Terri (1980-86)

I applied to work at Cane hill in 1980 and got the job in November that year, I was 19 years old. I’d just come back from 10 months in Israel on a kibbutz, and couldn’t face living with my parents again, (after such a wild time away!) So I looked for a job where I could live in.
On my first day I was taken to a geriatric, psychiatric ward. I wanted to turn and run away! I was confronted with lots of old people, some in wheel chairs, some sitting quietly in a catatonic state, and some just making strange noises. It stunk of Urine (some of them were sitting in their urine) Most of the ward was vinyl flooring with a small piece of square carpet in the middle. There was an old frail lady tied to a commode in the toilets.  They explained that she was constipated and would pick out her faeces. It was very new to me! I didn’t ask questions I just accepted…. (Something I wouldn’t do now).

I think there were only three of us on in the ward per shift. You were lucky if you had four! It would be a staff nurse and two care assistants. It was extremely hard work looking after 30 patients, all of them extremely ill, most forgotten about by relatives. It was an EMI ward…elderly mentally ill where the door had to be locked. That was not the ward I was based on, I floated around and worked on all the wards. I did realize later, that this was a ward I wouldn’t work on much! Thank god!

The hospital itself was very busy. You walked down the long corridors, where patients and staff (some doctors) were going about their business. It was its own little community and for the majority of patients, it was a carefree life, where the outside world could not judge them. Many had relationships. It had a shop, dentist, bank, (for patients to collect there money) and cafeteria. There was a big activities hall, occupational therapists, and hairdresser. All kept very busy!

I don’t know how many wards there were. You started with the A -Andrewes. I think they were all named after poets or writers: Keller, Blake, Browning, and Keats etc.

Everything was beginning to change by the 80s, but some of the old world was still there. I remember the big activities hall being used to demonstrate how they used to treat mentally ill patients100 years ago…they exhibited…leather straps, baths, torture looking chairs etc. I also witnessed ECT. That was awful, watching a woman shaking like she was possessed!

There is so much more to remember.  Patients did attack nurses as well. There was a near fatal incident where a nurse was nearly murdered. There was a rape where a guy got in and would allegedly rape some of the old women who would roam the grounds…I think he used to buy favours as well, because there was some toilets far out in one of the gardens. There was also a hanging; a severely disturbed guy had hung himself from one of the trees…At Coulsdon station, there was an alley we used to use to get to the station. A patient jumped off the bridge when he saw an ongoing train.

8 thoughts on “Terri (1980-86)”

  1. My dad worked at cane hill from the early 70’s til it closed. His name is donald. He was a charge nurse. Myself and my sisters spent so much of our childhood in the club and swimming. It was like having loads of aunty’s and uncles as all the staff and their children spent so much time together. It also gave me a great understanding of mental illness which i have passed on to my daughter. It breaks my heart that my playground has been left to rot.

  2. Hi Joanne, I trained at Cane Hill from 1975-1978 and remember your dad, although I didn’t work with him.

  3. Hi Joanne,
    I started my training at Cane Hill in June 1985.
    I remember your Dad. I did work with him a few times, a nice guy.

  4. Hello everyone, My mum Jean Keller was a patient on several occasions from the mid 70’s to the mid 80’s, she would normally be admitted into Queens ward and after several months would be moved to Turner ward. We lived in Sydenham and I would visit her twice a week, I would finish school and make my way straight there, I was only 12 years old but it was accepted that it was ok me to do this alone ( it would never be allowed now).
    I remember walking in to the hospital down long corridors that were very busy with patients just walking up and down, some were sitting on the floor other standing facing the wall talking to themselves. One small old lady (I found her very scary) would always come up to me a shout out “Fire, Fire, Fire”, she wanted a light for her cigarette, when I said I don’t have a light and she would start screaming at me ” You Die!”.
    Mum was diagnosed with Paranoid Schizophrenia in the 80’s, her Dr was Dr Doug(not sure how it’s spelt) does anyone remember him?.
    Does anyone remember Jean or a little boy that would regularly visit her?

  5. 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

  6. My father victor John.farrow was there until
    1970 after undergoing lots est which left him extremely sick

  7. My dad Jimmy Mckenzie worked there in 1960 /62 and then again the late 60’s after working in Fulbourn mental hospital.Does anyone remember him ?,

  8. It is very interesting reading all these accounts on here that reflect many of my own. Did not realise how important it all was at the time. It is clear from memory and reading these that CH had its pros and cons. Very multi cultural and open to differing sexual preferences way ahead of it’s time. Fully staffed with people in specific roles rather than 2 staff to 50 people, multi tasking in care homes today. It created a community and a hub for the town. However many of the experimental treatments have moved on (some not so) and are horrific looking back. There are probably some today that will look dated in years to come. It had the potential be somewhat self sufficient with patients involved in it’s upkeep in the early days. An improvement on workhouses for sure. Many Staff that were committed to their role, but also those that got away with things that should not have happened. Out of sight out of mind…It needed some caretaking, improvements and serious updating. I don’t believe today’s alternative ‘care in the community’ and ‘care homes’ are winning either. More work into the mental health situation is required all round. Particularly when cases must be equalling the post war numbers currently due backlash of Covid. Food for thought

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