Chris Holm -Memories of King George V Hospital – 1959 to 1977

Reasons for writing.

It had been my intention, and still is, to write a personal history; the intended readership being my family.  I decided that some geographical research would be useful and also to check dates. With this in mind I typed King George V hospital into Google. I was both surprised and delighted to find so much information, script, photographs and video on this website. 

In reading the various comments which had been posted, I decided that I would like to contribute. To give a flavour of what the hospital was like in the 60s and 70s from a prospective of someone who grew up within the KGV community in those decades. Also, to provide some information and put names to the residents of the staff cottages in Salt Lane, who were my family’s immediate neighbours. 

KGV Hospital 1974. Salt Lane at bottom of photo.

My brother Roy, who is 11 years older than me, left home when he was 18 to undertake an apprenticeship and has already submitted memories of the 1950s for inclusion to the KGV website. I also have a sister who is 7 years older than me. I think my recollections are reasonably accurate and true, but it was a long time ago.

Roy, Sylvia & Chris 3 Salt Lane 1956

Moving to Hydestile

Winnie & Jim Southend Pier c1938

My parents were Jim and Winnie Holm. They were living in the East End of London when they married in 1940. My father applied for and succeeded in gaining employment at KGV as the hospital carpenter the same year. The position came with the tenancy of one of the staff cottages, namely 3 Salt Lane. Possibly because one of his duties was to be “on call” evenings and weekends to react to emergency maintenance issues. It was also the reason we had a telephone, so that he could be contacted by the wards. The family we’re allowed to make and receive outside calls providing of course that a line was available. The switchboard was in the gate house at the Bell Mouth. We were always aware that the gate house porter could possibly be listening  into our phone calls and probably was. 

They were very fortunate to move from a small, terraced house in London to a three-bedroom semi-detached house with a large garden, just as they started their married lives together. They were equally fortunate to leave the East End before the 2nd World War intensified and the Blitz started.  Although the hospital was already well established, when my parents moved to Hydestile, for them it was the start of an important chapter in their lives.

For me looking back over 60 years, I realise that the hospital was an integral part of their lives. They had “jobs for life” both working continuously until they reached retirement age and could collect both their occupational and state pensions. The hospital provided a stable environment in which they raised their family.

Winnie, Jim & Roy 3 Salt Lane 1941

This must have been particularly important and a relief to my father who left school at 14 to start a 7-year apprenticeship. On completing his training, he was made redundant because it was cheaper to employ boys rather than qualified men. The year was 1926, “The Great Depression”. Life must have been very tough.

For my parents, having both been born and brought up in East End of London, the impact of moving to leafy Surrey in the splendid isolation of the countryside must have been tremendous. By the time I was born, my parents were very well established, and I believe respected members of the hospital community. 

My Father

My father would have been well known because the hospital was a self-contained entity with all routine maintenance undertaken in-house. He was also the “man to go to” for emergency repairs and would have been very familiar with the wards and other parts of the infrastructure. I have a photograph of my father in his workshop and even in his late fifties, he wore a white shirt and a tie under his overalls.

Jim Circa 1960

In addition, he was the treasurer of the Hydestile and Hambledon Social Club. There was a Christmas saving scheme which would commence in the beginning of the year. Every Friday night he would be at the club to collect and record small deposits of cash from the other members. I suspect this would have been one or two pre-decimal shillings. The monies would then be deposited in a savings account at one of the banks in Godalming. In December these savings (plus interest) would be paid out to the depositors so that they had funds to enjoy a good Christmas. Neither of my parents could drive and so when the time came to collect the funds, one of his friends would take him to the bank and return him home with the cash. I remember when I was in my teens, the doors at 3 Salt Lane being securely locked and helping him count out the money owed to each person and putting it into a named envelope for them. The amount of cash in the house was probably in excess of £1,000, which in those days was a very substantial sum. Although there was always the potential for an attack on the house and the theft of the money, this never occurred, and my father ran the scheme on behalf of the club for many years.

