The Death Slide (Skydrop) at Pleasurewood Hills American Theme Park

The Death Slide at Pleasurewood Hills American Theme Park

For some children, the Death Slide at Pleasurewood Hills American Theme Park was the best slide in the world. It was officially called ‘Skydrop’.

For me, it was one of the most scary things that occurred each summer of my childhood.

My psychotic step-father would force me to walk the ladder to the top; and then seemingly enjoy my tearful walk of shame back down as I refused to jump. A refusal to jump would result in accusations that I was a ‘wimp’; on the one time I summoned by courage I was told it was “just a little slide”. I blame the person who named it ‘The Death Slide’.

Of course, if I went on it now I’d smash it. We’ll never know as it was removed about 15 years ago.

Apparently there was one at Magic City in Clacton-on-Sea as well.

And while I’m reminiscing, here are some 1980’s photos from those Summer days at Pleasurewood Hills.

Woody at 'Woody's Place', Pleasurewood Hills circa 1986
Woody at ‘Woody’s Place’, Pleasurewood Hills circa 1986


Sandie Hicks – Minister of Brightlingsea Baptist Church

Sandie Hicks

My Aunt, Sandie Hicks, took on the role in 2014 as the first female Minister of Brightlingsea Baptist Church. Of course, the fact that she is a lady should mean nothing compared to a male Minister – we all know she’s great – but in time history will look back at the time that women Minister were “accepted” [crass, I know], so I thought I would document this for history.

Car Air Conditioning Smells – How to Fix and Prevent

Car air conditioning smells can be annoying and even embarrassing. Most cars have air conditioning fitted as standard now but if not used correctly the system can develop into car air conditioning smells in the cabin. Not only is the smell uncomfortable but it can also e a breading ground for nasty bacteria which thrive on the damp conditions but which can make you and your passengers unwell.


What Causes Car Air Conditioning Smells?

Air conditioning systems absorb moisture from the atmosphere as hot air is blown over the evaporator coils in your air conditioning system. You might have seen a puddle of clear water under your car in the summer when you’ve been driving. That puddle is water which has been removed from the humid air in the cabin (it’s also why air conditioning can help to get rid of compensation and damp in your car).

This damp environment is a great breeding ground for bacteria especially as the cabin of your car starts to warm up once you’ve got out of it. Those bacteria secrete some nasty smells which in turn can turn your pride and joy into a smelly egg machine.


Getting Rid of Car Air Conditioning Smells

If you’ve already got the smell, there is something you can do about it. Wurth produce a professional air conditioning disinfectant which is used by the motor trade as well as by the public, the spray comes with a long tube which you push down the system in various places, spraying as you go. It kills that nasty bacteria and provides a fresh smell.

Some garages will charge you £100+ for this service, so at £20 per can it’s well worth doing yourself and is very easy to do. Just make sure you follow the instructions properly.


Preventing Car Air Conditioning Smells in the Future

There are a number of ways in which you can prevent your car air conditioning from smelling in the future. The first is to ensure that you use the the A/C at least once a week and every week of the year, including during the winter.

You should also make sure that you have the re-circulation valve set for fresh air in the winter. This will allow fresh air into the cabin and expel damp air.

Finally, make sure that you have your vehicle serviced. It’s recommended that you have the pollen filter on your vehicle replaced once a year. The pollen filter will prevent particles entering the air conditioning system and will also help protect people who are sensitive to pollen – including hay-fever sufferers – from irritants in the atmosphere.

Things No One Tells You When You Become a Dad

things no one tells you when you become a Dad

Having had two children who are now 8 and 11, I thought it was time to compile a list of things no one tells you when you become a Dad. There are a lot of things you learn when you become a father, some of which other dad’s seem to keep to themselves. Hopefully some of these will help you.


You’re Going to feel a bit Useless at times

One of the things no one tells you when you become a Dad is how useless you might feel at first. Most new dad’s go through this and it’s totally natural. The thing to understand is that it’s not personal.

Before you’re baby was born it was probably just you and your wife. You spend most of your free time together, you spent lots of time planning for the new baby and you made lots of plans.

