Hellingly Hospital - The East Sussex Mental Institution.

Hellingly Hospital - The East Sussex Mental Institution.
Hellingly, a Victorian hospital on a grand scale. Conceived in 1897, with landscaped surroundings high on a hill with therapeutic views across the countryside. An enclosed community, providing for itself...patients and staff lives exisiting in familiar corridors and buildings.
Closed down in the eary 1990's and left decaying ever since.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Hellingly - For the community

"I have lived close to Hellingly hospital for over 20 years since the early 1980's and during the 80s remember it still functioning. At home, we would have patients walking past our house and sometimes I have to admit they gave us cause for amusement, such as the time that one lady had problems with her knicker elastic and had to keep pulling her knickers up from round her knees and ankles as she tried to walk down the road.

Some of the patients became a very familiar sight. During those final years of the hospital, it was also providing support services for the local NHS. I recall my wife going there for an X-ray as it was closer than the DGH in Eastbourne. The corridors and waiting rooms were just as I remembered them from 30 years before!
The reason I had memories of Hellingly from the 1950s was that long before my wife and I came to live in Hellingly, we had both grown up in Mid-Sussex, some 25 miles away.
I was born in 1943 and was adopted as a baby. My adoptive mother had a son who was in Hellingly and had been for his whole adult life. In the early 1950's Jack was in his 30's. Every other Sunday or so, my parents would travel to see him, sometimes taking me with them.
Southdown buses ran special coach services to the hospital, ours coming from the Hurstpierpoint and Hassocks area. The coach would stop for the adults to have refreshment at The Golden Cross pub and eventually we alighted opposite the hospital main entrance.

I well remember the railway lines alongside the drive and the coal trucks lined up in a siding. Unfortunately I don't remember ever seeing the locomotive, which I now know would have been the electric loco taking power from the overhead cable.
In the hospital, as visitors, we were shown to the ward where Jack would meet us. In my memory it would we spent most of the time sitting in the garden on bent wood chairs.

The grounds were immaculate with groups of chairs for patients and visitors. Jack would tell us of life in the hospital, and even as a 9 or 10 year old child, I was aware that it was a world of it's own.
Thirty years later, after living in other parts of England, it was an accident of life that I came to live in Hellingly, and I did find the memories of my Mum visiting her mentally handicapped son as very sad in retrospect.
But as a local resident I soon came to appreciate the role of the hospital in the community.
As well as its role as a hospital, Hellingly was a social and sports centre. Especially entertaining was the annual fireworks display in the grounds organsised by members of the staff social club.
ASs to the hospital itself, many people would agree that it was a misguided policy that saw institutions such as Hellingly closed down. After the closure, the grounds continued to be an open space for the locals, even when the Health Authority briefly tried to discourage people with security guards.

However, well guarded, the grounds and buildings soon became a playground for local children and for teenagers and I have no doubt that my own boys, as they were growing up close to the hospital, know the buildings far better than they ever would have admitted to me".

Union Corner, Hellingly.

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