Friday, November 30, 2007

Brecon and Radnor Express - November 29 2007

Roy Harry today with his portrait of himself after he left Craig-y-nos

This is an extract from the story in this week’s Brecon & Radnor Express of the Children of Craig-y-nos exhibition which opened last week in Brecon Library.

Dr Carole Reeves Outreach Historian with The Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine, said:
“Craig-y-nos Castle was open for almost 40 years from 1922- 1959 and at its fullest held 136 beds, with thousands of patients admitted over the years.

Carole explained.
“There were a lot of TB sanatoriums, about 1,000 in the UK, but this is quiet a special one because it was mostly children -it’s really touched a nerve.

“It’s a bit sad - we've heard some terrible stories, children being tied to the bed so they got bed rest, infants growing up there and seeing their parents just once a year, people forced to have abortions because they had TB. But people try and remember the good things,” she added.

Mary Watkins, who travelled to the exhibition from her home in Hereford, said:” We enjoyed it - we went there to get better. We were all like one family.”

Many children died while at Craig-y-nos but apparently the patients “didn’t dwell on it - you never really knew if they’d died or not.”

66 year old Roy Harry shared his vivid memory of being left there for the first time.
“I’ll never forget being left there. I screamed as my mother left me - it was awful. I kept following her , running down the corridor.”
He added:
“Children would become attached to the nurses. There was a baby ward, some would grow up there. You did hear of people not recognising their own parents, having to be introduced to them by the nurses.”

Ann and Rosemary today and (inset) together in Craig-y-nos
Rosemary Davies, who now lives in Lansteffan, added:
“ Visitors were only allowed once a month and then only for two hours.”

No-one really knew how to treat TB and it was thought bed rest and plenty of fresh air was the best treatment. As a result of this, children slept outside on large balconies even in winter.

67 year old Rosemary, the middle child of 11 siblings, recalled:
“ Some mornings there’s be four inches of snow on the end of your bed! “they thought the fresh air would cure you.”

Rosemary added:
“When I left and went back to my family the only difficulty was sleeping indoors. I was used to sleeping outside on the balcony, and couldn't get enough fresh air in the room, so I used to sleep in the barn!”

( The exhibition will run until early in the New Year).

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Strong women in Brecon

Gwenllian Morgan became Wales' first female mayor in 1910, in Brecon.

Portrait of Adelina Patti hanging in the Guildhall, Brecon

Mayor of Brecon Rosemary Evans

During the opening of the Children of Craigy-nos exhibition last week in Brecon Library the Mayor, Rosemary Evans, pointed out that Adelina Patti had close links with the town. Not only did she get married there in the Catholic church but she was a huge benefactor. She helped pay for the portrait of Gwenllian Morgan, the first female Mayor in Wales - a first for Brecon!- which also hangs in the Guildhall.
To-day Adelina Patti's portrait has a place of honour there too.

It is a much more flattering one than any hanging in Craig-y-nos Castle.

Posters around Brecon

Delivering posters for the exhibition around Brecon I am astonished at the warm reception I get.

“Craig-y-nos? Yes, I will take mother/auntie, relative/neighbour was there as a child”.
Or “I know someone who worked there.”

For TB, or “the white plague” touched nearly every family in some form or other in rural mid-Wales, a renowed treacherous black spot for the disease.

I was just about to walk out of one shop when the owner stopped me.”I was at Craig-y-nos Castle recently for one of their ghost evenings.”

“What was it like?”
“They were conjuring up the spirits of dead children.”

We agree it’s in bad taste. Yet nobody seems to mind. I have mentioned it tentatively to several people only to be told:”It brings money into the area.”

What do you think?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Opening of Brecon exhibition- 23 November 2007


Brecon & Radnor Express photographer taking the official photograph of the opening of the Children of Craig-y-nos exhibition in the gallery of Brecon library.

(From left to right) Dr Carole Reeves, Mayor of Brecon Rosemary Evans. ( back row) Councillor Michael Gittins and Roy Harry (front row ) Ann Shaw and Mary Watkins.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Brecon Library - staff

Sally and Ann, staff at Brecon library, share a joke

We are very grateful to Chris Price, chief librarian, and members of his staff for all their help and support with this exhibition , Children of Craig-y-nos.

As Dr Carole Reeves, Outreach Historian with the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine, University College London, said in her opening remarks:"This is a world first. There are no records anywhere of life inside a TB sanatorium."

What makes this exhibition particularly poignant is that the majority of the photographs were taken by the children and teenagers themselves.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Brecon library -ex-patients

Well, here we are - four ex-patients at the opening of the Brecon exhibition.

They are ( from left to right)

Ann Shaw, Roy Harry, Mary Watkins and Rosemary Davies.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Brecon exhibition opens

Chris Price, chief librarian (standing) with (left to right) Malcolm Shaw, Dr Carole Reeves, and staff members.

The Mayor of Brecon, Rosemary Evans with Dr Carole Reeves, Ann Shaw and Councillor Michael Gittins

Dr Carole Reeves, Outreach Historian with The Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine, University College London opened the exhibition today.

In her opening remarks she said:
"Madam Mayor (Rosemary Evans, Mayor of Brecon Town), Councillor Michael Gittins, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for coming to the opening of this exhibition of 120 photographs taken mostly by the patients who were in the Adelina Patti Hospital, otherwise known as Craig-y-nos Castle, between its opening in 1922 and closure in 1959. The project to collect these pictures along with stories of the people who took them was begun less than a year ago by Ann Shaw, an artist and writer, and herself a patient for 4 years between 1950 and 1954."