Suddenly, baby arrives and now you find yourself feeling a little left out. Mum is now devoting 100% of her time to your child; feeding, washing, cuddling and just generally not wanting to let go. And that’s a hard thing for a man to take.

You’re no longer centre of attention. You’re no longer Number One in your wife’s life. Well it’s time to suck it up because that’s how it’s going to be from now on. There really is no bond like a mother and a child; and it’s totally different than anything your wife has ever experienced before.

Find things to do to help. Wash some clothes, prepare a dinner. Make yourself useful – you’ll feel better for it and your wife will appreciate that.

You’re going to become an expert at packing the car

No matter how many books you’ve read and no matter how many people you talk to, nothing will prepare you for the mass of utter crap that having a baby requires you to carry in the car when you go to visiting. Bottle warmers, bottle sterilisers, cribs, formula, bedsheets, clothing, food; the list is endless.

Sadly, almost all of the items you’ll need to carry are bulky and irregular shapes, and they’re definitely not designed to slot neatly into the trunk of a car. Don’t fear – you’re not the first man to have experienced this problem and hopefully you’ll be able to rely on the advice of an uncle, dad or friend to give you discreet advice.

A 250g of tissues would weigh the equivalent of a house brick in a 30 mph crash as it flies through the air.

I’m not trying to scare you here, but just remember not to pack any items which might move around if you have to brake sharply or if you are unfortunate enough to be involved in a shunt. I bought a dog-guard for my Volvo V70 which meant that any luggage in the trunk would stay there if the vehicle was hit meaning the passengers were safe from flying objects.

If your car has an internal luggage barrier or guard, use it.

Hey dad! Nice car packing!
Hey dad! Nice car packing!

You’re going to forget what a it’s like to have a lie in

Ahhh, the lie in. Getting up when you want and spending the day doing what you want. It may sound obvious, but this is one of the things no one tells you when you become a Dad that often gets forgotten.

Forget it. It’s now a thing of the past. You may be occasionally granted a day off, or perhaps you may take it in turns with your wife to have a lie in on weekends, but as such an impromptu lie-in is something you probably won’t experience for the next few years.


You’re going to spend the next 5 years sleeping with one eye open

When you first bring your little one home you spend the first few nights checking they’re breathing every half an hour. The slightest rustle from their bed sheets wakes you up to check that they are OK. It’s a totally natural feeling for any new parent.

What no one told you was that for the next 5 years or so you’re going to sleep in a semi-sleep. That a sleep where although your eyes are closed and you think you’re sleeping, you are in fact partly awake and alert waiting for the next cry which will wake you up in the middle of the night.

And forget about going back to sleep once you’ve been woken up – expect to lay in your bed for the next 3 hours – struggling to relax and sleep – waiting for the next edition of demands to commence. This will continue for 5 years, but gradually improves. Eventually you’ll wake up and realise that finally, you actually managed to get 8 hours of solid and undisturbed sleep!

You’re going to start to hate your friends who tell you they’re tired but don’t have kids

I have a couple of friends without kids. They go to bed at 11pm on a Friday night and they sleep in until 10 or maybe 11 the next morning…yet they’re always ‘tired’. One friend regularly tells me how ‘tired’ he is. Sometimes I really want to punch him in the face…definitely one of the more annoying things no one tells you when you become a Dad!


Being a dad is going to be the best thing you’ll ever do

Last, but most importantly, is this: Being a dad is going to be the best thing you’ll ever do. Just stop reading parenting books; they’re not going to help you much.

It’s going to be tough at times. There’s going to be lots of highs and some lows. You’re going to have to figure out lots of things as you go along.

There’s no rule book. People will give you advice – take it all with a pinch of salt and make up your own mind.

But most of all enjoy every moment; children really do grow up faster than you can imagine.

Warning: avoid / Bosi Tools UK Ltd / Ebay seller ‘Tradezone-UK’


I recently purchased an action camera for my 10 year old son from Ebay seller ‘Tradezone-UK’. It was a generic make, described as ‘1080P WIFI 12MP SJ4000 Waterproof Sports Camera HD’.

