Holy Cross Memories
During our centenary year in 2017, we asked for contributions of memories from anyone who has had contact with Holy Cross Hospital in years past.
We would like to say a big thank you to everyone who has taken the trouble to make a contribution. We have compiled this summary but please do continue to send us your memories if you have a story to share about Holy Cross. You can email us or post on our Facebook page.
1940s to 1950s
Our earliest gathered memories date from the late 1940s and early 1950s. Mrs Pam Weir worked as a young person in the laundry and remembers being taught how to iron a shirt correctly, something she has practised ever since. She recalled the kindness of the Sisters, how they bathed her legs with rosemary water after she had been bitten by midges and being given eggs at Easter in 1947, when the country was still in the grip of war-time rations.
A memory from Elizabeth Lockwood, who was working for St John’s Ambulance out of the Sicklemill depot in about 1952, was of accompanying a patient to a hospital in Bedford, a whole day’s journey. A great many patients turned out to wave goodbye to the patient who was to have a lung collapsed (standard treatment at the time for TB) and among them all, a solitary male, the resident priest.
Many members of the Robinson family have shared memories of their childhood, growing up in the 1950s as children of the resident engineer Alf and his wife Nell who worked in the laundry. Memories included helping to put up flags for the Coronation in 1952, riding on the back of the Hospital’s lorry or the tractor and clearing snow from the drive during the long hard winter of 1963. Snow and its consequences feature in many people’s memories. One of the Robinson’s recalls sliding down the icy slope to Hindhead Road on a tin tray (not recommended in now!).
Similar memories recur much more recently with Martin Ripley Maintenance Officer from about 2002 recalling the late night/early morning phone calls from night staff summoning him to clear snow from the drive. This task is likely to etch itself on the memories of generations of staff to come as the drive quickly becomes impassable unless treated promptly.
The Robinson boys (all four of them) served on the Altar and among other duties, one of them would have to get up as early as 5am to call the priest who lived further up the drive for early morning Mass. They recall great times helping Michael and Eugene O’Shea in the fields where food was grown, then enjoying freshly baked bread and jam at tea break.
Among the other people recalled by the Robinsons were Archie Ford the chauffeur, nurse Kit Kat and her husband Tom and nurses Everest and Lottie.
The Robinson family connection lasted for three generations, with Clare Mason, grand-daughter of Alf and Nell, remembering pushing patients up the slope of the ‘covered way’ behind the convent after Sunday Mass. She would then have been about 12 years old. Her mother, Theresa, worked in the Hospital and later in St Joseph’s Centre for many years.
We have memories from the 50s from Catherine Hinton (née Callanan), a pupil at the Convent School of the Sisters of Providence in Haslemere. Each year, pupils from the school would join the Corpus Christi procession at Holy Cross when Father Convy was the priest. The girls would all be dressed as brides and the boys in smart shorts and shirts. Catherine later joined the staff as a nurse and worked on Sacred Heart Ward in the old Hospital and then St Mary’s Ward, finishing, when nursing became too strenuous, as an assistant to the occupational therapist.
Memories from Sister Mary Agnes
In 1956 I arrived at Holy Cross to commence my nurse training having never left home before for any length of time and not sure if this was the right place for me. At that time Holy Cross combined with St. Anthony’s Hospital, Cheam and St. Michael’s Hospital, Hayle, Cornwall to form a Catholic nurse training school. Most of my companions were Irish and one other English girl who was not a Catholic. She was one of our first student nurses who was not a Catholic. Her name was Sylvia and to this day we meet up once a year and we exchange letters throughout the year. I think this says much about the story of Holy Cross and the friends we make.
We were allocated our rooms. At that time the nurses’ home was the top floor of St. Joseph’s (this is now the Convent where I live). There was nothing like en-suite rooms, just one bathroom between 18 of us!
The first few days were very bewildering, getting used to so many Sisters as the community at that time numbered 30 Sisters. Every department was headed by a religious Sister and the discipline was very strict but also very kind and all the Sisters were helpful. I had nothing to compare the Hospital with and we all thought it the best in the world; I still do.
From day one our timetable was mapped out for us. For four days a week there was class in the schoolroom, a wooden building at the end of the present St. Joseph’s and one day a week was spent on our allocated ward in the old hospital. The wards were open plan; there was no operating theatre, so Holy Cross was still very much a TB hospital. We learned excellent basic nursing practices and these never leave you. The schoolroom building became the maintenance workshop and no longer exists.
