Sunday, 24 May 2009

Kensington Hospital Remembered

On Saturday 16th May St.Brides Castle and the Holiday Property Bond
were hosts to a unique ceremony, the inveiling of a commemorative plaque recognising fifty five years of patient care that took place there from 1923 to 1978, in its role as Kensington Hospital.
From the early to late 20th century Kensington Hospital, a childrens hospital for Wales and Monmouth, specialised in the treatment and abolition of the one time dreaded disease Tuberculosis.
With litle if any remedy for Tuberculosis, for two or three decades
the main treatment was plenty of rest and fresh air. It was in 1948-9 that the children of Kensington Hospital were given hope, and eventually a new lease of life with the new wonder drug Streptimycin.
What made Kensington Hospital so unique,
was that many patients were subjected to not days and weeks of confinement, but years. Yet despite long periods away from home, thanks to a Hospital Management, and supportive team of staff, the morale of those young patients were kept high, and all received a limited education
The Commemorative Plaque Ceremony at the Castle was witnessed by the Hyell Dda NHS Trust Chairman Mr.Chris Martin, and the Mayor of Haverforwest Councillor Cheryl Hanley.Despite the achievements of the one time Kensington Hospital in Pembrokeshire, both BBC.Wales
and The Western Telegraph, apparantly considered the coverage of Murders in Pembrokeshire, more important than regonition of years
of dedication that took place during the scurge of Tuberculosis
up to its abolition in the late 50's and 60's.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008




The Hospital School was organised by a dedicated team of teachers, under the leadership of headmistress Miss.V.M.Hall. Making a great contribution to releiving the boredom of a very long day, and assisting our education. The following is a chapter from my book, 'The Balcony Boy', an account by Vesta Stretch, who relates her experiences on teaching at the Hospital, and the lasting
impression it had on her future career. She writes:

" Although I cannot describe my school days as being particularly happy ones, my years spent in grammer school, were the war years 1940-45. I did however gain knowledge having gained a School Certificate in 1945, when the war
was virtually over, and I was looking forward to persuing a further course of study
under happier circumstances.
However, by this time misfortune had struck the family, with my father becoming seriously ill. As I was the second eldest of the family of six children, I left school in order to help out the family finances. It was in December 1945 with
the strains of 'Lord dismiss us with thy blessing' ringing in my ears, that I left school having been assigned a post as an uncertified teacher at a hospital school.When I was forced to leave to leave school, I thought the bottom of the world had fallen, and my education ended. How wrong I was. I knew very little about the place to which I was going, and it was about twenty seven miles, from my home town of Fishguard, in the heart of the country, to which there was no bus
service. I was pickedd up by the hospital bus some fifteen miles away, to travel the
remaining twelve miles. This part of the journey seemed endless, and the fact that
I was leaving home, for the first time, didn't help very much. My first glimpse of the hospital, I shall never forget. I was sitting in the front with the driver, when what lokked like a castle appeared in view, like something out of fairyland. As we
proceeded up the drive to the hospital, one saw a beautiful view of St.Brides Bay, and at the top of the drive, this majestic building, Kensington Hospital, that was to be my weekly home, for as long as the powers that be would allow.
At this hospital there were eighty children of school age all suffering from the
awful tuberculosis bone disease. There were daily school hours for those children
in their respective wards. To my charge was enlisted the teaching of two wards of
boys, whose ages ranged from six to eleven. Some of these children, had not been able to walk for years, most of which were suffering from tubercular spines, and hips, and were strapped to frames, only able to move their heads and arms. There
were very few highlights to their lives, the sight of the mailvan maybe, or the weekly arrival of the 'sausage van'.
These sights to normal children would have no significance whatsoever, but I can still see the excited faces of my charges, as they strained to see them through
the ever open sanatorium windows. The children were allowed monthly visits, if their parents could afford the train fare to the nearest railway station at Haverfordwest. Here they were picked up by the hospital bus, and transported to the hospital. Another treat for the children was a fortnightly film show, whebn they were carried on stretchers, to the playroom, and put in elevated positions to watch the film. There was great excitement on these occasions, and little work was done that day.
Life as you may imagine was not very eventful under the conditions. To me was entrusted the task of assisting the education of these two wards of boys. It was
here through them, I learned the most important lesson of my life, the true meaning of courage and fortitude. The way each bore his cross ,was worthy of our
maker. Todays moaners and groaners, had they seen these children would make them wish the earth would swallow up. Nevertheless , happiness shone, through their suffering. Their written work with their excercise books clipped to a board,
and they wrote, as if on a ceiling above them. My time was spent commuting between the two wards of boys. A regular occurance, was to return to one of the wards to find half of the pencils on the floor, they had accidently dropped; just one of the many tricks they got up to, to avoid work. I well remember having to reproach one boy who was recovering from a tubercular knee, for perpetual straying outside the bedcloths while doing his sums. One day after oe episode,
and having tuckeed him back in bed, I said "come along Robert on with your work", to which he replied " I can't Miss, I only have ten fingers." He had been using his toes to help him, and without them he was helpless.
Outside school hours some of the teachers helped two eveneings a week, to run
a childrens club and Guides.
School at Kensington Hospital, was for me truly a place of learning, a place where I was destined to teach, but where I learned. The benifits I derived were inumerable, Courage,fortitude, Sympathy, Understanding, were just a few of the lessons I learned. This was undoubtedly an experience which no amount of education could have given me, it also made me eternally thankful for the good health of my three children.