On Christmas Day he plugged in the charger to charge the camera for first use. The plug exploded in his hand as he plugged it in. Thankfully the trip to our house is modern and tripped very quickly. Sadly it not only burned the extension cable it was plugged into but also his hand.

On closer inspection it appeared that the adapter may not have has a genuine CE mark. So I write the company an email:

Unit 2 30 Thames Road
Barking , Essex
IG11 0HZ UKHello,

I attach photographs of the power supply for an action camera purchased from you for our 10 year old son.

On Christmas Day he plugged in the charger to charge the camera for first use. The plug exploded in his hand as he plugged it in. Thankfully the trip to our house is modern and tripped very quickly. Sadly it not only burned the extension cable it was plugged into but also his hand.

I’m very concerned that this happened. There is clearly someone seriously wrong with the power supply for this to have occurred. The plug shows that it has a CE mark. Is this genuine?

I await your comments – including how to intend to compensate us for the damaged power supply, USB lead and plug socket.


We didn’t get a response. So we opened a request via Ebay only to receive this response:


Thank you for your email, we4 are sorry for any inconvenience.

We are seller only , we are not a manufacturer so , we will take strict action over it.

If you want , then we are happy to send you new adapter.

Waiting for your response.

Thanks & Regards
Miley (Customer Support)
020 80 997154
Working Hours: 8:00 Am to 5:00Pm Monday to Saturday.

Actually, they are wrong. Under Consumer Rights laws the contract is between me and them, not be and the manufacturer. So I replied:

I have spoken with Citizens Advice today. You are the seller and my contract is with you, NOT the manufacturer.

You are also responsible for any claims for consequential loss as a result of the faulty goods i.e. the damage to the extension lead.

I therefore await your response.

Still waiting to hear!

‘Big Brother’ – David Bowie’s most underrated song

Some time in the mid 1980s I was given a second-hand copy of David Bowie’s ‘David Live’ album on vinyl LP. I was still young and we didn’t have a great deal of money so I was happy with anything new to listen to.

I’ll be honest; I didn’t really get Bowie’s music at the time. To an 8 year-old Me he looked a bit like a blonde-haired version of Adam Ant (another artiste whose music I had on an LP).

But there was one song on the live album which stood out above all others; ‘Big Brother’. Slightly ironic that it would be the same name as the stupid British TV show on which his former wife, Angela Bowie, would learn of his death.

There are lots of reasons why I believe this song was one of his most underrated of all. First of all it was never a hit. I’ve never been interested in following everyone else in music and tend to keep away from chart music.

The second reason is that like the huge rock song ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, Big Brother was an amalgamation of different musical styles. You had a classic rock sound but also a mix of a bluegrass style (in the bridge), heavy harmonies and an important message to put over.

And then, just when we think the song is over, we’re introduced to breakdown of rock with jazz saxophone overlay. It’s a mix like no other song I’ve heard…and ends with a very similar sound to Queen’s ‘One Vision’.

The Lyrics

Don’t talk of dust and roses
Or should we powder our noses?
Don’t live for last year’s capers
Give me steel, give me steel, give me pulsars unreal

He’ll build a glass asylum
With just a hint of mayhem
He’ll build a better whirlpool
We’ll be living from sin,
then we can really begin

Please saviour, saviour, show us
Hear me, I’m graphically yours

Someone to claim us, someone to follow

Someone to shame us, some brave Apollo

Someone to fool us, someone like you
We want you Big Brother, Big Brother

I know you think you’re awful square

But you made everyone and you’ve been every where
Lord, I’d take an overdose if you knew what’s going down

[CHORUS (3 times)]

We want you Big Brother


The Rise of Real Ale and the Microbrewery

There was a time when the words ‘real ale’ would make someone imagine old men sitting around a pint of bad bitter and moaning about the world. But since 2005 real ale has seen a huge resurgence and is now extremely popular. In fact, real ale is now fashionable and becoming more and more popular by the year.