A single white rose...officials and ex-patients were presented with a white rose by Edna Walters, former chair and President of the Brecon and Radnor Conservative Association.
(from left to right) Dr Carole Reeves, the Mayor of Brecon, Rosemary Evans, Councillor Michael Gittins and four ex-patients- Ann Shaw, Roy Harry, Mary Watkins and Rosemary Davies

Edna Walters made presentation of white roses

" At the end of last year, Ann visited Craig-y-nos to discover that no records existed of its time as a TB sanatorium, and so began her search for 'The Lost Children of Craig-y-nos' and an attempt to reconstruct 40 years of missing Welsh history. Small articles in the local papers and the BBC Mid-Wales community website tapped into the collective memory of a whole community, of people with stories waiting to be told, many of whom had never before spoken of their experiences. I include myself in this because I grew up in a family from the Rhondda Valley for whom TB was the unmentionable but who were amongst its many victims. "

Ex-patients Roy Harry and Rosemary Davies chatting to visitors

"We are recording the memories of many of the people you'll see in the photographs. It will be the first ever collective account by patients and staff of life inside a TB sanatorium and is therefore a unique heritage project. Photographs continue to pour in. The project now has over 1000 plus other memorabilia. "

Rosemary and Mary enjoy a quiet chat before the official opening

"There's no doubt that the project would never have come this far in such a short time without the internet. Ann's daily blog keeps the world up-to-date with the project and has captured the imagination of the computer literate children and grand children of 'The Children of Craig-y-nos'. Those of you who visited 'The Children of Craig-y-nos' exhibition at Ystradgynlais in September will find much that is new here, and we would like to thank Chris Price, Jan Holmes and their colleagues here at Brecon Library for offering to host this new substantial exhibition."

"The team" Malcolm Shaw, Dr Carole Reeves and Ann Shaw

"It has been curated by Ann Shaw but I must pay tribute to Malcolm Shaw whose technical skills at converting Box Brownie en-prints (2"x2") to the exhibition quality pictures around the walls is quite extraordinary.
Please enjoy this exhibition, take away the free books and postcards, and tell all your friends to visit over the next few weeks."

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Missing photographs

We have identified 9 missing photos. They include one of Langford, the porter, Horace Batts with his Rolls Royce, Dorothy Johnson, Mary Jones, Christine Thornton and several photos of staff including one of Nurse Davies and Staff Marsh and one of Olive Davies.

How these got "lost" remains a mystery.

Brecon Library - preparation of exhibition

Well, Dr Carole Reeves and Malcolm have just finished putting the exhibition of 120 photographs up this afternoon while I did some frantic publicity around Brecon. We discovered to our horror that if any publicity had been done it was not obvious to us. It was a cousin of mine who alerted me to the situation last night. She said she had seen/heard nothing about the exhibition.

Hence the rush to put up some posters.

I gave out 26 posters to a variety of venues from Brecon musuem and Brecon theatre to the Town Council building and Brecon and Radnor Express office ( and yes they promise they will send along Holly, a young reporter, tomorrow morning for the official opening and no they had not got it in their diary but they agreed to put it into the news diary for tomorrow).

All the shops were very welcoming and were more than happy to take a poster. In each shop it was the same story. Mention Craig-y-nos and the response was:" My mother/sister/auntie/ cousing was there or I know someone who worked there."

Yet again I am reminded that this photographic project touches the heart of the community because there is hardly a family in this part of rural Wales that was not in some way affected by "the white plague" either directly or indirectly.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Miss Annie Reese is another member of staff remembered with affection. Her kind, mild manner was much appreciated by the children, many of whom feared the nurses.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Brecon library - exhibition

Well, here we are in Brecon Library and a pretty impressive building it is, something of an architectural gem, so I am surprised to learn that it has been open for forty years.

The upstairs exhibition space is enormous, light, airy, spacious. And the staff are very friendly and helpful.

Now for the bad news.
And we have got some really bad news. In fact since we touched down in Cardiff airport last night it has been nothing but a series of minor disasters.

British Midlands lost our luggage and they are still trying to trace it. That is bad enough but it contained Malcolm, my husband, heart medication including the essential warfarin.

So, to cut a long story short we ended up in Neville Hall hospital, Abergavenny last night for nearly four hours while we went through a bureaucratic maze which entailed him having a blood test and sending for the oncall pharmacist to come all the way either from Cardiff or Usk, nobody could be certain where exactly he was coming from but it would take him a good hour to get to Abergavenny. Oh yes, they did have warfarin up in the wards but it was "against the rules" for him to have an emergency tablet.

This morning Dr Carole Reeves unpacked the exhibition which had come up from Ystradgynlais and when we checked the contents against the new set of captions she had made in London we found that 10 per cent of the exhibition is missing....this includes a surprising number of former staff members from Craig-y-nos.

Well, the exhibition in the Welfare Hall was not invigilated so we were naive not to expect some loss.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Christine Bennett -(1954-57) photos

Christine ( left) with Barbara, Ward 2 balcony, 1955

This slideshow is based on Christine Perry 's ( nee Bennett) amazing photographic record of her time in Craig-y-nos from 1954 - 57 on Ward 2 balcony.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Brecon exhibition: staff at Craig-y-nos - 1955

These photos of staff form part of the forthcoming exhibition in Brecon Library which opens next Friday morning.
Unfortunately we do not have any names so if you know of any of the people in these photos please contact me:

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Betty Thomas ( nee Dowdle) 1941. Age 20

Betty, from Swansea,arriving at the Patients Reunion with her niece Gaye

“I’m eighty-six and I’m in quite good health, I’m a bit slower than I used to be but I’m still driving," says Betty.

Getting sent to Craig-y-nos in 1941
I was supposed to go up to Denbigh (sanatorium), which was two hundred miles away in north Wales, but my mum asked at that time, ‘Is there anywhere nearer?’ The doctor said he’d try and get me into Craig-y-nos, but there were five hundred on the waiting list. Well, it was rampant in those days then, a real killer.
I went with my boyfriend (later my husband) to the Empire Building (Swansea) to a show the night before I went in .

Memory of Craig-y-nos is so vivid
Each time that I talk about Craig-y-nos I’m there, do you know what I mean? When I went up there first and I had to lay on my back. The first day that I wasn’t allowed to do anything, I counted the squares on the ceiling.

The treatment
When I got in the next day I had complete bed-rest for three weeks.
I wasn’t allowed to pick up a cup or anything. I went in on the 13th August and I was there until the following February. The only treatment I had was fourteen gold injections because it was all experimental then.

