London’s health records open up with the launch of London’s Pulse

From smallpox to sun lamps, the health of London and Londoners over 125 years is uncovered with London’s Pulse (, an ambitious digitisation project from the Wellcome Library which launches today supported by Jisc.

The online resource contains over 5000 fully searchable reports, from 1848 to 1973, detailing the health of Londoners in intimate detail – borough by borough and often street by street –  written by the people responsible for keeping the city healthy over a period of drastic social, economic and technological change.

The site showcases the often overlooked work of Medical Officers of Health (MOH), qualified medical practitioners who became some of the most influential agents of social and medical reform in the city. Their yearly reports amount to a health check of the capital over a century and a quarter, recording vital statistics on births, deaths and illness, infant mortality and infectious disease.

The reports also offer an unparalleled insight into Londoners’ lives. From weather reports to sanitary conditions, the MOHs covered a dizzying array of topics. They contain details of London’s lost trades, such as hair-merchants and pigeon-fatteners, provide reports on the conditions of child-workers in factories and families in slum housing, and trace Londoners’ changing tastes in fast-food from oysters to Chinese takeaways.

They record attendance at maternity and child welfare clinics, the number of pints of milk dispensed, and medical statistics on everything from deaths from diseases such as ague and cholera to the numbers of boils lanced or carbuncles cured. The MOH reports give a comprehensive account of how and where Londoners, rich and poor, were living, working and dying.

London’s Pulse allows users to navigate this vast collection of data, and uncover the stories behind the statistics. Searchable by date and region, Londoners can follow the ups and downs of their own parish, trace local histories and the spread of diseases across the capital. The text of the reports can also searched so they can be data mined and cross referenced, opening up exciting new research possibilities.

London’s Pulse brings together reports from the Library’s holdings and those at London Metropolitan Archives. Digitised pages can read on the Library’s media player, which allows close reading, embedding and free downloading of all pages from the reports.

Simon Chaplin, head of Wellcome Library, says: “The Medical Officers of Health reports provide a fascinating portrait of London life and the lives of Londoners.  ‘London’s Pulse’ opens up a wealth of information about Londoners’ homes and workplaces, food and drink and of course health and illness, and enables researchers and curious readers to search and cross reference the reports with ease.  The resource helps fulfil the Wellcome Library’s ambition to make our collections freely available and accessible to all.”

Paola Marchionni, digitisation programme manager at Jisc, said, “The Medical Officers of Health reports are a real treasure chest of information, so making them openly accessible online for use by researchers and the public is vital if we’re to make good use of them. Now that Jisc has funded the digitisation of the Greater London collection, I am quite sure that future researchers will find as yet undiscovered gems within the archives.”

The Wellcome Library holds the largest collection of MOH reports not just from London, but across the UK, with some 70,000 in its holdings. London’s Pulse is the first step in bringing these resources together so they can be accessed by anyone, anywhere.”