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Building with beads

The history of the Althaus family is inextricably linked with The National Hospital. Caroline Althaus, who sits on our board of trustees, delves deeper into the history of the family to discover an untold past.

Growing up, I always knew that our family was closely linked to The National Hospital: my great-great-uncle, Julius Althaus, was one of the founding members, my grandfather, Frederick Althaus, answered an advertisement in The Telegraph which had been inserted by the hospital to find if there were any Althauses who would like to lend their support. My grandfather joined the house committee of Maida Vale in 1966, my father Robin succeeded him in 1975 and has just retired at the end of 2011. We have always been close to the hospital, so when I had the opportunity to visit the Queen Square Library – newly renovated by joint funds from The National Brain Appeal and the Brain Research Trust  – I was delighted at the chance to learn more about the history of the hospital and our family.

Born in 1833, Julius had an upbringing guided by political activism, academic excellence at Gottingen, Heidelberg and Berlin and a strong friendship with Karl Marx. Following the family’s move to England, Julius immediately fell in love with London and the new political freedom it offered. It was here that he combined his medical background with his belief that everyone deserved treatment regardless of income and in 1866, 19 Charles Street was opened. The hospital later moved to numbers 3 and 4 Maida Vale in 1903 with Mrs Althaus working behind the scenes and hosting fundraiser concerts just as The National Brain Appeal continue to do today. 

With the streamlining of the NHS in 1948, Maida Vale then amalgamated with the existing Queen Square hospital to become one teaching and treatment hospital under one governing body.

As we read more of the archives, it became apparent that there was another family whose story was ultimately linked with that of the Althauses.

The archives revealed three siblings: Louisa, Johanna and Edward Chandler. When their grandmother suffered from paralysis, the Chandlers were fired by the plight of those who had neurological conditions yet were unable to pay for treatment. They set out to fill this gap in society by writing hundreds of campaign letters and selling homecrafted bead ornaments which raised over £200, an incredible sum today let alone over a hundred years ago. Their motivation achieved the practical and the personal sympathy of the Lord Mayor of London, David Wire, who called a meeting at Mansion House in the November of 1859. This assembly raised £800 and in just six months Queen Square hospital opened in the spring of 1860 at number 24.

Unique for the time, it was stipulated that the doors would be held wide open for epileptics who, until then, had been sent to lunatic asylums. After Louisa passed away, Edward sat on the hospital board and Johanna ensured there was a homely atmosphere in The National, a legacy that continues to this day. Having devoted their lives to the hospital, the three siblings died childless and their extended family seems to have disappeared, so unlike the Althaus family, their link with the Hospital has died with them.

It was amazing to learn not just about the history of the hospital but also about a family who gave everything to developing The National.

In that era of philanthropy, political beliefs and personal motivations gave birth to two hospitals which would ensure everyone, regardless of class and income, had access to neurological care. The National remains a global centre of excellence in teaching, treatment and research, and was fascinating to discover the full story of its past.

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