Norman arrived at the Royal Albert, aged 4 years old, in 1941. He went straight to the relatively newly built Barlow Home, which was the boys’ ward at the hospital. After over 10 years there, in the presence of female nurses, he was sent in his mid-teens to Dawson Ward, male (staff and residents) accommodation for older youngsters on the Royal Albert’s ‘Male Side’. In this short extract, Norman describes what must have been a huge change in his life. Norman shared these memories in two recorded interviews in 2005, at home, in the house he had owned since leaving the Albert in 1980.
(Note: The black and white photo of Barlow taken in the 1960s was close to the front steps shown on the colour image.)
(Recorded September 15th 2005)
Norman: Then when I was about 15 I went to the Male Side. When I was 15… When I was 16 I went to the Male Side, in the same hospital.
NI: And where did you go to on the Male Side Norman?
Norman: Dawson Ward. Went there. That was second ward.
NI: And what was it like going to Dawson Ward?
Norman: Big, big fellas – head up……
(Recorded November 17th 2005)
NI: You were saying that when you went on Dawson Ward –
Norman: Yes I did, yes.
NI: … Were there ‘big fellas’? Were you saying they were big?
Norman: On Male Side. Male. That’s on the Male Side. You get used to it when you’ve been there a bit, on Dawson Ward. You get used to it.
NI: What did you get used to?
Norman: The routine…
NI: And what were the routines that you had to do on Dawson Ward Norman?
Norman: Go to work and come home at five. I used to work in Tailor’s Shop…
NI: What was your job in the Tailor’s Shop?
Norman: Sewing. Doing back stitching…
NI: …That sounds skilful
Norman: Yes. And you used sewing machine as well. You learnt how to use a sewing machine…
NI: Had you done that before?
Norman: First time I done it.
NI: How did that feel like?
Norman: All right. Then you had to put pockets in trousers. First of all doing sitting cross legged on the bench stitching, doing back stitching, that first job.’
NI: And who taught you how to stitch Norman?
Norman: Mrs Pym, a lady… And another tailor Mr. Jones. He was the boss. Another tailor in next room… Two Tailor’s Shops.
NI: And how did you come to go to the Tailor’s Shop? Did you choose that or –
Norman: No they give me it.
NI: And who gave it to you?
Norman: Mr. Hudson, the Chief, Chief Male Nurse. The Chief…
NI: And do you remember him telling you?
Norman: Yeah. Then after been to see him, go to the ward – after seeing him. You go to the office first, your first day you go to the Male Side.
NI: So when you went on Dawson Ward the first day you were sent to see Mr Hudson (mispronounced) were you?
Norman: Before I went to Dawson Ward.
NI: When you were still on Barlow?
Norman: The same day we went to office, straight to Dawson Ward, from the office.
NI: So who sent you to the office? Do you remember?
Norman: Oh Barlow Home did… A nurse. Transferred.
NI: And when you went to the office, did you go on your own or did you go with other boys?
Norman: Four of us went.
NI: You all went together?
Norman: Yes. In the same ward, Dawson Ward. We sit on separate table… First week… Then went to bed at half past six at night. On the Monday stay up for a bit till about ten o’clock. Everybody went to bed at ten. Everybody… Every night.
NI: But the first week you went to bed at half past six?
Norman: Yes. The first week.
NI: And then the next week –
Norman: You stay up.
NI: What time had you gone to bed on Barlow Home?
Norman: Half past six.
NI: So how did it feel going to bed at ten o’clock?
Norman: Oh a bit strange. I go to bed anytime I like now at home.
NI: How does that feel?
Norman: All right, great…
NI: So you make your own choices now?
Norman: You do now, yes. My own choice.