When I first went in there, even just getting out of the car you could hear the racket. You think you're going to a madhouse. When you first went there you could hear people screaming and shouting outside. It was very noisy but I think you do get used to them after a little while because it's like everywhere that's big. If there's a lot of people you get a lot of noise, and they had like big dormitories didn't they? And the children were just as noisy, in the children's home, and they were all the same sort of people.
I went to St Lawrence's in 1957. I went to A2, that was the admissions ward. They didn't used to have many in there, they used to just take the new ones that came in. You were only there for about a week or two weeks. And they moved you on to another ward where there was all children. I stayed there till I was 15 and then I went to another ward where I was with adults.
There was bars on the windows when I first went to St Lawrence's, it was just like a prison. Of course, it was called a nuthouse in them days, so it used to have bars on it. You couldn't open the windows. Well, you could, but not far enough to get out of them. You didn't have toys, no toys whatsoever. You couldn't have toys because they would just get broken and thrown through the bars in the window, and get caught in them.
It was big. There were lots and lots of wards. On the female side it was A to H. On the male side it was A to D. They all had about 75 people in. And then there was little houses on the grounds and they had about 50 people in.
There used to be children, there used to be two wards of children. One for little boys and one for girls. There was no school there, they only let you use your hands by making baskets and doing all that sort of thing. That's all you did. In them days they said you wasn't able enough to learn so you didn't go to school you went to like a big ward and they had tables. You just went there and made the baskets or what-have-you. Because in them days they said you wasn't capable enough to learn to do anything else, so that's what you did.
So in St Lawrence's they never went to school. They went and made baskets. If you didn't do that you went to one of the work places or in the laundry, or stayed in the ward and did nothing. As you got older you could stay doing baskets or you could go down the laundry or the workshops in the grounds. I made a friend of Eva and she did one of the workshops but I never did, I worked on the baskets. A lot of them used to stay on the ward, or go round and sit round on the field and didn't do anything. Because really, who wants to work in an old laundry? Not many people did that.
Some of them went out on licence, where you'd go and try somewhere. Some of the people I used to be friends with did that. Gloria done it, my friend Gloria, because she was in hospital. She went to Purley Hospital and worked. She went out before me, she went out a long time before me. She stayed out, she never came back. If anything went wrong when they were out they used to go and pick them up, and bring them back.
The worst thing was, I couldn't wear my own clothes, you had to wear other people's. Because you never, you never got your own because the beds were too close together, so you didn't have a locker or anything, you just went to this big cupboard and helped yourself. There might be six piles of dresses in this big cupboard. They had all the clothes in and you'd just go and help yourself to the clothes you want. I didn't like it, that you wasn't even allowed to wear your own clothes in them days.
Of course they had their own shoes, you couldn't wear your own shoes in them days, you had to wear their shoes and they were horrible. They made them there, in the hospital. You never went out for anything because they did everything in the hospital. The clothes were made in the hospital, in the sewing rooms.
They did everything there, they made their own bread and everything; they had a bakery. They had a farm. They used to have cows and sheep there.
On the male side you see they're different. The male side was different to the female side, there was more on the female side than there was on the male. There was a lot more on the female side. You couldn't mix with the men. You could go to a dance but you'd have men one side, women the other. You could dance with them, but they had to go back men one side, women the other side.
Even in the dance hall there was two loads of staff in the middle, one full of women and one full of men, and you just danced around the staff in the middle. The female staff were on one side, on one row and male on the other, and you just danced around them. You could go over and dance, and they had to go back to one side and I went back on the other.
In them days you didn't have proper money. If they give you any money it's green, it's like little green coins. You can't use it outside, you can't buy anything outside, you could only use it in their canteen. You could just go down and spend it in the canteen. It was only for sweets.
If I got upset I'd just run away, for a couple of hours. You couldn't go out, so if I got upset I would just go off, and I would come back when I was ready. I wouldn't stay out the night or anything like that but I would come back when I was ready, and then I'd be all right. I would go round the field because their field is quite big at the back. And you could just sit there, there were seats and you could just sit and be on your own. And I'd come back when I was ready.
Loads of people used to live in St Lawrence's. There were loads of them there. In a ward there was about 75, men or women Ð you couldn't get men with women. I was in a ward with 75 other women, and the beds were that small, they were that close to one another. Of course they had some in the grounds as well, and they had fifty in those places.
Because there was too many in the hospital they did no cooking in the ward kitchen. If you think, 75 in one ward, they couldn't do cooking in the wards. They had a kitchen there but they did no cooking. They couldn't teach you to do anything because there wasn't enough time for the nurses. They used to go off at half one and another lot used to come on and used to stay till nine, and then they would go off and a night nurse would come on. During the day there would be three different lots of staff.
The ward was blocked off, there was doors. You weren't allowed to sit on your beds. The beds were that close to one another, so you couldn't have anything private. I didn't have anything of my own, because they would get pinched, the other patients would pinch them.
Of course, you wasn't allowed to stand on the corridors or do anything like that. If you didn't go into one of the workshops, or the laundry, or the basket making, or digging up gardens then you sat on the ward. Sometimes I did that, because it's all I knew. If that's all you know it's very difficult not to do anything else.
