From the Archive: Cotesbach and the East London Hospital for Children.

Archive document .3588.1.a : ‘Account of offertory alms, Cotesbach.’

One Sunday in 1872, the Cotesbach Church collection money (more than £5, as documented in the above ledger) was sent to a tiny hospital in Ratcliff Cross in the East End of London. What prompted the people of the rural village to support so generously such a seemingly insignificant cause? The answer involves an epidemic, a hospital romance and Charles Dickens.
There was an epidemic in London in 1866. The cholera outbreak was very localised but claimed the lives of 5,596 inhabitants of the East End, many of them infants for whom no hospital provision existed.  A young doctor from the London Hospital in Whitechapel, Nathaniel Heckford, was so affected by what he saw that he pledged to open his own children’s hospital. His partner in the venture was to be Sarah Goff, a young woman from a wealthy family who was volunteering as a nurse in an East End cholera hospital.

“Children at play in the East London Hospital for Children” by J. Swain after G. W. Ridley, 27th April 1872 [The Wellcome Collection]

The couple married in 1867 and the following year they opened “The East London Hospital for Children and Dispensary for Women”. It was the first hospital in the capital to admit children under two years of age. Originally located in the loft of a sail maker’s warehouse in Ratcliff Highway, it began with only ten beds and was staffed chiefly by the Heckfords themselves, who lived in two rooms on site.

As was usual at the time, the Hospital was funded largely by public donations. The articles published by Charles Dickens, who visited it twice, stimulated financial support from around the country until in 1872 the Hospital was in a position to buy land for the erection of larger premises. Appeals in the newspapers that year elicited donations (including the Cotesbach £5 10s 5d) to fund the building project.

From ‘The Uncommercial Traveller’ by Charles Dickens

I found the children’s hospital established in an old sail-loft or
storehouse, of the roughest nature, and on the simplest means. There
were trap-doors in the floors, where goods had been hoisted up and
down; heavy feet and heavy weights had started every knot in the
well-trodden planking: inconvenient bulks and beams and awkward
staircases perplexed my passage through the wards. But I found it
airy, sweet, and clean. In its seven and thirty beds I saw but little
beauty; for starvation in the second or third generation takes a
pinched look: but I saw the sufferings both of infancy and childhood
tenderly assuaged; I heard the little patients answering to pet playful
names, the light touch of a delicate lady laid bare the wasted sticks of
arms for me to pity; and the claw-like little hands, as she did so,
twined themselves lovingly around her wedding-ring.
First published in “All The Year Round” magazine, 19th December 1868.

Pasta shortage? Try making your own!

Thank you to Sam Rouse of Cork & Fork for allowing us to share his recipe.

