Douglas Holmes – My life at Meanwood

Mens Exercise Group, Gala Day.Bed SpaceVilla 1 Bathroom 1973Villa one, 1973The Recreation Hall Where Douglas Met Margaret.Recreation Hall

Mr. Douglas Holmes was born on 28th February 1928 in the City of Leeds. On 24th March 1945 he was admitted to the Meanwood Park Hospital, Leeds, for people with mental handicap.

His hospital records state that he was admitted to the hospital because he was “found neglected”.

Mr. Holmes suffers from a mild degree of spina bifida occullta and mild hydrocephalis. He is confined to a wheelchair. On formal intelligence. tests he was estimated to have an Intelligence Quotient (l.Q.) Full Scale of 72, in 1972, on the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (Verbal I.Q..85 Performance I.S.59, Full Scale 72).

In 1974 Mr. Holmes wrote an account of his life at Meanwood Park Hospital. He was encouraged to do this by the staff although what he wrote was entirely in his own words. His story was typed out at the hospital. This account of his life provides an interesting insight into the hospital and into Mr. Holmes own personal views, values and experiences.

Over the years Mr. Holmes has suffered from a number of physical complaints and he has had a partial amputation of his right foot and an operation for rectal prolapse.

Perhaps because of his physical infirmities Mr, Holmes has been reluctant to leave Meanwood Park Hospital. For most of his life it has been his one and only permanent home.

Mr. Holmes enjoys reading thrillers. He has been sustained during his lifetime by his deep religious faith and for some years he organised his own bible classes in the hospital.

Because of his facility with words he has been asked to speak on behalf of resident patients on ceremonial occasions at the hospital.

Mr. Holmes story of his life is a unique production at Meanwood Park Hospital Leeds and it is preserved and presented as a contribution to the social and psychiatric history of the twentieth century*




“My Life at Meanwood” by Douglas Holmes, in 1974.

I came to Meanwood Park Hospital from St. James’ on Saturday March 24th, 1945, at the age of 17. I am now 46.  During that period quite a number of changes have taken place. I have been on different Villas, some of them more  than once, beginning with Villa 1. In all these Villas, patients have come and gone, some to their own homes while  others have died. We have also lost two doctors, one of them an Austrian. The latter was named Doctor Breslau.

In the first few years of my life here, times were hard. Patients went to work some on land, some on gardens, while  the majority of them were on an assortment of different jobs in the workshops, as indeed they are at the present time.  The pay in those times was 2d. weekly and each time there was an increase it was 1d. and one had to be very careful how one behaved. First, offenders were brought before a senior medical officer and lost for a period of time, the small  amount of money they did receive.

At the time written of up to now, some of the brighter patients went on day trips to places like Bridlington and Filey every year.  These were the only real pleasures they had apart from enjoying themselves in the hospital grounds as best they could.  However, things have changed and improved greatly over the years. There have been a number of extra villas built, as well  as departments for physiotherapy, occupational therapy and Tea Room where patients where patients can go with their visitors or on their own, as the case may be. There are also in the same building, social events like games, coffee mornings etc. There are more outings in the Spring and Summer months of the year. Day trips and some of us go on holiday for a week every year, to places like Skegness, Hornsea, Morecambe.

I have been to Skegness and Hornsea but never to Morecambe. There is a seaside resort where, so I read in a newspaper some time ago, the holidaymakers are never driven indoors by unfavourable weather conditions. The place in question is Scarborough though whether or not this statement is true, I am not able to say, having never been there.

Almost daily rides in a mini bus are provided for the hospital by the League of Friends.

Once we went to Bridlington, leaving Meanwood between 8.30 and 9.00 in the morning. We stopped at  a café half way through our journey. Those who wanted tea had it and a little something to eat with it.  After this we all boarded the coach for the second half of the journey, arriving at Bridlington in time for lunch.  Having finished we all file out into the open, where we were then asked by the members of our staff how we would like to spend the afternoon. Some of us went shopping, while others played games on the sand and went paddling. Soon it was time to return to the care for tea. After this we all went back to the coach for the return journey at the end of a most enjoyable day for each and everyone one of us.


