Keeping Us in Mind – Through Ray’s lens

Exhibition panel 2.

Faces from the past

Ray O’Donohue came to Horton hospital as a nurse in 1971. Aspects of the regime seemed shockingly old-fashioned to him after the modern practices he had seen in his previous job, in the pioneering Drug Dependency Unit at Tooting Hospital.

Ray challenged what he saw as institutionalised practices. He was disciplined more than once and gained a reputation as a trouble-maker. While he was still working at Horton, he started to write a book about his experiences; his notetaking was regarded with suspicion by his superiors and he was questioned about his intentions. Ray left Horton after only two years.

One of the patients was in a wheelchair but he was also tied to a post. He could walk but I think they put him there to stop him wandering off.

I had arguments with the staff nurse about giving patients only two slices of bread.

Return to the cluster. In 1981 Ray returned to the Epsom Cluster, this time to work in Long Grove for 2 years. After leaving again, he returned in 1983, to work in the patients’ social centre. When the centre was threatened with closure, Ray wrote to the local paper to object, and found himself in trouble with the hospital authorities again.

Ray’s growing interest in photography led him to capture a unique visual record of life in the hospital.

The faces of Long Grove. Nothing compares with that does it?

The General
as Ray called him was one of Long Grove’s Polish patients, who arrived during and just after the Second World War. Many were servicemen and it is likely that they fought alongside British troops. Approximately 200 men were still there in the 1980s, passing the time with games of cards and draughts.

Ray played snooker and tennis with The General – and never beat him. Little more is known about the Polish patients, as historical records relating to mental health are closed for one hundred years.

I think we’d learned a bit of Polish, because they didn’t speak English.

Horton’s war dead. Many Polish patients were buried in Polish Cemeteries in South East England.

Forty of them lie in Horton Cemetery, a neglected and overgrown piece of land at the junction of Hook Road and Horton Lane that was used to bury patients at all five hospitals. Eight and a half thousand people are buried in the cemetery, which now belongs to a private developer.

In 2004 a public campaign by then-mayor Alan Carlson resulted in a memorial to all the patients whose remains lie in the adjacent ground, with one side of the obelisk devoted to the servicemen. Each year on Remembrance Sunday floral tributes are laid at the site.

Listen to Ray as he describes the Long Grove social centre, and meeting The General many years later.

Listen to Recordings Here

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Read more about the Epsom Cluster.

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