The Story of Elsie Harrison
Elsie was born in County Durham in 1907 and this is the story of her move to Benenden Hospital at the age of 14 until she retired to Benenden village some forty years later.
Taken into care at a young age and separated from her siblings, Elsie had a difficult upbringing. She was packed off to a distant place called Benenden Hospital in Kent and given a job as a maid. Papers from the Museum archive describe Elsie’s fascinating story in some detail, including memories she shared of her first working day in 1921.
Following a long journey from Ireland, Elsie was met by Miss Richards, Matron and given a meal before being taken to her accommodation. Given a bed in the corner of a room shared with three other maids, Elsie was confused and tired. Matron put the fear of God into Elsie as she told her what was expected of her but later she described her as a ‘guardian angel’. Having been given her pink uniform, apron and mob cap, Elsie was to be up and ready for work at 6 am the following morning.
Here are some pictures of the Sanatorium around the time Elsie arrived.
A maids duties included cleaning the night nurses home before breakfast, spreading the tea leaves on the wooden floor before sweeping to keep down the dust and black leading the stove. There were also coal bunkers to fill, kerb stones to brush and bathrooms to clean. Finally the working day ended at 6 pm.
Memories of the war were recorded in the archive, with stories of bombs dropping on the estate and the evacuation to Tunbridge Wells. One evening, Elsie and a friend had cycled to the Red Lion in Biddenden for some rare time off. On the way home they had to dive under bushes as bombs dropped near by. Thankfully they arrived back at the Hospital safely.
Some fun times were described, including monthly staff trips to Hastings and local dances.
Elsie watched the Sanatorium grow over her forty years employment, seeing buildings erected, services change and staff come and go. She was remembered fondly once she retired to Harmsworth Court, Benenden village in around 1961.