Betty Muriel Green (1900 – 1961)

By Gill Levy

Green Family Blog Gill Levy
A photo of Betty as a baby with her brothers and sisters. In this 1901 photograph, the baby clearly has Down’s syndrome.  It is my 20 year-old grandmother holding her. 
My Great Aunt Betty was the youngest child of Michael and Netta Green. Her eldest sister (my grandmother) was already 20 when Betty was born.
Betty, who had Down’s syndrome, had 3 sisters and 4 brothers.
I never met Betty, but was always aware of her existence – I was 12 when she died. My grandmother visited her sister weekly at Normansfield on Wednesday afternoons. Betty’s sister-in-law or other relatives visited when Granny was away. Three of my young cousins and I often asked to accompany Granny to Normansfield but this was always firmly refused.
From an early age I realised that the family were reluctant to talk about Betty. As a teenager, I once asked a normally talkative cousin about her. She snapped: “She was unsighted” and then became silent. A minute or so later she said “Betty was some sort of supervisor in a workshop at Normansfield. I think it was a stained glass workshop” – and that was it. In adulthood, I asked an uncle about Betty and elicited slightly more information. However, he told me about a “pedigree” somewhere in his flat that might fill some gaps. I found it after he died.
Betty was born with cataracts in both eyes. By the time she was 11, she had had her cataracts and tonsils removed. This showed considerable determination on the part of my great grandmother. Surgery would have been expensive and Betty would have needed close supervision and care to recover from the operations.
Betty’s oldest sister, my grandmother, would ‘take a turn’ looking after Betty, to give her mother some rest – possibly at night.
My great grandmother firmly believed that Betty would develop from playing with other children. Cousins were invited to the family home to play with her regularly. When she came home on holiday from Normansfield, my great grandmother insisted Betty’s much younger nieces and nephews played with her. These small children did not want to share their toys with “a big person”.
As a young child, my easy-going uncle was distressed and embarrassed by Betty’s loud public tantrums and seizures when she would wet or soil herself. Like other women in the family, she had a strong personality. She tended to overshadow her mild-mannered brother who was only 5 years older than her. I was told that this was the reason for her being sent to Normansfield at the age of 11.
Betty was admitted in 1911 as a private patient. Her parents told her that she would leave the institution when her older sister married. However, my grandparents married in 1913 but did not take Betty home with them. Later I learned that Granny always felt guilty about this and was frightened she would be asked to discharge Betty to live with her.
In February 1912 my great-grandmother, Netta, began completing a Family Record for the Eugenics Education Society, which she joined. She wrote of Betty:
“Complete cataract at birth due to non absorbtion (sic) of prenatal membrane. Very backward in walking and speech. Not normal mentally but improving greatly under tuition. Very musical. Born during Boer war, 5 months after death of her mother’s brother in the war”.
Most of what I know about Betty comes from this document, which contains some “multiple choice” questions.
Betty was 4’ 4” tall at the age of 11
She had light brown hair
She had yellow blue/grey eyes and “blond” skin.
Great Granny Netta rated Betty as having poor general mental ability, but she had exceptional ability when it came to music. Betty had perfect pitch. She was always singing and had taught herself to play nursery rhythms on the piano. When her big sister sang to Betty, Betty would protest or cry if her sister sang in the wrong key.
Netta also gave Betty top marks for her memory.
Her vision was described as imperfect, with her needing to wear glasses at all times. (She would have been impossibly long-sighted without glasses and unable to focus on anything near).
She had “strong hearing”, but Netta does not say when Betty started speaking on the document.
Out of a list of “personality types”, Great Granny Netta describes Betty’s personality as “choleric”.
My uncle had told me about Betty’s seizures – no-one else had mentioned them. Her mother did not record them on the Eugenics Education Society’s document – but then there was nothing in the multiple choice questions to prompt her about this. Her mother, Great Granny Netta, continued to add to the document for many years although I do not know if she sent the Society new information. I wonder if the seizures were omitted because of a possible “stain” on the family.
Betty died at Normansfield on 14th January 1961. Her death certificate, signed by N Langdon Down, gives the cause of death as
• Bronchial pneumonia
• Bronchitis
• Mongolism
She was buried in parents’ grave.
I wish I had met Betty and had got to know her as a personality. Some of my cousins feel the same.
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Memories of the Daughter of a Normansfield Bookkeeper

 By Gillian Murray (née Anderson)

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I used to go to Normansfield every week at least a couple of times in the middle of the day to eat my packed lunch in the lovely grounds of the place. My mother, Mrs Anderson, worked as a book keeper in the main administrative office for many years, from the 1940s to the late 1950s. As my school canteen could not accommodate everyone every day, each year took it in turns to have packed lunch, hence my regular visits there, often with my friends. We would regularly see the residents around the place, and became quite accustomed to chatting to them. Dr Norman Langdon Down was the grandson of Dr John Langdon Down, and he became a good friend. In fact he was a guest at my wedding in 1959.
I remember the whole place as having a very happy atmosphere and not at all intimidating. At the time Brian Rix’s daughter became a permanent resident there and he and his wife Elspeth were so happy at how their daughter was cared for that I think that was the reason he became a benefactor of the home, and subsequently the head of Mencap.
I used to visit one other place in the grounds, Trematon, which was a lovely large house at the Broom Road end, where a small number of the more able residents lived, under the care of Miss Ceaser, another guest at my wedding and a good friend of my mother.
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Memories of a Nursing Assistant 1972

