UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies


The Children of Craig-y-Nos

Boys On Balcolny

The first ever exhibition of photographs of children and young women who were patients in the Adelina Patti Hospital, better known as Craig-y-nos Castle, were exhibited at The Welfare Hall, Swansea in September. The exhibition has been organised by Ann Shaw, herself an ex-patient (1950-1954). Some of the photographs and stories she has collected can be seen at: www.craig-y-nos.blogspot.com About sixty photographs have been selected for the exhibition, which is also online at: www.childrenofcraigynos.com

It was less than a year ago that Ann began her search for information about the Hospital, which served as a tuberculosis sanatorium from 1922 to 1959. After discovering that all the patient records had been destroyed, she submitted an entry to the BBC Mid-Wales community history site, and placed small articles in the Brecon and Radnor Express and the South Wales Evening Post , hoping that they might draw out information to piece together the missing decades.

Says Ann, 'Little did I know I was about to tap into the collective memory of a whole community, of people with stories waiting to be told, many of whom had never spoken of their experiences before, some painful, some happy but all with their own unique tales of their time isolated from their families and the rest of the world in this secluded sanatorium on the edge of the Brecon Beacons. E-mails arrived from New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the UK, along with a flood of letters and phone calls. I have been deluged with photographs, approaching 600, tiny scraps of history, some barely more than 2"x 2", faded but clearly treasured.'

The exhibition is part of an oral history project in which Ann is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Sleeping Giant Foundation and the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL.

We are recording the memories of many of the people you will see in the photographs. It will be the first ever collective account by patients and staff of life inside a tuberculosis sanatorium and is therefore a unique heritage project. The time period, from the 1920s to the 1950s, is also crucial because of the tremendous activity by medical professionals and other groups to understand the nature of tuberculosis, who was most likely to catch it, how to diagnose it, and how to treat it. Although tuberculosis was known to be an infectious disease caused by a microscopic organism ( Mycobacterium tuberculosis ), the real treatment breakthrough came in 1947 when the first effective medicine, an antibiotic called streptomycin, became available in Britain. The children of Craig-y-nos were among the first to receive this new 'wonder' drug.'

The photographs, taken between 50 and 85 years ago, give us a unique insight into life inside a tuberculosis sanatorium. They do not offer a pictorial record of day-to-day events because the people who took them were, first and foremost, recording their happiest moments. Photography is all about happy memories, after all. We do not see the sadness, pain, disappointment and fear that many of these children and young adults experienced during months, often years, inside the walls of Craig-y-nos. What the pictures do reveal, in a most evocative way, is a youthful stoicism and zest for life at a time when TB in the industrial areas of south Wales claimed the lives of 12 young men and 17 young women a year in every community of 6000 people. Hundreds more, like the children of Craig-y-nos, were deprived by chronic ill health of education, work and family life.

For thiry-seven years, Craig-y-nos provided the pure, invigorating air swirling around balconies open to the elements that was considered beneficial, even curative, in patients with tuberculosis. Its situation amongst pinewoods in a magnificent rural environment on the edge of the Brecon Beacons in the Upper Swansea Valley, provides the backdrop to many of the photographs in this remarkable exhibition.

The Children of Craig-y-nos

Ann Shaw and Carole Reeves co-authoreed a book entitled The Children of Craig-y-nos, which  tells the story of the sanatorium for the first time and pays tribute to those who made it possible. As Ann says, 'We made it, hundreds didn't.'

The Welfare Hall,
Brecon Road,
Swansea SA9 1JJ
Tel 01639 843163.