TB was all “hush-hush”
No one would tell you any details of where, why or what was happening to you, or where you had the TB. I knew it was on my lungs but it all seemed to be hush-hush. We weren’t told in those days about those things. She said, ‘If one lung was bad and it pressed on the good lung, then it would spread again,’ so you could understand that but three solid weeks. And I wasn’t allowed to hold a book or read.
The children
Yes, we used to go to the (Adelina Patti) theatre to a film show and the only time that we knew there were children was when we passed through the rose garden at the front. You could hear them. You never saw any children, ever.

We used to hear stories from the nurses how the children used to cry and cry because they had to leave a nurse and go with these strangers – their parents.

Then, on the balcony at that time were adults and some of them were in plaster from chest down, that sort of thing, but no one was allowed to speak to anyone. There was no communication. I used to go out for a walk when I was allowed but we all had to keep very much to ourselves.

Regime in Ward 4
In the wards we were ten. Ward 4 was divided into two, with offices and rooms just between the two wards, ten beds in each. We were not allowed to go to anyone’s bed to talk. When we had promotion, as I called it, from bed-rest and we were allowed to go to the toilet once a day at first, we had to pass the beds at the bottom but we weren’t allowed to stop to speak. They were very, very strict but they had their reasons for that.

The food – maggots in the porridge
Well, the first morning that I got there, the girl in the next bed to me said, ‘Be careful about your porridge.’
So the porridge came and I looked at her because everybody was new (to me), and there were maggots in the porridge. So I put them at the side when I found what it was. She didn’t say what it was, and I left it. And the sister that was there, very strict but very kind, she asked me why I hadn’t eaten my breakfast and she said, ‘You eat it and put them (maggots) alongside’, so we used to take the maggots out and then … well, it was
wartime and food was very scarce with rations.

Carole Reeves:Did you have maggots every day in your porridge?
Well, you had to look for them. It could have come in a sack or something. Oats, you know, or whatever. But we always had to look through the porridge. It most probably was that particular time but I was warned when I went in. We used to laugh about it.

Trolleys for the dead
In one of the letters again (on Ann’s blog), they were saying that the screen used to go (round the bed) and trolleys (taking people who had died away). Well, that was going on all the time. We’d know, not so much in the ward, but they’d be put in side wards and then you’d hear the trolleys going, so I identified a lot with what was said in some of those letters.

Wireless on loud covering removal of dead bodies
Of course there was no wireless on in Craig-y-nos but sister always put it on very loud when any wheels had to go or someone had to be taken out. The wireless would always go on, so that was another clue that someone was going, you know. But we never knew, really, who it was because we weren’t in connection with the other ward or the side wards. We weren’t allowed to see or talk or anything.

“Would you like chicken?”
Sometimes a bed would be moved out of the ward and go into a side ward. You knew that was the next step because one of the patient there, Lorraine her name was, she was so ill, and she said, ‘Now, if they come and move you into the side ward, you know ...’ There was always … not a joke but a lightness about it as well, ‘… you know you’re on your way out.’ Or, she said, ‘If they come and ask you, what would you like to eat? Would you like chicken? You know that you’re on your way out.’

And I passed her bed as I was going to the toilet one day, and I did stop. We weren’t supposed to but you’d have a look, you know, to see how things were, and she said, ‘Aren’t they kind here. They asked me today would I like chicken.’ But she didn’t realise.
You didn’t see a lot of people always crying. People used to be quiet of an evening. If you saw someone that was all cuddled down after supper instead of talking, no one would say, ‘Oh, what’s the matter?’ They’d look at one another and say, ‘It’s OK,’ especially if you were new there, ‘It’s alright, just leave her. She’ll be alright in the morning.’ The crying used to go on, not loud, but of course, people (were sad) … the two married ones had children and they couldn’t see their children. They didn’t see their children.

“I was the only one that survived”
’ But I can’t ever think that I was afraid or thought, ‘Am I going to die?’ or something like that. So whether I buried it, I don’t know. I might have. It didn’t affect me because there was sadness about the things there, and I suppose, yes. There was companionship in the wards but so many people died.
Out of the ten people that I was with there in seven months, I was the only one who survived out of that little group that we had.

People went home and we kept in touch, they died a year after, two years after. Yes, I was the only one who survived.

You weren’t allowed papers.
You weren’t allowed to read a book. It wasn’t that you weren’t allowed to read, you weren’t allowed to hold a book.
It was total rest. I had fourteen gold injections.

I used to write letters every day when I was able to sit up in bed.

I remember writing once to my father and saying I wanted to come home. Could I come home, I was so unhappy there. And he wrote back and he said, ‘I’m very sorry my dear, but you’ve got to stay.’ So I stayed.

Swans on the lake
There were two swans on the lake,Peter and Wendy.
And one died.
And the cry from that remaining swan! They mate for life, don’t they?
But the cry through the night and everything. I heard that.

And it was an awful cry.

Separate walks for men and women
The men used to go down over the little bridge and into an island with all rhododendrons on it. That was the men’s walk. The women’s walk was along the path and round the lake, and never the twain should meet.

“We were not allowed to mingle”
We were kept very much to ourselves. I mean, even when I used to go for a walk up around the lake.

I saw in one of the photographs (on Ann’s blog) that someone was in a boat, but there was nothing like that when we were there.

I started off with a five-minute walk that was in front of Ward 2 on a path (between) two statues (stags). Two and a half minutes there, two and a half minutes back, and then I had to go back in.
There were another ten beds in the top wards but we weren’t allowed to mingle. We weren’t allowed to get together. Most of my time was spent bed-to-bed talking.

Visit to the dentist
I had two front teeth up the top and he drilled out the decay, filled it with cotton wool and oil of cloves, and he never came back .
I had this gaping hole for a long time. No, he never came back. Well, he never came back to see me anyway.

Hair washing not allowed
Do you know, we weren’t allowed to wash our hair.
I was there nearly seven months and I never washed my hair. I used to brush it and I used to put a little drop of water on it and brush it.

