From ghosts to missing cars – a new book about an old hospital

A former nurse has published a book about St Francis Psychiatric Hospital, in Haywards Heath.


My Asylum, by Joe Hughes, is part memoir, part history. It covers not only the hospital’s 136-year history but also Joe’s 30-year career as a nurse and trade union officer, during which he witnessed first-hand the radical changes in psychiatric care from the late 1960s until the hospital’s closure in 1995.

The new illustrated history features dozens of photographs, drawings and paintings many of which have never been seen publicly before and which help to bring the text alive.

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The history also revisits and tells the controversial story of the late Paddy Henry who was sacked from his senior nursing management post by the Mid Downs District Health Authority in the mid 1980s.


With hard hitting commentaries on historical under-funding and overcrowding of the Victorian structure, the history also examines the future for the psychiatric service bearing in mind the often broken promises of national politicians.

There is lots of fun too as it tells the tale of the haunting of the laundry by the Grey Lady, the white shrouded body disappearing in the snow, nurses’ initiation rites, the disappearing staff car which turned up on one of the wards, and Joe’s encounter with a Penthouse Pet in 1973.

Joe said: “St Francis Hospital was a great place to be a young student nurse during the emancipating 1960s.”

Special to this history is a chapter devoted to staff telling the personal stories of their lives at the hospital.


We learn from the late Doris Bishop of how she learned how to party when she encountered the Irish nurses shortly after her arrival as a young girl.

Bill Golunski, renowned local artist, tells of the prejudice he encountered but also of how his wonderful skills were appreciated for so many years as he used his art to enrich not only the life of the hospital but also the therapeutic benefits it brought to his patients.

The last medical superintendent, Dr Wheeler, tells of his arrival and his life as medical approaches to the treatment of mental illness changed over the decades and, finally, the author writes of the last 30 years leading up to closure and the sadness which this brought for many patients and staff alike.

My Asylum is availble to buy from for £10.


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