Apologies in advance for this book review. I purchased The Hospital: How I survived the secret child experiments at Aston Hall in 2017 and read it sometime in the last couple of years. I was astonished by this book about Barbara O’Hare and ghost written by Veronica Clark. But somehow, I never got around to writing a review. I can’t believe it, actually, because this book was one that was hard to put down. I remember gliding through it with ease, which is more than I can say for a lot of the books I’ve been reading lately.
The Hospital is not a good book because it’s a happy story, although I do think it has kind of a happy ending, in that the person it’s written about managed to survive her long and arduous ordeal at Aston Hall in England. Aston Hall, thankfully, is no longer. However, this story takes place in the not to distant past, as O’Hare was a patient in the Laburnum Ward at the now defunct hospital for about eight months in the early 1970s.
From the outside, pictures of Aston Hall make the hospital look like a respectable place– solidly brick with big, white framed windows. And yet, what went on behind those imposing brick walls was truly horrifying. The hospital was led by Dr. Kenneth Milner, who, according to some of his former charges, was horrifically abusive and performed sick experiments on children. O’Hare’s account alleges that she was frequently drugged and abused by the staff at Aston Hall.
Although Aston Hall was a psychiatric facility, Barbara O’Hare was there, basically because she was abandoned by her family– first by her mother when she was a baby, and then by her father, who was a drunk and a “tinker”. Barbara’s father used to denigrate her all the time, calling her a “tinker’s daughter”. He couldn’t look after her, or her brother, Stephen, who was born to one of Barbara’s father’s many girlfriends. Barbara’s father eventually placed his daughter in foster care, where the maltreatment got even worse.
Barbara’s first foster mom was abusive and cruel, so Barbara ran away and was later put in a children’s home. She ran away from the children’s home, on a quest to find her long, lost mother, who had left her when she was eleven months old. Deemed a “difficult” child, Barbara was then put in The Cedars, which was a home for challenging or troubled foster children. While she was at The Cedars, she was visited by Dr. Kenneth Milner, who wore tweed, stroked Barbara’s hands, and asked her if she would like to come to the hospital. He had treated her with sympathy, and led her to believe that if she went into the hospital, she would be taken care of and would get “better”. That’s how, at age 12, Barbara became a pediatric mental patient at the hands of an abusive mad man.
I don’t know how or why I didn’t write about this book when I first read it (edited to add: I have since found my original review, written in January 2017– this review is not a repost, though). I do remember being blown away by Barbara O’Hare’s horrific story, which is well handled by ghost writer, Veronica Clark. I was born in 1972, which I know was a long time ago… but it doesn’t seem like it was that long ago. It’s crazy to think that someone my sister’s age was locked in a mental hospital in England, being tortured by people who were supposed to be qualified to provide medical care. Barbara had been lured into cooperating with Dr. Milner with the prospect of being a patient. She had visions of wearing slippers and comfortable nightgowns, being cosseted by nurses and comforted by a kindly physician instead of being locked up in the glorified children’s jail that was The Cedars. Instead, what she experienced at Aston Hall turned out to be way worse than the remand center.
While Barbara was at Aston Hall, she was allowed visits with her father. She tried to tell him about the abuses that were going on there, some of which were of a sexual nature. Unfortunately, Barbara’s father didn’t believe her, so the abuse continued until one day, while she was at home on a furlough, Barbara told her father’s girlfriend about what had been happening to her. The girlfriend managed to convince Barbara’s dad not to send her back to Aston Hall. But the damage was done, and Barbara was left with many lingering psychological effects of the terrifying and extreme child abuse delivered by supposed caregivers. Barbara later went to a Catholic home, where she was subjected to more abuse, although none as bad as what she endured at Aston Hall.
Aston Hall closed in 2004, having been used as a hospital since 1926. Many people, besides Barbara O’Hare, have come forward to speak about the horrific abuses that went on in the facility at the hands of Dr. Milner, who died in 1975. It’s been alleged that Milner used barbaric methods to study his subjects, including stripping them naked, restraining them with bandages or strait jackets, and drugging them with sodium amytal, sometimes known as “truth serum”, a drug that was frequently used in World War II. It had a sedating effect, which was augmented by Milner’s use of ether. Aside from being drugged, Barbara was also sexually abused.
While The Hospital sounds like a lurid account, and it kind of is, the story is true and absolutely horrifying. The victims who have come forward to complain about their “treatment” at Aston Hall have received compensation, and I’m sure the money is useful to them. But I wonder if any amount of money is enough to compensate for the mental, physical, sexual, and emotional abuses these children faced in the name of “mental health” treatment. That kind of abuse doesn’t just affect people who have endured it; I’m sure that people close to Barbara O’Hare have also suffered tremendously.
I would recommend The Hospital to anyone who is curious about this story. I don’t know why it took me so long to write about it. All I can think is that I was totally shocked by this account and blown away that it was going on in the 60s and 70s. It sounds like a story from the Dark Ages. If you do decide to read this book, be prepared to be triggered. It’s not an easy story to handle, especially if you have abuse issues of your own.
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