Bevendean Hospital (Part 1)

A Short History & My Memories

By Ruth Watts

I first came to Brighton in 1949 as a very young radiographer. I had been fortunately trained at the Christy Hospital in Manchester, whom I am sure many of you will know as the foremost hospital specialising in Cancer Research. I trained the hard way, working first as a dark room technician and then as an assistant radiographer during the week and going to lectures at the Manchester Royal Infirmary on Saturdays.

I arrived at the Royal Sussex County Hospital an eager and enthusiastic radiographer having been trained as both, as we did in those days, a radiographer and diagnostic radiographer. I was somewhat disillusioned when I found that others were not so in love with the profession as myself. I may say that through the whole of my working life I never lost this love.

I went from the R.S.C.H. to the New Sussex in Windlesham Road and hence to Hove General Hospital, with both now having been closed. I also served a long stint at Morley Street Chest Clinic where Consultant Chest Physicians examined and diagnosed TB subsequent to patients being admitted to Bevendean Hospital. Finally in 1962, having had two children and my husband who was a teacher of the deaf gaining his PhD in Developmental Psychology, I arrived at Bevendean Hospital as the Superintendent Radiographer.

At Bevendean Hospital we had a complete ward of male TB patients who at that time had their beds outside in all weathers both winter and summer. Female patients, who were assumed not to be so hardy, were nursed in an enclosed ward.

Incidentally, I expect many of you will remember, a few years before I joined the hospital there had been an epidemic of smallpox and the nurses and staff had not been allowed to leave the hospital while this epidemic was ongoing. I actually had a lot to do with a nurse whose face was badly pock marked through contracting this disease.

A Short History of the Hospital

The original Sanatorium at Bevendean was erected in 1881. The building consists of North and South blocks which seem to have been hurriedly thrown together. When Brighton was confronted by an outbreak of smallpox, and don't forget that both scarlet fever and diphtheria were very common in those days, it was found that the buildings being made of wood with felt covered roofs after 17 years had become rather weather worn and shabby. Reports to the Borough Council were full of the deficiencies of the wards and administration buildings in both condition and accommodation. The council determined to build a new Sanatorium with the help of a loan from the Local Government Board.

The new Sanatorium was completed and opened in 1898. It consisted of a new administration building, porters lodge, a disinfecting station and a laundry. A steam laundry still existed for a number of years when I first arrived at Bevendean.

Later in 1902 - 1905 two stone built blocks were erected, one for the treatment of scarlet fever and the other for patients suffering from consumption, or TB (tuberculosis) as we now call it.

The buildings with additions and alterations during the time I spent there, all 27 years, have gone to make up what we knew as Bevendean Hospital with of course the addition of an X-ray Department with modern equipment, an office, cloak room and washing and toilet facilities which were very necessary for all the examinations we performed.

A few years before I retired we obtained an image intensifier which we used in a theatre to investigate chest problems and to help identify terminally ill patients.

Now a word about the old working conditions for staff. We would like to admit hospitals and their function have changed for the better. Some of the rules and legislations at the turn of the century seem somewhat laughable.

In the Borough Sanatorium at Bevendean patients with nits had their hair cut away. Two combs and a bag were provided , one to sort out further nits and the other to comb the hair. The exchange of combs between patients was forbidden and combs and bags had to be washed and disinfected when patients left. Neglect of this duty was sufficient cause for sacking the nurse in charge.

Life for nurses in those days was hard and the Matron ruled with a rod of iron as indeed she did when I joined the staff. I therefore had to say to her very early on that she had no jurisdiction over me as I was answerable to my Consultant Radiologist.

However to return to conditions for the nurses personal precautions to avoid catch up infections. These were to be listed in minute detail for each nurse. Also lights had to be out and all chatter ceased by 10.30pm.

When in hospital, whether on or off duty, uniforms had to be worn. Nurses went on duty at 8am and the night staff came on at 8.30pm. With long hours and little time off nurses were supposed to spend as much time as possible out of doors and in the open air. Sisters had jurisdiction over the cleanliness of the wards and woe betide the maids if there was one speck of dust. How times have changed there was certainly no MSRA in those days.

The land on which the sanatorium stood was 10 acres in extent, 326ft above sea level and obtained by the corporation for the sum of £5,000 subject to the creation of buildings for the infectious sick, except on limited portions of the land.

In closing, change always brings problems and the Brighton Health Authority hardly seems to be serving our needs. It is difficult to understand with an overall loss of 50 beds at Bevendean and the closure of many other wards in different places.

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Bevendean Hospital (Part 1)' page
This page was added on 28/09/2007.
Comments about this page

Very interesting description. Things were different then more local and smaller. I wonder if you know of a doctor who worked there I think in 1951 to 1960- Dr Forde Cayley. I did not know him but knew his son. He died some time ago and I felt a little sad that I did not get to meet him. Thanks for the information.

By gladys lobo
On 18/10/2007

I am a former member of the Brighton County Borough Ambulance Service and a founding member of the Brighton Committee of the British Heart Foundation.

Dr. Forde Cayley was still the Superintendent Physician at Bevendean Hospital when I left the Brighton Service in 1970.

When we founded the BHF Committee it was, amongst other things, to support the concept of mobile coronary care, which was introduced by the town's Medical Officer of Health, Dr. William Sheppard Parker.

