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> > > A Dying Breed by Ann Young

26 April 2011


photo of special school in Ely

Bishop’s Palace, Ely. Photo by Alan Brooksby

When I was a child in the 60s and 70s it was common practice to send disabled children away to boarding schools to be 'looked after'. Many children never went home again, going from one institution to another and some children died there. These are realities that we lived with throughout our childhood.

However the most damaging aspect of these places was the bullying that went on at every level. These days we would call it abuse but back then we had no vocabulary to describe what went on and this made it easier to perpetuate.

My parents, like many others were lulled into the belief that somehow, their children were safer in a segregated environment but recent legal battles involving abuse in residential institutions are only the tip of the iceberg.

This story is dedicated to Brian, June and Gary who died whilst attending the Palace School, Ely in Cambridgeshire. They died young but they will not be forgotten, they left their footprints on my soul.


Amy sat down, she was exhausted after finishing the housework upstairs.

"Just a quick sit down before I start on the downstairs."

She peeled off her pink rubber gloves and flicked through the channels looking for something to watch but there just seemed to be an endless stream of adverts. Most of them aimed at women, telling them that their laundry could always be whiter, their kitchen floors shinier and their children healthier. She smiled.

"Nothing really changes! Women are still being told that their place is in the kitchen."

Housework had always struck her as a boring necessity. Its endless repetition only served to remind her how mundane life really was when you actually got down to it. Yet she had chosen this life. Amy had worked harder than most to be able to clean her own toilets and scrub her own floors. She had been told, as a child, that she could never expect to have a home, a family, a job which, of course, made her more determined to have them.

She thought back to her childhood in the institution where an army of invisible cleaners worked endlessly to keep the immense Gothic building spotless. Everything was regimented, clinical. She remembers how they tried to ‘toilet train’ the children and the trouble she got into when she refused to go at the designated time.

Even the large grounds were manicured to an inch of their lives. Perhaps this is why her home now is chaotic! Luckily, they couldn't sanitize the earth or the globs of white poo left by the ducks and geese. As a child, Amy loved wandering round the gardens, exploring all the nooks and crannies where she imagined all kinds of bad deeds left their ghostly marks on ancient trees and stones.

She had spent the best part of her childhood at that place. Locked away from the real world; only allowing herself to think about home when the school holidays were approaching. Any other time made her homesick and that was a feeling she had to push down at all costs or not survive at all. It had not taken her long to realise that any display of emotional weakness would not be tolerated by the teachers and staff. Seeing how some of the other children were treated made her determined to keep her emotions hidden. Something that would prove difficult to ‘switch off’, in her adult life.
It must have been late October because the mornings were dark when they got up and the evenings dark when they were sent to bed. Amy finally felt settled back in after the long summer holidays and was looking forward to Halloween, Bonfire night and Christmas – it was her favourite time of year at school and she was full of anticipation of attending the harvest festival in the local church and walking down to the park for the community bonfire night. It was on these rare occasions they were allowed out of the school grounds.
It was a Saturday because she was bored. The rain meant that there was no chance of escaping into the garden. Most of her friends had gone home for the weekend but Amy had stopped going home so often because she felt lonely there. Her brother and sister had their own lives now and were always out. Being away so much meant that she had no friends at home. It was better to be bored here with the other children than be at home.  

She walked along the grey stone corridor occasionally looking out of the high windows to check the sky. But the rain, by now, had turned into a torrent which constantly ran down the windows making it impossible to tell where one drop ended and another began. The school felt deserted but she knew that most of the children were watching television or playing in the main day room. She also knew that if one of the staff found her wandering around she would be in trouble. She peeked into the staff dining room. They were all in there having a break which, at weekends, seemed to last from breakfast to lunch! She wandered past the headmistress' office and shivered slightly even though it was empty.

"Too many bad memories!"

As she pushed her walking frame up the ramp onto the next level she nearly bumped into June, who was heading towards the day room.