Monday, 24 November 2008


The following extracts by Vernon Scott ex correspondant of The Western Telegraph in Pembrokeshire recalls the experiences of ex patient of Kensington Hospital Gordon Rees who was a patient there from 1935 to 1947.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *
I have received a most moving and interesting letter from Mr.Gordon R ees of Leeds who spent all his childhood at the former children's hospital, Kensington
Hospital, St. Brides.
At the age of two, this Llanelli-born gentleman contracted bovine tuberculosis in his left ankle, as a result of drinking raw,unpasturised milk, and was admitted to Kensington Hospital. When he left there in 1947, he was twelve years old, but points out that lengthy stays in sanatoriums were not unusual in those pre-antibiotic days. By the time of his departure, another boy, David Evans, had been there for 17 years. Mr.Rees writes:
"Please allow me to relate a little about that time at St.Brides, because I know there are former staff and patients, still living in Pembrokeshire, who shared my years there. Those of us who were able, played cricket in the grounds during summer, including Charlie Weatherall, now of St.Ishmaels. To us kids he could hit a cricket ball harder and farther than great batsmen of the time, such as Jack Hobbs and Wally Hammond.
Charlie was already in his teens, and older than the other patients, when he came to St.Bride's. So endemic was TB in those days, I don't think there was any room for him at the adult sanatorium at Sealyham. But their loss was our gain. I have metmany fine people in my life, but Charlie is second to none."
Despite the hardship of the war,Christmas was always a colourful occasion at the hospital, recalls Mr.Rees. " There was always a large tree, with a foot-high effigy of a paratrooper on top, instead of the traditional fairy. To this day I remember the consternation of one patient, when he learned the paratrooper was to be 'demobilised'. A nurse gently told him the war was over, and the fairy would be returning to the treetop. The little lad was clearly upset, and asked tearfully "Then can we have the war back.".
" I have never forgotten the kindness shown gto us by the German prisoners of war, who all happened to be former memebers of General Rommel's Afrika Corps. They were employed in the hospital grounds. Comics of the day avidly read, depicted enemy soldiers as the most vile of human beings, but those men were kindness itself, regularly bringing us strawberries, goosberries, and other goodies from the hospital gardens.
There were many fine nurses at Kensington Hospital, none more so than a girl called Margaret, who later became Mrs. Wrench, and a well known councillor in Pembroke. She was also the Mayor of that borough. For sheer goodness I never met anyone to touch her, and we were all heartbroken, when she eventually left. The head of the nursing staff was Sister Gwen Hill, who retired to Pembroke Dock. Often after a long and exacting day, she would stay an extra hour to read us a bed time story."
"There were ", says Mr.Rees " some sad occasions at Kensington Hospital." The children who died had TB of the lungs. All of us knew the significance of the hearse coming up that long drive."

