Monday, 27 August 2007

My old demon

I've not been back to St Mary's hospital since the day it closed in 1994. I hate the place. Like any Victorian asylum its walls exude memories of abuse of the vulnerable. Spend long enough working in one of them and it'll get the better of you. Not places to hang around in.

Today I had some time to myself having dropped off the family at a kids party, so I decided to exorcise some old demons and revisit it. Of course I brought along my camera to record how the old asylum has gone to seed;

The back door to Ashley House, an Acute Admission ward and my first placement as an 18yr old student. I wrote about these experiences way back in March this year.

The Day Room in Ashley. I remember standing next to this very sink talking to Maureen (now deceased) who was suffering from tactile hallucinations of wires in her face. She seemed to be in a lot of pain as they held her mouth shut. Mind, I'll admit to being a little amused as she had to talk through tightly pursed lips. It made her look like a frog.

A spider's web across the window of Ashley House dining room.

Nature taking back what is rightfully hers.

Throughout the grounds of St Mary's you'll find these blue gazebos. They were the financial hubs of patients' lives. In the hospital real money was scarce and tobacco was the currency. I remember on at least three occasions catching female patients prostituting themselves in these huts for meagre payments of two or three fags. It was truly distressing to witness.

A rotting gazebo pillar.

The dormitory of ward two in the main hospital building. Notice the curtain runners delineating the bed spaces. This room slept thirty when I worked there. Before that, old staff told stories of putting patients to bed one at a time, then pushing their beds together so there was perhaps no more than three inches between them. That way each ward could sleep more than sixty patients. With three staff to care for them during the day. Ahh, the good old days eh?

The light dripping through Wd 2 day room windows. I wonder how many hours patients spent staring at these shadows.

Not a sign you'd see these days. Smoking was one of the few pleasures for staff as well as patients. Back when I smoked habitually I used them as a therapeutic tool. "Come on Dave, don't get angry, why don't we share a fag eh?". It frequently worked wonders.

The observation window of Wd 16 behind which staff would hide and peer at the mad people. Occasionally they would write something down to keep the management quiet.

A peer through a cracked door into a single 'bedroom'. Each ward had four or so of them. This is where patients were often 'constant obbed' if they were at risk or violent. So I use 'bedroom' in the loosest sense of the word. Perhaps a 'seclusion room' would be more fitting.

Never was I more demoralised when I was hauled into the manager's office one day for talking to a patient whilst constanting him.

It's kind of fitting really. The hospital was designed to keep people in. Now wood and nails are used to keep them out.

The cricket pavilion clock, now timeless without hands. During my years there I never saw this building, or its pitch used.

It's forever Christmas now on the roof of an old 'Back Ward'. A place where patients with no hope, or having become too ugly and demented, were secreted from the rest of the hospital populace, sometimes never to be seen again.

Room 1a in the School of Nursing where I did the best part of my training. I usually sat in the far right corner. Many a fertile mind was deadened in St Mary's so it's nice to see that the school is now verdant.

So to the chapel, the spiritual centre of the hospital. I've never been inside I'll admit, but I chuckled at the graffiti - "May the force be with you."

The door to the student accommodation. I've never been so depressed than when I lived there. In fact, I told you about it when writing my top ten tracks. Number six I remember.

Above the door to the digs.

The outward facing dormitory of Maple End - another Acute Admission ward where I did my final three month management placement. I remember this room well, in fact it features in my first ever short story which I posted back in may this year.

This photo chills me to the core. The ECT suite was the only place in St Mary's that smelt like a real hospital. It was cleansed each day and reeked of detergent. I remember its bright fluorescent lights and spotless floors. ECT was still in regular use even back then. Whilst muscle relaxants dulled the patients' fits it was still an inexact science. Or perhaps our anesthetist was just incompetent. Anyway, I was witness to some horrific fits. Now, I'm ambivalent about ECT as I've seen it work wonders on desperately depressed patients. However, it's a barbaric treatment and it efficacy is still not fully understood.

To add to my disturbance, this used to be the psycho-surgery department where countless people were lobotomised. It is truly a house of horrors.

An oddly beautiful coat hanger sculpture in Wear Villa's toilet. This was a 'Rehabilitation' ward where patients were taught how to take their tablets like good people and shop for pot noodles.

A power switch in the Estates Department. Not a place I often frequented, save to drop of a faulty radio or lamp.

So finally to the morgue where many had died long before they'd even got there. I remember clearly these scuffed crosses in the paint on the inside of the window panes. I always felt that they cheapened the lives of the patients; graffiti symbols, made carelessly, reflecting the worthlessness of the bodies that lay within it.

So, I've done it and finally gone back. I doubt I'll return.


A Boy and His Camera said...

Haunting photos. thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

We remember well the day we took you and your worldly possessions up to this place Scott. This was the time you had well and truly left us for good, of on your own tour of the world to discover for yourself the niceties and horrors of the same.

We left you, we didn’t want to, but we had to and we cried a little at the side of the road on the way home when we released you.

Anonymous said...

I lived next to St Mary's Hospital, in 'The Villas', for most of my life and saw the final years of closure and decline. From 1990 until 2005 I was there, but I still go back to see my parents three times a year and still love the grounds.
When I was a kid I didn't know about the variety, and danger I suppose, of the patients. I think ward 7 was one of the worst. That's what my mum and gran said anyway. They first moved there in the 60's and my gran was a ward sister, then my mum was a nurse. Very strange for them going back I'm sure.

The whole hospital will be going soon and the plans for development are through. I just hope they don't mess the grounds up and knock too many trees down, or put too many houses up. Nature is beautiful there, and running with my dogs is the best.

jamon said...

Hiya Matthew - it's likely I'll know of your parents.

I spent some time on ward seven as a student nurse. Whilst it could be hairy from time to time, I'm sure the mythology & reputation of the place was more scary than the reality ;)

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