The Amazing

Mr Frank Mays

Three Counties Hospital Nurse

Frank  on the Three Counties Hospital  cricket pitch 1938.

Frank  on the Three Counties Hospital  cricket pitch 2009.

Mr Frank Mays is a local resident who started his working life at the Three Counties hospital  in 1938 and retired in 1973. He spent his whole working life at the hospital and is probably the last surviving  Three Counties Hospital Nurse of that era. This is his story.



Frank Mays was born 94 years ago on the 23rd June 1915, He was born and lived on “The Square” in Henlow which has now long gone. Frank can recall many early memories of  Henlow and it’s many characters in the early part of the last century, He can tell fantastic stories of people who he remembers from his childhood and tell you about  areas of  Henlow that have now disappeared with the passing of time.


His memory is so sharp that you would think he was talking about times that  happened only a few weeks a go rather over 80 years past. Times, dates, names, places, all flow as if  these memories were installed in his mind only a short time ago.


Frank started  work at the Three Counties Hospital in 1938 purely because of his love for cricket, Even as a child he would go to school with a cricket ball in his pocket. In later  years he played excellent cricket for Henlow and it was not long before Frank showed promise,  Andy Carllile of  Henlow offered Frank a place at Lords Cricket ground  in London starting off on the grounds staff. Frank asked his dad if it would be ok to go, In typical dad style he said :

“ Ask your Mum”,  but Mum put her foot down and said “ Well, where are you going to stay?”  Frank explained to her that he would find lodgings, “No, I’m not having you go there”  Was Mums Reply .


Later on Franks Mum died of cancer and Frank asked Dad if he could go to work at the ‘sylum’ as it was known locally,

In the early life of the hospital  you could only apply for a nurses job if you were a good sports person or a good musician, Funny how it did not seam to matter if  you had good people skills, as long as you were good at one of the two subjects You stood a good chance of getting a job.


Dad was not very keen, but as Frank loved his cricket so much and dad knew how much Frank wanted to go,he gave him permission, Frank knew  the Three Counties Hospital had a very high standard of cricket, many of the top class players had played there and young Frank wanted to be a part of the team.  He had no interest in being a nurse , Frank says :


“ All I wanted to do was play cricket, I was mad on cricket,  I heard all about the cricket up there {three counties hospital}, real high class, teams from Kent, Hampshire ,Middlesex, Surrey. All played there and I  ended up playing against them all”.


Frank was a fantastic cricket player and found his way into a job at the hospital and on the cricket team with relative ease.

His working life began at the hospital in 1938 aged 23 and a long career in sports and nursing lay ahead of him .  

Cricket and Bowls were the loves of his life, but Frank worked very hard at his nursing and became a very highly respected member of the hospital team. Frank was very good at dealing with patients who could be very troublesome and so many other nurses would say “Go and get Frank, He will sort it out”.


Frank was still living at home when he first started at the hospital and had to cycle from Henlow to the Hospital and back everyday come rain or shine or even very deep winter snow, Frank says:

“ One year the snow was so deep I had to pick my bike up and put it over my shoulder and walk to work”.  


Frank reported for duty,  His first job was to lock his bicycle up, Frank saw  George Teasdale at the lodge  and was told where to put his bike, George told him  if he had a chain for his bike to use it!  Frank was then given key set 29, these would open  the wards, cupboards, cabinets, in fact everything that Frank would need to un-lock or lock, these keys stayed with him all his working life at the hospital.


The set of keys that Frank was issued with were for the Male wards and departments, He recalls how the Female ward keys were slightly different, Frank says with a smile:


“The Female keys were a little bit different, if you had a girl you couldn’t get her back into her wards with your keys, so what we used to do was take them around the back and give them a lift up to their window,  if they had already left it on the latch before they went out, they used to get on our backs and then on our shoulders and get in through that way. You had to be careful because you never new who was about. but quiet a few used to do it!”


