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

The maze of corridors

I trained and worked at Hellingly from Sept '68 to Dec '78. Reading some of the memories there's clearly an awful lot about the Hospital that I didn't know, and even more that I remember differently.

In 1968 the hospital hosted an experiment in student nurse training and 8 of us started on the Regional Collegiate Scheme sometimes called RCS (sometimes called a lot worse by the other students). I and 4 other male students were put into Hughenden, and eventually those who still lived in were moved to Bow Hill.
My early recollections after starting at the hospital include the Barbadian independence celebrations in about late Sept '68. I remember when I arrived at Hellingly, it was like and Indian summer and the grounds were wonderful. {when I left 10 years later and began seeing the Psychiatric Hospitals in Lancashire, Cheshire and Merseyside I realised just how special Hellingly was] .

I remember Matron Bradley's 1968 Christmas Day visit to the ward (and getting told off for wearing a very pale blue shirt not the regulation white). My first Hospital Suit! What can you say. They were Hardy Ames and other well know labels, but they must have mixed up the measurements. They certainly rarely fitted properly.

I remember that shortly before I arrived the HMC had decided that naming the wards was more conducive to recovery and normal life than A1, G2 etc. This was confusing, not only did I have to learn all the new names based on local villages, also cope with some of the 'old lags' referring to them by their old names. I also remember some helpful sole telling me that the key to the maze of corridors was the colour of the floor tiles. Blue, green and brown. I'm not sure of the sequence, but these corresponded with male side, female side and admin, dining rooms, hall etc. The change list told what ward you went on AND what days off you were allocated - for three months at a time.

As a Staff Nurse I worked amongst other wards on East Dean, Cuckfield, Arlington, Guestling, Chailey, Horam, Amberstone and Park House West, latterly split into Westfield - where I became Charge Nurse, and Beckley.

In about '74 as part of the Halsbury campaign, I began to get involved with COHSE and remember marching round the local lanes ( and round Hailsham the following week with much greater impact)

I remember trying to campaign to stop the Hospital Farm closing - without success, and being taken aback when one of the farm labourers firmly pointed out that I was misguided if I thought he didn't want an inside job as a porter. He said something like " When you're up a 6 to pick Brussels sprouts on a frosty morning, old kiddie, then wouldn't you want a porter's job?"

Also in '74 I got married and our first son was born. We were lucky enough to get a Hospital House. The smaller portion of the divided Hospital Farm Bailiff’s House. Apart from having the bath in the kitchen - not a tin bath, the real thing - it was a great place. The summer of '76, opposite the piggery, our son, who was just crawling, loved nothing better than going round picking up the dead bluebottles brought down by the fly killer. We lived happily at the Hospital until we left in late '78 as I took up a full time position with COHSE, which became part of UNISON in '93 and is still my work now. Jo continued her nursing as she does even now.

We've been back to the area just once, in about '90. The hospital was already overgrown and many buildings derelict. Such a shame. It was interesting that the old broken down oast house on the back track, had been renovated as a classy house. Even more interesting was that the old pig sties seemed to have become old folks' accommodation. We decided then that another return was probably too painful.

I recently learned of the 30 year celebration at the club, and the fire. Still there are the memories. To all the people I met, I'm glad I did. I've resisted naming names, but I look back with a good deal of fondness on those ten years. I'm glad also that I found your site.

Andy Gill.

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