We earned £10 per month but all our food was free as long as we turned up in the dining room in full uniform or well dressed in ‘mufti’; otherwise we would be asked to leave. We sat in seniority in the dining room and we were very careful not to sit at a senior table. I often spent free study time sitting in the cemetery, a quiet place, ideal for study and most of us made use of it. £10 went a long way in those days but it was a matter of going to the pictures this month or going to London for the day. We had the choice but not both. There was a good cinema at the bottom of the drive called The Rex but there were no lights on the drive when we were coming back. We had to be careful to be in before the home Sister locked us out.
It is hard to believe that here I am 62 years on, living in the same building I began in but with very different buildings around me. They include a beautiful lecture room, a good hospital for our neurological patients.
I pray for each of you that you may find the same fulfilment, peace and happiness that I have.
Sheila Wester started as a night sister in June 1960 and has retained many happy memories of working nights with very supportive staff. After many years on night duty, Sheila took up the role of Deputy Matron to work with Sister Mary Agnes and was part of the team that oversaw the transfer of patients into the new hospital in 1992.
We are otherwise lacking any contributions of memories from 60s. It was a time of many developments including the establishment of maxillo-facial surgery, the change from post-operative neuro-surgical care to neurology (now neuro-disability) and also the arrival of Sister Mary Columba as ward sister on the ground floor.
We have to thank Jennifer Benson for her memories of working as an occupational therapist (OT) from 1971. By that time, there was a substantial group of ‘younger disabled’ at Holy Cross, many coming as Jennifer remembers from the Wolfson Centre at Atkinson Morley’s Hospital in Wimbledon. She recalls how the hospital had many patients who came for respite care (one in those years being Margaret Jefferies who then became a long stay patient and was greatly loved by all).
The work of the occupational therapists and physios was overseen by Dr Hunter and Dr Carroll with Consultant Surgeon Mr McLeod Baikie providing an orthopaedic input. At the end of the decade, the departments underwent a major redevelopment and the new facilities were opened by Bishop Cormac Murphy-O’Connor.
Jennifer also recalled how the sun always seem to shine on the Friends’ Open Day, an annual event in June and attended in the 1970s by hundreds of local people. Among the stalwarts of the open days were Mrs Moss, Miss Wilson, the Misses Groves (known as Duchy and Twinkle) and Mrs Gertrude Brown.
Stella Charman (then Coombes) started in 1974 as did Robert Allen. Both recalled first days especially and being introduced as young people (Robert only 15) to hospital work. Stella was told by the Sister on Sacred Heart Ward that you left your troubles at the door when you came on duty and should only pick them up again as you leave. Neither seemed to have been unduly burdened and Robert says he loved every minute of his 14 years of service.
Margaret Mukungu remembers working with Robert in the 70s and also with Peggy, Paul, Victor and Fiona. Her special expression was ‘let’s get cracking, darling’. Jacquie Keen (now Robini) was also working in nursing in the 70s and recalls the work being hard but shared with supportive colleagues, making lasting friendships in the process.
Chris Hinton arrived in May 1978, the first lay person to be appointed as Hospital Administrator. He recalls being interviewed in the Front Parlour of Shottermill Hall by Mr Hutchison from St. Anthony’s Hospital, Sister Mary Perpetua and Sister Mary Columba, who a few weeks later greeted him most warmly at the top of the entrance steps.
Sally Lowe also remembers being welcomed with open arms on her first morning which was snowy. She recalls being overwhelmed by the kindness shown to patients. She was instrumental in getting hold of the first of the hospital’s many minibuses and organising a trip to a Blackpool hotel for a group of patients. The hotel was rather less adapted than she had been expecting and they had to cope somehow with stairs everywhere. Many patients in those days were much less disabled than patients in 2017. Venice Reeves who worked for 14 years on night duty recalls many humorous stories but especially the kindness of the Sisters.
Jean McAlonen who worked through most of the 80s as a ward sister on day duty remembers Sister Mary Edmund and Peter Daly who worked with her on St. Theresa’s ward. Peter had been a dancer in the Moulin Rouge and Lido de Paris shows. He was definitely larger than life and left Holy Cross to become a Franciscan friar. What a life change! Peter visited Holy Cross regularly in the 1980s as a Chaplain to the addiction centre, St. Joseph’s. Everyone was devastated to learn of his death at a young age.
Brenda Petrie joined the hospital in 1983 working with frail elderly people on St. Philomena’s ward as a ward sister along with Angela Reilly. She could recall individual patients and in particular one who had been a nurse. Her daughter had put a picture on the wall by her bed so everyone could see her as she had been in her nurse’s uniform. Angela also shared very happy memories of her nursing days at Holy Cross.
Brenda Hales was another who started her career in nursing at Holy Cross and learnt how to provide good care. She now describes Holy Cross as her ‘Mother Hospital’, having continued to work with patients ever since that introduction. She mentions that best of all was working with the Sisters.