My Mother

Winnie c1934

My mother, who was born in 1915, stayed on at school until she was 18 to matriculate, which was the equivalent to A Levels these days. The economic climate in 1933 meant she could not continue her education and had to find paid employment. This she found working in accounting roles in the retail industry. She was always very good with figures and was a keen card player. She told me she met my father at a whist drive, and continued to go to whist drives which would be held regularly in local Surrey villages.

 My mother worked full time in the General Office, as Deputy Office Manager. Amongst other duties, she was responsible for calculating the staff wages, which were always paid out in cash every Friday. The cash would arrive at 9.30, delivered by the bank, doors locked, and monies and payslips allocated to named envelopes ready to be collected from midday onwards. The recipients would have to sign to confirm they had received their wages. She would have been well known to all those collecting their weekly wage packet. All the manual staff worked for an hourly rate and all calculations would have to take into account allowances for split shifts, time and half for Saturdays, double time for Sundays, and if staff were lucky enough to be on the rota and working that day, treble time for Bank Holidays. Invariably, with the various permutations of hourly rates, some staff would occasionally question if they had received all they thought they were due.

Shopping Amenities

KGV and St Thomas’ in the 1970’s

KGV had its own small shop and canteen. My mother oversaw this and reconciled the takings. It stocked newspapers, magazines, confectionery, stationery, toiletries, and other sundry items. Apart from this and the Country Counter (Post Office and general store) opposite the entrance to KGV, the nearest decent selection of shops was in Godalming some three miles away. My mother would travel to Godalming on a Wednesday and a Saturday, usually taking one of her children with her to help carry back the food shopping. 

There was a mobile shop, which I believe was operated by the Co-op which stocked groceries and tinned goods. It would arrive once a week in the early evening and would park on the Staff Cottages side of Salt Lane, immediately down the hill from number 3 by the storm water drain. Once a fortnight the mobile library would stop in the same spot.

Jim, Winnie, Roy & Sylvia LHS with friends, 1949

Transport Links

Godalming, the nearest town was reached by the 47 public bus service or the Sanitorium Bus which was operated by the hospital. Guildford was 8 miles distant and accessed by 2 separate Aldershot and District Bus Company buses or to Milford Station and then the train.

The Sanitorium Bus was affectionately known as the “Sanny” bus even after KGV was no longer a TB hospital. It offered a free service for staff and their families. From memory, it ran every day, leaving KGV at 10.00 and 2.00 and at other times, but I can’t remember the schedule.

Salt Lane Entrance and Gatehouse 1950’s

 It would commence its journey outside the restaurant, the second stop being the shelter opposite the Gate Lodge. Down Salt Lane turning up Tuesley Lane to Milford Chest Hospital; then Milford Railway Station. Next stop was Milford Crossroads and along the Portsmouth Road into Godalming stopping at The Odeon before going to Godalming Railway Station. The “Sanny” bus was scheduled to meet the trains stopping at Milford and Godalming railway stations for staff going to London or Portsmouth for the day. As children we sat on the back seat and so poor was the buses suspension that we would be shot into the air as it crossed the humpback bridge on the approach to Milford crossroads.

The Social Structure

King George V Hospital was a well organised, self-contained community with a common purpose of treating the sick. It had a strict hierarchy in which everybody knew the role they were expected to perform, and I think in the main people were content with the order it brought to their lives. From the senior medical staff involved in cutting edge research, to the domestic staff whose duties were rather menial. For the latter it provided them with employment and a home. For example,people who had been in domestic service all their lives, rather like in the TV drama Downton Abbey, where the servants lived in their employer’s home and meals were part of the employment package. Changing times found them unemployed and homeless with a limited skill set. KGV gave them the opportunity to transfer to similar work with similar benefits.

Accommodation and Home Ownership

It was a sign of the times that the majority of staff did not own their own homes but lived in accommodation provided by the hospital. Whether it was one of the single rooms above the kitchens for the female domestic staff or Hares Grove, a large, detached house with its own driveway, where the Medical Superintendent lived. 

