I received two emails from Harold Clark following my post about Panteg Hospital. He worked there in the 1950s. This was the same time that my wife and I went there with the Toc H film projector. We usually arrived about 7.30p.m. and left about 10.00p.m. Harold, being only 15 at the time, did not work in the evenings so he cannot remember us going there.
I can sympathise with Harold and his comments about the behaviour of Olive. When I was unpacking the projector and getting it ready to show the film, it was quite common for a dozen or so of the women to crowd around to watch. Some of them would ask “Will you be my boyfriend?” and similar questions. I was glad I had my wife with me! Perhaps Olive was one of those who asked!
Here are some of the interesting comments Harold made:
“I first started work at Panteg Hospital at the age of 15 in 1955 as the first apprentice the then Newport and East Mon Hospital Management took on. There was one tradesman for every trade then based at the hospital. They also had a small building site based at St Woolos, Newport.
“The Block C for the women I remember well. One of the inmates there called Olive used to call me a “buddy nutent”. She had a speech problem. This caused some excitment when I started seeing my now wife on Saturday in Pontypool when Olive started calling loudly across town “Hey carpenter boy you buddy nutent” nearly cost me the person who was to become my wife. Some years ago I heard that Olive was one hundred years old.
“Some inmates were placed in there with not a lot wrong with them but could not get out unless someone took charge of them. These would be the ones that took the women out on Saturdays. They also did a lot of work in the hospital. It is a different place now. I remember the gardener putting in a gold fish pond and the head porter put some fish in. One was a catfish which grew very large and somebody put it in the header tank for the boiler house. The water was quite warm. One guy on cleaning this out got a shock when shoveling the mud from the bottom. He came across the catfish and they say he came out of the tank like a rocket. The tank had 6ft sides and he was not all that steady on his feet at the best of times. Each person that saw the fish I think added a foot to its length but it must have been large and may still be living in the canal.
“As you enter County Hospital the building on the left we converted to a medical stores. In the days of the workhouse this was split into cells and in the rear wall backing onto the now car park were metal grills with holes in them where inmates would have to break up stone in the cells and it had to fit through the holes in the plates. I believe they had to break a certain amount every day. I would think you can still make out where we removed the plates.
“In the field that was behind the maternity block, which is now built on and used for other things, there was a row of stones from the rear of the houses on Stafford Road to the canal, the end nearest the swimming baths (long gone now). Apparently these stones accumulated again in the days of the workhouse when the field was where a lot of the food was grown for the workhouse. Inmates would be lined up in a row and had to walk across the field where they would pick up the stones and throw them in front of them until they got to the other end.
“I remember one year at the bonfire that was put on for the patients of bloc C a member of staff’s son was larking about and accidentally caused a firework to end up in the box with all the rest setting the lot off together. It cut short the bonfire party that night but nobody was hurt. I have left out the name of the boy but if he reads this he might add to it.”