Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Dr Carole Reeves article

Click on the following link to read Dr Carole Reeves article on "The Children of Craig-y-nos" in the current issue of Opticon, London University College's online magazine:
opticom1826/current issue

"Gang of girls" - Ward 2, 1952-53

Imagine my surprise to open a letter from Barbara O'Connell ( nee Paines) that contained a list of all the girls she knew in Ward 2 during her time there as a teenager - 25!

Scanning down the names starting from Jean Shakeshaft to Tegwen was like seeing ghosts from the past jump out at me.

I have yet to speak to Barbara to clarify that this includes all the balcony girls too.

Also, Barbara has written a full account of her experiences, typed up by her granddaughter, which confirm the stories of other teenagers around that time: providing you were not that ill, and were not in for long then the chances are that you have fond memories of your time there.

"I did enjoy my stay at the hospital because our ward was one big happy family."

Barbara has photocopied some of her photos,( including two of myself which I had never seen before!) but for technical reasons I can't use them. Hopefully Barbara will be able to email them to me so that I can put them up on the blog, along with her account of her time there.

Incidentally, if you have ever visited the Ward 2,, now derelict, you will wonder, as I did, how on earth they managed to cram 20 odd beds in there. Yes, I know we were close, but that close?...

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Relative- Ann Morris

Rachel (known as “Ray”) went into Craig-y-nos in 1951.

“My mother was reluctant to talk about her time in Craig-y-nos” - Ann Morris, daughter of Rachel Lewis.

How did children feel about their mothers being sent away?

Ann Morris was eight years of age when her mother, Rachel Lewis, went into Craig-y-nos.

“She went in as a very, thin smart woman. Ten months later she came out weighing 15 stone! She looked as if she had been blown up.

I said” That’s not my mother!”
And she burst out crying. She was very upset.”

Her memories of her mother’s time away are “sketchy”. She recalls her mother, who was in her early 30s, referring to her time in Craig-y-nos as “part of one big family “ though she was unhappy about leaving her own family behind for such a long time. Ann was the only child.

She knows that her mother received streptomycin and recalls that people were amazed at the speed of her recovery.
( Her mother only died recently at age 87 years and enjoyed excellent health throughout her life).

Prior to going into Craig-y-nos her mother was in bed at home for five months.
”I was not allowed to go in and visit her and, of course, while she was in hospital I never saw her,” says Ann.

While her mother seemed to have enjoyed her stay in Craig-y-nos she was very reluctant to talk about it and she would reprimand Ann if she ever mentioned to anyone that she had TB.
“She would get quite upset if I ever talked about it. I got the impression that it was a taboo subject.”

Monday, April 28, 2008

Who is this man?...1951-52

This photo comes from the collection of Ann Morris whose mother, Rachel Lewis, was in Craig-y-nos for 18 months from 1951.

Ann was only eight years of age at the time and she doesn't know the names of many people in the photos.

What is unusual about this photo is that it is a rare one of a man in Craig-y-nos! especially an affluent looking gentleman like this.

If you know his name, or the staff supporting him, please let me

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Dulcie Oltersdorf August 1948-August 1949

Dulcie enjoying time on the lake

Dulcie, age 21, on Craig-y-nos:

"I was quite comfortable in there. I went in three days before my 21st birthday. I had to lie flat on my back and do nothing. That was the treatment. Well, after three months I had an x-ray and they said you will have to lie on your back for another three months, maybe six months. I was determined that I would get better and if that was the treatment then I would do it! "

Saturday, April 26, 2008

TB - still taboo?

Met up with some old friends yesterday who had heard on the grapevine that I was involved in “some medical project” to do with Wales.
I wondered why they kept talking about psychiatric hospitals and conditions in Scottish hospital until it dawned on me that they thought Craig-y-nos had been a psychiatric hospital.

“No, TB”.
Their faces froze. There was an embarrassed silence, just a few seconds. And the subject got changed.

I wonder if other people have had similar reactions?
Is it because there is still some collective memory that TB is still taboo ?

Or is it because it is now OK to talk about mental health problems but not a disease that was close to leprosy and the plague in the public mind.

(Well, it confirmed my initial intuition all those years ago that I was right when I left Wales to keep this dark secret of Craig-y-nos safely under wraps).

Friday, April 25, 2008

"Flowers of the Fairest"- Irish book

By one of the strangest coincidences ever the daughter of a close neighbour in Wales, whom I had met only once and that was over 40 years ago in Iceland, emailed me last night to say that she had been into the Wellcome Institute in London and picked up some brochures and found Dr Carole Reeves article on the "Children of Craig-y-nos" project.

Now...wait for it. A friend of hers has written a book about her own experiences with TB in Dublin during the 1940's.

The book is called ""Flowers of the Fairest" by Rosemary Conry ( published by Brandon).
This is a resume of it - taken from the Amazon web book-site:


Set in north Dublin against a background of strict social and religious mores, wartime restrictions and fearsome medical practice, their story is memorably and movingly told by Rosemary Conry.

Rich in pathos and humour, it is a story of survival and even triumph over the cruelty of their fate.

Pauline is a frail, saintly child, an orphan with no home to go to but trusting that a lovely place will be found for her, when the time comes. Eileen, a lively, red-haired girl from a large, poor family down the country, lies on a spinal frame, bent backwards so that her view of the world is upside down.
Rose-Mary, from quite a well-off Dublin southside family, lies on a hip frame between Pauline and Eileen, exerting power over them both because she owns a magnificent doll and has regular visits from her father. The relationships between the three girls are subtly and movingly described, providing the core of this remarkable book.

