Chailey Heritage

Marine Hospital

The building
Life at the hospital
Former patients
Outdoor boys
Ted Hartwell
The boys and the villagers
The nurses
Matron Powell
The end of the hospital
Changing attitudes
Chailey Heritage today
Learn more

A Hospital was built at Tide Mills in 1924

The founder of the Hospital was Grace Kimmins, born in Lewes in 1870. She founded Chailey Heritage residential school in 1903 and the Tide Mills hospital was the school’s second residential site.

It offered medical care, schooling and lots of fresh sea air to boys aged 5-16 with physical disabilities. They would be sent to the hospital as it was believed the sea air and water was a great healer – especially for anyone recovering from an operation.

Grace Kimmins sitting behind a wooden desk. She's wearing a nurses uniform and a cross around her neck.

The hospital building

The Hospital building was right next to the beach – so close in fact that the waves occasionally reached the building and the windows had shutters to protect the glass from pebbles during stormy weather

[Tap on image to zoom]

The hospital was extended in 1928 and completed in 1932, 88 years ago. This site plan was produced from memory by Ted Hartwell, a former patient at the Marine Hospital, as well as two other former patients and two former nurses.

When the building was completed it was over 60m long – that’s as long as six double decker buses!

Life at the hospital

The Hospital had five long wards and a well-equipped operating theatre, as well as a gym and workshops including a carpenters and shoemakers. Grace Kimmins believed the boys should be taught crafts and skills so they could get a job.

The boys had their school lessons outside and at night, if the weather was good, they would sleep outside too – there were 100 beds outside in total!

In the winter months, the hospital would have been freezing – there was no heating and the wind and rain would come into the rooms during the winter storms.

Images used with permission of Chailey Heritage Foundation (

Here are some quotes from patients at the Tide Mills hospital

Click play to hear what they have to say…

“It was a very full life when one lived there … There was no time that couldn’t be filled in. We were up in the morning at 7 … we went to school at 9. Come out at 12 …. We used to go back again at half one I think it was. We used to do craft all the afternoon until about 4 o’clock and then it was our own time till tea time.”

“On Good Friday we got a bag of marbles, a top and whip and a bit of string with a button on the end!”

“In those days … we had to walk everywhere, we had nothing like they have today, wheelchairs … All steps and stairs had to be mounted and got up and over etc. … I have a wheelchair now, but we didn’t have then and we had to walk and get about the best we could.”

Question Do you think the Tide Mills Hospital sounds like a nice place to have stayed?

'We are outdoor boys'

Evidence'Outdoor Boys' is an extract from the Tide Mills Hospital School Anthology

We are outdoor boys,
We will go out-of-doors in all weathers,
We will leave the streets and go to the open fields,
We will bathe whenever we can, and learn to swim as soon as we can,

Young boy making a model sailing ship Young boy making a model sailing ship

Image of patient, Bert Ellender, building a model boat at the Marine Hospital

Disabled boy without his left leg, balancing on a WW1 mine Disabled boy without his left leg, balancing on a WW1 mine

We will wash our bodies daily in cold water,
We will clean our teeth,
We will sleep with open windows and lengthen our lives,
We will learn all we can from the lives of plants and animals,
We will write or draw some of the things that interest us,

We will open our eyes to the sky,
We will open our ears to the song of wind,
We will open our hearts to our friends,
We will share all good things with others

QuestionWould you have liked to be an outdoor boy or girl? Do you still do any of these things?
Ted Hartwell, former Tide Mills Hospital Patient
Play Video
Evidence This video shows original film from the Marine Hospital in the 1930s

Ted Hartwell was around 5 or 6 years old when he stayed at the Chailey Heritage Marine Hospital at Tide Mills. He remembers the hospital as a unique and fun place and described it as being “like a treasure island”.

More recently, Ted produced a short film about the Hospital and his time there. The clips above are taken from that film and were converted from old film reels.

The boys and the villagers

The patients from the hospital and the children from the village were not allowed to mix at all. But as all curious young people do – they found a way.

Percy Thompson was a young boy who lived in Tide Mills village. He remembers playing football with some of the disabled children from the Hospital. Listen to what he had to say…

“They were on crutches, see … and if we were not careful they would whip them across the back of our legs! The matron used to hate us village kids and would never let us within 100 yards of the place.”