Once a beverage of little understanding, real ale has become a very important part of the British pubs drinks menu with some pubs now specialising specifically in it.

A knock-on effect of this has been the opening of hundreds of microbreweries: small, privately owned breweries supplying a small amount of craft ale to local public houses. There has also been a rise in so called ‘Micropubs’: a very small, single room public house, specialising in providing quality beers.

According to the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), there are 53,444 pubs in the UK, of which 37,356 serve real ale. This equates to 69.89% of all pubs serving real ale compared to just 30% in 1975.

The rise in popularity of real ale is attributed to work carried out by CAMRA as well as a huge range of different types and flavours of beers making them more marketable to beer drinker. In fact, it was CAMRA which coined the term ‘real ale’ describing it as “beer brewed from traditional ingredients, matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed, and served without the use of extraneous carbon dioxide”.  As long as the beer is unfiltered, unpasteurised and still active on the yeast, it’s a real ale.


“Real Ale is beer brewed from traditional ingredients, matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed, and served without the use of extraneous carbon dioxide.”


Huge variation means there’s a real ale for everyone

Unlike many mass produced lagers, real ale has a distinctive taste and there is a huge variation between them. Most people would struggling to tell you the difference between Fosters and Carlsberg but it couldn’t be more different for real ales. There are a number of methods that brewers use to produce different flavours including using different types of hops, barleys and additional flavours which might include lemon, grapefruit, berries, caramel, ginger, molasses and many other flavours. Colours will vary too, ranging for a dark stout to a light golden beer.

The huge variation in flavours available to the consumer means that there is a real ale for everyone. It may take someone a while to fully understand what they prefer, but once you understand the basics it becomes much more easier to chose an ale that suits. This means that microbrewies are constantly looking to brew new flavours and explore new brewing techniques, which in turn leaves real ale drinkers free to try different beers as they appear in their local pub.

Brewery taps (the nearest outlet for a brewery’s beers) will usually trial a beer on their own customers before releasing it to other local pubs.

What’s the difference between Real Ale and ‘cask-conditioned beer’?

Nothing. They are both the same product. Some other names might include ‘real cask ale’, ‘real beer’ and ‘naturally conditioned beer’. All are conditioned in a cask, barrel or bottle for the final stage of fermentation.


Real Ale isn’t just for men!

real ale drinkers is an organisation designed to bring beer to women

Real Ale isn’t just for men. In fact, in 2012 Annabel Smith became on of the first British Beer sommeliers and can often been seen on TV and heard in radio praising real ale.  She is regularly appointed by brewers, pub companies and corporate organisations to arrange and host beer and food events and she also hosts tutored beer tasting sessions for a variety of clients. In between all that she is a co-founder of Dea Latis, an organisation to promote the beauty of beer to women both inside and outside the industry.


How do I get into real ale?

The best way is to visit your local real ale pub and ask for some advice. The Good Beer Guide lists thousands of pubs across the UK which serve real ale so you should be able to find one easily. If you’re a lager drinker, explain the types you like and perhaps start on a golden beer. If you’re a Guinness drinker try a stout or a porter. Most real ale drinkers will be happy to talk to you about their favourite tipple so don’t be afraid to ask questions. Some pubs will also provide a ‘taster’ so that you can try before you buy. Others will do a selection of three ales (in 3rd of a pint glasses) for the same price as a pint so that you can get an idea of the different beers available.

Another great way is to visit one of the thousands of beer festivals which are put on across the country where you will be presented with a massive range of ales to try in either half pint or full pint measures. Ask the people serving: tell them what you like (and don’t) and they’ll suggest something. In most cases they’ll let you have a free taster as well.

Finally, if you’re still struggling for confidence, why not buy some bottled ale from your shop or order a real ale tasting kit online to try at home? You’ll never get the same great taste as a draft beer pulled at the pub, but you will get some idea of what you might like to try when you eventually do get to the bar!