But there are other memorable figures: Sister Finbar, the powerful authority figure, who keeps a watchful, loving eye on them all, keeping the children's spirits up with small rewards, reminding them of their privileged position in the eyes of God; Wastras, the vehemently anti-British schoolteacher, and Kathleen, the nosiest of the patients: when she is sent home to die, the three companions accept that however awful she was in life, she has now become an angel, wearing a crown of golden roses."

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Winnie Gardiner (nee Gammon) 1927-32

Winnie spent 5 years in Craig-y-nos as a child and she never had TB

This photograph has just come in and it shows Winnie as a child in Craig-y-nos. She went in as a 9 month old toddler and came out just after her fifth birthday, on calipers.

At the time they believed she had TB of the stomach but it was not until she was 60 years of age that her true condition was finally diagnosed: celiac disease, an allergy to gluten.

Read a full account of her time in Craig-y-nos in my blog on the 7th January blog 2008.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Cwl Cymru and Dr Huppert

Dr Huppert...not on the list of medical refugees in Wales

Suddenly Wales is cool.

Who says so? Well, “The Times”newspaper yesterday and they ask : How did this happen?

Well, some of us have known for the best part of ten years that there was a Welsh Renaissance taking place. Tony Jones, ( North Wales) former Head of Glasgow School of Art, now President of the School of the Art Institute in Chicago made a documentary nine years ago on this very theme.

Now the recent musical and sporting successes have merely brought brought this to the attention of the English.

Lets hope that part of this new found confidence will extend to acknowledging the past , and filling in those lost bits of Welsh history - like “the children of Craig-y-nos” which until now have been quietly erased from the collective cultural memory.

Even Dr Huppert is not on the official records of Medical Refugees in Wales!

This is something that Dr Carole Reeves, Outreach Historian with The Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine, University College London has discovered.

She says:

"I recently met up with Professor Paul Weindling, Wellcome Trust Research
Professor in the History of Medicine, Oxford Brookes University. He has
worked extensively on European Medical Refugees in Great Britain, 1930s to
50s. This research is based on a database of nearly 4800 medical refugees,
as well as textual archives held in the Centre for Health, Medicine and
Society at Oxford Brookes. The aim is to evaluate the place of the refugees
in the overall context of the modernisation of British medicine. The records
cover medical researchers, medical practitioners, dental surgeons,
psychoanalysts, psychologists, nurses, and all other health-related
occupations. Children are included who came as refugees to the UK.

I asked him if he could find out anything about Dr Hubbard (Huppert) other
than what I'd managed to glean from the Medical Directories of the 1940s and
1950s. I also sent him some of her images for identification purposes. I've
just received his reply:

"Dear Carole, I am really very grateful for the information about Dr
Huppert. In contrast to some other medical refugees I know very little about

I know that she was naturalised in 1947 (there is a certificate at the
National Archives) and that she died in 1973. Maybe there is a death
certificate. Some medical refugees have an Aliens file at Kew.

I also do not know when she came to the UK. I do not think there is a
property expropriation document in Vienna either.

The paper that I published with Pam is:

'Medical Refugees in Wales 1930s-50s', Pamela Michael and Charles Webster
(eds), Health and Society in Twentieth Century Wales (Cardiff: University of
Wales Press, 2006), 183-200.

But I missed Dr Huppert."

Dr Reeves adds:
“Seems like Dr Hubbard was able to 'get lost' in Wales! I just checked the
National Archives online catalogue and found an entry for M P Huppert (her
name was Margaret Pauline) in the Home Office Naturalisation files. It gives
her date of birth as 16 August 1893, and covers the period 1938 to 1947. The
file is closed under the 100 year ruling but might be able to be accessed
under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. I'll see if this is possible. “

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Roy Harry, age three and a half years (1945-1946)

Roy Harry (first left) partly hidden under Sister's cloak.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the Craig-y-nos project is that ex- child patients discover photographs of themselves which they had never seen before. They suddenly appear in the albums of other children.

Such is the case with this one of Roy Harry. Peter Wagstaffe rang him up the other day to say that he thought that was Roy in a photo he has in his album. Sure enough it is.

Roy says:" I was amazed to see it. I never knew it existed."

But who are the other people in this photograph? if you know their names please email:

Monday, April 21, 2008

Christine Bennet and the Girl Guides

Christine Bennett ( 1st on the left, back row with the flag) with member of the 1st Craig-y-nos( Adelina Patti Hospital) Company.

Nurse Glenys Davies remembers an incident with Christine and the Girl Guide flag:

One of the hospital secretaries – she again was an ex-patient – Ina Hopkins, same as Euryl (another medical secretary who was an ex-patient) came on the staff and she took the Guides (Ina was the captain of the Guide group). They were able eventually to go out amongst the local people and they had their flag blessed in the Abercrave church.

Christine Bennett was a Guide and I always remember that she was carrying the standard and Sister Morgan was always worried about the clock outside the door. ‘Watch that clock, watch that clock!’
Poor Christine was so worked up and down it comes, oh dear, dear. The end of the world! It was only a clock anyway."

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Ann Davies and Pam Nichols in their Girl Guide uniforms on Ward 2 balcony. ( from Christine Bennett's collection).

In 2010 The Girl Guide Association will celebrate their 100th anniversary and Helena Thomas, Girl Guide archivist for Cymru hopes to add a contribution about the 1st Craigynos (Adelina Patti Hospital) Company to show how they worked with girls in the sanatorium.
So if you have any all photos of guiding activities in Craig-y-nos please let me

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Girl Guides- Craig-y-nos

girls having a barbecue on the balcony organised by the Girl Guides

Remember the Girl Guides?
I was a member briefly when the group re-started early in 1953 and I can still tie the knots I was taught then.