People were afraid of catching TB from you
The fear that people had when you were around although the disease was dormant, or whatever. You always had to have your own handkerchief. I wore a little white bag with a strap round my neck with number 81 on it and 81 on my handkerchief, and I had to wear it the bag always, like a gas mask, in Craig-y-nos.

Yes, I was numbered and my handkerchief was like a man’s handkerchief, and it was numbered so that you had your own handkerchiefs back.

Procedure when visiting a doctor
They were very, very strict, and when you went to the doctor to be examined, there was a certain routine. You turned your head … I do it now if I go (to the doctor), automatically. One doctor said, ‘I can see where you’ve been.’
BT: Well, you always had to have your handkerchief out, turn your head to the side, and while they examined your right side you’d turn it to the left (and vice versa). And when they asked you to cough, it was in your handkerchief, and you always had to turn your head away. Never face a doctor.

Hospital visiting rules
The rule was the same visitor could not come two days running: either Saturday or Sunday, not twice.
Though it was wartime, there was no food allowed to be brought in, only sweets and they were on coupons.

Walking in th grounds
When I got to the walks and I got up to two forty-minute walks a day, I was allowed … I used to go on my own … I used to go down and walk past a river, beautiful in the spring. I think it’s the River Tawe, you know, the beginning, bubbling over. It was lovely. I’d walk over to the lake and once round the lake, and back. I always went on my own. There was no one else.
the other patients were all at different stages. No, I never went in twos or anything. Of course, we were very friendly in the ward. We all knew about one another, there used to be a lot of laughter there and we made our own fun.

Wet beds
I remember the beds getting wet. I called the nurse one night because all windows were open, and it was wintertime and the snow was blowing in, and my bed was getting wet. So I rang the bell and this little nurse came in. She’d only been on nights a couple of nights, and I said, ‘Please will you close the window.’ ‘It’s not allowed,’ she said. She brought me in a thick canvas and she put that over the bed till the morning.
I used to have a cup of water at the side, and in the morning that would be frozen.

Hot water bottle for visitors
I used to get a hot water bottle or whether my mum brought it up, I’m not sure, and she would hold that to try and keep warm.

Ice-cream twice a week
The only joy that we had at that time, we had beautiful ice cream twice a week but you know what that was? That was the American soldiers that were over here at that time.

Birds in the ward
And the birds going right through the ward. We’d have breakfast in the morning … of course no trolleys over the bed then, you had to balance a tray. Margaret, the girl in the next bed, said, ‘Put your knees up, put a piece of your bread on your knee and don’t move.’ I was in the top bed (by the window) and there’d be robins and everything, and they’d fly and they’d come and take the bread and fly back to the table to eat, and we had lights over the bed … a little arm thing and a light. When the birds would get up there, she said, ‘You’d better duck.’ To avoid the droppings. But there were terrible screams going on one day in the side ward. We said, ‘What on earth is that?’ And the nurse said, ‘It’s alright, it’s alright.’ There was a bird in the side ward and of course there was a thing about birds where there was sickness. If the birds come in, well, that was it, you know.

Getting engaged
I got engaged in July before I went away (to Craig-y-nos), not knowing if I’d be back or not. My father took Ted, my husband (my boyfriend then), into the front room and he was there an hour spelling it all out to him how, maybe, when I came back that he didn’t want me hurt in any way because it’s a long time to go away for fourteen months, and wartime as it was. Anyway, we got engaged, and I went in on 13th August.

Forgotten memories
Reading all the things on Ann’s blog last night, brought back a lot of memories that I had forgotten and really, when I think about it now, I didn’t go to sleep till about a quarter to three, not that it worried me but I was thinking a lot about it, There’s a lot of sadness. I think there was a lot about me that was hidden, do you know what I mean?

TB – unemployable
I couldn’t work when I came out although I was quite well, no one would employ you if you said that you had TB. That was it.

The fear of TB with friends
There was one person … we chummed up and we used to go to the pictures together.

She used to come up to our house and have tea one week after the pictures, and I would go and have tea with her. And one day, I got up there. Her mother was there. I thought she seemed a bit strange, a little bit different, you know. This still must have been wartime or the end of the war, and I got up there and we had a cup of tea, and I had a different cup, saucer and plate to the other two. Of course, nothing was said but I knew what was between us then. She’d found out that a few years ago I’d come out of a sanatorium.

Visits to the Swansea TB clinic
I had to go down and ask permission,if I could I wash my hair, and I asked permission if I could get married. It was very, very strict.

Fear among villagers
Even in Llanybyther Sanatorium … we had more freedom there and worked hard. We had to walk up the road but not down towards the village. But this one (person) that I became friendly with, she died when she was thirty. She was from Treorchy in the Rhondda. Anyway, we went down to pick some blackberries and the people were coming up (from the village) and they had their handkerchiefs over their mouths as we passed.

Leaving the hospital
Of course, you could leave the hospital anytime but if you did, no one bothered with you. If you went to the clinic, they wouldn’t bother with you because you took your own discharge.

My faith has helped me
Oh, I think about what happened often. I’ve got quite a good outlook on life. I have a strong faith. I go to a United Reformed Church after my husband died in May 2003, the Good Lord has given me contentment because I’m quite happy to be in my home. I’m able to do things, to look after myself although things take longer than they used to. I can look back over the time but I don’t dwell on it

We’ve always got choices, everybody has got choices. You can either sit here now and have a pity party or you can get up and do something.”

This is an extract from an oral recording Betty Eunice Thomas (née Dowdle) gave to Dr Carole Reeves, Outreach Historian with The Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine, University College London.

anonymous said...
I am Betty's great neice now living in Australia, my mother sent me the link to the blog. It is wonderful to read Auntie Bett's memories of a time so distant to us now, I wouldn't have thought to ask. I am so proud of my aunt and her strength, attitude and faith. Really thought provoking. Lisa

Friday, November 16, 2007

Vera Blewett (nee Paris) 1942-45

Christmas in Craig-y-nos. Vera in her cot

Going into Craig-y-nos in 1942

"My father was away fighting and my mother had died from TB, and then obviously they found that I, too, had it, and then I was in Craig-y-nos for, I understand, a year and eight months. But as a very small child, I would say two to three-years-old. I just don’t know.
My mum died March ’42. … I was born in December ’40.

