John Oakley’s memories

I was born in a wooden bungalow in the grounds of Little Plumstead Hospital, moving to the Lodge when I was two years old, with my three sisters, Gwen, Sylvia, Josie, and later my younger brother Joe. My father, Joe Oakley, was one of the original staff at the hospital as he had been employed by Major Ashley who lived in the old hall before it was sold to the government. He was then employed as caretaker before joining the nursing staff when it opened, passing his exams to be a mental nurse, a good achievement for someone with a very basic education. Apart from nursing he always played the part of Father Christmas, visiting the childrens’ wards every Christmas morning. The Norwich market traders always sent lots of fruit and nuts for the enjoyment of the hospital patients.

The hospital was completely self-sufficient, having its own farm growing vegetables for the kitchens with the inmates helping. Mr. Allen and Mr. Pratt, who both lived in the cottages in Water Lane, were responsible – Mr. Allen for growing the produce and Mr. Pratt for the dairy herd. Carpenters, electricians, plumbers, gardeners were all employed and transport was provided to bring in the nursing staff. At one time there were more than 800 inmates and Blofield Hall was purchased for the more able male patients who went out to work on the local farms etc.

I spent many of my school days fishing in the hospital lake and watching the cricket and football teams play. This was recreation for the patients, the most able ones made up about half of the teams and others were brought along to watch. Arthur Edrich of the cricketing family kept wicket. Lenny Layt, one of the male attendants, was a very good footballer as was was the goalkeeper, called Charlish, who used to live in the Lodge at the entrance of the Hospital.

One of the highlights of the year was the Christmas concert, compered by Mr. Ken Brister. Lenny Layt was usually the dame and Wally Bunkle made sure that the inmates were always involved, especially the girls who made up the chorus. Some were very good singers. There were also film shows to which staff were allowed to take their children and friends.

Once the government decided that all the inmates should be integrated into society, the hospital was gradually run down and finally closed, becoming a housing estate. Closing the hospital was not a good move as it had been a huge employer of local people. Most families in the village had some connection with it. With all the facilities it is a pity it could not have been kept and turned into retirement homes, flats, etc. as it could have been an entire village on its own.


Little Plumstead Green bombing

Some houses belonging to Mr. Joe Wiley on the Green were hit by bombs and somebody was killed. I remember seeing the end walls blown out. The row of houses standing there today are the ones that replaced them.

My memories of the school were similar to Rosemary’s but one of the worst was having to go into the gas van to test our gas masks during the war. Sitting inside that van was really horrible and I am very glad it never happened for real.

I do remember the arrival of the evacuees coming from London in the early part of the war. Peter Barton, a tall ginger haired boy, and his sister, Stella, lived on Plumstead Green, and Alec and Tony Brown lived in Sandy Lane. Bernard and Walter Moss, who lived on Reeves Corner, were also evacuated here for a short time.

In later years, when Mrs. de Jeux was head mistress, my father played the part of Father Christmas at the school, borrowing the hospital outfit. My daughter was a pupil then and always knew who Santa was!

17 thoughts on “John Oakley’s memories

  1. sally ward

    Most interesting. I wonder if you can remember whether there was a vicarage or rectory in Little Plumstead and, if so, where it was? Rosemary Turner replied:There was no vicarage in Lt. Plumstead but one at Gt.Plumstead.


  2. Donna Sutton

    Hi, I found this very interesting. My late dad worked at the hospital, I think as a plumber or some kind of maintenance. I remember coming to a Christmas party which I think was actually for staff rather than patients. This would’ve been around 1974. I’ve always felt a connection with the hospital, which is strange as I only recall going there on the one occasion. However we do have family in the graveyard. It was so sad to hear of the fire in the building today. Such history, stunning building, such a shame.


    1. Carol Daniels

      I remember your dad such a lovely man, I did my training at Little Plumstead Hospital

      Hi Donna I remember your dad such a lovely man, I did my nurse training at plumstead Hospital. Working at the hospital was a experience, all staff felt like an extended family. Such goods fun lots of memories


  3. Brian Hassack

    Interesting article. I’m certain that when Arthur Edrich was keeping wicket, one of the bowlers would have been my father as they were good friends. He qualified as a mental nurse and met my mother there who was also a qualified nurse. He would often recall his time spent at LPH.