Every Tuesday afternoon a group of us go to Eurythmics. Mrs Mortimer is the name of the lady in charge of  this with other occupational therapy staff taking part as well. Eurythmics is music and movement. Every year when our Annual Sports Day comes around we do a special display which is chosen by Mrs Mortimer. This year we did a round the world trip with movements and tunes associated with each of the counties we visited. These included China, Hungary, France and Australia. It was good fun and all of our patients and staff as well as some of the patients visitors etc enjoyed it immensely. Last year we did a circus display imitating the animals and clowns with tunes associated with each one. This, too, was enjoyed by all who took part and all those who came and watched. Sometimes we are unfortunate in having our Sports Day activities rained off and when that happens we have to concentrate only on those which can be done out of doors as well as indoors but fortunately this does not make our Sports Day any less enjoyable.

In my present situation, I am not able to be very active in the normal way having recently undergone hospital treatment for an arm injury which I sustained whilst on my way to Church in the grounds of this hospital. This treatment took place at St. James’ Hospital here in Leeds. I was in there 17 days and after returning here at the end of that time I was back for only three days before I had another unfortunate accident which resulted in a recurrence of the arm trouble. Apart from these unfortunate mishaps my days are pretty full. One way or another I spend a good deal of time out of doors visiting my friends on the other villas where I have been during my 29 years at Meanwood. I also have a girlfriend called Margaret, with whom I have now been for well over three years and we both get on very well with each other, sharing the good things that we have and Margaret is to me everything that a girlfriend should be, now would I ever want to be without her.

I am a Christian and have been for longer than I can remember. There was a time when I was as bad as most other people. There was hardly ever a day went by when I did not get into trouble for one thing or another, especially during my life at home which lasted seven years before I went into St James’ Hospital, Leeds for the first time.  All these times when I got into trouble. However the time came eventually when I received my first Bible which was bought for me out of my own money, by one of our staff at Meanwood, who is himself a part time Lay Preacher at the Hospital. Now when trouble comes my way, I only have to turn to God in faith and trust, and know beyond doubt he forgives those who truly repent. I now hold my own services on a Friday evening on one of the Villas where I used to be and Margaret and I take it in turns reading the lessons and announcing the hymns.

When some people dream it is surprising how real and life like some of our dreams appear to be, so much so that we expect to wake up in the morning to find them come true and as true as they appeared. I remember experiencing something like this myself some years ago. I was in Seacroft Hospital, Leeds at the time recovering from Diptheria. It was Christmas Eve and as I slept I dreamed that on Christmas morning when I received my presents, amongst them was a box of those kind of dominoes with the coloured spots and and on receiving them, and having looked through the rest of my presents, I put the box of dominoes under my pillow only to be disappointed to find that the box of dominoes was not there.

Before I came to Meanwood, which as I mentioned earlier, was on March 24th, 1945 I had a visitor to see me at St. James’s Hospital who told me. I was coming here as a change from the other hospitals I had been in previously since leaving home at the age of seven. I have since come to “believe that the real reason was in some way connected with my condition but the man who visited me (I think his name was Mr. Wormald.) obviously did not seem inclined to reveal this information to me, which he told me that I was coming here as a change from the other hospitals with regard to my condition, to which I have referred above. I am-a Spina Bifida. This consists of a number of different bodily ailments including incontinence in both kinds, although in- one way this is not as bad as it used to be when I came into hospital for the first time. There has been some improvement.

I am, and have been for some time, learning to walk again following the amputation of my right leg in St. James’s Hospital on July 25th, 1973. In the place of the leg I wear what is known as a prosthesis whilst on my left leg I wear a spoint for the purpose of strengthening the leg and; also straightening the knee, which as yet I am unable to do. I also do various exercises which I have been given by the Physiotherapist here at Meanwood. These exercises are for the purpose of helping me to get back on my feet again and they include getting down on the floor near the feet of a bed, putting my left foot, under a bar at the bottom of the bed and pulling myself up into a sitting position. In between I walk up and down a number of times with a walking aid. If I do well with these exercises I earn a certain number cf tokens with which I buy literature, including Christian pocket booklets, stationery and sometimes I also buy something for Margaret as well as myself.

As will be gathered from what I have written regarding my walking, I lost my right leg because of perforated ulcers which were the cause of many, and bad, illnesses which used to happen more frequently than they do these days. Another thing that has done its in putting me out of walking action. Whilst I was out with some other patient sat Meanwood I met with an accident which resulted in my knee coming up almost to the size of a football. I then had to be taken back to the ward in a wheelchair and have been in one ever/since which is the reason for my not being so active in so many ways as I was able to be before this all happened. Also, I have had an operation on my left ankle which I twisted in a fall that I had long before I came to Meanwood which is another reason why I am not able to walk properly.