Taking Care of the Staff

Similar to those who had been in service in UK, the hospital also attracted people from Europe who had been displaced by the Second World War and provided them with a safe refuge and means to support themselves. Their employment package gave them a room, uniform, laundry services, breakfast, lunch and dinner, coffee in the morning and tea in the afternoon; all served in the restaurant seven days a week. The cost of their accommodation and meals were taken directly from their wages. All the money they received in cash every Friday was theirs to spend or save as they wished. For a number of the staff this was beneficial as they did not have to worry about finding accommodation, go food shopping or cook. They did not need to budget for the essentials of day to day living.

Staff Medical Facilities

The hospital had a staff sick bay upstairs in the administration building. This comprised of a clinic for a local GP to hold a surgery and provide medical diagnosis and treatment for minor ailments. There was also a ward with 4 beds for staff who needed in-house treatment and nursing care. The hospital was a self-contained community where the needs of patients and staff were fully catered for. A significant number of the staff would probably not have been able to survive in the outside world. Changes in society and the trauma of the second world war had a profound effect on many people and the hospital provided a sanctuary. 

My Own Perspective

For me, 3 Salt Lane, Hydestile was where I was born. It was my home and is where I grew up, played with friends, roamed the local countryside and was educated in local state schools and colleges. The hospital shaped my formative years and was where I would return from university each vacation to be looked after by my parents. Taking temporary employment in the gardens or on the wards, including Woodlands, to supplement my university grant from Surrey County Council.

Salt Lane staff cottages 1930’s


Jim & Chris 1952

In the 1950s and 60s, if I wasn’t raining and the weather was good, we would spend all day outdoors. We had the freedom to roam the local countryside. Perhaps the biggest danger was to watch out for adders which might be basking in the sun, when we were exploring Hydon’s Ball. We would build camps and play all the usual childhood games. This would include reenacting battles from the action films we watched on the television and at the cinema. Namely, Westerns and King Aurthur and the Knights of the Round Table. We would make bows and arrows, and wooden swords cut from the ash hedge of 3 Salt Lane. Also, homemade catapults, the Y shaped body cut from the hedgerow. The ¼ inch catapult rubber purchased from the outdoor pursuits shop Bourne’s, which was at the bottom end of Bridge Street next to the Co-op in Godalming.

If there was a sufficient fall of snow, we would take our homemade toboggans to West Surrey golf course and sledge down the 17th fairway. We would also construct go carts using old pram wheels and race them down the hills in the woods at the top of Salt Lane.

Tree climbing was also a rite of passage. Going up was never the problem: it was the coming down. There were also trees which we used to support homemade swings. I remember there was an ash tree growing at the side of Salt Lane. We had a trapeze made from half a cricket stump and would swing out over the cars as they drove down the road. This activity was short lived because my father spotted us, came out of the house and promptly cut off the branch we were using.

Other daft and dangerous activities included running after the tractor whilst it was mowing between the apple trees and trying to get into the cloud of grass cuttings thrown up by the rotating blades of the gang mower.

Primary School

I went to Hambledon Primary School, where in addition to the 3Rs, reading, writing and arithmetic, learning about the countryside was a key part of the curriculum. It was felt important to be able to identify trees by their shape and leaves. Also, to be able to name British wild birds and mammals. We would regularly take Plaster of Paris impressions of animal tracks when we went on nature walks. Maypole and Country Dancing also featured on the curriculum, as did making models from balsa wood and bowls with papier mache. 

This was in the 1950s and 60s and BBC Schools Radio played a key part of my education and was where I was introduced to the sciences. This was the subject I enjoyed most. We would listen to the broadcasts through a loudspeaker contained in a large square wooded case. The BBC also broadcast a school’s programme called Singing Together. I still have the booklets from 1960 and 1961.

Hambledon was a Church of England primary school and the scriptures and singing of hymns at morning assembly was drummed into us. Every Monday morning the assembly would be taken by the Reverent Elton who lived in the Rectory on the other side of the road. 

 It was also a time when every child received a third of a pint full fat milk delivered daily by the milkman. In the Winter it would arrive frozen solid and would be stood on top of the solid fuel range to thaw, ready for the mid-morning break. 

Photo of Hambledon Primary School outing c1961 which I believe was to the Science Museum.

I knew the surrounding countryside very well, and on those occasions when we were allowed home early, having attended a service at Saint Peter’s Church and the 47 bus was not due for another couple of hours, we would walk home, taking the shortcuts across the farmers’ fields and through the hospital orchards. 