I was institutionalised for a year and eight months instead of being with a family. That has an effect on you for the rest of your life.

The family secret
It was many years later that I found out that the mother I had wasn’t my real mother.

I was about, seventeen.
My real mother had died in March ’42 and my father had remarried.

Part of the story really is that within a few months of my finding out this big family secret, my father died.

So, any thoughts I might have had of talking to my father about things when I was little and my mother, I never had an opportunity. I think I found out about it in the spring of 1957 and my father died in November 1957. So, again, you know, I’ve had nobody to talk to. This is why I responded,( to the article in the South Wales Evening Post) thinking I might find out something, but I didn’t know what I might find out.

Time in Craig-y-nos
I was there a year and eight months. Somebody must have told me that, and do you know, I don’t know if that’s true.
That is what I was told. Obviously, I couldn’t refer back to my mother because she died anyway before I went there, and it wasn’t until I was sixteen, seventeen that I found out that the mother I had wasn’t, in fact, my real mother. So, I’ve never been able to talk to anybody about it.

Return to Craig-y-nos “we don’t talk about that”
Many years ago I went to Craig-y-nos with a group of people.
We ended up there for tea. And I talked to somebody there and said I was a child there and what he told me, and I can understand it, they don’t want to talk about that, you know. That is when it was a sanatorium and it’s as if they’ve swept it under the carpet. They don’t want to talk about it.

I was on the premises and I thought, well, I spent a year and eight months of my life here. Perhaps there’d be some photographs hidden away that I could have a look at, but the man I spoke to, said:, ‘No, we don’t talk about that.’ It’s as if that was in the past and not very nice to talk about and that was it.

The photographs
Now, a very dear friend of mine, I was showing them to her, and she’s a retired nurse, and when I showed her the photographs, she said to me, ‘I know that nurse. She used to work in Swansea General Hospital,’ because I live in Swansea.

And she knew her.
This nurse that was in Swansea General Hospital had also been in Craig-y-nos, and she was holding me actually, I think, in the photograph.

Singing hymns
I’m told that when I came out of hospital, the thing I loved doing most was sitting on the stairs singing hymns. Now, this nurse that my friend pointed out, apparently, was very religious. So there’s no doubt that whilst I was in Craig-y-nos, she obviously taught us hymns.

Another connection
My dear friend pointed out another nurse, who was in the photograph, and that was her mother’s best friend. Now, I thought that was amazing. And here was I, Ann and I, great friends, and her mother’s best friend must have nursed me as a child.
The local newspaper
A little fluke is the fact that I got in touch. I saw a little notice in my local newspaper. Now, I don’t take the local newspaper ever, but somebody must have given me that copy, and you know how it is, you read anything. They gave it to me and I spotted that little item and that is how I responded. If that hadn’t been given to me, I wouldn’t have known about it.

Searching for my past
I don’t know what I was hoping when I responded to the appeal in the newspaper. It’s something in my very distant past. I mean I’m sixty-six now, sixty-seven at the end of the year, and it’s a part of my life when I was very young that I really know nothing about.

Only memories of Craig-y-nos
I have only three very small memories of my time at Craig y Nos. I didn’t mention them to you at the time because I felt they were too insignificant, but as they are the only memories I have, I will share them with you.

1. Being told by another child that my ‘mother’ had come to see me. This would have been my stepmother of course. I have no recollection of her visit.
2. Some excitement about a concert? Someone (a doctor?) was going to make a violin sound like a cat. No memory of ‘the concert’.
3. Coming out of Craig y Nos and seeing sheep on the hillside opposite. I don’t remember anything about the journey home.

The affect of the Craig-y-nos experience on my life
When we talked earlier, you asked me whether the experience of being in hospital affected me later in life. I didn’t want to discuss it at the time but I have to admit that it probably did. I could probably sum it up simply by saying that:-

I have always craved affection.
Family has been all-important to me.
I don’t find it easy to be ‘touchy-feely’ (My two grandchildren in Kent are an exception).

I divorced my husband many years ago and I’ve got two daughters but they live away from Swansea. One lives in Cyprus and one is in Kent.

Vera Blewett ( nee Paris) would love to make contact with either staff or former patients from the early 1940’s.
If you would like to contact me then I will pass the details on to Vera. e-mail:

This is an edited account of an oral recording given by Vera Blewett to
Dr Carole Reeves, Outreach Historian with The Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine, University College London.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Valerie Brent, ex-nurse Craig-y-nos, 1940's

Valerie Brent

Valerie Brent, former nurse at Craig-y-nos during the 1940’s and author of Life isn’t all kiwi and oranges, rang to say she met up for coffee with two ex patients in the Dolphin hotel in Swansea.

They were Mary Richard's ( nee Driscoll) and Vera Blewett ( nee Paris).

Vera was admitted as an 18 month old toddler in 1942.

She was in the Glass Conservatory but before Valerie Brent’s time (1945-47).

However she was keen to find out from Valerie what it would have been like for her to have been in Craig-y-nos as a toddler.

Her own mother died of TB before she came out and her father was away in the war. He subsequently remarried and she did not learn until she was 17 years of age that her stepmother was not in fact her real mother.

Now she is anxious to try and piece together her own early history.

Valerie was able to paint a picture of life in the Glass Conservatory during the 1940’s.

Valerie told her how the sweetie tin would be handed around three times a day after each meal, how the nurses would have singsongs in the ward with the children: ”The sun has got its hat on” and “Its a hap..happy day.”

Most of the children would be kept in cots and most would be tied to the bed: ”You had to otherwise they would get out.” Every so often though a nurse would unloosen the restraints and play with a child.

“But you were not allowed to leave a child untied alone, so it would only be for a short time.”

She remember two and three year olds “having little tantrums”.

Gastric lavages were carried out on children in the Glass Conservatory starting from about around three years of age.

