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Sanatorium regime was work, rest and no play

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: July 23, 2014

By Gavin Jones

  • Picture from the Bugle archives taken at Prestwood in the 1950s, showing the open-fronted wards allowing maximum access to fresh air

  • Prestwood House, which later became the sanatorium

  • Harry Andrews' card, outlining what he should take with him

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THOUGH a few isolated cases have made an unwelcome appearance in recent years, the menace of tuberculosis, which caused so many to suffer terribly and for months or years at a time, is no longer the threat it once was.

But until about fifty years ago, TB was a very real worry for all; so much so that there were several dedicated sanatoriums in the area to nurse sufferers back to health.

We've recently received a handful of documents which were among the belongings of the late Harry Andrews of Netherton, among which are cards and booklets relating to Prestwood Sanatorium near Stourbridge, where he spent some time recovering from tuberculosis as a young man, either in the 1940s or '50s.

A flick through the booklet entitled RULES AND HINTS For the Guidance of Patients at Prestwood Sanatorium, Stourbridge, reveals that these were very different times – the conditions were strict, and if you weren't prepared to live with that, you were asked not to bother coming at all ...

"The rules at Prestwood are definite and the strict observance of them is demanded of you. The closer you adhere to them the better are the chances of recovery. If you imagine them irksome do not come to the Sanatorium, for failure to comply with the Rules means dismissal and waste of time and money.

"You are not coming to a holiday resort, but to a Health Centre. You are coming to combat your grim disease. You may be here for months: therefore come prepared, having so arranged your home affairs, that you may have your mind fixed on one thing and one only – the attainment of health – a task mark you, that will demand your undivided attention.

"Remember consumption can only be conquered by the determined efforts of patients and staff. Without your hearty and intelligent co-operation the labour of the staff is in vain.

"Regard the Sanatorium and its property as your private possession. Treat it as such. See that there is no waste of food, of light, of water, &c. Take an interest in the grounds, and place waste paper, matches, cigarette ends and all rubbish in the receptacles provided.

"Above all things be cheerful and learn contentment, then Prestwood will become dear to you as the place wherein you started on Health's Highway."

Having set the tone, the booklet goes on to lay out the rules, which involved not just obeying doctors and nurses regarding your health, but also helping with the running of the place. Here is a representative sample:

"RULES. All Sanatorium property must be respected and taken care of. Patients will be held responsible for breakages of thermometers and the loss or damage to other articles.

"LIGHTS. All lights must be out at 'Lights out'.

"SANATORIUM PROPERTY. Patients must keep their cubicles scrupulously clean. Patients making their own beds must thoroughly strip them and turn the mattresses daily. Slippers must not be worn in the grounds.

"FOOD. The food issued must be regarded, both in quantity and quality, as part of the medical treatment, and must be consumed as such.

"Chat pleasantly at meal times. If your appetite is feeble it usually means you are in need of more rest and fresh air. Eating between meals in forbidden.

"Alcohol in any form is forbidden.

"NOTE: All incoming and outgoing parcels are liable to inspection.

"REST. Patients must lie at full length, keep still, and wear their inhalers. Writing and talking are strictly forbidden.

"SPITTING elsewhere than into the proper mugs or flasks is forbidden. All patients must carry a flask during the day.

"HANDKERCHIEFS must not be left lying about, or pushed under the pillows, &c. No handkerchiefs must be sent with the laundry.

"RECREATION. Gambling is strictly forbidden. Skylarking (boisterous play) is strictly forbidden. Bring books to study and have a hobby – sewing, darning, knitting, crochet &c. are just as good for men as for women.

"Gambling and exciting games are bad for you and therefore not allowed."

If this seemed a bit mean, there was little comfort to be had in friends and family. They were strictly limited in both number and frequency of visits ...

"VISITORS. Two visitors are allowed each patient on Sunday. Visitors must conform to the rules on the 'pass' and to the regulations of the Sanatorium."

Strict as all those rules may have been, they stopped well short of banning the one thing that the modern reader would assume to be right at the top of the list ...

"SMOKING. Smoking is strictly forbidden at all times in the Recreation and Dining Rooms, Lavatories and Bathrooms. It is also forbidden during exercise hours, rest hours, and for half an hour before temperatures and meals. Patients may smoke during recreation hours and three quarters of an hour after each meal."

The occasional fag was one of very few comforts to be had by the recovering patient at Prestwood. Harry's copy of the General Time Table reveals that this was, as stressed in the preface, no holiday camp.

Everyone had to be up to have their temperature taken at 7am, with time for a quick cocoa before 7.15, when all were to wash, shave, dress and "do their respective duties."

At 8am it was breakfast, and then "Patients have their first smoke after Breakfast."

9am saw "All help with Pavilion duties", while between 10 and 11.30 it was "exercise and work".

There are several mentions of rest periods in the earlier part of the booklet, but the timetable reveals that there was in fact very little rest to be had; this was almost like a working day. At 11.45 work stopped for hot drinks and a wash, but the "Rest Hour" which began at noon was actually over in fifty minutes, with preparations for dinner at 1pm.

From 2.15 until tea at 4, it was more exercise and work, with an hour or so for recreation after that – with no gambling over cards or dominoes, of course.

Then back to bed, lying full length and still for another hour's rest, followed by supper, and another hour's recreation. Hot milk and bed rounded off the day at 8pm, with Lights Out at 8.30 sharp.

"In the interests of all," urged the booklet, "patients must learn to be absolutely punctual and to carry out their time-table with a willing and helpful spirit."

Harry had also kept the bright pink card which listed the clothing he should take with him to Prestwood. Compared to modern times, the list was short, considering this was for a full-time, open-ended stay – though the first item on the list seems a strange one to the 21st century reader. The requirements were:

One Suit

Overcoat (autumn and winter) or Raincoat (spring and summer)

One or two pairs boots or shoes.

One pair warm House Slippers.

Two or three Day Shirts and sets of Underclothing.

Three Pairs Socks.

Two Night Shirts or Pyjama Suits.

Hair Brush and Comb,

Tooth Brush and Dentifrice.

Do you have memories of staying at a local sanatorium you'd like to share? Write to us at the usual address, or email gjones@blackcountry bugle.co.uk.

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