Yesterday I got a phone call from Helena Thomas, Girl Guide archivist for Cymru, who lives in Ystradgynlais and- yes you have guessed!- was a Guide at Craig-y-nos!
Her memory of the place is that it was “very cold”.

Girls practise the Guide salute. Mair Edwards (in bed) . Names of other girls unknown.

Here’s a brief history of the 1st Craig-y-Nos (Adelaide Patti Hospital) Company supplied by Helena.

Registered 09.11.1934
09.11.1934 Capt Miss D. Baker     
09.11.1934 Lieut. Miss O Copley                 
08.08.1935 Lieut. Miss V. Morris-Williams      
06.07.1936 Capt. Miss V. Morris- Williams     
13.12 1938 Capt. Miss Amy Evans.
1947 Unit disbanded.
reregistered March 1953 by the District Commissioner at that time the late Miss Elizabeth Morgan. The Captain was Mrs. Ina Hopkins. (hospital secretary)

1957 the Unit was closed.

Some of the Girl Guides who used to visit Craig-y-nos( names unknown)

The Company Colours of the 1st Craig-y-Nos (Adelaide Patti Hospital) Company were Layed Up at a special service in Abercrave Parish church on
Sunday 23 February 1992.

The service was lead by Rev. Desmond Evans.
Usually it is a sad time to Lay Up a Company colour but in this instance we are all glad that there is no need now to have a Guide company at Craig-y-Nos due to the improved living conditions and health care we enjoy today.
Miss Thomas thanked the Rev. Evans for accepting the Colours into the Church and the Parishioners of Abercrave for looking after it.

At the service Miss Helena Thomas, County Commissioner for Breconshire said that as a Guide she had accompanied Mrs. Jean Jones, Guider at that time of the 1st Ystradgynlais Company to meetings at the hospital.  It was always very cold as the windows were kept wide open during the summer and winter. The girls were always cheerful and enjoyed their guiding activities.   (Information supplied by Helena Thomas).

If you recognize any names in the above photos please
or ring (01786) 832287.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Agnes Holden - Craig-y-nos 1941-1942 (died)

Agnes Holden sent this birthday card to her daughter , Ruth, while in Craig-y-nos

“It was like a foreign country” -
daughter Ruth.

Octogenarian Ruth Greenow contacted me. She wanted to share memories of her mother who died in Craig-y-nos in August 1942, and even today she still feels troubled by recollections of that cold, bleak, castle where her mother ended her days surrounded by people who spoke a language she didn't understand while at the same time subjected to the strict sanatorium regime.

Agnes Holden with her husband

For her mother came from a farm near Glasbury, Hay-on-Wye and she had never travelled any distance except to Hereford to the market and once she went to Devon and she saw the sea.

So it was that I called in to see Ruth Greenow in Llowes, near Hay-on-Wye. After providing me with a delicious selection of home baked cakes and tea this sprightly 86 year old produced a box of her mother’s Craig-y-nos memorabilia including postcards, autograph album and photos.

“I was 20 when my mother went into Craig-y-nos in 1941. The doctor in Hay had been treating her for gallstones and she had TB of the spine.
We asked how long she would be in hospital and were told at least one year.
We had a car so we drove to Craig-y-nos.”

She remembers that long journey over the Brecon Beacons, across mountains, which seemed to go on forever until they came to the castle.

They little knew what lay ahead of them. As well as the trauma of being diagnosed with TB at a time when the disease was incurable and diagnosis was often a death sentence, she was taken from the countryside, which she knew and loved and placed in an environment that was totally alien to her.

“It was like a foreign country,” said Ruth.

“Mother had to lie flat on her back, complete bed rest. She was in Adelina Patti’s bedroom. The staff and patients would talk in Welsh and ignore her. She would lie there not understanding a word that was said.
The Matron, a tall, thin woman, was not nice to my mother, but to me she would appear to be pleasant.
I remember that.

I used to visit every Sunday, weather permitting. I found it very depressing, not a welcoming place at all. Mother was very unhappy there though she never complained. But I could tell.

“I had the shivers every time I went there. I felt terrible. The atmosphere was awful.”
“It was so dark and gloomy.”
I used to hate going there.”

Amongst her mother’s treasured memorabilia Ruth still has her mother’s autograph album. It contains a number of poignant entries.

Here’s one reference to World War 2:

There’s even one entry from Nurse Davies (would this be the Nurse Glenys Davies? we have no way of knowing)

It contains a lock of brown hair carefully held in place by a pin.

It says:
“You asked me for something original
Something right out of my head
But as I have nothing inside it
I’d give you something outside instead.
Nurse Davies

Another entry expresses hope:
“Now the golden sun is setting
And the earth no more be trod
May your name in gold be written
In the autograph of God.”

A speedy recovery
Joan Synnock

Sadly, Agnes died shortly afterwards.
The undertaker brought her home, over the Brecon Beacons again, in a trailer shaped like a coffin.

At her funeral the minister described her as
as one of “nature’s ladies”.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Streptomycin - Dr Carole Reeves, Outreach Historian

Barbara Pye ...had stretomycin in 1947

It has become apparent that many people knew little about the treatment they received as children or the nature of the drugs.

In co-authoring "The Children of Craig-y-nos" book Dr Carole Reeves, Outreach medical historian with The Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine, will fill in these missing gaps.

Here's a taster for those who have wondered about streptromycin, the first ever life saving drug for TB.

