Dr George Borlase Childs,
Surgeon to the City of London Police 1844 – 1885
George Borlase Childs was a Cornishman, born in Liskeard, Cornwall in 1814 (or 1816 according to some sources). His unusual “middle” name was in fact his mother’s maiden name.
Having served his medical apprenticeship treating those who had been injured in the Cornish mines, Childs came to London and attended Westminster Hospital and the Graingers’ School of Medicine in Aldersgate, City of London. He became a member of the College of Surgeons in 1838 and married Julia Hibbert at Great Yarmouth, Norfolk the following year. They were to have a number of children, two of whom would tragically drown in 1853 while bathing off the Lincolnshire coast.
Following a stint as house surgeon at Margate Sea-Bathing Infirmary, Childs returned to London where he became surgeon to the City of London Militia (4th battalion of the Royal Fusiliers) and the Great Northern Railway. He also found employment as a surgeon at the Metropolitan Hospital in Devonshire Square (off Bishopsgate). However, he is most famed as surgeon to the City of London Police, a position he took up in 1844, succeeding the force’s first ever surgeon, Mr J Brand.
Apart from examining the victims of crime and providing expert testimony at court (he appears as a witness several times on the Old Bailey Online website), Childs had a particular – and “before his time” – interest in the health and welfare of the men of the force and was responsible both for recommending fundamental changes to the uniform they wore and for the establishment of the City of London Police Hospital. It was Childs who argued against retaining the top hat that had been worn by the men appointed to police the City since the 1780s. Instead, he designed the Britannia helmet, based on the Galea head dress of the Ancient Greeks. It was adopted and with a small subsequent variation to the brim, is the helmet still worn by male City of London Police officers today.
And it was Childs who, despite a considerable amount of opposition, established (and financed) the City of London Police Hospital that opened in 1866. Then located behind Bishopsgate Police Station (built 1861), it was a complete innovation in policing – no other force made such a provision for its officers – with its own nursing staff headed by a Matron with a surgeon in attendance. Any officer on light duties could be posted to work at the hospital, this role being denoted by the wearing of a light blue uniform. When today’s Bishopsgate Police Station opened in 1939, the hospital took its place on the building’s top floors where it remained until it closed in 1947 upon the advent of the National Health Service.
Outside his work for the City Police, Childs enjoyed his military duties and also took a keen interest in drama and theatre. He was one of the founding members of the Royal Dramatic College, and wrote his own plays using the pen name of M M C Cirujano.
In 1885, Childs retired after 41 years’ service as a hugely popular police surgeon. On his retirement he was presented with a sterling silver jug and salver, and a specially printed Bible, containing the names of the men of the City of London Police, now on display, together with his portrait in the City of London Police Museum at the Guildhall Library.
One member of the City of London Police force was moved to mark his retirement in verse:
Golden be thy path in life, as moments swiftly flee
Brightened by respect and love, which must ever follow thee
Constantly for 40 years on the sick thou didst attend
Healing comrades stricken now, proving thus the policeman’s friend
In the midst of dire disease thee hast nobly taken part
Healing patients, easing pain, saving life with surgeons art
Deep affection thou hast shown, ever faithful ever true
Self denying, thus to serve those whom wear the “City Blue”
Friend indeed of priceless worth, few can equal thee in fame
Rich art thou in men’s esteem, praised and honoured is thy name
Childs, thy loss is felt by all – aye, our grief no tongue can tell
Sorrow fills each policeman’s heart now to say the word
- GHH (COLP) Source: Cornish Times 29 August 1885 end
A contemporary newspaper also gave a detailed account of Childs’ retirement testimonial:
“PRESENTATION OF A TESTIMONIAL TO SURGEON-MAJOR G. BORLASE CHILDS
On Thursday evening a meeting was convened in the large muster-room at Bishopsgate Police Station for the purpose of presenting a testimonial to Surgeon-Major George Borlase Childs, F.R.C.S., on his retirement from the office of surgeon to the force. The testimonial, which was subscribed for by members of the force, consisted of an exceptionally beautiful silver claret jug and salver (of the value of £50), upon each of which was beautifully engraved the following inscription: “Presented, with a silver claret jug, to George Borlase Childs, Esq., M.R.C.S.E., by the officers, sergeants, and constables of the City of London Police, as a mark of their esteem and appreciation of his great kindness and professional skill, on his retirement as surgeon to the force, after a service of 41 years, 29th June, 1885”. …
The Chairman [Mr. Chief Inspector Tillcock], in well chosen words, referred to the long service of the surgeon, to his great skill, and the kindness at all times shown by him to those placed under his care. He was pleased to be able to say that nearly every member of the force had cheerfully subscribed to the testimonial.
Mr. Superintendent Foster then rose to make the presentation, and in an able speech the Superintendent recounted the many instances that had come under his own immediate notice, of the interest taken by Mr. Childs, in the welfare of the members of the force, not only as medical superintendent, but in many other ways, and he gratefully referred to the unremitting attention given to his own case nearly twenty years ago, when laid up with typhoid fever; he concluded by handing the surgeon the testimonial, expressing a sincere hope that he might be spared for very many years to enjoy his well-earned rest.
Mr. Childs, on rising to reply, was very much affected, and it was several minutes before he could commence. He said: Mr. Superintendent Foster, my late brother officers, and men, I appear before you this evening as the retired surgeon of the City of London Police Force, the first since the force was established, but how painful to me is that retirement. For 41 years my heart and soul have been amalgamated with the professional duties I have had to discharge, regulated by a sincere regard for those with whom I have been so intimately and pleasantly associated. It is a long time to look back upon. With some I leave behind it may, perchance, be forgotten, but with me, never. My police associations will ever recall to my mind some of the happiest days of my existence. I came amongst you a comparative youth, and, thanks to your forbearance, I leave you even now a “Child”; but, understand me, the discharge of my duties has not been altogether “child’s play”. There is one thing I can conscientiously say, I have never allowed a private feeling to interfere in the discharge of my public duties. I have endeavoured to hold the scales evenly, and mete out justice to all. You will no doubt understand to what I allude. There may be some, perhaps, who have been dissatisfied, but none, I hope, on reflection, will detract from me one iota of the principles they themselves are personally proud of and are governed by – the principles of honesty, and principle being true to oneself. This, above all: “To thine own self be true, and it must follow as the night the day thou cans’t not then be false to any man”. I thank you from the depth of my heart for this handsome testimonial you so generously present to me. If the sentiments and feelings of each and every individual member of the force are centred in the breast of our excellent friend, Mr. Foster – and I believe they are – if in him is personified each and every individual member, I apostrophize him, and say [taking Mr. Foster’s hand], through him to you all, present and absent friends, “Farewell”.
A vote of thanks was presented to the chairman for presiding, and to Mr. Superintendent Foster for making the presentation. The proceedings then terminated”.
Childs lived for a further 3 years after his retirement, dying on 8th November 1888. He was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery.
Further information on the City of London Police Museum can be found here: https://www.cityoflondon.police.uk/about-us/history/museum/Pages/default.aspx