Despite its reputation on the outside as the local “loony bin”, for those who worked at Oulton Hall hospital it was mainly remembered as a “pleasant and cheerful place” where the staff made every effort to make the patients feel at home.
One of the nurses who joined in 1953 was Pauline Lewis, a young woman who had been living near Hemsworth on the other side of Wakefield. Her father, Sam Lewis, a master slater and tiler with his own business, came from Castleford. Her mother, Frances Connor, was of Irish descent but had been born and grown up in a large mining family at Normanton.
Pauline was born at Glass Houghton in 1934 and ever since she’d been taken to a concert at Castleford hospital had entertained ambitions to become a nurse. When she was about 11 years old her family moved to Low Ackworth and after she left school at the age of 14 she had a series of jobs in factories and shops in Leeds and Pontefract.
Then, just after her 19th birthday, she and her childhood friend, Barbara Rayne, applied for jobs at Oulton. They weren’t quite sure what they were letting themselves in for but after an interview with the matron, Elizabeth Florence, they were instantly employed as student nurses on £20 a month.
After about eight weeks they were sent to Harrogate for a three month residential general nursing course. Later they would take examinations to become a Registered Nurse for the Mentally Handicapped.
By the mid-1950s the Oulton “colony” had grown to included Hatfeild Hall near Stanley and the nearby Stoneville hostel. In 1954 there were 343 patients – 276 males, including 40 boys under the age of 16, who all lived at Oulton, and 67 females divided between Hatfeild and Stoneville, with those women who were able to go out to work on licence living at the hostel. There were 32 men and 20 women on the staff full-time and 8 women working part-time.
The physician superintendent in charge of the three sites was Dr. Herbert John O’Loughlin and the chief male nurse was Edward James William Daniels. The son of an engineer’s labourer, he had been born in 1906 at Friern Barnet north of London. In 1931, at nearby Edmonton, he had married Ruby Mabel Waters from Hampshire, and they probably moved to Oulton shortly after the Second World War where they lived in the former gamekeeper’s cottage at Waterloo Corner on Royds Green Lane.
Pauline and Barbara were given a shared room at Hatfeild Hall and had to travel daily, at their own expense, to Oulton by Burrough’s bus. There, in Lake View, one of two large huts erected to the east of the main hall, they looked after young boys diagnosed with a range of conditions including epilepsy, cerebral palsy and enlarged heads. The other hut, Beech View, was home to what were described as 61 “lower grade” male patients.
The older male patients were accommodated in two wards on the ground and two upper floors in the main hall, each with their own day-rooms, dormitories, toilets and bathrooms. There was a community centre and workshops where most of the patients were paid as they trained as tailors, cobblers or in making items like rugs and Christmas crackers. Some also helped the gardener, Mr. Dowson, and worked on the estate’s “home” farm. At any one time about 30 of them were on “daily licence” to work in local industries where they had labouring jobs at Armitage’s brickworks, Bentley’s brewery, and the paint works which had been established in Oulton Wesleyan chapel.
Meals were cooked in the hall kitchen which was mainly staffed by women who lived locally in Oulton, Woodlesford and Rothwell. Dances and concerts of gramophone records were held regularly as well as games of football and cricket. There was a weekly film show at the hall and Pauline remembers taking her young patients to the Woodlesford Ritz picture house for the Saturday children’s matinees. On Sunday mornings she took them to church and there were frequent outings to places like Lotherton Hall, Temple Newsam and Rothwell Park. By 1954 there were already 3 television sets in use and a fourth was soon to be installed.
The facilities and conditions for the patients were inspected annually by a commissioner from the Board of Control in London. Reporting in April 1954 E.N. Butler stated that there had been 8 deaths across the colony from natural causes since the last official visit. 11 patients had caught measles and there were fewer cases of tuberculosis with only two girls at Hatfeild Hall suffering from the disease. As a consequence he recommended the demolition of four delapidated huts at Hatfeild and Oulton which had been used as isolation wards. “So few cases occur here that it might be considered more economical and satisfactory to transfer the few that do to some other colony with better facilities for the treatment of this disease,” he wrote.
Butler had last inspected Oulton Hall in 1948 and he was impressed by the improvements which had been made. “The most striking change is in the furnishing and decoration. Painting and decoration is now almost complete and it is uniformly good. At present the central hall is being painted and the result is extremely effective. The flimsy walls of Lake View and Beech View have been completely rebuilt. The main kitchen has been tiled and stainless steel sinks have been provided.”
Referring throughout to the patients as “boys and girls”, although a majority of them must have been adults, the commissioner made a distinction at Oulton between the “high-grade” boys who were in the wards on the upper floors and the “low-grade” boys on the ground floor ward.
“Provision had been made for separate towels for the high-grade boys on the first floor. Steel lockers have been provided for all the boys and girls who can make use of them.” He also recommended the use of “internal-spring mattresses” throughout the colony and that as mattresses were condemned they should be replaced by spring ones. “Since the last visit a kitchen superintendent has been appointed and the diet appears to be varied and ample. The midday meals are good, there is a cooked dish for breakfast, a high tea, and a light supper,” he wrote.
Butler was also impressed by the efforts made by the staff and hospital management committee to make sure as many of the patients as possible went away for at least a week’s annual holiday. Around 200 had been away during 1953 with 40 of them paid for by their parents and the rest by the management committee. For many years transport was provided by Oulton farmer Freddie Knowles who operated a small fleet of coaches.
It was on a staff trip to Blackpool, organised by the hall’s joiner, Ken Goodall, that Pauline Lewis got to know her future husband. Graham Hayden was 16 years older than her and had been a flight sergeant in the Royal Air Force before becoming a clerical officer at the hospital. They got engaged after her 21st birthday, married in the summer of 1955 and went to live with his parents at Normanton. As a student nurse her marriage meant that she couldn’t continue to “live in” at Feildhead so had to give up her job. The first of four children, Adrienne, was born a year later and about the same time they moved to a house on Aberford Road in Woodlesford.
With young children of her own to care for Pauline eventually went back to Oulton Hall to work part-time where she continued until 1967 when she left to train as a Registered Mental Nurse at Stanley Royd in Wakefield. After further training in general nursing at Pinderfields she went on to specialise in elderly care, accident and emergency and neurosurgery as well as spending a period as a mental health nursing trainer.
Meanwhile Graham Hayden continued to work full-time at Oulton. Then as the 1960s progressed the idea of “community care” for the kind of patients in the Oulton Hall colony came into fashion and many of them were moved into residential homes. For those who still needed hospital facilities it was decided to to re-develop the hospital at Fieldhead where Graham became the chief administrator. Oulton finally closed after being “evacuated” of patients in 1972.
Click on the links below to listen to Pauline Hayden’s memories of the “community” at Oulton Hall hospital.
It was a home for them. It was a home for us as well.