Real Ale being poured at a beer festival
Never be scared to ask for help when choosing an ale

Request (and refusal) to visit Severalls site for research and photographs, March 2009

In March 2009 I was considering writing a book on Severalls, so I contacted the Government (the land was still State owned at the time) and asked for permission to visit the site to take some photos:


My name is Ritchie Hicks and I am currently writing a book on
Severalls mental hospital, Colchester.

I understand that you now own the site of the old hospital and I am
contacting you to see if I could arrange to take some photographs of the old
buildings, with your permission, as this would be valuable for my research.
I understand that the buildings are generally off limits and I do not wish
to trespass.

Could you please let me know if this would be possible?

Ritchie Hicks.

Sadly, the answer was ‘no’. I’ve therefore hard to rely on Urban Explorers for images.

Homes and Communities Agency <>    25 March 2009 at 15:41
To: Ritchie Hicks

Dear Mr Hicks,

Thank you for your recent enquiry to the Homes and Communities Agency received on 27/02/2009, reference number 27281

On advice taken from the Project Manager for the site and our Legal Services, the Homes and Communities Agency’s view is that we do not allow members of the public to enter sites. The sites can and often do contain asbestos and other contaminants and therefore the Health and Safety implications would be too great.

Should you require more information, please contact us:

Arpley House
110 Birchwood Boulevard


110 Buckingham Palace Road

Tel: 0300 1234 500
Fax: 020 7730 9162


Homes and Communities Agency



Why does the Government keeping awarding G4S new contracts?


As yet more failings were uncovered by G4S, a question is posed: why does the Government keeping awarding G4S new contracts?

As I if the BBC Panorama program on the abuses at Medway Secure Training Centre in Rochester in January 2016 was enough evidence, now the company is accused of fraud.

For those who didn’t catch the program, it featured some G4S staff at the centre using unnecessary force, foul language and attempting to cover-up their behaviour when later questioned. Some of the teenage inmates were bullied, punched, kicked and threatened. This from a company which received £140,000 per annum, per inmate, to care for them.

Of course not all of the inmates were angels – nobody is that naive – but there was definitely a culture of unacceptable behaviour within the ranks of the staff who were supposed to be acting a role models to this wayward young people.

A plethora of mistakes from G4S

It beggars belief that the government continues to award contracts to G4S given the track record of the company. For example to debacle which was the London 2012 Olympics security fiasco which resulted in the eventual resignation of G4S chief Nick Buckles.

In 2010, G4S were found guilty of the unlawful killing of Jimmy Mubenga.

Then there was the issue of the company ‘losing’ two prisoners in 2011. Let’s not forget when two prison guards lost keys to a prison just days after G4S took on the contract; costing £500,000 to replace locks and keys.

In 2014 they were accused by some influential people (which included Desmond Tutu) of being complicit “in Israel’s abuse of child prisoners” for which G4S supplied security in some prisons.

There were the fraud allegations of 2013 which ended up with G4S paying £109 million to the government due to overcharging for electronic tagging.

Fourteen children who were assaulted by G4S (and Serco) staff while being detained in secure training centres (STCs) between 2004 and 2008 and received  £100,000 between them in compensation. A third of it was paid by state funded compensation. One of the children involved in the case would hang himself within moments of being mistreated by restraining staff.

In January 2016 it was discovered that G4S had painted the front doors of the homes of immigrants red, which had led to local people throwing stones and eggs at them. G4S denied that they had painted the doors to deliberately identify the homes of migrants.

It seems that G4S are the epitome of privatisation putting the public – and public purse – at risk. At best they are amoral. At worst people in their care die.


Awarded a new contract in 2017 despite fraud allegation

In July 2017 people criticised the Ministry of Justice after it awarded G4S a £25million contract to electronically tag offended, despite an ongoing Serious Fraud Office investigation.


Serious concerns over G4S running discrimination helpline

In September 2016 a High Court hearing over the contract to run a national discrimination helpline being awarded to G4S raised “serious and legitimate grounds for concern” which risked undermining the service’s credibility.

So why are G4S awarded contract after contract?