"Streptomycin wasn't available anywhere until 1946, having been discovered by an American soil biologist, Selman Waksman, in 1943. The drug was very expensive and the British government were unable to import much of it into the country. I believe the bulk amount was 50 kg. As a result, there was only enough to treat a few patients with tuberculosis so the Medical Research Council devised a fair trial whereby some patients received streptomycin and bed-rest whilst another group received bed-rest only. Bed-rest being the standard treatment for TB.

One hundred and seven patients were enrolled into the trial - 55 received streptomycin (the treated group) and 52 received bed-rest only (the control group). The trial began in January 1947. This means that officially, nobody in Britain received the antibiotic before that date. Since there was a black market for streptomycin, some wealthy individuals may have been able to import it from America, but not those in a government-funded sanatorium."

We know that Barbara Pye received it in Craig-y-nos in 1947. It is believed she was part of that initial trial.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Pat Jones- missing doll

Occasionally people will ring me with the briefest of information.
It is as if they want to make contact with that part of their past which has been hidden, unspoken about, as to validate this time in their lives.

Patricia, age 60, from Neath was there as a toddler and can only remember one incident.
: "My mother bought me a beautiful doll and it was taken off me. It just vanished.”

Nearly 60 years later she remembers - and wants to talk about it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Ghosts in the computers?

I have had a typist helping me transcribe some of the tapes and I got an e-mail from her the other day apologising for the delay but she had been having some “trouble with her computer.

I thought nothing of it at the time.
Don't we all have “trouble with the computer” from time to time? except yesterday I had an unusually bad dose of “troubles” - a` morning writing up an interview and giving it two different file names to make it double secure only to find at the end it had suddenly reverted to the original rough notes and I had to start again.

Now Apple gurus tell me this is impossible. That technically you cant "loose" files once they have been saved. Well, I lost 2 file copies yesterday and not for the first time. So when I came across my typist e-mail apologising for the delay I thought I would check to see which interviews she was transcribing and the one that I had been working on. They all shared one thing in common: all were ex patients in Adelina Patti bedroom. as I was writing this an email popped into my letterbox from Craig-y-nos Castle with 3 images which they claim to have captured on their cctv cameras: except they are so blurry I can't make them out and will put that down to bad lighting and an over-active imagination on the part of the participants in the ghost tours.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Pen-friends in Craig-y-nos - Pat and Norma

Pat Hybert ( nee Mogridge) in the "Six-Bedder", 1953

Children in Ward 2 used to write letters to the young women in the “Six-Bedder”, just along the corridor.
They were not allowed to meet up, or even see each other, because of the risk of infection so notes used to pass between these two wards.

Pat Hybert ( nee Mogridge) recalls those days in 1953
“The children used to write letters to us in the Six-Bedder ward. They sort of befriended us.
Yes, everybody had a pen pal.
We couldn’t go in and see, and I remember my husband (as he later became) used to creep round the door to go in and see Norma , the child who used to write to me. And I often think of that. I wonder what happened to her.”

Norma Pearce with Jean Shakeshaft
Well, half a century on Norma Pearce has contacted me in Scotland and I have put them in touch with each other.
So, lets hope this is a story with a happy ending.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

‘Awards for All Wales’ grant - Dr Carole Reeves

Dr. Carole Reeves
‘The Children of Craig-y-nos’ project

Have you seen this article by Dr Carole Reeves which appears on the
BBC Mid-Wales website?

"We are thrilled that “Awards for All Wales” has recognised the importance of this community project by awarding the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine, University College London, £5000.00 to create a print on demand book which will also be freely available as a downloadable pdf file from the Centre's website.

The book, entitled ‘The Children of Craig-y-nos’ will be a permanent memorial to ex-patients and staff, and an important medical and social history of tuberculosis in South Wales. Because the sanatorium records have been destroyed, we are re-constructing forty years of missing Welsh history.

The book will also be the first ever collective history of patient and staff experiences in a tuberculosis sanatorium. The Adelina Patti Hospital (Craig-y-nos Castle) served for nearly forty years (1922-1959) as a tuberculosis sanatorium mainly for children and young women at a time when the incidence and death rate of TB in the industrial areas of South Wales were higher than anywhere else in Britain. The project was begun by artist and writer, Ann Shaw, herself an ex-patient, who will be co-authoring the book with me.

Ann says:" Many people had never spoken about their childhood experiences before and they say they have found it cathartic to be able to talk and write about it for the first time. For children it was a traumatic experience though older teenagers and young adults coped better with the sanatorium regime."

The Craig-y-nos project has come a long way since December 2006 when Ann began her search for patients who shared her childhood memories of this castle-hospital perched on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park. It is not only re-uniting people who shared their formative years in the sanatorium but is opening a community dialogue about the impact of tuberculosis on families in the Swansea valley. The project has collected over a thousand photographs, memorabilia, and seventy-five oral history interviews. There have been two well-attended photographic exhibitions in Ystradgynlais and Brecon, and a 2008 summer exhibition will be held at Swansea Museum. An online exhibition is at ( patient / staff reunion at Craig-y-nos Castle in September 2007 was attended by 120 people, some of whom are actively involved in the project and are passing on their experiences to schools and local interest groups as well as collecting further interviews and memorabilia

Information pours in on a daily basis and the Craig-y-nos blog ( now has over 600 pages of text, images, podcasts and videos. The project will make available an important educational and heritage resource created by the people who experienced it.

In July 2008, I will be presenting the project at the Oral History Society annual conference."

