CHILDHOOD MEMORIES OF KNOWLE HOSPITAL ESTATE
by Bernice McDouall (nee Cunliffe)
I lived on the estate from my birth in 1946 until my marriage in 1967, and I have nothing but fond memories of staff, patients, and children, who worked, lived and played there.
Christening of Hilary Cunliffe about 1953
When we started school we were sometimes taunted, "you live in the Loony Bin" and were consequently dubbed "The Knowleites", this sometimes led to the odd skirmish in the school playground, quickly broken up by the teachers. I still feel though, that to this day the children of the estate grew up with strong moral values and a better understanding of people less fortunate than others.
The staff of the hospital were a group of very dedicated people who not only worked at the hospital, but spent much of their spare time ensuring the well being of the patients.
Let me start with the hospital grounds, so beautifully maintained by Fred Stone, his staff and also the patients who worked on them. Everywhere you looked there were beautiful flower beds, the grass was immaculate, hedges trimmed, barely a weed in sight. There were the greenhouses where Mr Stone grew all the flowers that adorned the estate, vegetables for the hospital kitchen, and each and everyone of these people took pride in their work.
Bernice ready for the fancy dress parade 1953 Edith, Lindon and Annie Cunliffe at Knowle Horticultural Show 1950
There was the horticultural show each year, where staff, children, and patients joined together in a day of fun and plenty of competition. The flower arrangements, the preserves, the vegetables, the children’s talent competition, the children’s fancy dress parade, all ably judged, and it certainly was an honour to win one of these categories.
In our house on that day the kitchen was full of flowers waiting for my mother to arrange and hopefully win an award.
Edith Cunliffe as the Fairy Godmother
Then there was the Annual pantomime, put on by members of staff for both children and patients alike to enjoy. The New Years Eve Ball surely the event of the year, where people dressed up in their finery, the hard work of the staff recognized, and plenty of good food and dancing.
What about the children, what did they do? They enjoyed the beautiful surroundings they lived in, roamed freely, made friends with the patients, sometimes got into mischief, attended Sunday School under the supervision of Mrs Davies, put on an annual Nativity Play in the church, went to the Hospital Hall every Friday night to watch films along with patients and off duty staff. The highlight of their year began in October when all of them started collecting firewood for Guy Fawkes Night, and the bonfire always had to be bigger than the previous year.
On the footpath to Knowle Shop 1953 Fancy Dress Parade at Knowle Show 1951 Hospital Staff Outing 1951
I have left the best to last, the patients, what amazing wonderful people, happy in their surroundings, after all it was their home, always working, they made furniture in the Occupational Therapy department, (to this day I have in my house a little stool made by some of them). They worked on the farm, in the grounds, in the kitchens, gardened for the staff. A Polish man dug our garden each year and planted vegetables, in exchange for some cigarettes. Mr Baggott fell in love with Alice, and they would often be seen walking around the estate hand in hand, with huge smiles on their faces. It was Mr Baggott who knocked on our front every Sunday without fail with three Nuttals Mintoes in his hand one each for me and my two sisters.
Decorating the Christmas Tree late '60s
This is just a small glimpse of what life was like on the estate, now I see that Knowle is called a "Village" and the lovely old Church is a "Community" Hall. That was Knowle in my day, a "Village Community" and I hope that the spirit will live on with the people that are so lucky to call Knowle their home.
Christmas Bazaar about 1970
Newly qualified nurses about 1970
Like all families ours had its good times, bad times and very sad times, so too did our extended family of staff and patients, but through it all we maintained our sense of humour, and the ability not only to laugh at ourselves but at each other with no offence taken.
I was definitely not the best behaved child on the estate, and I am sure I gave my parents a few headaches. I was very fond of visiting the Reeves family that lived just up the road, fondly known as Aunty Gerty and Uncle Jim. Uncle Jim was my godfather, perhaps that is why he always forgave me when I did something wrong. I remember one time that Uncle Jim had cycled to Warwicks in Wickham to get some paraffin for his stove, the houses were so cold in winter. I saw that he put the can in the outside toilet, so of course I had to investigate and open the can. I thought I would see what would happen if I tipped the paraffin down the toilet. When I realized what I had done I made a hasty retreat home. My mother took one look at my face, and asked what mischief I had been up to this time, of course Mum found out. I had to apologize to Uncle Jim who had to make another trip to Wickham for more paraffin. However it seemed that I could never learn. On visiting the Reeves family another time I decided that I would pick some of his prize daffodils to put in a vase, unfortunately I picked them right at the tip of the flower. This time however I was caught red handed, back home I flew and yet another apology. The Reeves emigrated to Australia in the 50's, what a sad day that was, but I communicated with them until their deaths, and to this day I write to their eldest daughter Gill on a regular basis. I remember Gill telling me that just before she died Aunty Gerty said that she could hear the fog horns in the Solent.
There was a 10 year age difference between my oldest and youngest sister, and often Mum would ask us to take Hilary out for a walk. On one such walk we went down to the farm and past the coal shed, where the trains would stop to drop off coal for the hospital furnace. There was a slight incline and we decided that rather than push the pram we would drag it behind us. Unfortunately the handle came off, and the pram rolled all down the slope ending up in the coal shed. Needless to say Hilary was covered in dust! We got her home and cleaned up, but it was hard to explain why the handle had fallen off!!!!! On another walk we decided that we would go down to the dell. There was a spot where the river narrowed, so we carried the pram over the water first, and then proceeded to hand Hilary over. Unfortunately we dropped her into the river, she was pretty wet so again we had to rush her home and dry her out. We still chuckle about it today, and jokingly say it is a wonder that Hilary survived her childhood. She did however, and now works for a Community Mental Health Team in Hampshire. As our parents took care of the patients at Knowle, now my sister does it in the community, they would have been proud of that.
