The Hospital for Sick Children at Great Ormond Street was the first children’s hospital in Great Britain and opened in 1852 when mortality rates for children were high and many hospitals would not admit children for fear of infections that children carried. The hospital was funded through charity, would admit children of any socioeconomic class, and was constantly struggling through financial means. Charles Dickens began to promote the hospital, followed then by Queen Victoria. The hospital became successful after the Queen’s endorsement, and more high profile artists, such as Lewis Carroll and Oscar Wilde, began donating generous amounts to the hospital.
J.M. Barrie lived near the hospital, and was known for donations to charity as he had no interest in living extravagantly with his own money. He is listed as first donating to the hospital in 1908, and became more familiar with the hospital’s work after he hired a personal secretary, Lady Cynthia Asqueth, whose father was the chairman of the management board. The hospital had asked Barrie to help with a fund-raising campaign in 1929 in order to purchase a vacated lot. Barrie declined, but two months later he announced that he would give the copyright of Peter Pan to the hospital. The world was in shock, and the hospital beyond grateful.
Nearly a year after the hospital gained the rights to Peter Pan, Barrie wanted the hospital to stage Peter Pan in a ward for the sick children. The production was successful and became a tradition that still continues today. The hospital contains many bits of Peter Pan throughout its hallways. Though the hospital is not a public place, tours are available. Listed on the hospital’s website, http://www.gosh.org/gen/peterpan/history/peter-pan-and-the-hospital/ ,Peter Pan comes up as:
- A bronze statue of Peter Pan and Tinker Bell outside the hospital entrance.
- A Peter Pan café in the reception area.
- A plaque dedicated to Barrie in the hospital chapel (unveiled in 1938 by J B Priestley).
- Tinker Bell play area in Octav Botnar Wing.
- Stained glass window ‘The Beginning of Fairies’ in the Variety Club Building.
- A tiled mural created and donated by the art students of the University of Wolverhampton.
The amount of profit and donations raised from Peter Pan has never been revealed based on Barrie’s wish that the hospital continues to honor. In 1948, the hospital became part of the National Health Service, and in 1990 the hospital was renamed to Great Ormond Street Hospital because of its strong association with the road.