On Ash Wednesday we would walk up to St Peters Church to attend the service and sing. More importantly, you had to remember to pick a twig from an ash tree and display it in the top of your sock. At Primary school we wore short trousers with long socks throughout the year. Failure to display a twig entitled older boys to stamp on your foot, which could be particularly painful if the weather was cold, and Easter was early that year.

In addition to various religious services we attended, the year was punctuated with other events which were not held at the school. Hambledon Village Hall was the venue for the annual jumble sale and the school Christmas pantomime. The church annual fete/garden party would be held at the Rectory which was opposite the school.

3 Salt Lane.

Salt Lane is in a cutting and in the 60s and 70s there was a path running along the top of the bank in front of the gardens. The boundary between the path and front garden was an evergreen hedge, as was the boundary between numbers three and four. The side hedges were predominantly ash trees. There was a gateway in the west side of the hedge which led into the “Playing Field” and also up to the orchard and blackcurrant bushes. The Playing Field was where we would play football and cricket, climb trees and build swings. There was a crab apple tree, which had a crown you could sit in some 12 feet in the air. 

Croquet. Left to right Chris, Brother-in-Law David, Uncle Fred, Cousin Robin and Roy. c1973

At the top of our garden there were three large cooking apple trees. These were excellent for climbing and provided good views over the blackcurrants. There were also two Cox’s Pippin apple trees which were halfway up the garden and were ideally spaced to act as goal posts. When my father first moved to No 3, he cultivated large parts of the garden for growing vegetables and fruit bushes. This was of course during the Second World War when food was rationed. In my teens, when these beds were no longer used, I embarked upon a project to level out the garden to a gentle slope and create a lawn. This was then used to play various sports including, football, badminton, and croquet, although the ground was never really flat enough. I made the mallets cut from the ash trees from the hedge.

Adjacent to Number 3

There were a number of tenanted farms adjacent to the hospital. I came home one day from school to discover a hole in the hedge and a large cow grazing in the back garden. When my father came home, he contacted Mr Mason the local farmer, who came over with one of the farmhands to collect his animal.

No3. in the 2005

Our garden at 3 Salt Lane was next to the blackcurrant field, which was something like 15 rows wide and 120 bushes long. In the summer when it was time to pick the fruit, the air would be filled with the melodic sound of Italian women singing in their native language as they picked the fruit. This was labour intensive work and a way for staff earn some extra income being paid for each box they filled. As teenagers it was source of casual employment for us and a chance to earn some cash. The blackcurrant bushes and the apple orchards were also a great place to make camps and play when we were children.

KGV was a TB hospital and when we were young, we were restricted to where we could play. We were not allowed to cross the driveway leading to Hares Grove and into another of the orchards beyond. There were however two highlights of the year when we could, accompanied by parents, enter the central parts of the hospital grounds. The first was the annual fete, held in high summer, with a fancy-dress competition, a coconut shy, tombola, plate smashing and roll-a-penny. Opened by a local celebrity such as Terry Scott, who we would have recognised from the television. The other was the Christmas party for the staff’s children, held in mid-December in the Large Hall. I remember in 1963 having received my present from under the tree from Mr Morris dressed as Santa, running home to 3 Salt Lane to watch the first ever episode of Doctor Who.

Gran, Roy & Sylvia Xmas party 1951
Staff Kids Xmas Party c1952

Salt Lane Neighbours

In the 1950s our neighbours in 4 Salt Lane were Mr and Mrs Nentwich. From memory I think he was the radiologist and she a nursing sister. He was a keen photographer and I have a number of black and white photographs he took of my family. These include one of my sister and I with Mrs Nentwich taken in the garden of 4 Salt Lane.

Chris, Sylvia and Mrs Nentwich c1959

Percy and Rose Morris lived at number 5. He was always Mr Morris to me both as a child and when as a student, I worked in the hospital in various temporary jobs. Rose was my mother’s best friend. I was good friends with their second son Andy who I am still in contact with. Mr Morris, the Hospital Administrator, was responsible for all non-medical staff, the General Office, property and equipment maintenance, kitchens, restaurant, porters, gardeners and the farm. 