I had a chance to visit Mr Grant in 2004. He was our neighbour for many years, and he told me the amusing story of one patient who had been an electrician before becoming a patient at Knowle. Well this dear gentlemen knew that the main power switch for the hospital was in the basement, so occasionally he would go down there and “flick the switch” plunging the hospital into total darkness. Did anyone get angry, of course not, they just chuckled.
We never locked our doors at Knowle, there was never the need, and it seemed that each home had an ever open door. On one particular day my Mum, who worked as a night sister, got up from her daytime sleep, and on going into the living room, she found a lady patient sitting there doing her knitting, a few stitches had been dropped. Did Mum care, of course not, again a chuckle, and the patient was treated to a nice cup of tea. On another occasion, the painter had come to our house to decorate the living room. He duly arrived on his bicycle carrying his ladder and cans of paint, and spent a happy day doing what he loved. When it was time to leave for the day, he discovered that his bicycle was missing, and we all started to laugh. We guessed that a patient had gone for a nice bike ride, and of course we were right. Both the patient and bicycle were found safe and sound, and the painter’s bike had made someone else happy as well.
It would be so nice if there was more laughter in our lives today, laughter is so infectious, and it certainly brightens up a person’s day.
Bernice McDouall (nee Cunliffe)
It has become apparent to me that keeping the memory of Knowle hospital alive is important to other people too. I would like to share with you some memories written in a letter to me from Gill Nelson (formerly Reeves), who lived at Knowle before emigrating to Australia with her family in the 1950's.
I got my friend to look up the website on your story and that of the cemetery; it brought back heaps of my earlier memories of Knowle. She printed all the relevant information for me which I can keep to look back on. Do you remember your Mum and mine with the kids in tow going up to the woods to pick bluebells, and collect wood for our fires. Also getting the chestnuts when they were ready. Our childhood was exciting and safe, we would head off all day down to the dell on our sleds or visit the girl guides and have a drink of cocoa with them down by the river, wonderful memories. We even made cubbies in the old air raid shelter opposite our house. Another thing you may not be aware of is our parents' used to do the Pools every week together and the night they would have won the big one, my Mum had not put it in that week as she couldn't afford it, and when Dad saw the results he thought we'd got it until he came home and asked Mum where the form was!!!!! Poor Mum I don't think she ever lived it down, they were all so upset".
Recently a former employee of the hospital died, I sent a condolence card to the funeral home, the family were so pleased to hear from me, (we had lost touch after I emigrated to Canada), they wrote to me and we are now communicating again, Mr. Rochford was 92 when he died, he and his wife had been together for over 70 years. They were great walkers, and every day went for a walk around the estate, always hand in hand, and this had continued even after they moved from Knowle, until just before his death earlier this year.
I am also hoping to meet up with Rosemary Holland and her brother John. Rosemary has been living and working as a nurse in Florida, and has decided to return to England, her brother lives in Canada and she is coming to visit him before returning home.
Even though some of the Knowle children live in different parts of the world, I find it amazing that we still have this great connection, to me it means that our childhood was indeed very special.
I was happy to hear that the War Memorial has been returned to Knowle, it is back where it belongs, close to the Chapel. That memorial was very important to my mother and also to William and Ivy Bowers, my Mum lost her first husband John Arkinstall on HMS Hood, he was 30 years of age, William and Ivy Bowers lost their son Leo Stuart Bowers on HMS Hood, he was just 18 years of age. My Mum always said that when she looked at the Knowle Memorial it reminded her that so many had given their lives for their country, and that Memorials all over England were linked in some way or another. Each year there is a memorial service at Boldre in the New Forest for the crew of HMS Hood, where the Commander of HMS Hood lived, his name was Vice Admiral Holland. I can remember going to this service every May when I was little, it was very moving. There is an amazing web site for HMS Hood, so the memory of those that lost their lives lives on.
It is my understanding that the future of the Chapel at Knowle is uncertain, and that is very sad, it holds many memories for me and other people, it is where my sister and I were christened, where we attended Sunday School, where the funeral service for my Mum was held. Every week Patients' Staff and children all worshipped there, The Chapel was always adorned with beautiful floral arrangements with flowers from the hospital greenhouses, and my Mum was one of the ladies on the Chapel flower rosta. The Chapel also housed some personal memorials, that in the redevelopment were misplaced,, it was only by pure chance that we retrieved the Memorial Cross for our Mother. At present there is nowhere for these to be housed, they are part of the history of Knowle, and should not be lost, until such time as a suitable place for them can be found they are being cared for by family members.
Lastly I have just learned that just after the First World War, there was a TB hospital at Knowle, many of the returning Soldiers' contracted this, and were sent there to recuperate or in some cases to die, so very sad.
The contributions made by staff to sometimes forgotten members' of society should always be remembered, they took care of the people that did not have the capability to take care of themselves. I will always be glad that I was part of a very compassionate community.