Future Hopes

I hope very much, by the help of God, and that of the Staff, Doctors, Physiotherapists etc. in the other hospitals where I have been as well as here at Meanwood, that the time-will eventually come when I shall be able to abandon the use of the wheelchair completely and be able to walk without any form of support whatsoever and may God grant this may be achieved in the not-too-distant future. As I trust in him for always and for things and all this will enable me to be more active than I am at the present and be able to be of assistance to other people, doing things for them which, for one reason or another, they are unable to do for themselves and finally, I would be able to go places with those of my friends who go out on parole every week especially my very dear friend Margaret, who has often said that she would love to take me anywhere with her were it not for the fact that my only means of getting about is in a wheelchair. Apart from the aforementioned exercises which are helping to get me on my feet again.

Three Wishes

If I had three wishes, the first one would be that I could go to Meanwood Parish Church more often than at present and this on foot rather than in a wheelchair. At the moment I go once a year for the Harvest Thanksgiving while for the weekly services I go to the Hall in the hospital grounds. My second- wish would be that all wheelchairs, both in this and other hospitals could be abandoned and those who have to use them be able to walk about and live. a normal, healthy life and finally, my third wish would be to spend aholiday from time to time with relatives or friends with whom I have come in contact over the years since I first came into hospital and I have met certain ones who, if they could;, would be only too willing to take me in, One such couple are the parents of Vincent Hickey, a patient. Quite a number of us here at Meanwood, are fortunate in having our parents, relations and friends to visit us regularly especially at the weekends and we are to go to the Tea Room on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays though there are a lot more of those who do not have these pleasures. Of these who don’t, a limited number are able to go to the Tea Room with members of the Staff. Sometimes it is one member of the Staff on the Villa concerned, sometimes it is more than one, depending on how many happen to be on duty on the days’ mentioned. In the case of these why don’t have any form of recreation or anyone to visit then, the Senior Nursing Officers or any other person, or persons who hold positions of authority, should, by some means, get in touch with people who could well be looking for opportunities of visiting unfortunate ones such as these and doing all within their power to keep then happy and. contented, and by so doing, let them see that there are people in the world, who care.

I feel that I just cannot close this essay without a word or two about my girl friend. who is on Villa 4 of this hospital. Her name is Margaret Groves, and we have now been together for three and a half years and I can honestly say beyond any shadow of doubt that Margaret is to me everything; a girl friend should be, in fact,, she is in many ways much more than just a girl friend., she is more like a sister to me. I could of course write something about my reasons for saying this, and. also something about how we came together as we did. on the first Thursday in January, 1971 which was the day of our Annual Fancy Dress Ball. At the time when I first started to get to know Margaret her former boyfriend, Charles Davis, was here at the hospital. Towards the end of 1970, however, Charles was discharged. Soon after this came the day where we had our annual Fancy Dress Ball.  l was on Villa 13 at the time, I remember going down to the Recreation Hall with the other patients, we all took our seats together with patients from the other Villas. On my right hand side was a vacant seat which was eventually taken by Margaret. when she was seated she remained for a short while after which she broke the news that Charles no longer wished to have anything to do with her. I then asked, her if she would like to take me as a replacement. She gladly accepted and we have been together ever since.I promised Margaret faithfully from the moment we came together that what Charles had done I would never do, namely push her on one side and let another take her place, and by God’s grace I have kept my word. and I firmly believe that it is he who brought us together and the Bible plainly teaches us that these when Got has brought in contact with one another cannot be separated. Margaret and I do all within our power to keep each other happy and contented and so we shall continue to do and we shall not allow any form of unpleasantness alter this in any way.

I am hoping and trusting in God for something greater in the future when the use of a wheelchairs no longer necessary, namely that Margaret and I will one day be joined together in marriage, as this is a subject on which many people here at Meanwood are often asking us about, especially the Staff and Senior Nursing Officers, though I have always though that they meant it jokingly. -but just recently when the subject came up I told Margaret that I thought the nearest we were likely to get was being as we are at the present. I have since begun to see things in a different light and l I fully intend to seek God’s guidance together with that of one of our Senior Nursing Officers and it may be that turn cut as I have felt they would or that we shall remain man and lady friend as we are at the present, but whichever may turn out to be the case, we are so lovingly devoted to each other that as Iong as God grants  us life here on earth we shall never allow ourselves to be separate one from the other.

8th July. 1974-