By Sheila Clarke (nee Stewart)
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It was early 1972 and I was 19 when I became a nursing assistant on South Wing. I remember the shock of the smell that first morning, it was eye watering. This was my first proper job and I was keen to impress, hoping to train as a nurse and I just accepted that was the way things were. My colleagues were all much older than me, some had been there years and they were mostly friendly, down to earth women. The first thing I learnt was to do a neat hospital corner when making the beds. This was very important apparently. The patients on South wing were all adult women.
I remember one very elderly woman, usually bedbound, with a sharp tongue and a frequently prolapsed rectum which the sister in charge used to put back, under loud protest from her. I asked her why she was there, as she didn’t appear to be any more “subnormal” than I was. She claimed she didn’t remember but one of the nurses told me that she had been put away by her family before the Second World War because of her bad behaviour.
Most patients spent their day sitting, restrained if necessary, in the day room, this was an extension at the back of the wing. The few visitors who came at the weekend were never shown down there. There was no activity, only toileting and feeding. We were fully occupied, toileting, bathing those who had soiled themselves and trying to keep order, although few patients in the day room were ever disruptive, I realise now most were just drugged into passivity. One woman was often put in a straight jacket to stop her constantly masturbating. Others removed their clothing regularly. Clothes were usually shared, it was a matter of luck and laundry who got what. Some patients had best clothes kept separately for when visitors were due. I remember a mother who very rarely visited her daughter turning up unexpectedly with an expensive yellow transistor radio which was promptly broken. She made a huge fuss that day about the fact that her daughter was not wearing all her own clothes, but it was only luck that she was wearing any of her own clothes at all!
The more able patients helped out in the laundry and cleaning the wards, a few were allowed to wander around the grounds. I don’t ever remember taking the more disabled patients out into the fresh air. I don’t imagine some of them had been outside for a very long time.
Although I was young and fit the work took a toll on my health and I developed a chronic digestive condition which I named “eggy burps”, these would precede 24 hours of vomiting and diahoerra reoccurring every few weeks, not surprising given the terrible hygiene standards and lack of any infection control. After a few months I asked for an interview with the hospital administrator, a dapper chap, I can’t remember his name. I intended to resign explaining that the work had made me ill because of the filthy conditions. He seemed sympathetic and offered me a transfer to work with the children on West Wing and the prospect of training eventually which I accepted and escaped the gloom of South Wing.
West Wing was a place where it was possible to feel some sense of optimism working with the children. Looking back now I cringe at the conditions the children endured, but we did our best and I loved working there. I was lucky enough to work in the team lead by a Dutch Charge Nurse. He constantly battled Dr Lawlor on behalf of the children and the staff, but in the end he lost and his team was disbanded.
There were about 30 children on the ward, most with severe physical as well as learning disabilities. A small number of the more able children went out to Strathmore school in the community but most were classified as officially “uneducatable” and attended the hospital school.
There were at least two young men in their late 20’s still housed on the children’s ward. One whose limbs were so contorted and ridged that he could not be sat up and spent most of his days in bed or occasionally on a trolley. The other, a helpless man whose devoted mother begged for him to be allowed to remain a little longer on West Wing. There was no access for these young men to any type of therapy in the early 70s. They were so severely physically handicapped that the Dutch Charge Nurse felt they would literally not survive on the notorious East Wing for adult men opposite.
The work was physically exhausting. Many of the children needed lifting, from bed, to chair, to bath etc and we usually did this by ourselves, I don’t remember any bath lifts or hoists, but surely there must have been some equipment to assist lifting? I can’t remember ever using any. There certainly weren’t any lifting and handling regulations in those days! We helped each other as much as we could and were a very united team. The ward, particularly the bathrooms were often filthy, dried faeces smeared on the walls could be there for weeks. I once had to extract a cockroach from between the clenched teeth of a six year old, who would put anything in his mouth, I remember the antennae waving between his lips. Sometimes there would be no clean sheets and no clean clothes left for the children and our Charge Nurse would be off on the warpath again, meanwhile we would improvise as best we could.
On top of all this Dr Lawlor would sweep in and issue orders that seemed often deliberately perverse and cruel. One I particularly remember was the ban on swimming for a little boy with Down’s syndrome. The highlight of his life was swimming day. But he had a mild type of haemophilia so Dr Lawlor deemed that it was too dangerous for him to go in the swimming pool. The poor boy was devastated.
Weekends were very dull for the more able children who had no visitors (and most never had any visitors). Toys were kept in a locked walk-in cupboard, staffing was always short at the weekends and to open the toy cupboard meant not keeping up with the changing, bathing and supervising the more challenging kids! One little boy spent most of his weekend strapped in his wheelchair which was tied to a pipe. His cousin shuffled around the floor on his bottom. One very angry young man with a withered right side, swung his left arm to great effect if anyone upset him. Another would stage escape attempts at the slightest opportunity and the autistic children rocked and bit themselves as three or four staff tried to keep up with 30 children.
But it wasn’t all grim, there were lots of hugs and genuine affection. We would try and get the children outside whenever we could. There was a slide and a climbing frame which a few of the children enjoyed and once or twice I remember taking the children on a picnic to Bushy Park with the hospital school staff.
I do wonder what happened to those children, particularly the more able kids who should never have been there in the first place. One child was profoundly deaf and in a wheelchair. He had a hearing aid for school, but of course did not wear it on the ward because it would be broken by lunchtime. He communicated by basic gestures and had a brilliant sense of humour. I don’t believe he had any degree of learning disability but in those days without family maybe there was nowhere else to put him. A little girl who had Down’s syndrome (still referred to then as being “a Mongol”) was amazingly able and at aged six loved books and would chatter away to anyone who had time to listen. They just needed a normal family life. I do hope that some of them were better placed in the years that followed.
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Memories of Normansfield 1982 to 1985