“June, June, please do my nails”.
“No, I don't want to, I don't feel well.”
"Oh come on June, I can't do it, my hands are too shaky. I’ve got loads of colours... Perhaps you could do yours too?”
“No, leave me alone, I'm tired of doing things for you.”
“But you are so good at it, please..”.

June stood her ground and in frustration, Amy hit out at her. The slap was much harder than she had meant it to be and made June cry out. Amy had never hit out like that before and felt instantly ashamed.

“I'm telling,”
“No, I'm so sorry, June, I really didn't mean to hit you..” 

They were both crying. June looked really hurt and it was at that moment, Amy realised that she was a bully and had become just like the staff who preyed on the weak, the ones who couldn't fight back. She was both horrified and disgusted with herself. Amy and her friends had always treated June differently because she looked normal and they resented her for that! For the longest time they had treated her like their personal slave despite the fact that she had a weak heart.

“June can you run and get my bag, my coat, my make up!!”
“Hurry up June..”. 

Amy had nowhere to hide her shame and her guilt. Yet at fifteen years old, she didn’t know what to do with her emotions either. So, she did what she always did, pushed them down and buried them. Yet, every now and again, after that day, they would echo through the grey stone walls through every room of the institution. The word 'bully' would always be eating into her heart.

June had played along with the constant demands in return for acceptance and a way of surviving the brutality of the system they all found themselves in. Not today though; this was the last day any one would bully June. Amy tried to make it up to June throughout the rest of the day. They talked and played together and her nails were painted perfectly in the brightest red they could find.

That night, they watched 'Starsky and Hutch' together and then climbed the large staircase to bed. June was ahead. Amy thought she had tripped but when she reached her, June was struggling to breathe. One of the staff shouted at her to get up and get to bed but she didn't move. Amy knew this was no game and for the first time in the eleven years she had been at the school she raised her voice to staff.

"Can't you see, she's ill, you idiot. Go and get some help!"

They didn't believe Amy and tried to pull her up but June didn't respond,. What did they know anyway, they were barely older than the children they 'cared' for. They were cheap inexperienced labour trying to survive their first time away from home. The only difference between them and Amy was that they had power. The nurse came and Amy was pushed aside as they tried to move June to sick bay. She died early the next day while Amy slept; Amy assumed that her heart had given up. On Sunday morning, June had just disappeared from Amy's life. Nobody explained why or how she had died. There was no funeral or memorial service to attend.

Amy sat for a while looking at the images on the screen all happy in their perfectly clean, sweet smelling world. She flicked off the television, pulled on her rubber gloves and walked into the bathroom. When the children came home from school, they found her on her knees scrubbing the toilet and crying her heart out.

The easiest thing would have been to forget and move on but Amy never forgot the last day she and June had spent together and what she had learnt about the nature of oppression. How it is sometimes perpetuated through the very systems set up to 'care' for disabled people.

She'd like to think that in the last 30 years, things have changed but she feared that if she scratched away at the surface... Disabled People are still segregated in institutions, staff are still under paid and under valued and lessons from the past are hardly ever learned.

There is hope though, many parents today are prepared to fight for inclusion and dare to dream that their disabled children will, one day, have the same opportunities as their non disabled peers. After all, women have equality now, don't they?


Terry Boyle

9 May 2016

have just re red your story ann, brings back meny memolries so sorry to here about mark thrope. i remember June always.

Ann Young

24 September 2015

Hello Steve. Yes, we were at Hereward College together :) How are you? To answer your question, I know that there was a really good research thesis written by Sonali Shah. which can be bought from Amazon if it is still in print. 1"Disability and Social Change: Private Lives and Public Policies"

Sonali Shah; Paperback; £23.74 There are other pieces of research but if you can get hold of Sonali's book, it has some really good references. Hope that helps. :)

Steve Jones

21 September 2015

Hi Ann, great writing. Are you unique in the subject matter or is there more around based on the segregated upbringing of disabled kids in the 1970-80's British Education system? I think I knew you at Hereward College 1982 possibly?

