Rauceby Hospital

Former Lodge at Entrance

The derelict Rauceby Hospital

Picture taken in 2006

The Kesteven County Council and the Borough of Grantham applied to the Secretary of State to be united for the purposes of the Lunacy Act (1890) on the 31st January 1894. This was so they could set up their own asylum and on the 20th June 1902 the Kesteven County Asylum was official opened in Rauceby. Set in 112 acres of grounds, the hospital originally cost the grand sum of 72,000 and was built by Kirk Knight and Co a Sleaford company and could house 490 patients.

It provided treatment for people with both long and short term mental illnesses. Unfortunately when it first began there was practically no medicine available to help and the treatments ranged from promoting wellbeing and hearty recreation to more firm methods. In 1912 Dr J Ewan wrote an article in the 17th Annual report that;

“Suitable employment varied with hearty recreation continues to be the chief means of promoting recovery and maintaining wellbeing of those under my care.”

Those in his care at that time reflected the rural nature of Lincolnshire, patients ranged from coachmen, grooms, labourers, ploughboys and waggoners. Unmarried mothers were also admitted to the asylum.

In 1924 the Asylum was renamed as the Kesteven Mental Hospital but its name was to change again in 1933 when it became known as the Rauceby Mental Hospital as a new visiting committee took over the hospital. When the Second World War started, the Hospital continued to treat patients. However in April 1940 the first 75 patients from RAF Cranwell moved into Rauceby Hospital mostly cared for by members of the local Red Cross. Remarkable this was done in a relatively short time transforming the former psychiatric hospital into one of the most important principal RAF hospital of the Second World War. One reason was that it was within easy reach of the many bomber and maintenance stations of the area. From 1940 onwards the hospital saw a rapid increase in the number of service personnel treated.

Many of those personnel were badly burnt along with their other injuries and Rauceby Hospital was their start of their painful road to recovery. At Rauceby Squadron Leader Braithwaite the resident plastic surgeon performed break through techniques along with pioneering specialist Archibald McIndoe who also operated at Rauceby when he visited from his East Grinstead Hospital. He was the founder of The Guinea Pig Club which is the name given to the pilots injured in the air and who were treated by him at the burns unit of Queen Victoria's Hospital. The Guinea Pigs were given this name simply because McIndoe had no choice but to try out his ideas on the men as he had no book to refer to or guide him. He was later knighted for this work.

Throughout the war RAF Rauceby admitted nearly 5400 servicemen and women and had over 18000 outpatients of many nationalities. One of the most famous was Guy Gibson VC from the Dambuster squadron. Another patient during the War was John Hannah; he was the youngest V.C. of the war at just 19. He was on a flying mission when his aircraft was set alight by an ack-ack barrage. The pilot ordered his crew to bail out but unfortunately for John his parachute had caught fire. He therefore proceeded to put the fire out by throwing all the burning material out of the plane. He managed to get the fire under control and he and the pilot got back to base. He was a patient at the Hospital for a long period of time as he was treated for his injuries and burns. He was discharged from the RAF in 1943 and unfortunately died of tuberculosis in 1947. If you visit Sleaford Library you can ask to see the Rauceby Hospital file and in there you will find a letter this young man sent to his parents explaining his injuries and a modest account of his heroism.

Unfortunately for the Hospital its relationship with the RAF finished in 1947 when the RAF burnt down the main Hall. However it was rebuilt and in 1948 the Hospital reopened and renamed simply as Rauceby Hospital. By 1956 all of its displaced patients had returned. It continued to treat patients until 1997 when it finally closed its doors. Much of its grounds have now been developed into housing in the Grey Lees development by David Wilson Builders.

I would like to thank Simon Cornwall, Sleaford Library and Gwyneth Stratten a former Senior Library Assistant at the Rauceby Hospital. For without the information they had provided I would have struggled in my research of this article.

Stewart James

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