By Juliet Huntington (née Eadie)
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I grew up in Teddington and worked at Normansfield from 1982 until 1985 within the Occupational Therapy department in my early twenties. The closure of Normansfield was overdue. However this does not recognise that at the end it was a forward thinking establishment too, with much ground breaking work enabling the move into the community of the residents.
The public inquiry completed in 1978 had brought to Normansfield much needed changes in every aspect of life there, from staffing to facilities. This included dropping the word hospital from its title and a change in philosophy. The injection of funds provided essential upgrading of accommodation and a new professional quality of daily care and support, and new professional staffing. After the public inquiry conditions were improved markedly, staffing and residences addressed and a new ethos grew.
Occupational Therapy at the time encompassed, amongst other things, a broad range of opportunities for learning and self-expression. The staff were forward thinking and we had modern purpose built facilities and resources, as well as using some of the Victorian buildings.
Before the public inquiry, there were some wholly unacceptable aspects and evidence of lack of care and cruelty. But after the enquiry, working towards care in the community, staff and residents of Normansfield were visionary in establishing advocacy and leading to movements such as People First that supported people with learning disabilities speaking out. It is right that Normansfield closed. It set a precedent when it opened and to my knowledge a lot of innovative work took place in its sensitive closure.
I was the pottery instructor and worked alongside the art therapist and the woodwork instructor. Whilst I was there, the woodwork instructor was in fact an arts graduate specialising in sculpture made from wood. It was an incredibly vibrant and caring environment where fostering creativity and promoting self-esteem and joy through working with a variety of media was foremost.
The pottery and woodwork area was in the old piggery, along with the gardening “department” (a few work benches for when they weren’t outside or in the greenhouse). It was a hive of fun and activity, whilst we either listened to piped radio (always Radio 2) or our tape recorder of disparate tapes – Five Guys Named Moe was a favourite, along with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Rolf Harris. Art therapy was in an old portacabin next to the vegetable garden. The art therapist led both individual and group sessions. Art, Sculpture and Pottery collaborated for exhibitions of residents’ work, where we celebrated their achievements, inviting the press and relatives to view.
The Stella Brain Centre was used for part of the OT work. This encompassed life skills and also opportunity to try new hobbies and activities. These were older buildings. However, after the inquiry, there were new, purpose built houses and an activity centre where a team of occupational therapy staff, play leaders and additional specialist staff worked. From memory, there was a purpose built cookery/home skills area, music room; soft play; speech therapy; physiotherapy and OT assessment rooms and more.
We also worked towards building skills for independent living and employment as part of the new drive for Care in the Community; it was decided to move all residents to smaller homes in the community and there was a growing movement for integration.
Before my time Wolfgang Stange, the world renowned and inspirational choreographer and dancer, had established dance and movement for the residents at Normansfield that led to the founding of Amici. He ran innovative movement and dance sessions twice a week in the theatre, often using his masks and props he had brought from Thailand. He went on to take residents to sessions at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith.
I have incredibly fond memories of my time there and it inspired me to undertake a degree in education with specialism in learning difficulties with the hope to offer continuing education to those residents that were moving into the community. I helped establish full time courses for adults with learning difficulties at Richmond Upon Thames College in 1991 and led and taught on our new 3 year course. Many of the students had lived at Normansfield.
There were some areas of Normansfield that were not closed soon enough and I expect, as with other similar institutions of the day, some staff who were not the best or indeed ill-suited for a variety of reasons. However, much effort and specialised interventions enabled many residents to move into their own homes to live independently and some to start work.
I have truly special memories of working with the wonderful residents. Normansfield has inspired me throughout my career in many ways and that was from my time working there in the 1980s. I think that if John and Mary Langdon Down would have visited in that time they would have witnessed a heart-warming, caring and innovative environment. I now live and work in north Lancashire but still hold Normansfield and many of the residents in my heart.
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