Past into present; Public Health in Islington since 1900 (and before)

In 2018 the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded Saint John Evangelist Roman Catholic Primary School in Islington a grant to run a curriculum project on the history of public health within the boundaries of the modern borough since 1900.

This paid for education consultant Andrew Wrenn (a Fellow of the Historical Association) to work with teachers from the school;

  • Researching the history of public health in Islington
  • Producing a timeline with children showing the highs and lows of development (and including earlier centuries as background)
  • Planning innovative teaching materials trialled with two Key Stage Two classes at St John Evangelist School for publication online and possible use by other local schools
  • Arranging visits to important local sites such as Finsbury Health Centre in Pine Street (opened in 1938) and records held in the London Metropolitan Archives.

Visit to Health Centre

  • Acquiring an artefact collection on the theme of public health for loan to other schools
  • Dissemination of the project to parents, local teachers and the wider public

Pupils also interviewed elderly residents questioning them about their memories of public health and medical treatment in the middle decades of the twentieth century when they were growing up in the borough, both before and after the establishment of the National Health Service.

The school would like to thank staff at London Metropolitan Archives, St John`s Museum, Islington Museum, Islington Borough Council, N8tive,the Charterhouse and the London Museum of Steam and Water for their co-operation and support in making this programme possible.


Children at School

This online resource is divided in to four parts.

Part One Timeline

To access the digital timeline of the history of public health in Islington click on St John Evangelist Digital Timeline

Part Two Oral History

To access the recorded interviews pupils conducted with elderly residents on their memories of medical treatment and aspects of public health in the boundaries of the modern borough when they were growing up click here 

Part Three Artefact Collection

To access photographs and details of the artefacts relating to the history of public health and which can be borrowed from the school click here.

Part Four Teacher planning and supporting materials

For access to educational planning and materials please read on and see below.

In what form did St John Evangelist School choose to teach the project?

The school chose to teach the project in five days of one week with each class so that each day included a visitor to the class or a visit to a site. Although the focus is on local history in Islington the wider history of London and both national and international history is woven in to the planning. In this way the materials combine the National Curriculum requirements to study local history and include a development study since 1066 as part of their Key Stage Two History planning. Including earlier centuries as background to the history of public health in the borough since 1900 also gave pupils experience of another National Curriculum requirement to study “the long arc of development”.

Children in Classroom

How were learning and activities sequenced?

Following best practise in primary history, learning was organised around the historical enquiry questions below with activities designed to help pupils arrive at answers to the question set for each day. It was important that the questions were taught in sequence as knowledge acquired on each day was consolidated in the activities of the day afterwards. However schools using these materials may do so in any way they choose. Underneath the four enquiry questions set out below there is a brief summary of each period to provide some historical context. By clicking on the links marked “Learning Journey Day One” etc afterwards users can access a summary of what learning and activities took place on each day which have teaching materials embedded in to the page that can be freely adapted for use (partly for logistical reasons although there were four main questions planning was not as neat as being able to allocate a single day for sole consideration of one question – the detail is explained in the planning) .  Further historical knowledge about each period and the history of particular sites visited is included in the description of what took place on each day and within teaching resources.

How healthy were people in Islington between 1170 and 1575?

In this period what is now the borough of Islington was countryside outside the walls of Mediaeval and Tudor London. It’s mostly poor villagers fell victim easily to sickness and disease with only simple folk remedies or superstition as cures. Despite this, the area’s fresh, country air, green fields and clear springs were attractive to monasteries and important people such as Catherine Parr, last queen of Henry Vlll.

How healthy were people in Islington between 1575 and 1780?

As the city of London expanded, the villages of Islington, Finsbury and Clerkenwell attracted more residents. However, while fashionable crowds flocked to the popular pubs and bowling greens that sprang up around local wells, only the wealthy could afford fresh water piped to their homes and many thousands still fell victim to sickness and disease which was neither understood or effectively treated.

How healthy were people in Islington between 1780 and 1858?

During the nineteenth century thousands of people moved in to the boundaries of the modern borough of Islington to live and work. The badly fed poor were packed into overcrowded and polluted slums with no running water or sewage disposal. They became breeding grounds for deadly diseases such as cholera. Although medical knowledge was advancing, national and local government were slow in introducing public health reforms.

How healthy were people in Islington between 1858 and today?

From 1858 onwards public health gradually improved. People in Islington gained access to clean, running water, their sewage was disposed of, rubbish collected, pollution controlled and slums cleared for new housing. The National Health Service provides cradle to grave care for all, mostly free at the point of need. Despite remaining and future challenges, improving living conditions and medical advances mean that people in Islington have rarely lived longer or been healthier than they are now.


  1. Learning Journey Day One click here
  2. Learning Journey Day Two click here
  3. Learning Journey Day Three click here
  4. Learning Journey Day Four click here
  5. Learning Journey Day Five click here