When I approached Dr. Cayley to ask him if he would become one of our first patrons he declined, saying that, "he had doubts about resuscitating heart attack patients." However he attended a public meeting we held, which was addressed by Dr. Peter Nixon, Consultant Cardiolist, from Charing Cross Hospital who spoke in favour, quoting the pioneering work done by Professor Frank Pantridge in Belfast.

At the end of the meeting when we asked for volunteer members to join the local Heart Foundation Committee Dr. Cayley was the first to volunteer his services. He quickly became a champion of the new coronary care techniques, including the training of the very first ambulance paramedics.

Although Dr. Cayley was a somewhat shy and diffident man his services to the people of Brighton, together with those of Dr. W.S. Parker, the MOH, should not be forgotten.

The hospital and paramedic services we enjoy today were pioneered by men such as these, who were willing to embrace new thinking and ideas. In those years the Department Health and government ministers, too, actively opposed these new developments in patient care, which all had to be funded by voluntary charitable dontations.

By The Revd. Peter Allsworth
On 27/06/2008

Having taken and qualified as and SRN at the General I then went to Bevendean in 1956 to do a postgraduate training for my British Tuberculosis Association (Nursing) Certificate which took just a year for those already trained general nurses. I must have been there at the time of the lady heading up this page. I remember the smallpox outbreak in 1949 as I was doing volunteer work at the Sussex County and was vacinnated on Vallance along with the nurses on the ward. It was suggested at the time that the virus had been brought into the area by a seaman who had arrived at Newhaven.

By Ken Ross
On 04/07/2008

I live on the site of the old hospital,we, as neighbours have found our homes to be [what we believe] haunted. We hear footsteps,people walking about talking,things being moved about even lost. I would be very interested to hear from anyone about this,or people who worked in the hospital,maybe any survivours.

By mandy Speed
On 08/08/2008

I also live near and have witnessed strange things happening, it is definately haunted but then what do you expect living on an old hospital!

By sophie karrouze
On 05/09/2008

My mum Ann Scott, says " I used to work at the hospital and part of my job was to perform the last rites for the deceased, and no sophie I never in all the nights I worked there did I ever see a ghost. You ask your grandma Betty Boops" love from Ann and Roy jnr.

By Ann Scott
On 19/09/2008

it is such a small world! i remember her saying you worked at a hospital! very strange things have happened though you must be lucky to not have seen a ghost! could just be my imagination but seemed very real!! take care!

By sophie karrouze
On 03/10/2008

lovely to read about the experiences of you good people, My father also worked at Bevendean around about the same time. In fact he worked there for about 40 years !
He was known as Harry . Sadly he passed over about nine years ago, but his job at the hospital was his life .

By Sue P ( nee Blacklock )
On 13/11/2009

My mother Dorothy Rudd died of TB at the hospital in 1951 and I found it interesting to see the photograph of the hospital. Does anyone know which part of the hospital the female TB ward would have been?

By eve sinfield
On 05/02/2010

Hi, my father, George Ernest Bryant died at the Bevendean Hospital in April 1961 of various illnesses. Am wondering if there is anyone out there who worked there at this time and might remember my father. I do have a photo of him which I think was taken at this Hospital but am not sure when which if possible I could scan and add somewhere on this site. I know this is a long shot but can anyone please help. Regards Kathryn

By Kathryn Bryant
On 11/12/2010

Having qualified SRN at the BGH I move to Bevendean in 1951 to do my BTA Cert (this being post smallpox) As expected most of the patients who came mainly from London were youngish, their disease being pick up usually by mobile mass x-ray units which were available in those days. On the whole most patients were not very ill due to the early diagnosis of TB, in fact I met several patients who doubted that they had the disease they felt so well and infact looked well but were proved positive for TB, Treatment consisted mainly of bed rest, could be six months or more. New medication was now available.Streptomycin given by injection daily for about three months together with PAS (Para-amino-salicitate and later INAH (iso-nicotinicacid-hydrazide) Rehabilitation was gradual after long bed rest starting with one hour a day increasing until discharge Dr Caley was the Medical Superintendant while I was there.

By John Berry
On 21/06/2013

Thank you so much Ruth, I worked at Bevendean, my first job, in the office in 1969/70. I did letters for Dr Cayley, I must say as a 19 year old I was rather nervous of him, but he was very kind when I made mistakes and I learned a lot from him. Mrs Page, Betty I think was in the office and Mrs Birch. Cant remember the Matron's name but his deputy was a nice man Mr Raybould who went on to a hospital in Chester ... I think.
And I became a radiographer later and worked at the Brighton General with Miss Le May and Royal Alex with Guelda Agyei.


By Francesca Holloway
On 05/01/2015

I worked with Harry Blacklock at the Bevendean Hospital between 1972/73.He was a great bloke. I was a nursing auxiliary and he taught me so much. He was the old school a credit to his profession. When we finished work we used to pop down the Newmarket for a pint.On the ward, which was ward 7, we had a little snooker table we used to play on with the patients. In those days it was mainly TB and chest complaints but it was a happy hospital..

By Paul Harris
On 14/08/2015

Hi, Did you know Philomena Wilkinson or Margaret Elisabeth George? Both trained/worked as Auxillary/nurses in Brighton in the 1960s. I was born at Bevindean hospital. My mother is keen to reconnect with friends and colleagues who worked at Bevindean and Brighton General hospital when she was there.

By M George
On 15/11/2015