There’s no one single answer for this. First we have to look at the monopoly which G4S has in the market it operates within. In 2014 a report from The Commons Public Accounts Committee said that the UK Government relied on “Quasi-monopoly suppliers are emerging who squeeze out competition, often from smaller companies with specific experience.”

In other words, G4S use their shareholder investment and wealth to wipe out any smaller company which might attempt to take some of the sector away. Wipe out the competition and you leave a government with almost nowhere else to turn. This also means that they can get away with consistently poor results as there is no other company to compare them too or which is able to take on such a large contract. In effect, they engineer their position in the market to secure it. Easy work when you’re a multimillion pound company.

There has also been suggestion that a number of UK Government Officials have financial links to G4S which would benefit them should G4S be awarded new contracts. It’s difficult to prove this as there is currently no requirement for officials to declare any interest in such companies. For further reading you might like to read ‘The Strange Non-death of Neoliberalism‘ by author Colin Crouch.

G4S aren’t the only company at it. There’s another. Just one other. Serco. They also have a chequered history of making money from the misery and ruin of others. G4S should be a failed company by now, but the Government won’t allow it.



I would like to credit Laura Challinor for her assistance with the research of part of this article, which I will be using to expand it in the future.

Severalls Hospital: the evil inside Severalls Asylum

Severalls Hospital

When I wrote the original Wikipedia article of Severalls Hospital I was left asking lots of questions. I wanted more details on the sorts of experiences people had there and the types of experiments which were performed on people over the many years that it was used as a ‘lunatic’ asylum (I use the word ‘lunatic’ with some trepidation as it seems somewhat offensive to the poor people who were incarcerated there). However, the fact is that people with mental health problems and some disabilities were referred to as lunatics until the middle of the 20th Century.

What happened to the patients who survived? What terror did people face inside Severalls Hospital? And was it really as bad as we are led to believe?

My Great Grandmother was a patient at the hospital once. Not because of a mental illness but instead because Severalls was used in it’s last years as a temporary ward for patients (due to building work at nearby Colchester General Hospital). She had suffered a stoke and was in her dying days. I was about 17 when I went to see her at Severalls (1997) and I can still remember how imposing and dark that place felt, not because I knew it was once a mental hospital, but because it just had a genuinely eerie feeling about it. In 1997 my mother would remarry and hold her wedding reception in Severalls Social Club. This would be one of the very last parties to be held at the venue which would be ravaged by fire around 2007 (an act of vandalism).

I’m not a superstitious person. I don’t believe in ghosts. There was, however, something very strange about that place. Something about the way it made you feel. A feeling as if 1000 people were hiding in the trees watching you; and a feeling I can’t fully explain.

After coming across these excellently detailed photos of Severalls my interest was renewed and I began to investigate more of what happened there. I did request a site visit of Severalls in 2009 but was refused.


Severalls Asylum: the site

Severalls Hospital (then called ‘Severalls Mental Hospital’ or ‘Severalls Lunatic Asylum) was build on a 1,300 acre site which held numerous buildings. It opened in May 1913 and up to 2,000 patients were accommodated. Patients and staff were originally separated by gender.

The site was constructed using Echelon Asylum Architecture; pavilion blocks with large corridors interconnecting the buildings to prevent staff and patients ever needing to go outside. It was an impressive site as the aerial photograph shows. However, it is now abandoned and awaiting development for private dwellings. The buildings which remain have suffered vandalism and are in a very poor state of repair awaiting demolition.

Although things improved at Severalls from the 1970s, this was not a place that people when to get ‘better’. The site covered a huge area. It had locked cells, full padded cells, half padded cells and various areas for experiments such a frontal lobotomy to be performed.

An impressive overhead shot of Severalls Hospital shows the impressive Echelon site
An impressive overhead shot of Severalls Hospital shows the impressive Echelon site

The patients of Severalls Hospital

A shelled shocked patient from WW1
A shelled shocked patient from WW1

Patients of Severalls Asylum were from a varied background and history. Some displayed characteristics of metal illnesses such a depression, pyscosis and mania (still misdiagnosed at the time). In addition there may be people sent to the asylum who suffered from other illnesses such as autism, suicidal feelings and schizophrenia. You might even be condemned to a life in Severalls Hospital for suffering from epilepsy. Women were even sent there if they had been raped and many of the 80,000 shell-shocked soldiers were sent to the asylum after WW1.

