Keeping Us in Mind – Oral Histories

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Helen and Tony’s childhood memories: Growing up with the hospitals

Helen’s mother worked at Long Grove and West Park in the 1950s and until she retired in the 1970s. Her godmother, two aunts and an uncle were nurses at Horton. Her mum and other relatives had moved to Epsom from Newcastle just after the Second World War.
Listen to Helen’s memories of the Christmas and summer parties she used to go to as a child.

Tony Catherall’s parents worked at West Park hospital, and he grew up in nearby Ewell in the 1950s and 1960s. He recalls a rural childhood. The hospitals, and the patients, were an important part of his childhood. Here he remembers his father coming home with a special gift for him. (Tony’s interview was by phone. Apologies for the sound quality).


Arriving at the hospitals could be a disorientating experience for both staff and patients.

Beryl Aguiar Galan came to work at St Ebba’s in the 1970s, following her sister and her cousin. They had never worked with people with a mental illness or a learning disability, and had little idea what to expect.

Sheila was a patient at Horton hospital twice during the 1960s. Here she describes her first admission.

“I didn’t like it at all”: Mandy recalls The Manor

Mandy was admitted to The Manor in the 1960s as child of six or seven. She found it a lonely experience.

Mandy recalls that the food wasn’t adequate in either quality or quantity, and the children were sometimes hungry.

Mike Ody: Experiences of West Park

Mike Ody was admitted to West Park hospital in 1976 at a difficult time in his life. It was the beginning of thirty years of hospital admissions. He stayed for six months and left because he felt strongly that he needed to experience life outside the hospital again. Mike discovered later that he was able to leave after that time because his mother had not signed papers committing him to psychiatric care for life, although his father had. Mike reflects on his own experiences, how mental health care has changed over the years and how he feels the hospitals should be remembered.

The Mental Health Media/British Library interviews

Reg Collett and Kathy Haddrell were both long-term patients at hospitals in the cluster. In 1999 they were both interviewed at a small unit in the grounds of Horton Hospital where they lived after the hospital closed in 1993. The interviews were recorded for a project called Testimony – inside mental health care, which was a collaboration between Mental Health Media and the British Library. Over 50 users or former users of the British Mental healthcare system were filmed talking about their lives from the 1930s onwards. The interviews are now kept in the archives of the British Library.

Reg Collett was born in 1912. Admitted to Horton in 1934, he moved to West Park when war broke out, eventually returning to Horton.

Kathy Haddrell was born in 1928. She was admitted to Long Grove in 1960 but left after three years. Some years later she was admitted to Horton where and remained until closure.

Experiences of ECT at Horton and West Park

ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy) is a treatment that involves sending an electric current through the brain to trigger an epileptic seizure to relieve the symptoms of some mental health problems. The treatment is given under a general anaesthetic and muscle relaxants are given to prevent convulsions.

No-one is sure how it works, but anecdotal evidence from some patients (and results of clinical trials) suggest it is often successful when other treatments have failed. In the 1950s – 1970s it was used far more than it is now, without anaesthetic and often without consent. It remains a controversial treatment, partly because of this troubling history.
(Source: MIND website)

Sheila was a patient at Horton in the 1960s. She recalls having ECT on the ward.

Brian trained as a nurse at West Park in the 1970s. He observed ECT as part of his training.

Raj and Therese remember parties and special events at The Manor

Raj and Therese came to The Manor in the 1970s, and worked on a ward with young people with learning disabilities. They were keen to provide the people they cared for with events to look forward to. Here they talk about the parties they organised.

Faces of the past: Ray O’Donohue

Ray is a self-taught photographer who took many photographs of the patients at Long Grove while working as a psychiatric nurse at the social centre between 1983 and 1985. Also a keen runner, he has since had his sports photographs published, including in a book by Mo Farah. He comments: “My Long Grove photos are the ones I will always be more proud of. I was lucky to have an interest in photography and to be in an environment to take them.”