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Marian Thomas (nee John) teenager, 1950s

Marian Thomas (nee John), age 15, (1953-55 ) at the lake with a friend feeding the swans

“ On the whole I have happy memories .” -Marian

”Why has Mr Williams got tears in his eyes?” Marian remembers thinking as Mr Williams, the ambulance driver, and neighbour, drove her to Craig-y-nos.
But he knew I was going to be in for a very long time.”

He was right. Marian, 15 years of age and at grammar school would be there for two years.

“It was a long, long journey up the Swansea valley from Morriston. Then I saw Craig-y-nos and I thought I'd gone to prison. I was a bit fearful."

She was put in Ward 2.
“I asked the girl in the next bed to me how long she had been in and she said “six years.”

I sobbed and sobbed at nights for months.

The girl in the next bed had to lie flat on her back and she couldn't even raise her head to talk to me. The bed was up on blocks.

“There was a time when it seemed we we had nothing but potatoes and gravy.
“We kept asking where’s the meat?’

“Auntie Maggie felt sorry for us and brought us in some chips one day and would you believe it we had chips for supper that night!”

I had not been in Ward 2 long before they talked about Adelina Patti appearing at a special time in the night. Well, one evening the piano started playing. It scared me stiff. We think someone had put Sister Morgan cat on it. It used to come into the ward from time to time. Nobody ever owned up. But it frightened me.”

Eventually Marian was moved into the Six-Bedder:
“ After that I didn't look back.”
Once they held a séance in the Six-Bedder but they frightened themselves so much that they never did it again.

(Marian is surprised to learn that ghost tours operate in the castle and séances still take place in the Six-Bedder, though people now pay to be frightened - whereas they got frightened for free.)

Marian in the snow.
Apart from feeling very cold with the only heating being hot water bottles, she says:
“ On the whole I have happy memories of the place.”

Marian took her 6 O Levels while she was there but the school authorities did not recognize it cause they claimed it had not been properly invigilated.

“It was terrible. I was so disappointed. All my books and satchel were taken away to be decontaminated but I never saw them again.
I was told I would have them when I went home. My father tried to get them but we never did manage it.

It was not to be. You just got to concentrate on getting better and get on with life.”

Marian learning to walk again

Marian went into nursing, working as an auxiliary for more than twenty years.
“I think having had the experience of Craig-y-nos makes you into a more caring person.
Now married with one son and grandson, she realises, looking back that there was:” no psychological or emotional support for the children.”

On leaving Craig-y-nos she remembers crying in the car on the way home and her father smiling and asking her if she wanted to go back but no she didn't want to go back she just felt sad that she was all leaving all her friends behind.

Home was a nice detached house and she had her own bedroom with a big bay window.
“It was a lovely room yet it felt so small after the castle.”

Friday, April 11, 2008

Eileen Gibbons (nee Hill) 1950-54

Eileen befriended the children on the balcony

“I caught TB while working as a nurse”- Eileen

“I was working as a nurse at Bronllys hospital, near Talgarth in 1950. I was 18 years old.

I was very lucky because streptomycin had been just discovered.

But it had a very bad effect on me. I had a fever with it and I was very ill for about two months.
They kept giving it. Dr Williams saved my life because I don’t think I’d have stood much chance without.
I had it in both lungs.

Inside Craig-y-nos
I was on the ground floor. There were three youngsters of my age in the same ward. We used to like music and I suppose we created a bit of a racket.

Dr Williams was wonderful with us, he really was, and he seemed to understand although we were ill. It was a very small room that the three beds were squashed into, and on the balcony outside were children.

I can remember snow and the doors were all open and it all blew in. There were grids underneath the ward and we used to get visitors sometimes running up and down. It was horrible – rats, you know.

On absolute you have to be totally quiet.I was on ‘absolute’ rest for a bit. No visitors. At one time I know that I wasn’t allowed any visitors for some weeks, and it were a Christmas time, and I don’t remember Christmas. I had this streptomycin fever, a very high temperature, and I was very poorly apparently then. But they kept giving it to me and I’m absolutely sure this is what saved your life.

I know it was months before I had my hair washed and I had long hair. Oh, and it was awful.
The nurse used to clean it with eau de cologne.

It was not very good. Not much to tempt your appetite there.
They used to bring eggs and things like that. I used to love farm butter so they used to bring that in.
But you had to be very careful with it and keep it in something because of the rats.

When you are young it doesn’t affect you the same as when you’re older. I never thought about dying or that I was going to die, it never entered my head.

I can remember them telling me that a lady from my home, she used to be a barmaid in the local pub, had died upstairs, and of course, I was asking about her so in the end they had to tell me.
They didn’t explain things to you very well.
There were elderly people in our ward but of course they were partitioned off from us so we never saw that happen.

Passing the time
I did tapestry. I did a lot of that when I was allowed to because you could only do so much. They didn’t want you overdoing it. I had lots and lots of pen friends. I don’t know, you just passed the time. One day runs into another.

Well, I’m 76, so I’ve done really well, I think. The only thing is I lost three little boys. I don’t know whether it was the tuberculosis. Then I had a daughter and they were positive that she was bound to have something wrong with her. I had her by caesarean and I wasn’t well, I seemed to be exhausted then. And they took me to Tupsley Hospital – this is when we came to live in Hereford – and I was in Tupsley Hospital for bed rest and I was too weak after everything to sort of see to myself. A member of my husband’s family took the baby and looked after it and I stayed in hospital for a few months and got back on my feet, and then I had her back then.

But they turned her inside out here because they were positive there was bound to be something (wrong) because I’d had another breakdown from this tuberculosis. But there wasn’t and she went on to have four children.