Sadly not all people admitted to the asylum had a mental illness and some patients entered the asylum perfectly healthy but were turned mad by the environment. Around the turn of the millennium my mother worked as a carer for people who had been moved from Severalls Hospital onto alternative accommodation. I’ll never forget one story he told me of a lady who, for the benefit of immunity, we’ll call Sarah.

Sarah was a perfectly normal 17-year-old girl who made the mistake of falling pregnant in the 1940’s to an unknown man, out of wedlock and under 18. Her family were so embarrassed that she was placed in the asylum to keep her story away from friends and family. People were told that she had turned mad. In fact, she was perfectly healthy. Her child was removed from her as soon as he was born and given up for adoption. She never saw him again. Sarah (left in this environment and suffering deeply from grief) slowly began to develop mental illness as she fell into a spiral of deep depression; and would spend the rest of her life in mental health institutions.


The horror of the Psychiatric Experiments

In it’s peak there were countless Psychiatric experiments carried out on patients at Severalls Hospital including Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) and Lobotomies (a surgical procedure involving incisions into the pre-frontal lobe of the brain). These experiments were rife in the 1930’s to the 1960’s, but continued as late as the 1970s in some hospitals (not Severalls) and were sometimes performed on patients whilst fully conscious.

Evidence shows that there were regularly complaints from the hospital management of being unable to recruit enough staff. As a result, patients were often confined to their beds and sedated with Paraldehyde in an attempt to keep them quiet and ease pressure on staff (especially the case in the 40’s).

Imagine this if you will: You are an mentally unwell person or perhaps perfectly healthy. You are in an asylum surrounded by strange people and strange noises. You are often locked in your room for hours on end. One day, someone comes along, straps you to a chair, passes electricity through your skull (sometimes 6 times at 40 seconds per shock) to knock you out and then sticks surgical equipment through your eyelids to remove part of your brain. Sounds like something out of a horror movie; yet it happened to hundreds of people every year in the name of ‘science’. The so called ‘father’ of this technique, Egas Moniz, would be awarded a Nobel Prize in 1949. Ironic, as if he tried this on someone now, he’d probably be locked up.

If you’re nerves can handle it, there’s a video which shows someone receiving ECT and then a frontal lobotomy. It shows just just how scary the entire process was but be warned – it’s quite graphic.

Of course, most people who were the victim of a lobotomy ended up in a worse mental state after the procedure than before; unable to speak or in some cases dead. Possibly the most famous case of lobotomy was of Rosemary Kennedy, sister of former U.S. President John F. Kennedy, whose father had her labotomised due to ongoing “concerns” surrounding her sexual activity which could jeopardise the career of her brother.


Severalls became a humane place from the 1970’s onwards

I was recently contacted by a former trainee at the hospital:

“I was a student at Severalls between 1971-73 and still correspond
with a couple of friends from that time. I am still interested in
psychiatry and Severalls in particular. I find that many of the
comments about treatment there were correct at the time – in the 50s apparently some very dubious practices occurred but that changed under Russell Barton. Unfortunately he had moved to the US just before I arrived in Severalls so I never met him but I had some dealings with Richard Fox. In the early 1970s treatment at Severalls was at least as good and in some cases a lot better than other hospitals of the same size and type. That doesn’t mean it was perfect but the nursing staff I worked with were very humane with the patients and definitely tried to make sure they were well treated – you can quote me on that!”

There is one man who went through the procedure and survived to tell the tale. Howard Dully was a perfectly normal 11 year-old-boy with a bit of a naughty streak. To cut a long story short, Dully’s stepmother convinced his father that Dully needed medical help for his temper and the pair had him admitted to a private hospital in his home town of San Jose, California. At 1.30pm on 16 December 1960, Dully was wheeled into an operating theatre and given a series of electric shocks to sedate him. Dr Walter Jackson Freeman II would go on to perform a lobotomy on Howard Dully and no one person – not even his parents – would know until the procedure was over.