Ray describes the Long Grove social club.

Ray explains how he met Karzimierz Bogharczyk (‘The General’), a Polish patient from Long Grove, by chance in 2001. Ray’s wife photographed their meeting.

Sue C: Hairdressing at West Park

Sue worked as a hairdresser for the patients at West Park in the 1980s. She recalls that patients were required to visit the hairdresser, whether they wanted to or not.

Here Sue remembers the kindness one of the patients showed towards her, and comments on the approach of some of the staff.

Visiting West Park: Kathleen Gregory

Kathleen volunteered on a ward that cared for elderly female patients at West Park in the 1980s. She provided activities the staff did not have time to organise. The ward staff were initially concerned that the visits might upset the patients, but Katherine reports that this was not the case and both staff and patients came to look forward to the visits.

To begin with Katherine’s visits focused on Bible readings and stories, and this continued to be important, but over time she recruited a team of volunteers and they introduced other activities. Here she describes some of them.

Policing the cluster: Clive Driscoll

Clive Driscoll was the local police officer for the hospital cluster in the early 1980s. He dealt with a range of crimes that affected the hospitals, ranging from theft and burglary to prostitution.

Clive remembers being called to alcohol-related incidents at hospital social clubs, which were open to non-staff. Here he recalls that it was straightforward for people who weren’t staff or patients to gain access to the hospital sites.

Lyn Carless: a scene from St Ebba’s

Lyn volunteered at St Ebba’s in the 1970s. Here she recalls an incident that has stayed with her; she entered a room to find a patient tied to a radiator.

It is difficult to know how representative Lyn’s recollection is of the treatment of patients at this time, or the exact reason it was employed. This is the only memory of its kind that Lyn mentioned and it is possible she has remembered because it was unusual. In her interview she also mentioned enthusiastic, kind members of staff. However, interviewees from three hospitals have mentioned seeing patients restrained in this way at this time, so it seems to have occurred at least occasionally.

Dan revisits Long Grove

Dan Jacobson, now Associate Professor of Geography at the University of Calgary, was a patient in the Adolescent Unit at Long Grove in 1985. In the early 2000s he returned to the site. Here he expresses his very strong feelings about what replaced the hospital

Dan describes his search for the building he lived in during his time at Long Grove.

Jeremy Ross and Mark Cardwell:Reflecting on institutional life

Jeremy Ross was a social worker at Long Grove in the 1980s. Working for an organisation called Mental Health Aftercare Association he helped long-stay patients to find new homes with families, with the idea that they would eventually live independently. He later went on to lecture in Social Work at the University of Kingston. Mark Cardwell was a social worker at West Park in the 1990s, helping to re-home people in preparation for closure.

Mark refers to Erving Goffman, a sociologist whose 1961 book Asylums was highly influential in the social work profession. Goffman described what he called the ‘total institution’ as: ‘A place of residence and work where a large number of like-situated individuals, cut off from the wider society for an appreciable period of time, together lead an enclosed, formally administered round of life.’

The legacy of closure

Closing the hospitals, and the Care in the Community policy that followed, involved moving long-stay patients into other settings including group homes where several people lived together, independent living or residential care homes. The impact of the closure, and of Care in the Community, continues to be debated. Most of our interviewees felt that the aftermath of closure has not provided sufficient support for people outside an institutional environment, but opinions differ on what was gained and lost when the hospitals closed.

Listen to more personal recollections by clicking the following links:

“There was a good reason why we did the closure” Mark Cardwell

“The idea of community care is heroic, brilliant … but there is a thing called reality.” Jeremy Ross

“It was more security for them.” Beryl and Juan Galan

“Nowadays people with learning disabilities are very isolated and unsupported.” Tracey Taylor

“It’s a story that needs to be told, even more so with the lack of mental health treatment.” Dan Jacobson

If you would like to record an interview, please email: [email protected]