Jan (1989) [Patient]

I arrived at Cane Hill as a 21 year old, frightened and overwhelmed. My first memory is of walking through the imposing entrance and being taken to Blake Ward where I was met by a junior doctor. Blake Ward had a large central day room with most of the chairs arranged facing the TV which was on most of the time. At the front of the room was a large chart which told us what day, date, month and year it was. There was a large window with a table beneath it and a piano which nobody played during the three months I was there. Off the day room was a smaller room which had the seclusion rooms off it. These were very bare I think they just had a mattress. They weren’t used much while I was there. Beyond that room was the male sleeping area.

The other side of the day room had the female sleeping area which was L shaped . There were some single rooms off that and I had one of these. At the end were the washrooms. Also off the day room was the dining area with tables for 4 people and beyond that the bathroom which had two baths in it (not much privacy!) and a sun room with a table tennis table. A door from that room lead into the grounds. The ward kitchen was off the day room. we could bring in our own food and were allowed to make drinks.

One of the startling things to me was that some of the patients had their day clothes taken from them and were in night clothes. This was to deter any would be escapers from leaving as they would be quickly identified once they reached town.

The ward ran on a routine. You could get a hot drink from about 6am when the housekeeper arrived. Then breakfast was cereal and toast sometimes with hot food such as kippers, bacon etc. After breakfast there was occupational therapy for those considered well enough to go. At first I didn’t go to this but when eventually I did I found it pretty uninspirational sat around doing crosswords and some times they got the nail varnishes out. The art therapy was better and the art therapist was very encouraging to all. The quality of the materials available was good also with high quality canvasses and oil paints.

Lunch was about midday – a two course meal with a choice. I don’t remember much about the afternoons. Tea was served early – sometimes as early as 4.30pm – I think it suited the staff to get it over with. Evenings were taken up with TV and visitors. You could then go to bed after the evening medication trolley. All the patients had to line up to collect their evening meds. The exception was people on needed injections and they were done in privacy.

There wasn’t much to break the monotony of the routine. On one occasion though the occupational therapists took us on the bus into the town – we must have looked  very odd and very obvious! On another occasion there was a ward party – I don’t know what the occasion was but I remember being really shocked that, in a ward with patients that included recovering alcoholics, the staff were being served with wine! also I remember one “community meeting” which was like a ward council that all the patients were required to attend. This was only held once while I was there so I assume it was not considered a success.

The staff were quite mixed  – quite a few male staff from Mauritius and older female care assistants. The ward orderly was Italian. The quality of the staff was mixed. Some of the night staff were quite friendly and amusing, others seemed to use the night duty as a chance to sleep. I remember one night staff who got very cross when I woke her up!

I don’t remember seeing any abuse of patients, although sometimes the patience of staff could wear a bit thin when patients behaviour was quite extreme. I remember one patient who was very keen to clean up all the time to the extent that she took the other patients plates away while they were still eating – that earned her a bit of a reprimand. Another patient was desperate for cigarettes and was constantly asking for a smoke.

The one element that was alarming was safety and security  – patients from other wards were allowed to wander in and some of the long stay patients seemed quite frightening to me. On one occasion I was in my single room when a very large female patient came into the room with a pair of scissors and said she wanted to cut my hair. That was scary! there were some escapes as well and then all the staff got quite frantic.

Patients who were able to walk around the grounds or go into town got into some trouble at times. I remember one man coming back drunk and another female patient told me she though she was pregnant after she had gone into the bushes and had sex with one of the male patients.

The quality of the doctors was quite variable as well. My consultant seemed reasonable. Ward rounds were a daunting prospect for the patients as we were called into a room with the consultant and about 7 other staff comprising junior doctors, social worker, nurses and OTs – not designed to make you feel at ease! Some of the junior doctors coped better than others with the job. I remember the Easter time being challenging as there were 4 days with nothing to do. The junior doctor on the day after Easter Monday asked me how I had been – I asked her how she though I might feel after 4 days locked in a ward and she told me that it wasn’t easy for her to lock people in!

As I was confined to the ward a lot of the time I didn’t get to see a lot of the rest of the hospital. I do remember the “boutique” which had the most hideous old fashioned clothes. On one occasion we were taken to a big hall to play badminton.

The physical side of care was quite good – I remember being taken to the dentist, chiropodist and optician while I was there – all in the hospital

Bizarrely as I spent most of my time wishing I was not there, one man was desperate to get in. He was brought in by the police one Friday night and spent the whole weekend acting in a very odd stereotypically “mad” way. On the Monday he was seen by a doctor and discharged. The staff explained that some people who were homeless tried to get a bed for a couple of nights by acting strangely and getting picked up by the police. However, the ward staff reckoned they could always tell who was “faking it!”

Lasting impressions:

The Positives

  • The grounds were lovely and there was a real sense of “asylum”
  • Some of the other patients were kind, helpful and good fun
  • Some of the staff were caring
  • The art therapist was excellent

The Negatives

  • The mix of patients as it was an admissions ward was quite varied
  • There was a real lack of things to do and the occupational therapy was fairly awful
  • There was no psychological input at all. I had expected to get some therapeutic support with on a one to one basis or in groups and that didn’t happen at all
  • There was a stigma about having been in a “loony bin” and I have admitted it to very few people in my life.

5 thoughts on “Jan (1989) [Patient]”

  1. In my time as a patient the first six months l slept in a large room with 20 or so beds all occupited. On ehalf of Olave was not used, all the mattresses were rolled up on the beds.

    After l began to take notice of where l was, they gave me a single room. Between 1963 and 1965, I never saw a chaplain, nor art tjherapist. The most exciting thing was the weekly dance and we could snog the female patients.


  2. cool read this is
    yeah the funny farm too has definantly a stigma attatched to it but hello whats normal and who has never been mental onece in there life it happens to the best of us even those with good fortune too. anyway yeah good read wow what an experiencd to undergo

  3. Hello everyone,

    This is probably a long shot, but does anyone remember a Nora Spicer who was resident from the 1950’s right up to her death 30+ years later. She must have been in her 80’s when she died at Cane Hill. She was a large woman, tall, big built and had long black hair (grey after time)that she usually wore in two thick braids. She was my great grandma and my father tells me stories of when he would visit her in Cane Hill when he was a child, I’ve tried to find information about her for years. Does anyone have any recollection or information at all?

    Thank you in advance

  4. Hi Rebecca,

    I have been drawn to this page after researching Cane Hill because my 2 x great grandmother was called Nora Spicer and was a patient here! It would be interesting to make contact with you to find out what you know.

    I hope this message find you.

    Kindest regards,


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