Keeping Us in Mind – Resisting Institutionalisation

Exhibition panel 6

No-one batted an eyelid

Changing attitudes and patients’ rights. From the 1920s The Manor and St Ebbas (originally Ewell Epileptic Colony) became learning disability hospitals. Long Grove, Horton and West Park – which opened in 1924 – were designated ‘Mental Hospitals’.

Gradually attitudes towards mental illness changed, and new legislation brought more freedom for patients. Peggy Organ saw this change when she returned to nursing in the 1970s:

When I first went there [in the 1950s] eyeryone was locked in.We had to count all the patients in and out. When I went back [decades later] I couldn’t believe it. the whole place was open, they could do what they liked.

The patients’ rights movement became more influential in the 1970s, and nursing training began to reflect these ideas. New recruits often challenged older practices:

Institutionalisation was seen as a very bad thing, and something that we would be looking out for.” Tracey, trainee nurse at The Manor (1981-84).

West Park hospital.<br /> By kind permission of the Wellcome Collection

West Park hospital.
By kind permission of the Wellcome Collection

Many interviewees recalled a lack of privacy and dignity. This picture was taken in the 1930s, but Tracey described a similar scene at The Manor in the 1980s when she was a first-year student nurse, although she only witnessed this once:

There were all these men, naked and semi-naked. Some were lined up round and open area of baths. I was to supervise the bathing. No-one batted and eyelid.”

If it’s good for us, it’s good for them: Raj and Therese

Raj and Therese both worked at The Manor from the 1970s to the 1990s. Like other staff at the time, they saw it was important for patients to be treated as individuals, but it was not easy when a single ward might have 50 or 60 beds.

At the time most wards had a communal clothes cupboard and even shared toothbrushes. With the encouragement of the Chief Nursing Officer they started to buy individual clothing and  toiletries.

We tried to dress them in normal clothes like you and me, so they didn’t stick out. I think the hospital clothes were like a uniform. We had a motto: if it’s good for us it’s good for them.

Many staff put considerable time and effort into organising parties, days out, holidays and special events for the patients.

Jeremy Ross and Mark Cardwell were both social workers supporting people with mental illness. They reflect on institutional life.

Raj and Therese describe the parties they organised for birthdays and Christmas.

Sue C discusses her memories of hairdressing at West Park.

Lyn Carless remembers volunteering at St Ebba’s.

Kathleen Gregory visited patients at West Park hospital. She describes the activities she organised.

Listen to Recordings Here

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

Read more about the Epsom Cluster.

Find out more about the project.

Click on the following links to see the exhibition panels created by the project team: