Friday, 26 December 2014

Benches in Benenden

I recently drove to  Benenden Hospital in Kent. Those of you who have visited it will know that access from any direction is via a wilderness of country lanes. 

On my approach route I was surprised to see a bench positioned on a corner. Why would anybody want to sit there? Who would be walking, miles from anywhere, just to sit and watch the traffic go by?

It was only from inside the hospital that I learned the reason.

Benenden Hospital was built from 1905-7 on three smallholdings which had been purchased by the Post Office Sanatorium Society. The purpose of the hospital was to treat the postmen who were disproportionately represented in the statistics of tuberculosis sufferers. Why were postmen catching TB?

Benenden Hospital, opened 1907.
Research discovered that when the mail trains were unloaded at London stations, the bags were dragged along the platforms upon which the travelling public had expectorated and a proportion of these people suffered from TB. The spores were absorbed by the bags and when they were upended at the sorting office, the postal workers breathed them in. So Benenden hospital was built, and NO SPITTING signs appeared on railway stations.

I met a lady who was treated at the hospital for TB when a girl. Some patients stayed for two years and part of the cure was considered to be fresh air -- thus the reason for siting the hospital in the middle of the countryside. She recounted how their beds were pushed out onto the verandah during the daytime and one day in winter she lay there watching the snow falling onto her bed.  And this brings us back to the bench. As the patients improved they were encouraged to take the two-mile circular walk around the lanes but of course, they could only walk in short bursts and so benches were placed on the verges, a short distance apart, all the way around the circuit.

And this must have been one of those benches.

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