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My childhood experience in the 1950s

Brighton General Hospital
©Tony Mould: images copyright protected

Two months isolation

When I was nine or ten, in the late 1950s, I was rushed to Brighton General Hospital and there diagnosed with rheumatic fever – a disorder almost never seen in this country any more. I was, of course, admitted to the children’s ward but what this looked like, I was only to find out a couple of months afterwards. For those two months I was in isolation, in a side room. I was also on ‘complete bed rest’, something that almost never happens anymore. I was allowed to do nothing. I was fed and had to have drinks through a feeding cup with a spout. There was no television but I was rigged up with a contraption that allowed me to read books by turning over the pages via a lever under my chin. After two months, I was transferred into the main ward.

Bleak and dimly lit

In those days, almost all hospital wards were of the Nightingale variety – two long rows of beds on either side of the ward. The ward was a bleak place, dimly lit,  only made pleasant by some of the kinder nurses. All nurses wore the full ‘nurse’s uniform’ of the time, including a white, folded cap and, when qualified, a belt with a silver buckle. All of this was very impractical and not very hygienic. I am glad that many nurses now wear the equivalent of operating theatre ‘scrubs’.

Do you remember being admitted here? Share your memories by posting a comment below

A reassuring prescence

The ward was very long and very narrow. I have often wondered what those wards were used for when the hospital had been a workhouse. To my young and untutored eye, it still seemed a very grim place. At night, the nurse in charge sat at a desk, in the middle of the ward, with a low wattage bulb in a dark lampshade as her only source of light. It was slightly spooky but also very reassuring to know that someone was looking after you. 

Like an army camp

Sister Fox ruled over Brighton General’s children’s ward. She treated the children well enough and was clearly instrumental in helping them to get better. However, she was almost unbearably strict with the other nurses. I saw students cry after Sister Fox had accused them of breaking one of her rules. The whole ward was run like an army camp. Bed wheels all had to face in the same direction – away from the door. Nurses always gave way to doctors, whatever the situation.

The good old days?

Ten years later, I trained as both a psychiatric and a general nurse. By then, most of the ‘strictness’ had been diluted. After forty years in nursing and nurse education, I still do not understand why ward sisters ever needed to be so hard on everyone. I am sure that some readers will look back at these conditions and consider them ‘the good old days’. In my experience, though, wards are better run by senior and junior nurses who respect each other. On the other hand…I must have learned something from Brighton General Hospital’s children’s ward. It was, in its own, odd, way, the place that shaped my future career. I retired, a few years ago, as a Professor of Nursing. 

Comments about this page

  • I suggest that who ever looks at this page goes to all the other pages associated with the BGH and also the nurses reunion pages.There is so much about the hospital to be seen.

    By Ken Ross (28/07/2015)
  • I recognize the description of the old style wards. We need to get back to those ‘good old days’ if you ask me. More discipline and cleanliness, not to mention a ruthless matron to keep the nurses in order, as well as the doctors and consultants. When I had my tonsils out we were forced to eat sharp flakes before being released. It makes a man of you, and who would complain about having ‘Babs’ Windsor leaning over you in an old-style nurses kit! Carry on like the 1950s is my strong recommendation for a better NHS.

    By Stefan Bremner-Morris (29/07/2015)
  • I was in the General in 1954 for a period of nne months and remember Sister Fox well. I also remember the two staff nurses on the ward I was in, C2.  They were Nurse Palmer and Nurse Bradford. As I was nine years old at the time, they will sadly be no longer with us.

    By Derek Ost (29/07/2015)
  • I was a nine year old boarder at Steyning Grammar School in 1939 when I got a bit unwell, Scarlet Fever? and ended up in the sick room then onto to what I recall was called the Sanitorium? in Kemp Town for some weeks where I managed to get Mumps too (isolation!). It was just as recalled in the previous stories. A bit bleak, nurses formal and rank concious as said, but very kind and friendly.Don’t know who paid  for what pre-war. Now in Australia, since 1956 from when I left the R.A.F. time ex’ in Malaya. Like to see the place again.

    By Robert Ashley (Bob) (08/06/2018)
  • In April 1949, I was born here, I don’t remember it, of course. I do know that my mother had a bad time giving birth and that I was in need of medical help. I was cared for and survived and my mum met me at four days old for the first time. Years later, my mum was a long-stay patient when her health failed. Again, the hospital staff prevailed and she went on to return home and live for several years more. I never knew that it was once a workhouse. I wonder if it’s haunted?

    By Maureen (06/08/2020)

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