Christmas cheer at Glenside Hospital

Staff pulled out all the stops to lift spirits among the patients at the huge psychiatric hospital which served the Bristol region until 1994.

Christmas in hospital is no-one’s idea of festive fun, but imagine if hospital had become your home from home. That was the reality for some staff and patients at Glenside Psychiatric Hospital. It was a time to inject some frivolity into proceedings.

Each ward would have its own carol concert, laid on by staff or visiting choristers, and there were raffles, special outings and Christmas socials. In the post World War II years the Bristol Bus Company’s Carol Bus made a regular appearance. On Saturday 18 December 1971 it serenaded patients and staff at teatime. And for more than 30 years the City of Bristol Band would turn up on Boxing Day to deliver a Christmas concert.

A classy rendition of ‘No business like show business’
at a postwar Christmas show for patients and staff.

One long-standing tradition was the annual Christmas pantomime put on by staff. It appears to have gone into decline during the 1960s. In 1970 while the Glenside carollers were rehearsing for a tour of the wards, patients were being ferried by coach to Barrow Hospital in Somerset where the Barrow Players we’re putting on a performance of Mother Goose.

The panto was revived after the editor of the staff newsletter, Les Button. bemoaned its disappearance in a Christmas edition of The Glensider. ‘The Carollers are touring the wards, the Staff and Patients parties are under way, and one look at the programme of festivities is enough to bring about that warm cosy Christmas atmosphere. The only item missing … is the Staff Pantomime, which… used to be enjoyed by everyone who took part as well as the packed audiences … what a price to pay for television!  Perhaps next year some of our artistically minded staff … might be moved to bring about a revival of this traditional masterpiece. Then Christmas would be really complete.’

Nonetheless that year there was a Grand Festival Night in the Social Club with ‘swingalong’ music from the Lloyd Whitehouse Group.

The Editor’s plea seems to have struck a chord because Gwyn Birt, one of the current Glenside Museum Trustees, remembers “doing the lights” for the yuletide variety shows and pantomimes put on by staff in the 1970s.

Not their usual uniforms, but ready for entertainment duties.

“It was entertainment for the patients,” says Gwyn who was an engineer in the hospital Works Department. “The slogan was ‘Patients First’, and that was applied in every department from Works to the medical staff.”

Doing the ‘Bog-Eyed Jog’ (don’t ask) in 1987
Rehearsal time in 1988, for who knows what un-PC extravaganza!
All aboard the HMS Disgusting in 1989

In 1989 it was all aboard the HMS Disgusting for the 8th annual Christmas concert on Thursday 21 December, followed by a disco party with Mobile Music until 4.30pm

Back in 1987 the staff of Ward 13 had laid on a Christmas social with musical entertainment for three of the hospital wards, and in addition to a show with a western theme in the Social Club, there was a pantomime in the Cinema Hall on Thursday 10 December. Tickets for Cinderella were £1 for adults, 50p for children. All proceeds went to the patients.

That year The Glensider ended with an uncredited poem by American inspirational writer Wildferd Peterson: Christmas is not in tinsel and lights and outward show The secret lies in inner glow, It’s lighting a fire inside the heart, Goodwill and joy a vital part Its higher thought and a greater plan, It’s glorious dream in the soul of man Christmas begins deep down inside… Then engulfs the world like a mighty tide.’

Perhaps more to the point was the message from Porter Ron Harvey on behalf of his colleagues: ’Christmas wishes to all and may peace of mind, contentment of spirit and love for each other extend far beyond the festive season.’

Mike J

Journalist, trainer, editor; storyteller; amateur historian.

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