Image of patient, Dennis Shirley, walking with crutches at the Marine Hospital

Old-fashioned brown leather football

Percy also remembers that the hospital would put on film shows for the children, but the ‘village kids’ were not allowed in. Instead, they resorted to clinging to the side of the building in all weathers to get a glimpse of the latest film. Mrs Powell, the Matron, always put a stop to this behaviour.

Question Do you think the children from the Village and the Hospital should have been allowed to play together?

Some people think that Mrs Powell didn’t want the disabled children at the hospital mixing with the children from the village. This wouldn’t be allowed today, as everyone should be treated equally.

The nurses

The nurses that worked at Tide Mills were extremely dedicated and worked hard. By the hospital’s completion in 1932, there was a separate nurses’ home on the beach. It was the only building that had a fireplace to keep it warm!

One of the nurses’ duties involved dipping the children into the sea using large net hammocks.

However, they’d also have to empty the toilets into the sea at night as there was no running water or sewage connection at the hospital.

  • Matron Powell

Matron Powell

Grace Kimmins appointed Muriel Powell as her successor to take over and run the Marine Hospital, although she would still visit every week (a message used to be sent to the hospital when her car entered the village so everything would be tidy and everyone on their best behaviour!).

Matron Powell was a very determined lady, having been hand-picked by Grace for her nursing efforts during the wars in Eastern Europe and Russia. She expected everything done as she wanted it. It was a sign of the times and how all hospitals were run in the 20’s and 30’s. The children had a variety of disabilities from blindness to loss of limbs but all were subject to the same strict regime enforced by the matron. However cold or wet, the boys had to wear very little and always exercised outside. It was tough being a patient at the hospital. Matron Powell also forbade mixing with the villagers.

Question Some historians have mixed opinions about Matron Powell. Do you think she sounds like a nice person?

The end of the hospital

The patients and nurses were forced to leave the hospital in 1939. The building was subsequently dismantled and relocated to Chailey in 1940 as the fear of an invasion grew during WW2.

Today, the remains of the hospital and its concrete foundations can still be seen at the top of the beach.

A handful of patients who spent time at the marine hospital are still alive, and all of them we have spoken to have fond memories of their time at Tide Mills.

Question Both of the men in this photo have already appeared on this page. Can you find them?
Two men, former patients of the hospital, sitting on a crumbled wall at the ruins of Tide Mills.
Dennis Shirley (left) and Bert Ellender (right), former patients of the Tide Mills Marine Hospital, pictured here in 1994

Changing attitudes

When the marine hospital opened in 1924, it was described as:
“a type of lighthouse, guiding the crippled boys into the desired harbour of healthy independence”

This sort of language, especially the word ‘crippled’, is now considered offensive and shouldn’t be used. This isn’t the only example of how attitudes to people with disablities have changed since the days of the Hospital at Tide Mills. For example:

A suggested name for Grace Kimmins’ first charity was “The Public School of Crippledom”. Do you think that “The Guild of the Brave Poor Things” was a better choice? Would either name be allowed now?

Matron Powell wouldn’t allow the disabled children at the hospital to mix with the children from the Village.

Most of the boys at the hospital wouldn’t have had access to any specialised equipment like we have now. For example, boys with physical disabilities that found walking difficult were often carried, or used basic wooden crutches.

Thankfully, people’s attitudes towards people with disabilities have changed for the better, but in some ways, Grace Kimmins was ahead of her time. She believed that…

“every child regardless of their disabilities should become either partly or completely independent”.

Chailey Heritage Foundation still exists today and runs a school at its original site in North Chailey. Nowadays it caters for girls and boys, but Grace’s vision is still at the heart of what they offer:

Digital graphic of a young girl in a wheelchair
Chailey Heritage Foundation Logo

“We will never, ever give up working with children, young people and their families to empower them to make their own choices at every stage in life.”

Question How has the mission statement of Chailey Heritage changed from Grace Kimmins' beliefs?
EvidenceWatch the video above to learn more about Chailey Heritage today. There are lots of similarities between the modern Chailey Heritage School and the Marine Hospital at Tide Mills - but some big differences, too.

Grace Kimmins cared greatly for the young people with disablities at the Tide Mills Hospital and created a place for them to learn and grow in the outdoors

Grace Kimmins received a CBE in 1927 and was promoted to DBE in 1950. Muriel Powell also received an MBE for her work.
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