Well, I fostered. We were foster parents and they’ve all grown up, most of them, and gone away. You know, they all come back. It was ten years before I had my daughter and in that time I fostered. I think that helped a lot.
You always see somebody else worse off than yourself, don’t you?

I come from Hay-on-Wye, right on the border. The book town. That’s where my husband and I were both born and we both went to school together.

Eileen (right) with some friends in the grounds of Craig-y-nos Castle

Running away from Craig-y-nos
(This was a dangerous thing to do because it was common knowledge that if you signed yourself out - or ran away, then the doctors would have nothing to do with you.
In this case Dr Williams ignored this regulation and continued to treat her.)

"I spent many months on bed rest etc., and eventually got on my feet again. I used to sit and watch visitors leave through the courtyard.

One Saturday I walked out with them had a glass of pop in the pub where the Brecon bus picked up passengers and went on the bus to Brecon, and then on to Hay.

Dr Williams saw me at clinic in Brecon and went on treating me with help from my local doctor and nurse.

It was a stupid thing to do but I’d lost my father only a few months before going into Craig-y-nos. He lost a leg and then died suddenly. I was very close to him; he was a wonderful father and friend. I missed him very much. He was 54-years-old."

Thursday, April 10, 2008

First wedding in Adelina Patti theatre - 1948

Thelma Bebell getting ready for her marriage

It was like something out of a romantic Victorian Gothic novel: young girl stricken with TB lying in bed in remote Welsh castle gets up and marries her boyfriend before he goes off to fight in a war.

And the Archbishop of Canterbury issues a special license to allow this to take place.

For twenty year old Thelma Bebell from Swansea did just that in 1948 and it created a national sensation.

Although bedridden she got out of her bed in Ward 1, wearing just her dressing-gown and helped by a nursing sister ( who is this Sister? )
and walked the short distance to the Adelina Patti theatre.

There she married Gordon Poole, age 26, an RAF aircraftsman, at a ceremony attended by relatives and hospital staff .

The ceremony over Thelma was helped back to her bed and Gordon went to Aden.

Several years were to pass before they were able to live together . Yet he did return safely from the war and Thelma recovered and the couple were able finally to start married life together. they moved abroad, to Germany, where he was stationed with the Armed Forces and they had two sons.

And this story of passion and undying love is still retold fondly today in the Swansea valley.

Unfortunately Thelma’s life was cut prematurely short: she died at the early age of 43 years from a brain haemorrhage.

Community kindness

"Craig-y-nos...a neo-Gothic pile"

Throughout the children's stories of their time in Craig-y-nos runs a thread, weaving like gold, of parents dedication to their sick children and the support they got from their own community in their struggle to make the monthly visiting.

- the village that collected all its sweet coupons so that one mother could buy chocolates and biscuits for her daughter. She fed them to her during visiting except the child was promptly sick with so much rich food!

- the parents who cycled throughout all seasons over the Black Mountains from Aberdare to Craig-y-nos, a journey which even today in good weather on modern machines would be a challenge.

-the postman who saw a heavily pregnant woman crying at the bus-stop because she had just missed the connection up the valley to Craig-y-nos and he disobeyed all Post office protocol by stopping and putting her in the back of the van and drove her to the hospital.

- the Swansea newsagent who kept all damaged comics to send to the children at Craig-y-nos.

- the mother that brought a bottle of sea water for her daughter to smell because she so missed the sound and smell of her home village by the sea.

- the mother who could only visit twice a year because she was “on the parish” and that is all they would allow.

In theory Craig-y-nos Castle looked like an ideal place for a sanatorium: a beautiful castle set amongst clean mountain air.

But how did the medical authorities think parents were going to visit? or didn't they care?
Also, was there not an element of Craig-y-nos being used as a “dumping ground” for those whom society were not sure what to do with? Many children have come forward who did not have TB in the first place yet they spent years there.

It is hard not to reach the conclusion that in reality Craig-y-nos was closer to a rat-infested, inaccessible neo Gothic pile, cut off from the community and inappropriate to be used as a children's hospital.

One child, Pam, then aged 8 recalls becoming hysterical after finding a rat in her bed. The night nurse comforted her by saying:”Its Joey, the pet rat from the kitchen. He just wants to say good night to you.”

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Simple acts of kindness

Auntie Maggie with child patient

“There was a doctor at Craig-y-nos with a car which had a dickie seat in the back. He took one of the girls and me to Swansea, and we had ice cream. They weren't going specially for us. They were going to Swansea on business and we had a free ride in the car, me and this little girl, on the dickie seat in the back. (Ted, age 9 1928)

I wonder if this doctor realised that this simple act, to take two children who had been confined to one room in Craig-y-nos Castle for over a year, for a spin in his car would remain imprinted in their minds for the rest of their lives?

Many children recall instances of generosity by some staff members which helped to soften the harsh sanatorium regime.

Two names that recur constantly in all accounts are Nurse Glenys Davies and “Auntie Maggie” or Mrs Williams , an auxiliary nurse.

Nurse Glenys Davies with Muriel

Nurse Glenys Davies is remembered by many for her warmth, kindness and humour.
“She brought in a tv set specially so that I could watch Wimbledon” (Sylvia, teenager, 1950s.)

“Auntie Maggie was really lovely. She used to buy me peppermint toothpaste sometimes because I used to eat my toothpaste.It tasted like sweets." ( Pam, age 7, 1947)

“Aunite Maggie” did all the shopping for the children.
Amongst her many generous acts were the catalogues she brought in so that children could buy Christmas present for their parents.

