Guy's Hospital Uniforms Past and Present

                             Text and pictures by Sarah.
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.
This is the style which was worn after 1985 in lilac for Students and blue for Staff Nurses.
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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.
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I received this mail on 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!


1974 Advert
Received 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.
1st Year Student (Junior Nurse) = belt the same colour as the dress, white apron, hat had purple stripe for 1st 3 months and then was plain white
2nd Year Student (Senior Nurse) = lilac belt, white apron, white hat
3rd Year Student (Head Nurse) = lilac belt, white apron, white hat with strings (the strings made the hats look as if they were tied on but, in fact, were completely separate to the hat - if you took the hat off, the strings would remain under the chin with kerbigrips holding the ends in place in the hair!)
Staff Nurse = purple belt, white apron, white hat with strings
Charge Nurse (senior staff nurse) = blue belt, white apron, white hat with strings
Ward Sister = navy dress with long sleeves that could be turned up and held in place by white frillies, white frill hat, no strings
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:

Hi Sue
...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...

Regarding the 'Can't Move Your Legs' Uniform, Lynda adds:

Hi Sue,
Re the leg moving, 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...


Hope this helps, Susan