Sunday, 31 August 2008

The Balcony Boy

It was one summer day in July 1947, that I was driven with my parents from a hospital on the outskirts of Neath, to a children's hospital at St.Brides on the Pembrokeshire coast, having been diagnosed with the then dreaded disease tuberculosis, in my left hip. At the age of eleven and a half I was going to have to adjust to a lengthy stay in a sanatorium some eighty miles from my home town Port Talbot. The journey took us through three counties, two of which were new territory, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire. Driving along windy country roads, occasionally overlapped by cascades of overlapping trees, that provided archways along the route, The driving through new territory, and taking in the scenic panoramas on route, all helped to deflect the thoughts of a long seperation from the family once I had arrived at St.Brides.
As one leaves Haverfordwest towards the coast, one catches a glimpse of a majestic castle within a large estate overlooking the picturesque St.Brides Bay. This was St.Brides Castle, once the home of Hugh Edwards(sixth Baron) and his wife Catherin Pilkington, Lord and Lady Kensington. In 1920, the Kensington family decided to move to their smaller residence in Haverfordwest, and the castle and estate changed hands and was owned by The King Edward VII Welsh National Memorial Association, who in 1923 reopened the Castle as a children's hospital, that took on the name of its previous owner Kensington Hospital.
The hospital was surrounded on three sides by woodlands, with an uninterupted view of St.Brides Bay. It was here that our long drive came to an end, and where I would have to adjust to a confinement of almost five years.
The wards were situated on the first, and ground floor of the hospital. The patients on the first floor had infections of the chest , lungs, and glands,whilst those on the ground floor were orthopediac cases, with bone infections of the knee
hip, or spine. The first floor was known as ward C and the ground floor ward B.
On the ground floor, were three wards in the main structure of the building,with an additional ward, resembling a greenhouse ,with a slanting glass roof and windows down one side. The first ward situated at the front part of the hospital housed the senior girls. Next to the Senior girls ward was the cot ward, which housed the very young patients up to seven years of age. Next to the cot ward was a boys ward from age seven to twelve years. From twelve years to seventeen , boys were then transferred to the ward at the rear of the hospital known as the balcony. Until my twelth birthday, I found myself with the seven to twelve year boys, in ward 13. Before the introduction of streptimycin in 1949, the main treatment for tuberculosis was plenty of rest and fresh air, and keeping the bone or joint still to prevent the tuberculosis spreading. Hip and spinal cases were placed on a frame. This was a metal structure made to the shape of ones body. This was then covered with stuffed leather , to make it comfortable to lie on. On
either side of the frame at chest level was a metal curved bar, and also this was repeated at hip level. Both legs were bandaged to the frame in a V position, and ones feet were supported by foot rests. Once I was measured, and the frame made, that was my position for some four years, apart form the occasional X-Ray.
At the head of the frame was a head rest. I felt sorry for the spine cases on frames as they were not allowed any pillows . having to be perfectly flat.Hip cases however were more fortunate as they were allowed one pillow. I mentioned earlier
that the senior boys were housed in the ward built on to the rear of the hospital known as the Balcony, a photo of the Balcony ward appears in the Kensington Hospital Picture Gallery .
I suppose with the advances in medical science and technology over the years
one can be forgiven for not realising that patients in the 2oth century were subjected to years of confinement in hospital for tuberculosis. Any long confinement is difficult for an adult, yet alone children. For the past three decades, I was involved in Hospital Radio in the North West, and talking to patients week after week, the main concerns were boredom, of a very long day.
I can honestly say that as far as Kensington Hospital was concerned, none of us knew the word boredom and here is why.
Kensington Hospital, was in my estimation unique, as through the period of
almost five years, in which I was a patient, I cannot remember the word boredom ever mentioned. This was mainly due to a unique Management team, backed by excellant staff on the wards. Our day commenced at around 06.30am, with a wash
and brush up before the day staff came on duty and our breakfast at 08.00am. After breakfast, our personal needs were seen to, and the beds made, and ward tidied by 0945am when morning school commenced. School staff consisted of four or five teachers, and a Head teacher Miss V.M.Hall. Each teacher had oversight of a number of wards, and Miss Hall had oversight of the senior girls, and senior boys.Morning school consisted of the three R's, and religous instruction. Lessons were to some degree elementary, and no exams were permitted as we had to be stress free. Morning school finished at 12noon, when we had a half an hour rest period before lunch at 12.30pm. Once lunch was over, the wards were tidied, and
afternoon school commenced at 2pm. We all looked forward to the afternoon session, doing handicrafts, making table mats,trays, baskets, and stools. To many of us on frames it was a great achievement, considering we were flat on our backs.