Marlene Hopkins, a former teenage patient, who trained as a nurse, emigrated to the States and now lives in California summed it up:
“Thank God for Auntie Maggie! She brought some warmth to the place. She was a surrogate mother.”

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Night-time in Craig-y-nos

The memory of being woken in the early hours of the morning by night sister’s torch flashing in my face, while I was still coughing up blood, came back to me with a jolt as I read through children's accounts of those days.

Many children have written about waking up in the morning to find the bed next to them empty.

John, then aged 9, recalls:
“Sometimes the person you had been talking to one day was not there the next day just an empty unmade bed! This happened too many times. It was a scary lesson to learn for someone of a tender age.”

Or June, age 4, who woke morning and put her hand out to touch the girl in the next bed on the veranda to find she was not there and Sister Morgan telling her that she had “gone home in the night because she was missing her mother.

Rosie, age 6:
” I was aware of people dying there. That's why even to this day I don't sleep very well because I was afraid to go to sleep because the nurses used to say oh she died in her sleep. I used to think well I don't want to die and I was afraid to sleep.I was terrified of going to sleep because that is when people died”.

Even into the early 1950s going to sleep remained associated with dying in some patients minds.
Myfwany, a teenager, says:

“My father's brother died in Craig-y-nos as the clock struck midnight.
Well, when it was my turn to go into Craig-y-nos this thought was in my mind and every night it was me fighting to stay awake until that clock had struck midnight. And then I could sleep.”

anonymous said...
i read with interest about being woke early morning in craig y nos but on the top ward it was the night staff putting the lights on that was a thing i forgot until now also my father found it hard to visit me because he had a cousin irene williams who died at craig y nos in 1937
carol hughes [ nee Davies ]

Monday, April 07, 2008

Roy Harry, age three and a half years, - gastric lavage - 1945

Roy Harry

If someone were to ask me what is the worst memory of your life , my thoughts would immediately return to Craig-y-nos, the Adelina Patti hospital during Spring 1945.

There was no cure as such for TB at the time. I know now that lots of strange even bizarre procedures were carried out in an attempt to ease the suffering of those stricken with the killer disease. But the main simple treatment was plenty of food to build up your strength and resistance, and plenty of fresh air.

My mother accompanied me to the hospital, it was a long journey from Cardiff it seemed to take all day I had never travelled so far in my life.

As we entered the hospital I began to fear the worst, up until now it had been a big adventure for me, but this wasn't a trip to the doctors, or to the local clinic.

I could understand the nurse speaking to my mother but two other members of staff a short distance away were speaking in a foreign language. I was in a different country and I felt uneasy.

I know I was ill with something or other but I wasn’t bed ridden, just a bit off colour and a bad cough.

My mother could see I was afraid she was saying things in an attempt to soothe me, by now I was sat on a bed and I could see lots of other people in their beds.
My mothers words meant nothing I couldn't even hear them anymore. I just wanted the medicine or whatever they had to do so we could go back to Cardiff.

A nurse and my mother were trying to explain that they would make me better as soon as they could, my mother had to go home to look after my two brothers, I had to be a good boy.

Now panic set in. I was in floods of tears. I still didn't believe my mother would go and leave me behind. The nurse stayed with me as my mother went through the doors. I screamed for her to comeback. The nurse was doing her best to console me.

Some of my belongings fell from the bed and as the nurse tried to catch them I leapt off the bed and ran for the doors.

I was about half way along the corridor running as fast as I could when I suddenly took off I was swept up into the arms of another nurse with the other one not far behind. I heard the foreign language again and then back at the bed they were speaking in the language we used in Cardiff.

I was sure if I could get away again I could still make it to the yard outside before my mother left.

The nurses resorted to tying me to the bed with some kind of harness. I was in a sitting position but held firmly to the frame of the bed.

Now I was completely distraught. I was crying as I had never cried before, the horror and frustration of being unable to undo the harness, the realisation dawning on me that my mother really had left me there.

I believe I was in a state of shock. I don't remember anything more of that evening or of the following days. I must have accepted my situation I must have made friends there were several boys of my age( I was coming up to 4 years old). and several older boys.

I believe now that children who are separated from their family and from their familiar surroundings go through the initial horror and trauma and then slowly a survival mode kicks in they blank off the life they had and try to replace it seeking out replacements for their family and friends any comfort that will make them feel better and enable them to survive.

When older boys on the ward told me they had been there for 1,2, or 3 years I was shocked beyond belief and must have begun the survival process to make my life better but there was another horror awaiting me.

I didn’t have breakfast this morning, something to do with a test, maybe I could have breakfast later. I thought having a test was someone opening my pyjama top and listening to my chest and my back,.

This was very different, a nurse came to get me . She held my hand we we walked out of Ward 1 along the corridor the same corridor along which I had made my bid for freedom. There were two or three doors along the right side and we went through one of these. I was
sat on a chair facing a window, the door directly behind me.

I was aware of another nurse there doing something with a rubber tube. I think they explained what was about to happen but I don't remember what they said, one nurse was holding me telling me to open my mouth the other one trying to hold my chin down whilst she pushed the tube into my mouth.

This caused me to panic I was so scared I shook my head violently kicked my feet out as hard as I could repeatedly until I was sliding down the seat of the chair.

The tube thing was put aside and I was repositioned in the chair.
They were going to have another go.
between my crying and sobs I was begging them not to do it again. they didn't listen of course so now I was held really firmly, once again the tube entered my mouth I mustered up every ounce of strength to continue my struggle, the tube reached the back of my throat and I heaved as though I would be sick, I had to stop it going down. I bit hard onto the tube which halted its progress.

