St Lawrence’s. The Story Of A Hospital 1870-1994

By Robert Malster.

Lifecare NHS Trust


ISBN 0 9524367 0 1

It is difficult to write a book of this nature without calling
into question the purpose and values of those who created the
institution it commemorates. But Malster rightly points out that
people and ideas are products of their time.

Understandably, in his quotations and references he repeats the
terminology in general use at that time, thereby emphasising how
far we have come since then. Unfortunately, he then imports those
old ideas and words – relics of a bygone age – into his own

His persistent use of such devaluing terms as spastics,
mongolism, low and high grades, mental subnormality and mental
handicap and so on is offensive, and suggests a lack of

It is also disturbing that the author describes in some detail
both the spartan surroundings and the strict hospital regime. Yet
he fails to note the effect on people who were forced to make it
their home.

Comments such as ‘the homely atmosphere’ rub shoulders
uncomfortably with ‘conditions for patients were stark’.

Much detail is given in the book about the planning, building
and later modifications of the fabric of St Lawrence’s, as well as
views of management and staff.

Apart from the notable exception of St Lawrence’s most famous
resident, Joey Deacon, there are no personal reminiscences from
ex-residents. This is a sad omission.

It is not perhaps surprising to find an up-beat approach to St
Lawrence’s history in a book published by its heir, the Lifecare
NHS Trust.

A more penetrating view would have been more valuable,
particularly in relation to the experiences of those consigned to
its care. The bland acceptance of the continuation of the
institution in its present form is equally disappointing, and
underlines the absence of informed discussion of the issues.

Jean Collins is director, Values Into Action and author
of When the Eagles Fly, The Resettlement Game,and Still to be

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