Following the closure of the Henry Pride Convalescent Wing of the Royal Women’s Hospital in 1973, ownership of the site was transferred to the Mount Royal Hospital, which established the Henry Pride Geriatric Centre on the site. The new Centre provided care for elderly patients in what was at first a 72-bed facility. The Geriatric Centre operated at Villa Alba until 1992, when it was finally transferred to St George’s Hospital in Cotham Road, Kew. Rosemary McMeekin, a guide at the Villa Alba Museum, worked as a physiotherapist there between 1978 and 1994, and recalls life at Villa Alba in the 1970s and 1980s.
On one lovely spring morning, one dear old lady thought she had died and gone to heaven, as two white pigeons popped in and paraded around her bed..
I started at Henry Pride in July 1978, on a part-time basis. At the time, there were three wards: one for rehabilitation, another for long-term patients, and the third for respite care and or emergencies. The wards were located in the grounds of Villa Alba on the eastern side of the slightly sloping block and were surrounded by lovely gardens. The entrance to Henry Pride was in Nolan Avenue, with the administration, nurses’ home and offices facing the street. Xavier College’s Early Learning Centre now stands where Henry Pride used to be.
When I began there as a physiotherapist in 1978, I initially worked part-time, gradually increasing my time over the sixteen years I worked there. In the early days I was able to bring my two young children to work every so often, and the patients loved seeing them. Henry Pride was also easily accessible by car or bus and there were no parking restrictions.
The patients loved looking up at the ‘old house’ and it helped to make the Henry Pride more homely and less institutionalised. When I first started working there, the janitor lived in the Vestibule – Kitchen area of Villa Alba. He was on hand to keep an eye on the things, and did a wonderful job. Every so often he would let some of us into the house to have a quick look around, which I’m sure was not quite the right thing to do. The garden was wonderfully kept by an Italian gardener, but was never the same once he retired.
At every opportunity, the elderly patients and staff would sit in the garden for a morning or afternoon tea, special lunches, and weekly barbeques which were often cooked by the doctors. We even tried having staff meetings in the summer under the lovely Jacaranda tree, which is still visible from the vestibule of Villa Alba. We had to move back inside, as quite a few used to doze off. The bed-ridden patients were also often wheeled close to the open French doors. On one lovely spring morning, one dear old lady thought she had died and gone to heaven, as two white pigeons popped in and paraded around her bed.
The resident animals deserve a mention – Fred the cat, a very big brown tabby, loved napping on a few select beds. This caused some upsets amongst the patients! We also had a large aviary with budgies and quail, which were loved by the patients (and Fred!)
All the staff at Henry Pride were friendly and welcoming and really did have the welfare of the patients at heart. We had cleaners, kitchen staff, porters, office staff, nurses and Allied Health Professionals, doctors and geriatricians from Mt Royal, and later on from St George’s. The transfer to St George’s in 1991-92 was quite lengthy. One ward was re-configured as an ‘Allied Health wing’, and we had a new Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy department, as well as rooms for podiatry and speech therapy – a very good coverage overall. Social workers also played a very important role.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Henry Pride Geriatric Centre – a very friendly place in a lovely setting, with Villa Alba always there to keep an eye on us all! So much has changed since 1978, when Villa Alba was almost derelict, to the present day, when the grand old lady is gradually getting back to her former glory.