At first  Frank found the patients very intimidating, many would shout and scream and be abusive, they would fight and become very threatening, Frank recalls:


“ I had a very small room just off  the ward as after a while I had to live in, at night some of the patients would go mad and throw there urine pots at the doors while shouting and screaming, I remember standing and shaking with fear  wondering if  they were going to smash the doors in or something. You were expected to go in and sort it out , you know, if there were any fights or anything. I weren’t going to do that! I hadn’t got hardened to it at that stage, I didn’t have a uniform or nothing then”

Frank got his first uniform, He recalls it being a suite of mixed grey, it was a little stiff  but very hard warring Frank says:


“ A few years later I think some woman must have got involved on the committee up the hospital because we were issued with, For Sunday suites, Lovely blue serge suites, you could go out to the pub in them, they never issued more than one of them they were to expensive. Another thing about them was they had T.C.H on the collars, I used to go to darts in mine, very smart they were, people knew who you were and where you worked!” Laughs Frank.


Frank settled in and started to take all the patient upset in his stride, He soon found he had a skill with the patients,  He had a naturally ability to get on with all sorts of patients and be sympathetic to their needs, He showed them kindness but firmness and they soon started to respect him and his way with them. All the patients called him Mr Mays.


Nursing, Cricket, Bowls, and Darts took up so much of Franks life but he had another two jobs, When the huts were being built for the London chest clinic he had to go on a rota to be a security guard patrolling the building site to stop the materials  being pinched.


Frank also worked as a part time Fireman at the hospital., In those days the only fire pump was an electric one, Frank says:


“It was a portable electric pump but very powerful, it could reach up to the top of the hospital with no problem, there were water tanks under the ground, these were situated all around the hospital so where ever the fire was we had water. The pump was ideal for holding back the fire un till the local fire brigade came to take over.”


Frank Mays (far right)

Frank and his friends pose in their fireman's uniforms

Circa 1940


During the second world war Frank remembers very vividly the day a V1 {doodle bug} German flying bomb came over the hospital, Frank says :

 We had a tough go getting through the war, yes we did that, I remember a doodle bug coming over, I remember that as plain as now, you could tell when the engine stopped that was coming down, then you herd the crunch and a huge explosion, {my mum was a young child living in Arlesey at the time and she remembered being really scared when the bang shook the windows of the house }.


Frank continues: There was a lot of us watching this thing, some of them got under the billiard table in the ward because of the big bang! it was so near I watched it fly over the football pitch, all the flames belching out the back of it, it didn’t half rattle. That could easily have come down on us and that would have been it! {Frank laughs}. We did have a little shower of bombs come down behind the nurses home at one time. I don’t know if  he {the German pilot} was trying to hit us but I herd them come down, we were on fire duty, we say the plane come over followed by one of our boys chasing him, I heard later that the German plane was shot down before he got to the channel but I don’t know for sure if he was.

That was one of the fires we had to deal with.

We had a bloke called Saunders from the government who showed us how to put the incendiary bombs out using buckets and also how to manage and put on gas masks so we could show the others and then log their names down.


Frank Tells us that at the hospital you would be moved around to work and get experience of all different types of mental illness . You would work in different wards, Frank tells us of a story while he was working in admissions:


I was put in admissions ward, you know where people come in fresh,  Well this man come in and I must be honest this man shook me, I’ve never been shaken so much in my life, I don’t mean  frightened but it upset me, took me a long time to get over it really, I never said nothing at the time but that’s stayed with me all these years.