I could taste tears which had run into my mouth. The nurse in charge of the tube pushing shouted at me not to bite through the tube she said if I bit through it I could die, her words terrified me but I couldn't bring myself to release my grip on it.

I felt the grip on my arms slacken and the one holding me down said :”go and fetch Sister Powell”.

I was crying bitterly I knew it wasn't all over, why were they doing such an awful thing to me? my mother was nowhere near probably a hundred miles away I was on my own.

The end was surprisingly quick. Sister Powell arrived. She was barking rather than talking, :”What’s all this fuss I wont stand for it” - that kind of thing.

Now there were two holders and one formidable tube operator, I didn't stand a chance. The tube went down and I went rigid trembling and shivering from head to toe.

Seconds later it was all over. Soon I was back in my bed in Ward 1.

I was in the Adelina Patti hospital for one and a half years. It did get better. It wasn't all traumatic like my arrival and my first tube torture, in fact most of my memories were happy ones laughing and singing and lots of friends.

I was unfortunate because I went there when I was young but so did hundreds of others , we suffered terrible stress because we didn't understand.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Target TB

Did you know that one person dies of TB every 15 seconds?
-that it costs only £40 for a six month drug treatment to save one life?

Neither did I. Until I heard Felicity Kendal's appeal on behalf of Target TB on BBC4 this morning.

This is a not-for-profit organisation based in Brighton, established in 2003 by the Ryder-Cheshire Foundation.
Target TB gives funding, support and advice to local partner organisations in Southern Africa and South Asia which work directly with impoverished communities affected by TB

Donations: Freepost BBC Radio 4 Appeal. Credit cards: Freephone 0800 404 8144.

This is one charity I will definitely support.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Valerie Brent- talk

Valerie Brent, retired nurse s and author of " Life isn't all kiwi fruit and oranges " will be talking about her time as a children nurse at Craig-y-nos during the 1940s this Monday evening in Oystermouth.

"It is highly probable that there will be people in the audience with connections to Craig-y-nos in the days when it was a childrens sanatorium," says Valerie.
Her talk will be to the MEG group ( Monday Evening Group) of All Saints Church, Oystermouth, Mumbles.

She will be illustrating her talk with an extensive photographic album compiled from childrens photos at the time.
The album has been put together by Dr Carole Reeves Outreach Historian with The Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine, University College London.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Ann and Mari - "ghost in the machine"?

Ann and Mari Jenkins, Ward 2 balcony

This is one of a number of photos before Malcolm, my husband, cleaned it up digitally on the computer. It shows a ghostly white sheet. He assures me there is a very good technical reason why there is this "double image" .
We have another with the image of a man clearly visible above a child's head. Now Malcolm comes from a scientific background ( he was a research chemist) and has already "cleaned up" all these strange photos before I realised what was going on.....
now he is trying to remember how many had double images.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Education and life on the balcony- Ann (1950-54)

Ann and Florence with their astronomy charts

It was Mari Jenkins who reminded me about my early love of nature during our time together on the balcony.

“You used to know the names of all the birds and stars. I was always very impressed,” says Mari the other day.

It’s true. My knowledge of popular culture was nil on arrival at Craig-y-nos ( I had no idea what a pop song was) and remained so, but I had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the teeming wildlife around me, thanks to years spent living out on the balcony with a ringside view of nature. During the day I had all the birds to study and at night the stars. I was literally lying in nature’ laboratory.


Florence shared my interest in astronomy and I often wonder what happened to her.

In Springtime my locker top was a veritable laboratory with big jars of slugs, snails and tadpoles, and even a bell jar given me by one of the orderlies.

But there was no question of sitting the 11 plus, which some children did in Craig-y-nos. For the first couple of years I had been too ill then Miss White made the discovery that I had no formal education .

I had attended Llanbedr village school only intermittently before entering Craig-y-nos as a 9 year old due to endless bouts of pleurisy.

Eventually I did start school: St Michael's Convent Abergavennny, at 14 years of age, the local secondary modern school having been deemed “ too rough”.

I was lucky in that my family could afford to pay the modest school fees otherwise like so many former ex Craig-y-nos I would have gone to the local secondary modern school for a year and left.

My knowledge of natural history and astronomy didn't count. Could I do my tables? No. Because I had no formal schooling in the accepted sense of the word I confused this, and so did my teachers, and family with being stupid, below average intelligence.

School was not easy. LIke so many other former child patients have already commented on, we were always the odd ones out; older than the rest of the children and not allowed to play games or take part in any energetic activity .

So it came as a bombshell when the exam results were announced at the end of my first term in school and everybody, including myself, gasped.
I was top of the class.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Welsh Academy Encyclopedia of Wales

The Welsh Academy Encyclopedia of Wales, just published, makes no reference to Craig-y-nos Castle being used for nearly forty years as a children's TB sanatorium.

It is truly amazing how even such a distinguished academic book as this- published by the University of Wales, price £65- manages to draw a veil over this period of Welsh history.

Yet hundreds, if not thousands of children passed through this building, and many died within it.

Surely it warrants at least a foot-note in the history of Wales?

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Dulcie Oltersdorf 1949

"I was quite comfortable in Craig-y-nos " says Dulcie Oltersdorf.

Now that I am writing up the book it is becoming increasingly obvious that the age of patients in Craig-y-nos related to the kind of experience they had. As a general rule the older they were the more able they were to cope with the sanatorium regime.

Most young adults like Dulcie simply took it in their stride.