Valerie recalls:
“ You had to watch your fingers because the children would bite you.”

Valerie recently took two visitors up to see Craig-y-nos Castle.
“They made us welcome and gave us a free cup of coffee.

Vera Blewett ( nee Paris) would love to make contact with either staff or former patients from the early 1940’s.
If you would like to contact me then I will pass the details on to Vera. e-mail:

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Craig-y-nos: Inside-Outside

Christine with her birthday cake on the balcony

An e-mail from Christine Bennett reminds me that patients memories of Craig-y-nos covered the whole spectrum of experiences and depended very much not only on age and year but also on the ward.

Those, like Christine, who were there on the balcony in the late 1950’s, have happy memories.

Christine says:

"I know that my almost four years there were, by and large, happy years.
I know that being a teenager, & a post-streptomycin patient, probably made all the difference to my positive memories of Craig y Nos.”

This contrasts sharply with many of the painful stories we have heard, most pre-streptromycin.

But some have been amazingly stoical accounts of children having endured what in retrospect seem primitive treatments and procedures, a sign perhaps of the resilience of children and the power of the human spirit to survive often in bleak circumstances.

Craig-y-nos Castle viewed from the lake

Those who have come forward and volunteered their stories are the survivors. Inevitably they are a self-selected group.

We know nothing of the stories of those who died there or were sent home to die.

Nor do we know anything about the children who were abandoned at Craig-y-nos. For this dark story is only now beginning to emerge.

I know from my own time there of two such children, both had TB meningitis and their brains were affected, and their parents had stopped visiting.

Another curious fact : hardly any girl from within Ward 2, either on the teenage ward on the first floor or the childrens ward on floor 2 have come forward to be interviewed.
Most of the stories are from girls who were "on the balcony".

Ward 2 had 36 beds of which around 7 were on the balcony. That leaves 29 girls unaccounted for.

Why the silence from the girls indoors?

Meanwhile plenty of young women have come forward from the Annexe and Six-Bedder wards with a fair sprinkling from Ward 1 and the Glass Conservatory.

The reason for this is unclear. Perhaps someone can come up with an explanation.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

May Bennett ( nee Snell)- mid 1950's

May posing on the balcony of Ward 2. (mid 1950’s)

This is one of 40 new photographs to be seen for the first time in public next week when the exhibition opens in Brecon Library on Friday November 23rd.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Staff - Craig-y-nos 1960

This is the last official photo of staff at Craig-y-nos before it closed in 1960.
The question is: who are they?

Brian Jones, whose parents worked there, has offered the following names:

front row: first 6 not known, then Dr Huppert, Matron Knox-Thomas, Dr Ivor Williams, Sister Powell, next 6 not known, Edgar Davies (head gardener)

2nd row: John Barrows (engineer), Mrs Getta Hibbert (nurse), next 18 not known

3rd row: John Heavens (porter), next 17 not known

4th row: Cliff Bannister (porter), next 14 not known, David Richards (chauffeur), Jack Walters (painter)
Back row: Ken Lewis (job?), not known, Arthur Hales (gardener), Daniel John Price (gardener), a painter, next 6 not known

If you know any of the people I would be most grateful if you could let me have their names.
Thanks!- email:

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Mary Davies (nee Morris) - return to Craig-y-nos

Please be patient with this video clip- it's got a slow start but gets better!

Mary Davies ( nee Morris) returned for the first time to Craig-y-nos Castle after leaving it as a child in 1951.

She had travelled all the way from Rhayader, the other side of Brecon, to attend the Patients Reunion - and she was the first to arrive!

And she was alone.

It was an emotional journey.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Staff at Craig-y-nos

It was not unusual for more than one member of a family to work at Craig-y-nos since this was the main source of employment in the area.

The son of one such couple, Brian Jones, recently emailed me to say:

"My father was engineer at the hospital 1946-60, my mother was an orderly, I think, for much of that period. Dad appears in the Harry Secombe photo (looking round the door), Mum is in the Rachel photo posted 10 Oct 07.

Mrs Jones, Brian's mother, giving Rachel a wash

Harry Secombe with members of staff

Brian says:
"A story which seems amusing now but must have been a disappointment for the children at the time is that my father was in charge of the annual 5 November firework display. On one occasion, just after the show had started, a spark landed in the fireworks box and that was the spectacular but localised end of that.

Another is that a play was put on in the theatre in which my mother read the future from a crystal ball in the flickering light of a small flame. My father was in charge of the lighting and thought it would be more atmospheric if he cut the lights. Apparently it was but my mother could no longer read her crib notes. Things were a bit frosty when they got home.”

Brian is able to identify the gardeners in this photo sent in by Margaret Howells.
They are (left to right) Arthur Hales, Edgar Davies and Les Brown.

He is also able to identify one of the nurses in this
1950s photo taken by the stag (posted 8 May 2007),

“Sister Powell is second from the left, I think.”

If anyone can identify the others please let me know:

Friday, November 09, 2007

Mary, Ann and Caroline - 1950

Mary , Ann and Caroline

How about this for coincidences....
I met up for coffee yesterday in Scotland with two women who had connections to Craig-y-nos.
Both live not far from my home in Bridge-of-Allan.
Molly Beechey is a mere ten minutes away in Blairlogie and Caroline Boyce about twenty minutes in Yetts o' Muckart.

Now the chances of 3 women living on the edge of the Scottish Highlands having connections with Craig-y-nos are pretty slim. Caroline and I were in there together in 1950 and Molly had been sent on two occasions to Craig-y-nos for x-rays because they suspected TB. She lived in Ystradgynlais where her father was the manager of a big estate in the area.

Then it got really weird for it turned out that Molly had taught Caroline at Dorset Occupational Therapy College in Oxford .
Caroline said:” I thought Molly looked familiar...”

Oh yes and my dog, Miles, goes on his holidays, when we are away , to the family who live next-door to Caroline. She knew Miles before we met up earlier this year for the first time in over 50 years...