The finished products were often purchased by our families, or were sold at the annual garden fete, and the proceeds went to hospital funds. Afternoon school often concluded with a serial reading by Miss Hall with books like No Highway by
Neville Shute and Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stephenson, or a Record hour listening to our favourite songs on the wind up grammophone.
Looking back, I could imagine some people comparing our meal times with
perhaps scenes out of Oliver or that TV comedy Porridge. Some months ago whilst digesting some minutes of Kensington Hospital archives, there was a record of a family who took their son to the hospital for admission. It appears that word reached them after they returned home that, the children at the hospital were not
treated to bone china at meal times, but enamal plates and cups. The following day they came back to take him home. One wonders if they intended to deliver him to Kensington Palace, for had they run the catering at the hospital, their bill for replacing broken china, would eventually made the NHS bankrupt.With school over at 4pm and tea following at 5pm, the remainder of the day was ours. With no
television in the wards until coronation year, the radio was a great interest with radio shows like Take It From Here with Jimmy Edwards, and Welsh Rarebit. Sport was also a great favourite, with football and boxing, although the latter often created a problem with some title fights being broadcast at 9pm, and often
depended on who was on night duty. On one occasion I remember Sister Adams,the night Sister was asked if we could listen to a title fight with Bruce Woodcock, and Freddie Mills. With our request being refused, the following day
we discussed the best course for revenge. The staff office was in the main building
but relied on the Balcony ward for light and fresh air, so the window at the top was always ajar. One evening when Sister Adams arrived on duty, and was sat down at the desk by the window, reading the report, the patient in the bed next to the window catapulted two stink bombs over the gap in the window. A few minutes passed, and a patter of feet was heard coming down the corridor. On entering the ward, Sister Adams asked the obvious question but got no response. With fifteen
patients in the ward of which twelve were immobile, Sister Adams stripped every
bed, and asked the three up patients to remake them. We all considered she missed her vocation, and should have been sent to an army camp.
Winter evenings were helped along with a fortnightly films show. This took place in a large room on the ground floor known as the playroom. Those who were able sat on chairs or wheelchairs, whilst those of us on frames were placed on blankets or rugs on the floor. The show started with a documentary, then a feature film, and ended with a cartoon, and the chief projectionist was Charlie Weatherall, a one time patient, who eventually ended up on the hospital payroll.
Other entertainments took place in the playroom on the odd occasion, the Christmas Pantomime, when we discovered the hidden talents of some of the staff, and staff dances.
On November 5th. the Balcony boys got a grand stand view of the bonfire and firework display, and was quite a spectacle, we also enjoyed a slightly extended version of the display when we let Jackie Jumpers up the corridor when staff were going for their evening meal!.
Christmas is a difficult time for anyone seperated from their families, but was a time the children in Kensington Hospital looked forward to. Two or three weeks before Christmas any parcels were intercepted and held back, and placed in cloth bags, and were delivered to the bedsides overnight on Christmas Eve. Some patients went to sleep with one eye open, waiting for the oportunity to pounce on their bags to open their goodies.Thos with a bit more sense had an early night to
prepare for an early start on Christmas Day. On Christmas morning after breakfast and the wards tidied Matron did her rounds coming to every bed and wished each patient a Happy Christmas, and after Christmas dinner Father Christmas arrived with a present for each patient.
I have tried to put in a very large nutshell, how many children survived their
ordeal over a long term confinment, all due to a Management well organised, and the support of many excellant teams in the workforce
In 2001 whilst visiting St.Brides to do some research for my book The Balcony
Boy, and meeting up with retired staff from the one time Kensington Hospital, one suggested it would be nice to have a Patient/Staff Reunion sometime. Returning home with that idea buzzing in my mind, the first ever Patient/Staff Reunion took
place in May 2002, some 50 years to the month in which I was discharged in 1952.
It was amazing on that day when fifty ex patients and staff arrived at St.Brides Castle, a memorable occasion made possible through the new owners of St.Brides
Castle, The Holiday Property Bond. Apart from a pause in 2003, the Reunion has
due to popularity become an annual event, and with many coming from as far as Kent and Windsor, our venue for the wek-end is The Fishguard Bay Hotel. With
the attendance of the Reunion on a steady decline, due to age, and mobility problems, it was decided that the long overdue recognition of Kensington Hospital
should take place, and on the 16th.May 2009 a Commemorative Plaque was unveiled by Mrs.L.Llewellyn Davies, the widow of Dr.Llewellyn Davies, the one time Chest Physician, and Medical Superintendant of Kensington Hospital.