This chap came in, I don’t think he had been assessed as to what was wrong with him, I think we were waiting for the doctor to come and see where he was going to be put. We went to dinner, we used to go to dinner in two half's so that meant there was only four of us on the ward at one time, two would go to dinner while two stayed on the ward, my friend Mr Pryor said “come on Frank we will go to dinner first”, took us about 45 minuets to an hour”,

When we came back from dinner some of the patients were reading, others just sitting starring into space and some had gone to bed. I changed over with the other staff member who had been watching the patients and took his chair by the fire, After a while I thought id better check on the sleeping patients, we would walk along and tap their feet or give them a gentle shake just to make them move or grunt at us, then we  knew they were safe, I thought I had better check on the new fella as he was down in the last bed, I tapped his feet and called his name, no answerer,

I walked up  between the two beds to where his head lay and pulled back the sheets, the sight I saw I will never forget,

Blood pumping everywhere, He had cut his throat from ear to ear, but he was still alive,I called for help and as I looked down I could see blood all over the floor and all over my shoes,

Well I knew he didn’t have long so I called out “Get the Dr ”! In the mean time the man who was in charge came over and said “what’s up Frank”?

“He’s cut his bloody throat I said”

We saw how he done it, someone had let him have a small framed photo of his wife by his bed, He simply took the glass out of the frame and used  it.

Dr Jack and Dr Russell were soon on the scene, we rushed round and to cut a long story short we sowed his neck and saved his life .

A few weeks later  I was sitting by the fire, we had moved this blokes bed near to where we sat so we could keep a watch on him, He managed to call me over to get the commode as he needed the toilet, I went and got it for him and settled him on it before pulling the curtain round and leaving him to it. After a while I thought to myself  He’s been a long time, so I called out to him, he answered in a muffled grunt, I wondered if he was straining so I got up and went into him as I didn’t think that was right. As I pulled the screen back he leant forward and grabbed my arms, I saw what he had done, someone had let him have his false teeth back after dinner and he had stuffed them down his throat and was choking! I quickly pulled him onto the floor and put my knees on his arms, so he couldn’t move, I put my  fingers into his mouth and managed to get them out, Just then Dr Jack came along and  I said:

 “I’m sorry Dr Jack but I think I scraped his throat a bit trying to get them out”

“ Don’t worry as long as you got the buggers out,” said Dr Jack “well done !”

                                                      Six months later the patient died in the sick ward.


Another one I had which was very nasty, this chap, they let him join the gang who looked after the cricket pitch, I knew him when he was young, he lived in Clifton in those days, anyway, he’d gone a bit funny so they sent him up here, He didn’t seem to bad so they let him help with the cricket pitch., When the rest of the gang wasn’t looking he climbed a bloody big tree and dived of it head first into the ground. He was still alive even with a broken neck so they rushed him over to one of the huts that the Royal Free were in, well I was doing my duty on my ward when the deputy head male nurse came in and said: “ Frank, I want you to do a job, that bloke who dived of f the tree at the cricket grounds he’s not going to live but some ones got to go and look after him, the Royal free won’t look after him because he is a mental patient so we got to send one of our mental health nurses to look after him, as you know him and his family you are the ideal person to look after him till he goes.”

So over I went to look after him till his time come, he was totally out of it but his body and nerves kept kicking in making him bring up all sorts of horrible sick, blood, bile and other nasty stuff. It was horrible. He died in a bad way.


Frank tells us of two patients who miss treated themselves while working in the  “route house”  Frank explains.


We had a place we called the route house, it was in a complex of out buildings near the fire station, its where they prepared all the vegetables for the kitchens, all fresh mostly from our own farms,  most of the work was done by machines but  three patients were employed to do a bit of work digging out eyes from the potatoes and other little jobs like that. They were allowed to use very small knives to do these little jobs. One day I was  working in the sick ward , it was early morning and I was getting the patients up and checking on them when a chap came up from one of the wards below with what I thought was a load of toilet paper in his hand, he shouted over to me and said: “Hey Frank come and have a look at this”  

“ What you got there?” I said

When he un-wrapped the blood soaked paper I couldn’t believe my eyes,

the chap in the route house had cut the end of his penis off !


                           Two weeks later another chap did exactly the same thing while working in the route house

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