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Comments - BBC web-site

Here are some recent comments on the
BBC Mid- Wales

Deborah Oxley, Knaresborough
I have been delving into my family's history and knew nothing of the children with TB in these hospitals until today. My relatives (Lily and Winnie Bendelow) were in the Marguerite Hepton at Thorp Arch. Winnie had her lung removed there, and, like you, feel there should be a record of this time. I wish you well with your book and feel it would be worth extending to include Thorp Arch, especially as there seems to be a link with children being moved from the one hospital to the other. Keep on, Ann.
Sun Nov 4 19:16:59 2007

Linda Merritt
I am also interested in the life of children in hospital in the 1950s although not in this particular area. I have heard several heartbreaking stories and I too believe there is a book waiting to be written. Thank you for the opportunity to see other stories.
Thu Oct 25 13:01:27 200

Craigynos and the History of Medicine site

It is good to see our stories have found their way on to the History of Medicine site.

Click on the following link.
History of Medicine site

Lumps and TB

Several people have mentioned to me that they had lumps on their body before TB was finally diagnosed.

What caused them and were they a precursor to TB?

Dr Carole Reeves, Medical Historian, says:

“ It could be erythema nodosum. This is not how TB starts but may be symptomatic of an underlying infectious disease such as TB.

Obviously, in the days when TB was much more prevalent than now, it would probably have been amont the first things that GP's thought of when they saw erythema nodosum.”

For those who want more information go to:
erythema nodosum

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Peter Wagstaffe, age 6, 1940-45

Peter with his mother on a cold winter's visiting day - hence the balaclava.

Life in a splint
I went in when I was a six-year-old in 1940 and I was there until 1945 – five and a half years. I had TB in the hip so a lot of the time I was on a splint with the two legs apart and straps across the chest and you could only move your head and arms really. I was a lot of the time like that.

Games on the balcony
We made our own fun when I was there. We seemed to get on alright. Of course, the visiting was only once a month. I was on the balcony most of the time – well, all the time really, apart from a fortnight over Christmas when they’d bring us in. If it rained or snowed they’d put macs over the beds.

We used to make our own games up. There were a lot of us in a row in beds on the balcony and we used to play what we called cricket. We’d have a book on one locker and that was the wicket, and we’d have a patient about three beds away with big ball of newspaper rolled up on a string. He’d bowl the ball to us and try to hit the wicket, and if we could hit it (the length of) four beds, it was four runs, and six beds it was six runs. We’d have a game of cricket like that. The girls up above used to lead strings down with notes on for us, and we’d send notes up to them.

Peter is in the centre of the photo with his grandmother on Swansea beach.

Trip to the seaside

I can remember one instance in that five and a half years when they had a bus and those that couldn’t walk they carried onto the bus, and took us down to Swansea beach for the day. I only remember it happening once all the time I was there. Our parents got to know about it and they were all down the beach waiting for us.

Arrival of Dr Huppert
There was a doctor that came there after I’d been there about five years, Dr Huppert. I think she was Austrian.
She walked with a limp herself. As soon as she came, she said, ‘Get him up, get him up.’ Then we (the children with TB hips) were up and we were home in about six months.
Yes, I wonder how long I’d have been there if she hadn’t come.
She got us out of bed and walking again, and in about six months we were all going home. I had to go back after I’d been home about six months to a year, and they locked my hip (arthrodesis) for some reason. I don’t know why they did it and I haven’t been able to bend it then since I was twelve-years-old.

I’ve got a nasty curvature of the spine and so on. I couldn’t bend the hip from the age of twelve and I had a calliper on when I came out of Craig-y-nos on the one leg. You had to swing that leg because you couldn’t bend the hip.

Peter is the one in the first bed. The big lad in front is Roy Fitzgerald from Cardiff.

Craig-y-nos food
It was pretty good. There were certain things like lumpy porridge which we didn’t get on with very well! We used to wrap that up sometimes in newspaper and throw it across the veranda into the bushes (laughs) – one way of getting rid of it.

There were two teachers there and we had sums and things like that in the morning, and in the afternoon we’d do handicrafts like putting tops on stools and things like that – raffia work.
I did miss out slightly on education, and when I came home, I stayed in school for an extra year and then I did a three-year course in night school at a college in Neath.

Another thing I can remember is that the boys who could get up and walk – they used to walk around the grounds – they had fishing lines brought up by their parents, and they’d lay night lines in the river going through the grounds. Then they’d go down in the morning and the fish (they’d caught) at the end of the lines they’d bring back and the staff would cook them for the patients who were pretty ill.
I don’t think I ever saw the girls walking around the grounds. I can’t remember anyway.

Some people have said that they were aware of children around them dying. Can you remember this?
Oh yes, I saw quite a few who didn’t last, and there were a few people that were on the balcony with me that died. One boy was covered in abscesses all over him. He went home but died .

Any other memories of Craig-y-nos?
One evening there were a few American soldiers walking around the grounds and we all shouted, ‘Have you got any gum chum?’ They said, ‘We’ll be back tomorrow night,’ and they did come back with sweets, chocolates and gum. They were from Sennybridge, I think.

Do you think that being in Craig-y-nos had a long-term effect on you, perhaps psychologically?
I wouldn’t say that. I was upset of course when I went in, with my parents leaving me and so on, but you soon got used to all the staff and patients there. We had to make our own fun.

Did you have problems adjusting to being home?
All I can remember is that it was lovely, beautiful.

After being all that time in hospital, I worked forty years with the Health Service in the Treasurer’s Department. I was in Neath but the last eight years I was in Swansea. They moved us down to Swansea to centralise us.

Carole Reeves in telephone interview with Peter Wagstaffe

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Jean Berry 1948

" I remember Barbara Pye..."

It is unusual to come across anyone who has spent less than a year in Craig-y-nos so I was amazed yesterday to talk to a woman who was in for only ten weeks, especially as this was in 1948.

Jean Berry from Clydach recalls her short time there in the Annexe:
“I was 19 years of age at the time and had just got married. They thought I had TB because I had lost so much weight but in fact I didn't have it. What had happened was that my father had got electrocuted, he was an electrician's mate in the local power station. This had caused me to go into shock and loose so much weight they thought I had TB.”