Fresh homemade pasta


  • 6 large free-range eggs
  • 600 g Tipo ’00’ flour


  1. Place the flour on a board or in a bowl. Make a well in the centre and crack the eggs into it. Beat the eggs with a fork until smooth. Using the tips of your fingers, mix the eggs with the flour, incorporating a little at a time, until everything is combined. Knead the pieces of dough together – with a bit of work and some love and attention they’ll all bind together to give you one big, smooth lump of dough!
  • You can also make your dough in a food processor if you’ve got one. Just bung everything in, whiz until the flour looks like breadcrumbs, then tip the mixture on to your work surface and bring the dough together into one lump, using your hands.
  • Once you’ve made your dough you need to knead and work it with your hands to develop the gluten in the flour, otherwise your pasta will be flabby and soft when you cook it, instead of springy and al dente.
  • There’s no secret to kneading. You just have to bash the dough about a bit with your hands, squashing it into the table, reshaping it, pulling it, stretching it, squashing it again. It’s quite hard work, and after a few minutes it’s easy to see why the average Italian grandmother has arms like Frank Bruno! You’ll know when to stop – it’s when your pasta starts to feel smooth and silky instead of rough and floury. Then all you need to do is wrap it in cling film and put it in the fridge to rest for at least half an hour before you use it. Make sure the cling film covers it well or it will dry out and go crusty round the edges (this will give you crusty lumps through your pasta when you roll it out, and nobody likes crusty lumps!).
  • How to roll your pasta: First of all, if you haven’t got a pasta machine it’s not the end of the world! All the mammas I met while travelling round Italy rolled pasta with their trusty rolling pins and they wouldn’t even consider having a pasta machine in the house! When it comes to rolling, the main problem you’ll have is getting the pasta thin enough to work with. It’s quite difficult to get a big lump of dough rolled out in one piece, and you need a very long rolling pin to do the job properly. The way around this is to roll lots of small pieces of pasta rather than a few big ones. You’ll be rolling your pasta into a more circular shape than the long rectangular shapes you’ll get from a machine, but use your head and you’ll be all right!
  • If using a machine to roll your pasta, make sure it’s clamped firmly to a clean work surface before you start (use the longest available work surface you have). If your surface is cluttered with bits of paper, the kettle, the bread bin, the kids’ homework and stuff like that, shift all this out of the way for the time being. It won’t take a minute, and starting with a clear space to work in will make things much easier, I promise.
  • Dust your work surface with some Tipo ‘00’ flour, take a lump of pasta dough the size of a large orange and press it out flat with your fingertips. Set the pasta machine at its widest setting – and roll the lump of pasta dough through it. Lightly dust the pasta with flour if it sticks at all. Click the machine down a setting and roll the pasta dough through again. Fold the pasta in half, click the pasta machine back up to the widest setting and roll the dough through again. Repeat this process five or six times. It might seem like you’re getting nowhere, but in fact you’re working the dough, and once you’ve folded it and fed it through the rollers a few times, you’ll feel the difference. It’ll be smooth as silk and this means you’re making wicked pasta!
  • Now it’s time to roll the dough out properly, working it through all the settings on the machine, from the widest down to around the narrowest. Lightly dust both sides of the pasta with a little flour every time you run it through. When you’ve got down to the narrowest setting, to give yourself a tidy sheet of pasta, fold the pasta in half lengthways, then in half again, then in half again once more until you’ve got a square-ish piece of dough. Turn it 90 degrees and feed it through the machine at the widest setting. As you roll it down through the settings for the last time, you should end up with a lovely rectangular silky sheet of dough with straight sides – just like a real pro! If your dough is a little cracked at the edges, fold it in half just once, click the machine back two settings and feed it through again. That should sort things out. Whether you’re rolling by hand or by machine you’ll need to know when to stop. If you’re making pasta like tagliatelle, lasagne or stracchi you’ll need to roll the pasta down to between the thickness of a beer mat and a playing card; if you’re making a stuffed pasta like ravioli or tortellini, you’ll need to roll it down slightly thinner or to the point where you can clearly see your hand or lines of newsprint through it.
  • Once you’ve rolled your pasta the way you want it, you need to shape or cut it straight away. Pasta dries much quicker than you think, so whatever recipe you’re doing, don’t leave it more than a minute or two before cutting or shaping it. You can lay over a damp clean tea towel which will stop it from drying.

CET – temporary suspension of talks, classes and events.

It will come as no surprise that we are postponing all our talks, events and classes. We will continue to follow Government guidelines and monitor the situation.

If you have purchased a ticket to one of our upcoming classes then we hope that we will be able to reschedule these for later in the year, you will receive an e-mail via Eventbrite letting you know that the class is postponed and you may request a refund if you want to, or wait until we confirm new dates at which point you can still request a refund if the new date is not convenient.

We hope that it won’t be too long until we can resume normal operations. As a small charity we rely on the income from these activities and we are grateful to everyone who has supported us by attending talks, events and classes in the past.

Our archive gives an insight into some very difficult times over the past few hundred years, and how people coped. With the changes we are facing today, our mission statement of ‘reconnecting with place and land to develop skills for the future’ seems more relevant than ever.