Chris and Aunt Edie Crawford 1975

The Morris’s moved into number 5 shortly after the end of the Second World War. Prior to that Number 5 had been the home of Alex and Edie Crawford. Mr Crawford was the Hospital Engineer and my father’s line manager. Edie was a Nursing Sister.  My parents were good friends with them. I never knew Mr Crawford but remember Aunt Edie who remained a friend of the family after she left Salt Lane. I have a photograph of Aunt Edie and I in the hospital restaurant at a Christmas do in 1975.

Number 6 I think was home to the hospital chef and his family. I have a memory of going there to play when his kids had one of the childhood illnesses. The belief in those days being you were going to catch it sometime, so it was better to catch it when young and not later in life.

 Number 7 were used as accommodation for Nursing Sisters. Number 8 was the home of the chief engineer. His name was Mr Doodson and he had moved with his family from Liverpool in the early 1960’s. I was friends with his younger son David.

My father’s sister, Aunt Alice, was a seamstress in the laundry room. All the uniforms and bedding were washed, mended/altered and ironed on site. Her husband Uncle Percy worked as a stoker in the boiler room. They lived at number 1 Salt Lane. The floor in their sitting room sloped to such an extent that marbles would roll from one corner to the other. 

Alice and Percy Wedding 1938

Number 2 was accommodation for male orderlies. Number 1 and 2 were single storey wooden framed buildings with asbestos panels between the rooms. I remember them being demolished circa 1964. The timbers were excellent for building huts and fuel for campfires.

In the 1960s and early 70s, the occupants of Salt Lane changed. The Nentwich’s retired and Carlos and Tanya Martinez moved into No 4. Carlos was the restaurant manager and Tanya a nurse. We were good friends and played tennis in the summer months on the hospital tennis court. I am still in touch with them.

Carlos would drive he and I to Wimbledon to watch Tennis Championships. It was the 1970s and, in those days, you could go in the first week and pay for admission to the outside courts. There was always the chance of seeing some of the top players. Then at 6 o-clock we would wait by the exit of the Centre Court and ask the kids from the school parties who were going home if we could have their ticket. We could then get to see the top-rated games until 10 o-clock. In later years the actor Kieron Moore, moved into a house at Hydestile Crossroads.  Carlos, and I would play tennis with him and his sons.

Percy and Rose Morris moved out of No 5 and bought a house opposite Rodborough County Secondary School in Witley. Pete (engineer) and Val Kelly moved into No 5 with their family. No 6 was the home of Malcolm George (Head Chef) and his family. Derek Pink (Deputy Chef) and family lived in No 7.  Carlos, Pete , Malcolm and Derek all had young families with children at school. When the Doodson’s left the hospital, the replacement engineer Mr Fossey moved into No 8 with his family.

The Cedar Hall

I believe the Cedar Hall was built in 1964. My father laid the hard wood dance floor. My sister was married in Saint Peter’s Church, Hambledon and the wedding reception was held in the Cedar Hall.

The Cedar Hall and its bar was also a social centre for the hospital and would be open on Friday and Saturday nights. I used to occasionally serve behind the bar and was on the team who helped with the bar in the Large Hall when there were social functions. I don’t remember if there was any renumeration, but I suspect there may well have been. Following in my brother’s footsteps I did undertake shifts opening, operating the bar and closing the Hydestile and Hambledon Social Club. This was paid employment.

The Cedar Hall would open in the week if there was a darts match on. I played in the hospital team with Carlos, Pete, Derek, Malcolm, Robbie, Alan, Peter and others. For the away matches we would have the use of the hospital’s minibus to take us to a local pub. The Cedar Hall took over from the Large Hall as the staff social club and for events like the New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Mr Morris came into the Cedar Hall early one evening, which was a very rare occurrence. And even more strange, Pete Kelly challenged him as to who could down a pint the quickest. The loser to stand the cost of the two pints. Mr Morris accepted the bet. He opened his mouth and simply poured the beer down his throat in one go. Pete was only halfway through his pint and had to pick up the tab.