When she got into Craig-y-nos and had a tomogram they discovered she didn't have the disease.

She remembers Barbara Pye from her brief stay in Craig-y-nos: ”She was very glamorous. I have still got a drawing she did of my leg!”

Jean, who will be 80 in three weeks time, has one strong memory of her time there and that is of Sister Outram.
“She caught me filing my nails on a Sunday and I got told off.
She said: ”Sunday is God’s day and you must not do anything.”

Monday, November 05, 2007

Girls on the balcony - early 1950's (from left to right front row) Jeanette Wakeham and Mary Davies
Back row - unknown

It is almost a year since I began this blog.

It has been a time of constant surprises, of unearthed memories, some vague others vivid and a number painful.

Take this weekend for example. I got a call last night from Marlene Hopkins in California.
She was in Craig-y-nos in the early 1950’s.

She was going through her diaries and she found several entries relating to an "Ann Rumsey from Ty-Llangenny, is that you?"

“Yes, that's me.“
I was curious to know what she had written about me she is going to photocopy the pages and send them on.

An hour later I get a call from Valerie Brent, author and retired nurse from Mumbles, our roving reporter, and Ambassador for the Children of Craig-y-nos project.

She had just spent some time with an ex patient in his 70’s who had broken down twice and cried as he told her of his early experiences in Craig-y-nos as a child.

And that has been one of the most startling discoveries in this journey to uncover the lost story of "The Children of Craig-y-nos". Many have never spoken about their experiences before and when they do start to talk it brings up uncomfortable memories.

I had never expected to tap into repressed grief from over half a century ago - yet this is what I am finding. Inevitably each case involves very young children.

Another photo arrives on email. How many girls do you recognize? It was taken on the girls balcony early 1950's and sent in by Mary Davies.

Oh yes Marlene in California had already viewed the video clip of the presentation to Glenys Davies which I put up on the net a few hours ago.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Video clip- presentation to Nurse Glenys Davies

Mary Williams and Nurse Glenys Davies

Now in her 80's Nurse Glenys Davies worked at Craig-y-nos throughout her nursing career of over thirty years. At the recent Patients Reunion she was presented with a bouquet by Mary Williams from Hereford.

Mary had been admitted as a teenager and she was within weeks of death. But thanks to streptomycin she made a full recovery.

Mary says of her time there:
"I remember Nurse Glenys Davied washing my hair and she used to set lovely waves in it for me. I was very fond of "Auntie Maggie" she was Auntie Mag to everyone. She used to like sharing our sweets.
"When I stop and think, there wee many pleasant things there. I certainly would not be here today if it were not for Craig-y-nos hospital."

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Ann Shaw ( nee Rumsey) -1953: Snow on the balcony

The tarpaulins are in place, rigged up over the three remaining beds on the balcony for the rest of the girls have been moved indoors

The thermometer, hung over the railings, hovers around 29F.

My bed look like a little igloo. But getting to it is the difficult bit. I’ve got to paddle through a couple of inches of snow in my slippers. I get wet feet.

I climb into my little “tent” and put the slippers to dry in the locker. Or will they freeze?

All day I had been feeling a bit peculiar, bit feverish. So I do not complain about the weather, just glad to get into bed.

That night I vomit in the snow. It freezes. ( And I remember feeling puzzled and a bit indignant that nobody cleared the mess up.)

The following day I have a temperature and I am given two big white tablets to swallow.
But it has stopped snowing and the sun is shining.

I am faced with a choice: either stay in bed, alone and cold all day or venture outside.

So I go for a walk in the snow.

( Nothing is said. Or done. Eventually the snow thaws and the vomit melts away.)

Postscript : The “Craig-y-nos experience” and the Outer Hebrides

Many years later I am on an assignment with a photographer to a remote island in the Outer Hebrides in midwinter.

We stay in the one and only place that offers accommodation which optimistically called itself an hotel, though in reality it's a rambling old house with a couple of spare bedrooms which the owner, always eager to make a few pounds, lets out to unsuspecting visitors who happen to stray this far off the UK coastline. ( Next stop America.)

The photographer and I ( separate bedrooms) woke the following morning to find ice on the inside of our windows and our breath visible.
We have three hours to wait for our flight back to the mainland so I suggest we walk briskly along the beach.

The photographer, more at home in snug Glasgow bars, is appalled at the idea .
But he quickly sees my reasoning. The alternative is to sit and freeze indoors.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Lil Lorraine Jones 1951-52

Bring on the dancing girls!

With the opening of the exhibition in Brecon library on Friday November 23rd only three weeks away we have been very busy printing the final set of photos.

This is one from the new collection of 40 to be shown for the first time to the public. It includes this one sent in by Ann Blake, from Brecon, a niece of Lil Lorraine Jones who was in Craig-y-nos from 1951-52.

Lil Lorraine is the third girl from the left.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Christie and Craig-y-nos

Dr Carole Reeves, Outreach Historian

One rumour circulating in the Swansea Valley for over half a century is that John Christie, serial killer and necrophiliac of 10 Rillington Place fame- worked in Craig-y-nos during the 1940’s.

But there is no evidence that John Christie ever visited Wales, let alone worked there, says Dr Carole Reeves, Outreach History with The Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine University College London.

Her research in the National Archives in Kew produced exhaustive material on every minutiae of Christie’s life, even down to every visit he made to the doctor which he did frequently because he was a hypochondriac.

So how did such an extraordinary story originate in the first place?
Well, there was a man working at Craig-y-nos during the 1940s called Mr Christie.
He did have a northern accent, and he was something of an odd ball character, a man who kept himself to himself.

But that’s where the similarities end. If true it would have been one of the most sensational horror stories of the century. So, unless anyone can produce some startling new facts the “Christie and Craig-y-nos” story will forever remain an urban myth, an example of how half a story grows legs and becomes rooted in local history.

Orderlies in Craig-y-nos (1950s)

Children often regarded the orderlies as surrogate mothers for they were less strict and intimidating than the nurses.