Former Hackney General Hospital nurse pens memoir
PUBLISHED: 11:59 03 May 2014
Sarah Beeson MBE was 17 when she arrived with her suitcase to start work as a trainee nurse at Hackney General Hospital in 1969.
Despite being poorly paid and working extremely long hours, she remembers her six years there as the “time of her life”.
Receiving free tickets to see Ingrid Bergman in a West End show and working with nurses from all over the world are some of the stories she has captured in her memoir, The New Arrival.
One of her funniest tales is unknowingly living in a former brothel with some of her colleagues.
She said: “Nurses were only paid £20 a month so we had to live economically. Once we were renting a very cheap flat in Hackney. We eventually realised it was cheap because the people who lived there before were working girls. We had knocks on the door and stones thrown at the window. At the time we were angry and annoyed, but looking back it was funny.”
She recalls her career as eventful from the moment she arrived at the former general hospital in Homerton High Street. After being asked to join the September 1969 intake, she worked as an assistant until she turned 18 because her interviewer had not realised her age.
Despite a slow start, she ended up becoming one of the youngest health visitors and continued in her role until her retired.
It is the richness of the 62-year-old’s anecdotes that lead her daughter to persuade her to write them down.
The tight camaraderie among her colleagues and the colourful social life is clearly evident.
“I’m still friends with the girls I worked with,” Mrs Beeson said.
“On our day off, we used to go across the road to the Adam and Eve pub and also to the main shopping street Mare Street.
“Nurses used to get free tickets to West End shows. I went to the theatre a lot on my days off. I saw Ingrid Bergman, as well as Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev in Swan Lake. They were absolutely amazing.”
“I arrived in Hackney liking unusual food and was exposed to much more. While there, Hackney was welcoming people from Bangladesh who were escaping war. Some of them set up restaurants. I loved curry. I also used to get great salt beef sandwiches from the Jewish delis.
“There were wonderful shops which were kind to nurses such as a butcher’s on Homerton High Street which gave us cheap cuts of meat.”
But some memories are not so warm. Mrs Beeson, who now lives in Stafford, said: “There was cruelty to older people. They were vulnerable and afraid to speak out. That really tugged at my heartstrings. I had to take a stand. I told the matron staff were being unkind to the older people such as leaving them in soiled beds and mocking them.
“There were sad situations with children, who were abandoned because they had a disability. They were on the ward for a long time. Also, visiting hours were only a couple of hours a day. Parents could not stay with their children.
“It was very hard on the kids and really quite wrong. But it was just the way things were.
“There were also many children with chest conditions because of terrible living conditions. Sometimes I would visit their homes and see they had fungus on the walls or no bathrooms.”
Summing it all up, she says her memories of Hackney are “crystal clear”.
“You remember your teenage years and twenties better than any other time,” she said. “I have such fond memories of Hackney. It was the time of my life.