Social Life

I have been in all the staff cottages in Salt Lane at various times, both as a child and later as an adult. Carlos, Pete, Malcolm and Derek, Nos 4,5,6 &7 were always very a sociable crowd.  I attended many parties and barbeques in their houses and gardens.

The nearest pub was the Merry Harriers some mile and half away.  And so, as teenagers we found our entertainment within the hospital and immediate vicinity. The Hydestile and Hambledon Social Club, where my father was treasurer for many years, was a short distance from the entrance to St. Thomas’ Hospital. The club had a snooker table and a dart board and was where we were allowed to congregate, the licencing laws being more flexible in those days. The Cedar Hall had a full-sized table tennis table and for some reason a large rocking horse. The dart board was in the main area away from the bar.


Next to the tennis court, there was a concrete building, which served as a bicycle shed on the roadside, with a flat vertical wall and a horizontal concrete slab on the other. This was the practice wall where I learnt to play tennis. It also doubled up for football kickabouts.

I was practicing there one evening when I was 14 and was invited to “make up a four” with, Dr Little, Dr Robb and Miss Wenban-Smith. After which I regularly played in Tennis Club events organised by the medical staff. Around that time, I developed athlete’s foot and asked Dr Robb’s advice. He recommended White Iodine and gave me a bottle. It worked a treat.

The tennis court was an important social hub. My friends and I as teenagers would meet and play on long summer evenings. For those of us who didn’t have our own rackets, these could be borrowed from the Gate Lodge. The Gate Lodge was staffed 24 hours a day 7 days a week, It housed the hospital switchboard and was where staff clocked on when arriving from outside the hospital. When KGV became Hydestile Hospital the Gate Lodge closed and the building was reconfigured and was the home of Mr McDougal the Physiotherapist.

Although I had my own racket, I was usually the one who requested the loan of the equipment including tennis balls because I was the eldest and my parents had status in the hospital; plus some of my friends did not have a connection to the hospital. In the winter we would play badminton in the Large Hall. This would have been every Thursday, which was the staff badminton club night.

Summer Jobs in the Hospital

I knew all the hospital grounds very well. In 1968, when I was 16 and had taken my GCEs and before starting college, I had my first summer job working in the gardens. Number 7 Salt Lane had been accommodation for individual Nursing Sisters, none of whom were in interested in gardening. The back garden was totally overgrown. So tangled were the brambles, that it was not possible to walk from the back door to the fence at the back. One of my early tasks, with other members of the gardening team, was to clear all that overgrowth with slashers (long handle machetes) and a petrol driven Allen Scythe. Which was hard work and great fun.

In subsequent years when I came home from university, my mother would ask Mr Morris and he would find me employment during the long summer vacations. This was usually working in the gardens. I would start at 7:30 and the first job on a Monday morning was to manually sweep the entrance from Salt Lane (The Bellmouth) and the road leading to the Admin Block.

Some years later, the hospital acquired a propane fuelled mechanical sweeper, which was quicker but heavy and cumbersome. Rather like the Allen Scythe, it was a bit of beast, and needed physical strength to keep it under control. I was young and fit so it wasn’t an issue.  

Grass Cutting

Much more fun was using the petrol driven Dennis cylinder mower sitting on the trailing roller seat and cutting the lawns between the wards. I also got to see Hares Grove for the first time as I used to cut the lawn and undertake other jobs in the garden. Dennis was a Guildford based firm, better known for the manufacture of fire engines, buses and dustcarts. 

I also got to use the newly acquired petrol driven Flymo on the grassy banks. Lowering and raising the mower on a length of rope. The petrol strimmer had yet to be invented and so we would cut the grass verges and steep banks with short-handled sickle scythes known as Billie Hooks. A stick with a V at the base was held in the left hand to pull the grass to an upright position and to prevent the scythe from travelling beyond the intended arc and reaching the leg of the operative. Spending a day scything was very tiring but in the long run did wonders for hitting a tennis ball very hard.

Less Enjoyable Tasks

Perhaps the most dangerous task I ever undertook was the morning that George the head gardener and I collected the 3-piece extension ladder. We placed it on the roadway and lent it up against the block that was the domestics quarters above the kitchens. I then climbed the ladder and with a pair of secateurs to cut the ivy away from the windows. These were two storeys up. George was footing the ladder as vehicles were coming round the corner from the admin block, whilst I carried out the pruning work. 

