Growing up in the shadow of Denbigh Hospital

Brothers Robert and David Frost lived within the grounds of the Hospital


Comments by Robert Frost, Tasmania

My father became the clerk and steward in 1938 taking over from Mr Barker. I was brought up within the grounds and spent much of my time with Tommie Davies the cobbler (and the earlier Mr Hughes); The entire works department (I personally painted the blacksmith's shop walls in one holiday break).
There was Joe Bartlett the Porter; Melvyn/Myrvyn one of the chauffeurs (in the bomb disposal squads during the war); Maldwyn the electrician who brought me back coins from his wartime experiences in Malaya(?); Mr Bumby the farm bailiff; the two farm horseman who looked after Captain and another horse which competed with the tractors for work - one of the horses injured one of the farm hands; the day the hay/straw barn burnt down and I had to hold a hose for hours and soaked the fire chief by accident.
I remember Mr Basil Evans, my father's number 2; Auldina Jones his secretary; Dr John Roberts my godfather; Dr Schwartz (nee Simmonds); Dr Wilson who lived up at the reception; Dr Gwyn Davies, Mr Pritchard and his daughter Gwynno (!); Mrs Chisholm the pharmacist; Tom Davies the head male nurse; Miss Smith at the laundry; Mr Humphries the head electrician; the wonderful 'engine room' where the electricity was generated; the coal hole which fired the boilers and drove the turbines; cleaning inside the (ship's) boilers during my holidays; Mr Moore the head cowman; Mr Pearce the head painter; Mr Griffiths the Head upholsterer; watching them all playing dominoes at lunchtime.
There was 'Major someone' the catering officer; Mr Middleton the joiner; Mr Hughes the head Gardener assisted by Tommy Davies's brother; their little tracked tractor that had handles instead of a steering wheel; the fire station and the wonderful mobile unit kept in it (still to be found at the back of the hospital on the female side I wonder?); the land girls during the war; Pat Wilde, a patient who worked at St David's some mornings and took me for walks; the head seamstress (we have a chicken named after her to this day); the blacksmith who gave me the dirtiest jobs possible when I worked with him - lovely man. 

What happened to the library of photographs that Roland (Ronald?) Thompson (Thomson?) the Denbigh photographer took during his long career as a local photographer of some note?

I remember that there was a fire at the farm and he took some splendid pictures of me holding a hose while aiming it in the general direction of the big barn then on fire? I would love a copy of it if it still exists somewhere within his records. It was of course in the summer holidays and I was at the age of about 16, working in the engineering/maintenance depts as general dogsbody - my very first pay packet too! I actually painted the room adjoining the then smithy during that time (just the job to give the Secretary's son they said); shovelled coal in the "coal hole; "assisted" in the engine room; carried wood around under the tutelage of Mr Myddleton the joiner;  as well as working with Jack Jones the plumber, Maldywn and ?Peters the electricians; Mr Hughes the head Gardner (and the earlier land girls I remember! - one was named Miss Long) + Tommy Davies's brother the number two there; ?Pierce the painter; ? the upholsterer; Maldywn the chauffeur who carried the food about the place; Tom (?) Barclay the head porter (and a man there with one arm - ? Emmanuel?) Tommy Davies (who was at Dunkirk), Mr Hughes (who fought in the Boer War I remember - what tales he told!) and Goronwy the shoemakers, Bob the baker, and The Major in charge of the kitchen - apart from Bob Evans on the farm helping to manage his fire!
Then of course there was the beautiful Rachel Coope....................alas I was never posted to be under her tender watch.

Comments by David Frost, Harare, Zimbabwe

My younger brother Robert has covered so much about the Hospital, but I can add a bit to his recollections as I was older and therefore recall life at Denbigh Hospital during the war years. As a schoolboy I was directed to contribute towards the war effort by collecting waste paper from the Hospital archives. I remember hundreds of huge wage ledgers dating from the mid-1800's, with each attendant's name written against the entry 'one pound' (weekly or monthly I can't recall) and each payment receipted by signing over a penny postage stamp. Then there was another ledger, dated 1840, which was the subscription list for the construction of the Hospital, and the very first entry in beautiful copperplate handwriting was 'Her Majesty Queen Victoria, 50 guineas' (That relic did not go for waste paper, I wonder where it is now?)

They used to say that the branch railway line from Rhyl served three bastions of Victorian Britain - St Asaph the workhouse, Denbigh the Hospital, and Ruthin the prison.

My brother Robert was correct in saying that our family moved to Denbigh in 1938, but he was slightly wrong when he said he was born in St Davids, the house at the bottom of the main drive. Robert was born in Parc-y-Twll, opposite St Davids, where we lived for a year until Mr Barker retired, aged 80. My father and Mr Barker put in nearly 100 years service between them in running the administration of Denbigh Hospital.

Robert also mentioned Pat Wilde, a patient who worked in our house. Pat was born deaf and dumb, but he could 'feel' music and infact was usually the MC at the weekly hospital dance in the Main Hall, keeping perfect time. He used to take us through the Gary Gordons with military precision, and ensured that we all finished at the same time (more or less).

In those days the Hospital was almost entirely self-sufficient. We had own water supply from our own private lake high on the Denbigh moors on the road to Betws-y-Coed. We had our own laundry, and our own electrical power station, and that provoked memories - it generated power 110 volts DC, but most available appliances were 240 volts AC. The problem was overcome by complicated and fearsome looking electrical equipment that converted 110v DC to 240vAC in your own living room. It was a sight for sore eyes to see my mother pulling switches, adjusting rheostats and tuning condensers for several minutes, then triumphantly turning on the radio and getting BBC Light Programme

And of course the Hospital had its own farm, right next to main buildings, and supplied nearly everything to feed 1500 patients plus staff - vegetables, potatoes, wheat, milk, meat. The farm included several hundred pigs (fed on swill from the kitchens), and had a licenced slaughter house, where we children were not allowed to go. The farm and market garden were especially useful to the Hospital as they provided occupational therapy for hundreds of patients, many of whom came from farming backgrounds. Mr Evans, the farm bailiff at that time, used to boast that our farm had the highest potato yield in the Vale of Clwyd - not a single potato was left in the ground.

It is sad that when the Ministry of Health took over hospitals in 1948 from local councils in terms of the National Health Service, one of the first things they did was to close down all hospital farms, as it was believed that it was cheaper to buy food on the open market. That may be so, but it was a pity to see the patients who used to work on the farm being locked up all day in the wards.

Denbigh was never bombed during the war, but Liverpool and Merseyside were, and I can remember listening to the German planes flying at a great height right over the Hospital night after night, on their way from Dublin to Merseyside. (Ireland was neutral in this war, so there was no blackout in Dublin which provided a beacon of light for bombers heading for Liverpool). We would see flashes of bombs and guns beyond the Clwyd range. Sometimes there were great grass fires on top of the hills, especially around Moel Famma, and some said they were set by Soldiers to deceive the enemy, others said they were caused by bombs that fell short of their target.

The future of the Hospital buildings appears to be in doubt. It is interesting to recall that when the Hospital was built in the 1840?s much of the stone came from the ruins of Denbigh Castle, blown up by Oliver Cromwell two hundred years earlier. Maybe somebody will recycle these ancient stones again, leaving behind another ruin that future visitors will pay to see. Or maybe the Hospital will go the same way as at St Asaph workhouse and the Ruthin workhouse and the Ruthin prison. What happened to them?

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