In the hospital you used to have to be in by eight, because of the night nurses at 9 o'clock. You had to be in bed by nine. If you wasn't in at 9 o'clock you'd have to go in one of the other wards and ask them to come and open the doors, especially if they haven't got a night nurse in one of the wards. In two of the wards they didn't have night nurses so if you wasn't in at 9 o'clock then you'd have to go and ask one of the other wards to open the door and let you in. You soon got told off in the morning if you did that. I never done that but it did use to happen. I stayed out of a lot of trouble, but some of the others did things what they shouldn't be doing, like staying out late. I don't think it's worth getting into trouble, you might just as well do what they want. And the day will come when you can go out and get about on your own.
You had to get up at half six, seven o'clock. In my time you didn't have choices. You just did as they said.
We all ate on the ward together, but not with the staff. The food was vile, I didn't like it. They used to bring the dinners up at 11 o'clock and they used to sit and talk till 12 or half past. The dinners were horrible. There was no choices. My friend Eva, she used to be one of the nurses, she used to heat it up for us.
I made a friend called Eva who used to work in one of the workshops in the hospital, and I used to go there. She was the staff, she was one of the nurses. Eva used to sit and talk to me sometimes but otherwise you don't get anybody because they'd say they hadn't got the time.
I made a few friends with some of the patients. There was Gloria, Gloria Ferris, I made friends with her. I still see her. I go out every Saturday with her. A lot of them got married. I didn't have many men friends.
I never had any visitors in the hospital, nobody at all, never.
I found my auntie because she wrote to me once or twice in the hospital. And I said I would like to visit this aunt and one of the nurses, Mary Mason, she said, 'Oh, I'll find out about it. I'll get a pass and I'll take you'. So she did. We phoned up, she phoned up Aunt Edie and I went to see her, and when I left St Lawrence's I'd go and see her regularly. She was living in Bedford then. She lived in London for a little while, and then she moved out of London and went to Bedford.
You weren't allowed out of the hospital. You had to write up and ask could you leave the grounds. You had to ask the medical or write to the doctor and ask them. You couldn't just go across the road and look at the shops, it wasn't allowed not unless you wrote up and asked. I didn't go out because I got so used to not going out. You'd get lost if you're not used to it.
If you wanted to go out they would give you a card. And every time you went out, you could go out from 2 o'clock till four. If you wasn't back by four then you would be in trouble. You could never go out on your own, you always had to go with somebody, like one of the staff. You could write up and get a pass for a Saturday afternoon, but you had to get permission every time. They would watch to see if you come in after four. If you didn't get back, they'd give you till six and if you weren't back then they would ring the police.
In the old days, you had to be very crafty, you had to be one ahead of them. You could get down the pipe. The pipes used to be very big and if you was on the third floor upstairs, and you went down on to the fire escape, there used to be a big pipe. You used to get down in that because it was wide, it was wide enough for you to fit. So they could get out of the bottom because the hole at the bottom was big enough for them to get out of. And it led you outside the gate which you couldn't get out of otherwise, because that was always locked.
You could go round the boundary. There used to be a big old church, it's not there any more they've built a school on there. You could go round the back of the church and by the fence there used to be an opening. We used to go out through that way and then get back in through that way. You could only get as far as the shop down the road, that was all. You could just go round and look, and come back again. At least it was something that you could do till you got caught. I didn't do it much, I did it once or twice. Nobody else knew it was there.
In the hospital they used to have a church so you never went out of the hospital to go to church because they have one in there, on the corridor. I never went to church. I don't go now only because I can't read. And for me, it's ridiculous so I just don't go. In the hospital church the men sat on one side and the women sat on the other. They used to pass letters in through the church, underneath the seat the letters used to go. The women used to pass letters across. I never went to church so I never did that. You could go round the fields and, if there was no staff about, then you could do it that way but otherwise you couldn't.
If you went on holiday with the hospital you sat on the grass and didn't do anything. They just used to sit on the grass if it was a nice day. You didn't go on the beach or anything. We went to like a holiday thing and they had green huts and they used to go to them. They didn't used to take anybody else. They just used to take people from hospitals. We never saw anybody else because they didn't encourage it.
They had a ward up in the hospital G3 and they used to put people in there. They used to get locked up. I never was in G3 because I never run away or anything like that. They used to make you wear your bed slippers and then you couldn't run away. The door was locked, but you could get out. If you got out though you couldn't get back in so you had to ring the bell. G3 was for women, D3 was for men.
In them days if you had learning difficulties or anything that's where they used to put you. They didn't say, 'Oh, you could go into a house and somebody would look after you.' They would just say, 'You, you've gotta go into a big hospital' and that's it. Years ago, if you wasn't married and you had a baby that was a disgrace and they would say, 'Oh the mother goes to a workhouse or a loony bin' as they had in them days, or the mother went into a workhouse or a loony bin and the child was put in care. I think that's why there was more women.
In the hospital if you wanted to do anything or to go anywhere it was so much of a bind because you had to keep asking someone to write for you, so a lot of the time I never did. I got used to the hospital. Not really because I wanted to be there, it was because that's what I knew. That's all you knew, you didn't know anything else not like I do now.
A lot of people, especially people like me, we always think if they didn't have enough money to keep us outside they would say, 'Right, you all have to go back in the hospital' and open them again. It's important they knock them down and then people like me and a lot more will know that won't happen. I think it worries a lot of people like me because they are still standing there because they could say 'OK, we're going to open all that again and all the people what were there go back up there'. Of course it saves them a lot of money. I know they have turned a lot of St Lawrence's off, they've built houses on there. Some of it's gone, but there's still a lot there.
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School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care
Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies
The Open University
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