The Royal National Hospital stood in Ventnor for nearly 100 years.

Initially opened in 1869 as the National Cottage Hospital for Consumption and Diseases of the Chest, it finally closed its doors on April 15 1964 after treating what was believed to be around 100,000 patients with chest problems including pulmonary tuberculosis, commonly known as TB.

With the development of new drugs to help conquer what was generally accepted as a killer disease, the Royal National Hospital became surplus to requirement, and during its demolition in the 1960s there were many reports of ghostly sightings.

But before its demise, the hospital provided hope for TB sufferers who came to an area of the Island renowned for its micro-climate.

Alf Allen (left) was one of the thousands of patients who suffered from TB, and who came to the Island for bed rest – at the time the only real treatment available. Alf was born in 1921, and his illness was confirmed in 1949, ending his career as a butcher in North Cheam, London. He arrived on the Island for treatment on May 26, 1949, and stayed for eight months before being allowed to go home.

Alf died in 2001, but not before writing an intriguing account of his convalescence at the Royal National Hospital, extracts of which his family have kindly agreed we can publish. They provide an insight into what life was like for Alf during those traumatic days of more than 60 years ago.

An x-ray at St Helier Hospital, Carshalton, on February 2, 1949 confirmed the illness, and he spent the next three months in bed at home at North Cheam, awaiting a vacant bed in a Chest Hospital, before coming to Ventnor. He wrote: “An ambulance with a nurse collected me from home and took us to Waterloo station. We travelled down to Portsmouth by train and were transferred to the Isle of Wight ferry. We disembarked at the end of Ryde Pier and took the pier train to Ryde station, where another ambulance stood by waiting for us. The nurse who had accompanied me all the way handed over my suitcase to the ambulance driver, said goodbye and returned on the ferry to the mainland.

“The Royal National Hospital for Diseases of the Chest (RNH) was an imposing Victorian building, built in a straight line about a quarter of a mile long, situated on about 20 acres of land with extensive gardens overlooking the sea at Ventnor under-cliff.

“The building faced the south and each block was a separate ward consisting of two cottages, each cottage with three floors and a basement. The upper floors had six bedrooms to each block, each with French windows opening on to a balcony overlooking the lawns. The lower floors had sitting rooms, ward kitchens, bathrooms, washrooms, toilets and the ward offices.

“Many other facilities were available in various parts of the hospital and in the grounds and out-buildings. There were excellent medical and surgical facilities, an operating theatre, a very busy radiography department where I had a great number of x-rays taken, various laboratories, a physiotherapy department and a dental surgery.

“There were libraries, games rooms, a billiard room where I enjoyed many games of snooker during my latter months there, and a shop which sold sweets, post cards, writing paper, etc. Films were shown in the patients’ library, which was also used for whist drives; one of the rare occasions when male and female patients were allowed to mix.”

Alf continued: “The excellent gardens were very popular with the patients when we were allowed to take what was known as ‘in walks’, a privilege afforded to those who had sufficiently recovered from their initial treatment in the ward.

“The next stage was the ‘out walks’ which allowed us to walk outside the hospital grounds and many of us walked as far as Ventnor, or took organised coach trips to other parts of the Island, an indication that we were very soon to be allowed to go home. There was also a hospital radio, run entirely by the patients, music and messages being broadcast to the dining room and to every ward via the patient’s headphones.

“At first, while still confined to my bed, I passed my time making very small models out of matchsticks, the hobby which I had started at home and continued at Ventnor. I decided to try watercolour painting for a change, at a time when our Occupational Therapist Miss Violet Pilling, who was a very accomplished artist, was recruiting would-be students for her art classes, but I didn’t prove to be very successful at this. However, Miss Pilling turned out to be an excellent teacher. She watched over my early efforts almost every time she visited the hospital and when satisfied that my work was acceptable she persuaded the Ward Sister to display a sample on her notice board. I knew then that I had passed the supreme test!”

Alf added: “During my stay at the hospital I was extremely lucky to receive many visitors, as there was little restriction to visiting. At weekends it was a common sight, especially in the summer, to see dozens of patients with their visitors sitting out on the lawns or on the balconies having tea.

“I particularly appreciated the efforts of members of my family and friends who regularly made the trip from North Cheam and other parts of London, via Portsmouth. They were always cheerful and always pleased to see me, as was I to see them, in spite of their long journey home again.

“My parents bought me an Ensign ‘Full-View’ camera while I was at the hospital, and I put this to very good use especially in the grounds. “I was at the RNH eight months, which was the average length of time for most patients. I was one of the lucky ones who only needed bed rest, as many others underwent various treatments.

“As no drugs for the treatment of tuberculosis were available, the only option open to the doctors was to prescribe bed rest which, along with excellent care from the staff, high quality food consisting mainly of dairy products and fresh vegetables from the kitchen gardens and plenty of fresh air, attributed to my eventual discharge from the hospital on December 7, 1949.”