In 1865, pioneering nurse Florence Nightingale started a campaign for better medical care. Reporter VICKI FOSTER visits a hospital exhibition to see the changes which were brought about.

FLORENCE Nightingale's campaign for better conditions for destitute sick people led to the creation of Dartford's hospitals.

The nurse sent her ideas to the Poor Law board, which provided social security in England and Wales from the 16th Century until the welfare state was established in the 20th Century.

Her ideas had little effect when they were sent to the president of the board, Charles Villiers.

When Gathorne Hardy took over, he sent inspectors out to all 43 workhouses in Greater London.

A workhouse was a place in which poor, old or sick people lived and were taken care of.

Those who were well enough had to work.

The inspectors found the sick should be nursed in hospitals separate to the workhouse and those with smallpox or fevers should have a different hospital.

They also recommended the treatment elsewhere of more than 2,000 children who had been classed as imbeciles.

The recommendations were accepted and the Metropolitan Asylums Board (MAB) was established to provide care for the infectious and lunatics.

The exhibition at the Outpatients Clinic at Darent Valley Hospital, in Darenth Wood Road, Dartford, opened on April 29.

It tells the stories of the patients, staff and buildings of the Dartford isolation and mental hospitals.

The collection of 50 historic photographs and historic documents have also been shown in schools, colleges, libraries and shopping centres.

It has been organised by Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust Charitable Fund.

Darent Valley Hospital arts co-ordinator Tim Carrington said: "It is wonderful to give back a forgotten history to the people of Dartford."

The MAB, now known as the NHS, purchased land at Darenth in Dartford.

It built a school for its mentally challenged children, which opened in November 1878.

Here the children were all taught to read, write, tell the time and deal with money.

They were also trained in workshops on the site and were paid for their work.

An adult asylum was built next door so the children did not have to return to lunatic asylums when they reached 16 years old.

The MAB also owned land in Dartford at Long Reach, which was on the banks of the River Thames.

A hospital needed to be built because of the smallpox epidemic in London.

Nobody wanted to live near a hospital for smallpox patients so it purchased some old ships, fitted them out as hospitals and moored them at Long Reach.

The Atlas ship was used for male patients and Castalia was used for women.

Both ships were staffed by qualified nurses and doctors.

Dr TF Ricketts researched smallpox and this started the fight to eradicate the disease.

In 1902 the ships were replaced by hospitals.

The Long Reach Smallpox Hospital and the Orchard Smallpox Hospital were opened.

They provided temporary accommodation for around 300 patients during the smallpox epidemic.

Both hospitals were closed in 1948.

Joyce Green Smallpox Hospital was opened in 1903.

Initially it was used for the isolation of smallpox and fevers but in 1939 it became a general hospital.

It remained open until 2000, when it was replaced by Darent Valley Hospital.