Thursday, 28 August 2008

Kensington Hospital Memories


It was in 1999 that I took up the challenge of writing my childhood
memories of Kensington Hospital, and in the year 2000 I journeyed
to Haverfordwest to search the archives of the one time childrens
hospital. Having little if any success at the Records Office, I called
on an ex patient, Charlie Weatherall and his wife, an ex nurse. both
who were able to help me with my research. Whilst visiting them they
mentioned another ex nurse who would like to see me, living in the
same village St.Ishmaels, and by the end of the day, I had been put
in touch with ten ex staff. Seeing this as a golden opportunity for a
group photograph for my book, I contacted the Western Telegraph
a Pembrokeshire Paper. and arrangements were made for a group
photograph to be taken in the grounds of St.Brides Castle, the one
time Kensington Hospital. It was at this gathering, that a comment
was made by one of the ex staff 'it would be nice to have a patient/
staff reunion sometime', and with a successful couple of days in
Pembrokeshire I returned home , with that comment buzzing in my
head, and in 2002 the first ever major patient/staff Reunion took
place in May 2002, fifty years to the month since my discharge.
Imagine my surprise on the day when thirty minutes before
the Castle doors were due to be opened, whilst I was busy putting
up photographs and memorobelia , thirty ex patients and staff
arrived, and by two'o clock had increased to about one hundred
which included friends and family. One ex patient was one of the
first to be admitted in 1923 when the hospital opened, but a
majority were patients in the 30's 40's and 50's. After three hours
of meeting up with friends and colleagues at the one time hospital
we all went to the Function Centre in Haverfordwest, for a Reunion
Dinner and Dance, and ended the evening in a circle on the dance
floor singing 'AULD LAN SYNE'
The next reunion took place two years later, and as there were
a number from other parts of the country, as far as Cornwall and
Kent, it was decided to have a central venue The Fishguard Bay
Hotel, at Goodwick near Fishguard.
Over the years since 2002, the numbers attending appear to be
on the decline, as one gets older and mobility problems set in.
In 2009, the Kensington Hospital Patient/Staff Reunion is
holding a special event at St.Brides Castle, having a commemorative
Plaque placed in the Castle, as recognition, and an acknowledgement
of fifty five years of Patient Care from 1923-1978.
If having found this blog, and you are an ex patient or staff
of the one time Kensington Hospital, and would like to join us
for the occasion, please contact me David Pearce on Preston 01772
563113 for full information.

Monday, 25 August 2008



Molly Moores Mabel Stephens Margaret Warlow Jean Weatherall

Some of the workforce at Kensington Hospital

Head Teacher MissV.M.Hall and patient David Morris






BALCONY 1940's









DEPARTS AT...........! 1930's