Saturday, May 03, 2008
Life after Craig-y-nos
The Adelina Patti hospital, Craig-y-nos
Rosemary, living on a small holding above Brecon, slept in the barn after she left Craig-y-nos.
“I couldn’t bear the feeling of being enclosed in the house.”
Often a recurring theme amongst ex- child patients of Craig-y-nos was the difficulty both physically and psychologically of adjusting to life outside after years in a sanatorium.
Because nothing was known at the time about the psychological impact on children who had been kept, often for years, in an isolated institution, most of the time confined to one room, with little contact with the outside world.
Now a lot more is known about the effects of institutionalisation and when this does occur, most often it is in the case of prisoners ( thankfully sick children are no longer “put away” ), who are
released from long-term sentences they are put on a rehabilitation programme which introduces them gradually to the outside world again.
But “the children of Craig-y-nos” had to find their own way of adjusting to the world again. Not surprisingly many speak of their ability to be independent, to be a “survivor”, of a determination which often their siblings lacked.
Many children talk of their first impression of being home as of the house“ closing in around them”. They hated the coal fires, small rooms and narrow staircases (“ how am I going to get up there in my callipers” wondered Christine) and all , without fail, wanted the windows open .
Teenager Beryl recalls how she couldn't sleep at night feeling she was suffocating inside the house and her mother would walk her down to the beach and watch the sea until she felt calmer.
While the physical effect was short term and children did adjust again to living in smaller surroundings the psychological effect were more long lasting.
Many felt themselves stigmatised by their local community, and children were told to avoid playing with them. In school they would be “the sickly child” and not allowed to participate in games.
But as the “children of Craig-y-nos” grew up we did manage to put the past behind us and went on to lead normal lives, most getting married and having children though still living within the same community. Some managed to scrape together an education and became teachers and secretaries. The majority of jobs though were in local shops and factories.
There were some extraordinary achievements though with the most notable being Clive Rowlands, icon of Welsh Ruby, being the most famous. He spent time on the balcony during the 1940s and remembers being put in “restrainers”.
A few left Wales.
One girl Caroline, said that as soon as she passed her school exams she was “out of Wales like a rabbit out of a hutch, never to return”.
In my own case I caught the train to London, armed with a fistful of certificates, my passport out of Wales, and put the experience of Craig-y-nos under lock and key.