Felicity Jones, also a nurse, recalls in particular sharing the organising of staff outings to shows in London and doing so with Bev Goodyear and others. Pat English (née Horgan) remembers sunbathing on the lawn behind the nurses’ home while St. Philomena’s ward was being converted into St. Joseph’s treatment centre for addiction.
Another former resident member of staff with memories of the grounds is Sheila Matthie. Sheila worked for two years on both St. Mary’s and St. Anthony’s wards. Her memories were of wonderful colleagues who became friends but also of the majestic trees in the grounds. She was working at the time of the great storm in October 1987 when well over 100 trees were blown down, many blocking the drive. However, she commented that the trees are still of great beauty in 2017.
Jenny Carpenter joined Holy Cross as nursing auxiliary in 1989 and stayed for 16 years. In her early days she was finishing a shift with Margaret Davis and Joyce Cox when the Hospital Administrator appeared in the corridor and informed her that there was a fire in the ward kitchen and to act accordingly. She had difficulty in believing that she really had to “break the glass” but she did.
Sandra Jackson started in 1992 the year that the patients moved into the new hospital on 26th September. She recalls that day, when she and Debbie Eames moved Doreen, a long-staying patient, into the new hospital. The day has been commemorated ever since as the ‘Hospital Birthday’ and the date of prize giving.
Fiona Evans shared great memories working with some who were already old hands by that time including Peggy, Margaret, Victor, Robert, Linda, Lisa, Jenny and Kim. She also remembers patients with great affection including Mavis, Joe, Hilda, Peter, Margaret and Father Robin. Lesley Jackman, who started in 1990 and worked with many of the same people, has a clear recollection of meeting Sister Mary Agnes for the first time and that her arrival marked a new start for her nursing career.
Christine Boulter and Trish Canning (later Burchard) were two members of a team of Reception staff who started in the 1980s. Trish recalled Sister Mary Helen, who had also worked at Reception after retiring as a teacher in another of the Sisters’ houses but is particularly remembered for her aviary which stood beside the car park and was enjoyed by generations of patients and visitors. As with so many of the Sisters, she had several roles, another one being the shop-keeper. Her shop stocked a multitude of sundries such as sweets, newspapers, stationery including recycled birthday cards.
Another member of the reception team who joined the staff in 2001 was Jean Moran. At that time, the hospital had acquired a cat, Felix, who attached himself to reception and would lie curled up in a paper tray or on one of the reception chairs. His coat was long and fine with the result that many patients visiting Peny Odell, physiotherapist, would walk past Jean with “fluffy bottoms”!
Christine recalls feeling nervous when she later became the Hospital Administrator’s secretary but being given confidence by both Chris Hinton and Sister Mary Agnes. However, as a good personal secretary, she was reluctant to divulge her many other memories!
Pat Hack shared memories of working in St. Joseph’s Centre where she started in the year of opening, 1986 and only finishing when, sadly, it had to close in 2004 when NHS funding ran dry. Pat recalled many people whose lives were turned around for the better. She is certain that it was through the Centre’s programme that they were able to “create memories for themselves free from drug and alcohol addiction”.
Many of these memories have been from ward staff and the great teams they worked with. In the early 2000s the hospital needed to rebuild a team of physiotherapists and one from those days, Mary Grace Alba, recalled going to a weekly pub quiz with others in the team and preparing themed suppers in the nurses’ accommodation, each based on the country of origin of the team member of which there were many different ones.
Karen Lewis, then Ford, started work in 2008 as the lead outpatient physiotherapist with special skills in hydrotherapy. The new Physiotherapy Centre opened in 2009. Karen’s favourite memory was of the physio team’s dancing performances in several Christmas ‘Holy Cross has Talent’ shows.
A prime mover in such events was the Director of Clinical Services, Carol Fowlie whose years were from 2004 to 2015. Among her many happy memories were of the annual prize giving, the visit by HRH the Countess of Wessex and taking a ventilated patient to the London Eye. Excursions such as this were a long-standing tradition and one that continues to this day.
Another close team that maintained friendships long after leaving Holy Cross were the catering staff in the 2000s including Gill Trussler, Jean Orrow and Issy Fisher. They all recalled Holy Cross as a happy place to work, people being kind and helpful and working together to provide good care for the patients.
By the 1990s the number of frail elderly Sisters needing care gave rise to the need for staff to share the work of caring for them. Three who did so were Valerie Vowels, Sandra Bridgewater and Julie Bicknell. The kindness of the Sisters and Sister Mary Agnes’ insistence on doing things “just so” made a deep impression on them all.
This contribution from Fay Foster is special in that Fay was a patient but became, as so many others, a long-term friend of Holy Cross and a member of the Friends. It contains so much of what many others have shared, that we have included her whole account.