Had I slipped or been knocked off the ladder, I would have fallen straight onto the tarmacadam road and in all likelihood, I would not be writing this anecdote now. This was in 1970 and I was 18 and reasonably athletic with good balance and coordination. This was 4 years before the Health and Safety at Work act came into being in 1974. Today this method of working at height would be illegal.

On wet days, I would be tasked with my least favourite job in the gardening department. I would take a metal bucket to the main boiler house. Having filled it with hot water, I would return to the large greenhouse and spend the entire morning scrubbing earthenware flowerpots. Needless to say, by lunchtime, after four and half hours, my hands would be covered in grazes and in a terrible state looking like wrinkled prunes from having been immersed in water all morning. 

Other Hospital Jobs

Employment in the gardens was always a summer job when there was plenty to do. It was an ongoing battle keeping the weeds and grass under control. It always worked well for me, and I would work 10 to 12 weeks of the long 14-week summer vacation. Looking back, what was really good, more than just being out in the fresh air, was finishing for the day at 4:30 and not taking your work home with you. During the 4 week breaks at Christmas and Easter the gardening option wasn’t available. At these times I found temporary employment on the wards working as a domestic, principally, washing up and cleaning. The other temporary employment I undertook was working for the postal service delivering Christmas mail. This meant leaving home at 5.40 and cycling through Lodge Bottom to the sorting office in Godalming. 


When King George V ceased as a chest hospital it was amalgamated with St Thomas’s and they became known Hydestile Hospital. This was a centre for geriatric medicine. The old KGV J1 and J2 wards, which were the only ones in a 2-story building, were renamed Woodlands and became a residential unit for adults with Learning Difficulties, some of whom had little or no verbal communication. When I completed my undergraduate studies and before going on to do a post grad course, I worked for a year in Woodlands as a Nursing Auxiliary.

The Staff

The Charge Nurse was John Carr and his wife Isabel was a staff nurse on the unit. Sister Eve Robbins was his deputy. John hailed from Cockermouth in Cumbria and had been a promising golfer in his youth. There was insufficient money in the sport at that time, so John became an apprentice motor mechanic.  An industrial accident in which a jack slipped crushed his leg and meant he had to quit his apprenticeship. He retrained as a psychiatric nurse and years later moved to Hydestile to manage Woodlands. He always impressed upon all the staff that Woodlands was not a ward, but the home of the residents who lived there and was to be treated as such. 

The Layout

The dining room was on the ground floor in the centre of the building and looked out upon spacious grounds at the back. In the summer months French doors would be opened to give a place a nice light airy feeling. The residents’ rooms were divided into four sections. West of the dining room on the first floor was for the women, and the east for the men. This upstairs accommodation was for the more able residents; some of whom would help with tasks around Woodlands and other parts of the hospital and receive pocket money. The ground floor was equally split between male and female and was occupied by those who were not able to manage their own personal hygiene. There was a day room at each wing of the building on both floors. The day rooms on the ground floor were monitored in order to quickly assist residents who might suffer a petite or grand mal. That was to place them the recovery position so they didn’t swallow their tongue whilst medication could be administered. This was a shot from a syringe.

Meals and the Kitchen

The Office/Nurses Station and kitchen were on the ground floor where the main corridor and the corridors to the bedrooms intersected. The dining room was immediately opposite these two rooms. The residents’ meals were cooked in the kitchens in the restaurant block and brought over in large, heated trolleys by the porters. This trolley was wheeled into the dining room and the meals plated up at the tables. 

The Woodlands’ crockery and cutlery for 36 people was washed up by hand 3 times a day. The kitchen had a deep sink, through which steam could be vented and would bubble up through the water. This made it boiling hot. The plates, knives, forks and spoon etc would be placed in a wooded frame and then lowered into water. The grease melted away. The frame was then placed on the draining board and the plates would dry in a matter of minutes without the need for a tea towel. I think this was how the crockery would have been sterilised when Woodlands had been a TB ward.