Now of course I’ve quoted two cases here would occurred in the U.S., not at Severalls Hospital. Sadly, there is so little information about what exactly happened at Severalls that it’s hard to find any evidence but we can be fairly sure that treatment was often just as brutal and almost always futile. This much I have been told by people who have contacted me who once worked there.

Many of the people who lived at Severalls did so for 30+ years and had absolutely no contact with the outside world (although it should be said that this was the choice of the patients families not to make contact, not Severalls). No letters, no telephone calls, no cards. The longer they stayed in the institution the more mentally ill they may become. If was a vicious circle in an Edwardian age.

Other dubious practices

My mother told me a story about a lady called Dorothy of was a patient at Severalls Hospital for many years. Dorothy suffered from mental illness and had a habit of biting other patients and staff. This was dealt with by surgically removing all of Dorothy’s teeth.

Two residents of Severalls of where patients fell in love. Doctors at the hospital decided that it was two risky to allow the couple of have a baby as it would probably be born “mad”. The response was for the medical staff to subject the lady to a hysterectomy to prevent her having a child. This wasn’t an uncommon practice at the time. My own aunt, who was blind from the age of three, was told by her family around 1940 that she was only allowed to marry her husband if she agreed to have a hysterectomy as her family decided that it would be unsafe for her to have children.

Another story she told me was of a lady we will call Liz. Liz suffered from tics, the kind we associate now with Tourettes Syndrome. Liz would make a clicking noise with her tongue against the roof of her mouth and this would become more frequent when she was scared or stressed. The health service’s way of dealing with this was to cut off her tongue to stop her making the noise. This sort of ‘treatment’ seems almost impossible now yet was occurring just 70 years ago.

My great grandmother – Marjorie Hicks – was a nurse and occasionally worked at Severalls. She would tell stories of staff washing patients was carried out by lining them up, naked, and hosing them down. I’ve never been able to find out whether this was with warm or cold water but I presume that it was cold given the lack of heating facilities at Severalls (the hospital didn’t have full central hearing until 1973).


Cockroach Races

My Grandmother would also tells a story about staff having cockroach races when on the night-shift to kill time. Apparently the place was riddle with them in the 50s and 60s.


Madness in its place : narratives of Severalls Hospital, 1913-1997

Sadly there are very few people still alive to tell their story of being a patient in the asylum. I’ve searched the internet high and low and can find little information. There is a book available which documents stories from people who were inpatients at Severalls (Madness in its place : narratives of Severalls Hospital, 1913-1997), but at the current £86 asking price on Amazon I can’t warrant the cost of buying it right now. I would like to get hold of a copy though to read more of what happened and if anyone could loan me a copy I could be extremely grateful.


Things did improve within time

Near the beginning of the 60’s a change in public opinion and treatment methods mean that new types of therapies were introduced, including music therapy. ECT continued and is even used today – but in a much milder form – and evidence shows it’s actually very effective to treat depression.

Occasionally, groups of patients were allowed to live in groups away from the main area of the hospital, such as in Ivy Villa. Eventually, houses were rented away from the hospital after social worker Joyce Beech recommended it may help people integrate back into society if they were given more independence. One particular house was in the nearby fishing town of Brightlingsea and would house 6 women who would pay their own bills, do their own shopping and cook their own food. Two of those women had been at Severalls for over 30 years before moving into their house yet managed perfectly well with only occasional visits from social services. ‘Care in the Community’ had begun.


Changes in attitude

In 1972 an exhibition of equipment used at Severalls Asylum would take place. The exhibition would include equipment used in the early part of the 20th Century including locks, muffs, straps and poisons. Nowadays that might be a list for a sex dungeon but the equipment has much sinister uses at Severalls. Stories began to surface about the true horror of the experiments held at Severalls and the public would be widely disgusted.

Thankfully, mental health is now much more widely accepted and understood, perhaps a price that the early patients of psychiatric patients had to pay for the eventual good of others.