Memories of Holy Cross from Fay Foster
I have happy memories of Holy Cross from the time Michael and I moved to Haslemere as newly-weds in 1961. I think I am right that Sister Columba (later called Sister Rosemary) was then matron-in-charge but, if not, she was a few years later.
I had my wisdom teeth out there within the next ten years or so as Holy Cross was the centre for such NHS surgery. The thing that I remember most while there was that on my first night after the operation, a child was brought in, a survivor of a horrendous crash south of Midhurst which had killed her mother. She had broken her jaw and had a sort of metal cage around her face and head. She kept calling out for her mother and I remember going over and holding her hand and trying to give comfort. Having been feeling sorry for myself beforehand, her plight soon made me forget my own problems. But I have never forgotten her.
Twice a year during the 60s and 70s, following six performances in the Haslemere Hall of our musical productions, a very large group from the Haslemere Players would visit the hospital in the evening and give a concert version of the show to patients and staff. Subsequently, when I ran a concert party group in the town, I would often go up with friends and a pianist and do an afternoon entertainment in the occupational therapy room, where my school friend Jennifer Benson was one of the staff.
When my father died in 1984 and my mother decided to relocate to Haslemere to be near me, Holy Cross became very important in her life. Then aged 75, she had been very involved in parish life in Esher and was at a loose end in a strange town. Someone suggested she helped out at Holy Cross and this was the beginning of nearly 15 happy years working with the occupational therapists, doing painting and craftwork with the patients and feeling wanted. Latterly, she was asked to do the nails of patients in the hospital. She would massage their hands and, if they wanted it, would put coloured varnish on their nails. On one occasion she was assured by a patient that she would love a bright red colour and was rather surprised when someone came in and said: “Sister, your nails do look nice!” In bed, a nun looks much the same as any other patient!
When my mother was near the end of her life (she died in 1999 just short of her 91st birthday), she announced that she wanted to be cremated and that she would like her ashes to be scattered somewhere in Holy Cross. Sister Mary Agnes came up with the plan to put her urn within the grave of the next sister to die. This duly happened and we had a little ceremony up in the graveyard with the family, led by a young priest in the parish, Father Phil, who subsequently went to the States. It is very comforting to us to know that she is there and I am contemplating asking whether the same could be done for me when the time comes.
Memories of a patient’s husband contributed by Stephen Larkin
On my very first visit, even before I chose Holy Cross for Gillian, it was clear that the ethos of Holy Cross is about treating people as individuals, as valued human beings with the right to be active participants in life and the community. While no one went so far as to raise unrealistic expectations for Gillian's recovery I knew that by taking Gillian to Holy Cross she, and I, would be afforded the best opportunity to lead as normal a life as possible. I was not disappointed and, indeed, Holy Cross helped us to achieve far more than we ever could have reasonably hoped or ever thought possible.
Before arriving at Holy Cross in November 2001 life seemed hopeless. Gillian had spent a total of 20 months in a number of hospitals and rehabilitation centres. We had been told there was nothing more that could be done for Gillian so were seeking a permanent solution to her long term care needs. We arrived at Holy Cross having spent almost the entire 20 months previously confined within the walls of various institutions. Within our first week your wonderfully creative activities team had organised a trip to the local garden centre. I can still recall the emotion of that day when, after what had seemed like an eternity of hopelessness, I witnessed Gillian's face light up as she entered the colourful world of the centre adorned with the lights and decorations of Christmas. This was the first of many positive experiences for both of us.
There was also always a warm welcome for our daughter Charlotte, the rest of our families and the many friends who visited. Staff had time to care and did so with smiles on their faces and a positive outlook. Holy Cross never gave up on Gillian and offered rehabilitation throughout the duration of her stay through the in-house physiotherapy team. I've mentioned the wonderful activities team who, along with the dedicated team of volunteers provided so many social experiences that made life feel normal. These were regular, frequent and varied. Trips to the bungalow in Selsey in the summer months were particularly enjoyable and a great opportunity to forge closer relationships with other residents and families, many of whom I remain in contact with to the present day. Having access to the minibus showed a great deal of trust on your part and gave Gillian and me an extra level of independence.
Of course everyone was aware of my circumstances and the dilemma over how to divide my time between Gillian and our daughter Charlotte. It was Sister Mary Agnes who provided the answer by offering the thought that anyone can be cared for at home with the right level of support. That conversation convinced me that my dilemma could be solved by having Gillian and Charlotte at home with me under the same roof and so began a campaign that eventually led to a return home to Northern Ireland where Gillian, Charlotte and I have been living together as a family for the past 13 years.