were still worn. Also, just to confirm, we definitely "got our strings" at the beginning of our 3rd year as a Student and not later as a Staff Nurse.

With regard to Sarah's question regarding the date they stopped wearing aprons, the following mail from one of my former colleagues may help to narrow the field.

From Lynda

..Think I left Guys in 1980 about May. Aprons, I'm afraid I can't remember when the starched aprons were phased out as we did not wear them in the renal unit with our trousers and tops. It must have been after 1976 because I wore my sister's uniform with apron (plus pockets) to some of the outpatient clinics...

...Still can't remember when we said goodbye to the aprons but it must have been while I was still there because the "can't move your legs uniform" came in soon after I got my sister's post as I was one of the last to get the old uniform...

As I was used to the old Guy's uniform with the gathers in the back, or the blue trouser suit worn in the Renal unit, I was used to taking long strides at fast pace. The new uniform with the straight skirt did not allow this, also not so good for lifting ( this probably means not doing it correctly by today's standards but then we were allowed to lift 20stone people up the bed, no hoists or very few, but that old 'Australian lift' always seemed to work! Perhaps Nurses with a more lady like 'stride' did not have this problem...

From Angela Webb, 2010

This photo was taken on the Queen's visit in 1976 to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Guys Hospital. It's a good photo as it shows several generations of uniform. On the left the newly introduced 'national', one colour, but still using the old hat. The white uniforms were worn by allied health professionals, the colour of their belts determining who they were eg. OT or Physio. The dark blue was the Ward Sister uniform. The long uniform was an original matrons uniform. Only "head" nurses or 3rd years were allowed to form the guard of honour for the Queen that day still wearing the fabric caps and strings as they were called. The rest of us had to look on! I was in last group to wear the old fabric uniform still with gathers at the back a hangover from the bustle. It was excellent as it gave you plenty of room to do the famous Aussie Lift up the bed. In the winter we wore the heavy black and red woollen capes.

The hats were something else! We took our first 3 months learning how to make them. They started off as a semi circle of starched fabric which you then had to gather up around a piece of cardboard, and make sure you had only 8 fluted bits and pleats at the back. If you got caught in the rain they just disintegrated and you had to start again. You only had 2 from the laundry each week so they were pretty precious! Kept on your head with bobby pins and the "strings" in your 3rd year were the same 2 pieces of starched fabric that you had to fold join together, tied around the top of your head, secured with bobby pins before sitting your cap on top! Crazy now to think about it. The cardboard hats were brought in with the new uniforms after 1976. This photo below is of my group at the start of our training in September 1974.

Another photo of the Queens visit in 1976, she's entering from the walkway after parking outside the front entrance.

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