  4. Jean Dunn

    My godparents were Ken and Elsie Brister and I spent many happy days with them at The Lodge. My parents were Cecil and Muriel Sharman and dad often sang in the concerts which were also at held at Blofield Village Hall. I was sorry to learn The Hall had burned down – The Lodge is hardly recognisable now but has been improved well.


  5. Betty Prior

    My uncle, Walter Wyett, was a footman (domestic) staying at The Lodge, Little Plumstead Hall, in 1911. He was aged 18. He later came back to Shipdham where he was born, and eventually lived at Tottington (the battle area) until they had to leave their homes, never to be allowed back.


  6. Caroline Gibbs

    There was two hospitals – a mental asylum in the old hall and another for people with learning disabilities. This was a disabilities village with nursing staff
    who could get a free bus to work from the city. All clients went on holiday three times a year and out to the pictures weekly. There was a church that clients went to, there was also a social club, so their lives there were not so bad.


  7. Julie harris

    Very interesting to read. , It seems, Betty Prior, that your uncle was lodging with my great grandparents Clarke Andrews in 1911. I never knew them but I would have loved to have seen the place in its heyday.


    1. Lorna Neave

      I am not sure if anyone is able to help. I am looking for more information on my aunt, Sheila Neave. She was admitted to LPH in 1943(when my dad was born) and died there in 1952 aged 16. My dad never met her, and only knows that she had multiple disabilities and she was a twin with his brother born in 1936. We are curious to know if she may have been buried at the hospital (possibly unmarked) or more about the hospital. Sadly there are no other relatives to ask. Kind regards Lorna Neave

      Liked by 1 person

      1. rosemaryjoanturner Post author

        Hello Lorna
        I have just spoken to John Oakley, whose memories you may have read on the history site, and he confirmed my thoughts that there was a burial site for the patients. This was in the orchard by the clock tower. I do not know if there are any records there now.
        There is still a small hospital unit there but most of the site has been developed into a housing estate and school. I telephoned but they were not currently taking calls. The number is 01603 711147. There must be records somewhere – if not there maybe at the Norfolk County Council Registry of Deaths.
        If I can be of any further help please get in touch.
        Rosemary Turner


  8. martin trett

    I can remember lots of happy times. My mother Liz and father Dick worked at Little Plumstead Hospital until they both retired, my father playing cricket for the LPH team. Sadly lots of the real characters have since passed away: Mick James, Ronnie Brown, Mick Gallop and recently Lou Palgrave, to name but a few. The LPH fetes which were always great fun. I myself worked at LPH as a floor cleaner on a Saturday. I had the task of cleaning and polishing the wooden floor at the recreation hall. I was always proud of that shine and enjoyed the regular dances that took place – there were no jivers quite like Mick and Shirley Gallop. The social club was always packed, particularly at weekends, with Harry Knights as the landlord. A Happy New Year to you all and please raise a glass to absent friends.


  9. Michael Tabbanor

    Reports of the closure of Little Plumstead hospital, are I am pleased to announce rather premature. Little Plumstead Hospital continues to be part of the NHS and provide specialist inpatient and community services for people with Learning Disabilities.

    I have just retired after nearly twenty six years working as a Nurse at LPH and have many happy memories of the service users and staff I have worked with over those years. Like they say you can take staff out of LPH but you cannot take LPH out of the staff who have worked there.

    Many of the residents who have spent time at LPH continue to live and thrive in the community. Learning Disability services have historically and continue to be the least resourced part of the NHS but the staff have have always worked to provide the highest quality of care for the people that use the service.


    1. littleplumsteadhistory Post author

      I’m always pleased when someone makes a comment after reading something on the website and congratulate you on a career in which you did so much good in the community. Enjoy your retirement. Best wishes Rosemary


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  11. Julia Massink

    I used to live at The Firs in Water Lane, Little Plumstead, my father Dr Heald worked as a psychiatrist at the hospital. I remember visiting the wards at Christmas and also the Fete was held in our garden. Great Memories.

    Does anyone know what happened to The Firs, last time I went passed it was boarded up?


  12. Robert mcclenahan

    I worked at plum from 1989 2006 on the old M 8 ward
    Oak house I have many great memories with great people like Mick James Stuart crane Jimmy Bruce to name a few



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