Beside the seaside

As the thoughts of many turn to the beach, this month one of our volunteers, Kathryn, tells you more about our hospital’s two historic seaside homes.

The first of these homes were in St Leonard’s-on-Sea. In 1885, the hospital’s Board decided to set up a seaside home for residents to benefit from a short stay in the sea air. A house was rented in St Leonard’s for this purpose and made ready – including the purchase of a piano – for the first residents to stay that summer. Regular groups of six hospital residents then stayed for six weeks at a time, although always in same-sex groups (mixed-sex groups were not acceptable during this period).

The home was considered successful enough for the Board to look for a permanent location, and in 1887, a sea-front house was purchased. Groups of ten residents stayed for six weeks at a time, and later “pensioners” (the hospital’s outpatients) were also able to stay there. A special saloon railway carriage was even adapted by the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway Company to allow patients to travel there regardless of their mobility.

Despite the success of the home, its future was never certain due to issues such as funding and the Board reluctantly agreed to close and sell it in 1901, only 16 years after it had initially opened.

However, the home had been considered a success during the time it was open and so this was not the end of our hospital’s seaside connection! The successor to St Leonard’s home was John Howard House in Brighton. This initially began life as the John Howard’s Convalescent Home, created in 1914 by Sir John Howard, entrepreneur and railway owner. It operated from 1914 to 1947 and was then nationalised as part of the new NHS, before being taken over and renovated by our hospital in 1974.

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John Howard House in Brighton
The home became both a holiday home for short stays or respite care as well as a home for long-term residents. It was set in gardens close to the seafront and had beds for 33 patients, as well as providing a day clinic for outpatients. Some of its long-term residents came to stay at our hospital in Putney for six weeks in the summer for a change of routine, allowing some of the Putney residents to have a holiday by the sea at the same time. Patients could enjoy the sea air from the comfort of the home’s grounds and there were also trips out, sometimes even as far as Dieppe in France.

Sadly the hospital had to close the home in March 1996, because it had become uneconomical to run and required costly renovation to update it to modern standards. But our archives contain some interesting records from both homes, including architectural plans and drawings for John Howard House as well as photographs, leaflets and appeals.

Archive(s) of the month

The latest theme of #ExploreYourArchive is #Animals and our hospital certainly has some animal connections. There was a farm on the Putney site which ran for many years and kept animals such as poultry and pigs. It even had a resident donkey which took patients for rides to Putney Heath by donkey carriage. Today we have several animal visitors including cats, dogs and horses.

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“Jack” the donkey with his carriage

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Putney pigs

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A recent visit from “Q” the horse

Coming up

Next month we want to share some digitised images of our beautiful Lantern slides with you. The hospital archives hold around 40 such hand-coloured slides from the 1890s and here is a taster from our collection – hospital administration before the electronic age.

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Enjoy the rest of the summer and see you next month!