Night Shifts

The kitchen in Woodlands was also used for making hot drinks for the residents. It had a fridge and a toaster. These facilities were greatly appreciated by the staff, particularly when undertaking the 12 hour night shift. On those occasions when I worked nights, once the residents had settled down by 9.30, I would be stationed upstairs, in an armchair and spend the time reading, until it was time for the residents to get up and dress or be dressed ready for the start of the day shift at 8.00. and breakfast at 8.30. For me the night shift was always uneventful. The residents always slept through the night and one or two might visit the toilet but would always return immediately to their bed and go back to sleep. For me the biggest issue was trying to stay awake.

Occupational therapy

There were two full time occupational therapists. The occupational unit was on the right-hand side as you walked into Woodlands. The rooms had originally housed the X-ray machinery and the “puff and blow” equipment and was where medical research into tuberculosis would have been conducted. It was a spacious set of rooms and was well equipped for all types of art and craft work and for music sessions.  It was also where costumes were made for shows put on by the residents in the Large Hall. 

The residents also made moccasins, bags, and weaved rugs, which would be on sale on open days for the residents’ relatives. Whilst I worked there, in good weather I would supervise Tony and Brian in the gardens where we would weed flower beds and sweep up leaves. They were always very keen to be out and about doing “work”. I think they felt it gave them status within Woodlands and earnt them pocket money. Similarly, I think this was the case for some of the young women who helped in the laundry and would also earn pocket money.


Woodlands had its own minibus and there would be regular outings to National Trust properties and other local attractions. Going to Godalming to spend pocket money was always a favourite, particularly Woolworths to buy pick and mix at the sweet counter. Every Tuesday evening, we would go to the Gateway Club in Guildford. This was primarily a youth club for those with Special Educational Needs who were living at home and a chance for parents to meet up.

Golf and Motor Sport

John Carr was still very interested in golf, and we constructed a clock putting green on the lawn outside the dining room. We bought some golf clubs from the White Elephant shop which was halfway up the hill on Ockford Road in Godalming. We made golf bags out of deck chair material in the occupation therapy unit. On a couple of occasions, John and I, with Tony and Brian acting as caddies, played at Puttenham Golf Club. John also followed motor racing, having previously been a mechanic. He organised a day out at the Thruxton Motor Racing Circuit, and we travelled there with the residents in the Woodlands’ minibus.


There was also a weeklong summer seaside holiday from Saturday to Saturday at St Leonards, Hastings. John and Isabel were there the whole time, and the rest of us 4 days. The minibus transported us there and back midweek.  When the pudding had been served at the end of the evening meal, the medicine cabinet would be wheeled in, and the residents’ medication distributed. When this was done, John would produce glasses from the cabinet and a bottle of Black & White Whiskey and offer the staff a drink.


I remember working Christmas Day on Woodlands and Dr Sharp, the consultant psychiatrist who was based at Botley’s Park, came in to carve the turkey for the Christmas Dinner. He was always supportive, and I think was pleased with the way Woodlands was run, especially since his own brother was one of the residents. I have many happy memories of working there and still remember the names and faces of many of the people I met and worked with.

My Parent’s Retirement

My father chose to work until 1971. He was 66 and in poor health, and he had been for a number of years. The primarily cause was smoking from a young age and working in a dusty atmosphere. 3 Salt Lane was a tied cottage, and its occupation was part of his contract of employment. I believe it was Mr Morris who kindly arranged for my mother to take on the tenancy. She was still working full time in the General Office. My parents continued to live there until 1977. By this time my mother was 62 and was both eligible and able to take her occupational and state retirement pensions. In those days the retirement age for women was 60 as opposed to 65 for men.

This was a period when I was in full time education. Once I took full time permanent employment and was no longer living at home during the vacations, my mother decided to retire. They left 3 Salt Lane having lived there for 37 years and moved to a Council maisonette in Milford. For me, Hydestile and the hospital had been an integral part of my life for the first 25 years.

Below are two photographs of my brother Roy and I. The first taken in the back garden of 3 Salt Lane in 1952 and the second some 40 years later when we last visited Hydon’s Ball.

Chris Holm, 22nd November 2023