So far, we have read about the history of Essex County and its buildings from wonderful posts by Kyle and Deb, but why will the hospital be remembered? The people who worked there and the patients themselves give us the memories from the hospital and help it to live on. Using oral histories from the Colchester Recalled collection – a volunteer-run project gathering recordings from around the district – my post follows some of the staff who worked in the hospital in the 1960s.
Rosina Eleanor Fisher started working at Essex County as a cleaner, but later joined the Preliminary Training School at the hospital, eventually qualifying as a Registered Nurse. She describes going to lectures on anatomy and physiology as well as being taught how to make beds. She learned how to bandage correctly, recalling that head bandages were especially difficult. During this time, she lived with other nurses in the Nursing Home that can still be glimpsed behind the iron gates on Oxford Road.
Rosina started her nursing career on the surgical ward, remembering giving drinks to patients at two in the morning, as well as bathing the men on the ward. Rosina’s describes feeling ‘over awed by the hospital which seemed quite magical’ and the remembers the kind treatment she received from patients, who often treated her like a daughter. In her oral history, Rosina fondly remembers the social activities that happened on the hospital’s site, including the yearly fetes that took place on the lawn.
Alan William Fredrick Fisher was the first man to become a Charge Nurse at Essex County Hospital, working around the same time as Rosina in the 1950s-60s. In his recording, Alan describes the busy wards at the Hospital and often reflects on the challenges of the wards which he worked on for six years.
Like Rosina, he describes the patients accepting him as someone who could do the job, which made him feel confident in the role. Alan also highlights the changes that have occurred in the profession; he explains that nurses had to be single to work there and if they were married were often made to quit.
Marguerite Jenkins was an outpatient receptionist at Essex County. She describes how women working at the hospital were given specific roles. She explains how it was a woman’s job was to write the names of all outpatients in a leather-bound book with copperplate writing, which, she reflects, would not happen now. Her memories are often quite dramatic as well as funny. She describes the experience as a medical officer of moving thousands of records from Essex County to Colchester General Hospital, which as you can probably guess was quite a task!
Christmas brought pressure at work in the hospital, but also fun. Some of Marguerite’s fondest memories were the marvellous times that the hospital often had at Christmas. She describes how they built a stage in outpatients’ area, which would be used for carol-singing and to entertain the children. Christmas concerts could also involve doctors dressing up, even performing ballets, which Marguerite describes as being “great fun”. Marguerite also describes how the consultants would often visit each other’s houses for drinks around Christmas-time. These experiences show that, even in a stressful environment like this, the hospital could still be a place for patients and staff to have fun and to entertain.
Rosina, Alan and Marguerite are only three of the former staff of the Essex County to shared their memories as part of Colchester Recalled, and there are many more recordings to explore. We hope that, as the hospital approaches closure, others will come forward. The buildings will remain, but we now need to capture the recollections of the people for whom the hospital was important, for today and for the future.
Did you work at Essex County Hospital, maybe you were a patient? If so, we would love to hear from you, using the contact us form on our website.