The Laundry At Claybury - a Memory of Woodford Bridge.
My mum worked as a secretary at Claybury, first for one of the consultant doctors at the Tower and then down in Claybury Hall with the School of Nursing headed at the time by Christine Hancock, who was also the leader of one of the two nursing unions. Mum got me a summer job during my first year at college in the laundry. That was an experience. Those corridors were very long and echoing and there would be people in states of repeated strange behaviour standing about - and some of the strange behaviour was quite angry and alarming. Many of the patients were old, but I remember seeing some young people there who were about my age and thinking, "snap out of it, you don't need to be here". The laundry had massive autoclaves, about six of them at one end of the room. Dirty laundry arrived from hospitals all around London. It was our job to straighten it out and put it into piles, then it would be fed through great hot rollers to press and dry it all in one go. There would be masses of sheets and the "greens" from hospitals' operating theatres to fold, and sometimes there would be things from bodies in them as you opened them out which should have gone in an incinerator, but of course they had been thoroughly boiled so there was no smell.
At lunch time the workers would go to their own canteen, which fronted onto a little square with benches. I wondered why no one was enjoying the summer sun and went to sit out on a bench to eat my sandwiches. A patient, an old lady, came and started talking to me in a confused manner. I sat and listened to her and it appeared she was upset that her family had, she felt, abandoned her.
There was one big fat man who was for want of a better word "simple", who cleaned the cars for a small fee. He had been there all his life, probably because there had not been the proper facilities for "special needs" children when he was young.
For some patients it was all too much. I remember hearing from my Mum that someone had jumped out of a window and died.
Claybury used to have an open day in the summer and I went with my parents. The qualifying nurses were presented their certificates by Jimmy Saville that year. He was wearing a large ring with glass eyeballs embedded in it. Creepy.
I don't think it was a good thing that the hospital closed and was sold for private development. The mentally traumatized need a safe haven in which to recover and Claybury was just that.
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