Ann Young

21 June 2015

Dear Dan,

I am very sad to hear of Mark's passing. He was a good mate and I have some great memories of him.

Thank you so much for letting us know.

Ann xx

Lorraine Bell

16 June 2015

I am sad to learn of Marks passing - he was a full of fun cheeky chappy - I am talking of early 1970's era when he was young - I have no doubt he became a fine young man and true friend to you Dan.e watson - we can cherish memories - I also lost Palace friends.

David walsh

12 June 2015

I try get touch with my old school mate and staffI when the palace school t in1969 to 1981 get in touch with me

Dan.e watson

17 May 2015

I am and was Marks best friend for many years Marky has passed away now, meaning (Mark Thorpe) I miss him very much but just wanted you guys to know.

Ann Young

17 August 2014

Dear Brenda.

Thank you for your comments. You have brought lots of memories flooding back! It's really good to read things from your perspective. I have many memories of Theresa, Natasha, Akram and many more but unfortunately we didn't keep in touch. I heard from Akram through FB a while back but nothing since. I have posted a few other pieces on Wordpress under the name of Humanwrites.

You should not feel guilty, you were just as powerless as we were and still so young. I am good and have a great life, married with an 18 year old son who has just finished his A Levels and is off to Sheffield University to study mathematics. I am on Facebook and Wordpress if you'd like to get in touch. All my love, Ann x

Brenda Webb

30 July 2014

Hello Anne, I have tried to find information about past staff or pupils of the palace school,but until I watched a programme about the school I hadn't had any won't remember me, but I remember you as a very little girl, just starting out at this school.

My name was then Brenda Steadman and I was only 17 when I came to work at the school as a day worker, which was unusual as most staff had to live in. I left when I married and had my first baby, but have always had memories, good and bad about life there and have related these stories to my four children and now my seven grandchildren, when telling them how lucky they are to be healthy, living at home and attending lovely schools.

I remember the strict regime at the school,especially by one member of staff who made the little ones eat everything on their plates especially one little girl who just couldn't swallow her meat, she would sit chewing it for ages and if he was on duty was made to sit until it went, however long it took. It never went,and I remember many times secretly telling her to spit it out quickly on a tissue.her name was Kay. She had a walking frame and was made to walk to the dining room on it.she used to take about half an hour, crying with every step.

If I could,I would give her a helping hand and move her forward a bit,and I know that she had to be encouraged to walk, but I felt this was a bit extreme.

I was there when the first boys were admitted.I remember little Andrew who was so cute and used to chew his food and eat lots of food off his plate, but after lunch I noticed his face was puffy. When I investigated he had stored all the food around his gums like a hamster!

After that I used to have to get him to empty out after each meal! Maybe he discovered this was a good way of not eating what he didn't like! One older girl,Mandy used to hate eggs,and one day all the kids on her table were laughing.

I found out that she had taken her poached egg off her plate with her spoon and thrown it in the waste bin! I honestly don't know how she achieved this as she had such poor control of her hands and arms, actually used to sew with her toes!

When the strict member of staff came along and discovered what happened, he made me tell the head, mrs. sears, who said she wouldn't be allowed to see the film that night. She was actually quite kind and she was allowed to watch after all. After that she arranged for Mandy to have an alternative when eggs were on the menu,she used to gag trying to eat one.the head was usually ok and was quite kind to me ,but when he was about she had her moments,one which would never be allowed to happen today.little tessa schuscawich(that's not spelt correctly) but anyone who knew her would recognise the name, had soiled her pants a little ,and as I was saying Oh no!

Because she had been trying to 'go' a bit earlier and obviously hadn't meant to do it,she overheard me,and came into the sluice,took her off the toilet and spanked her bottom so hard it made me cry when she walked away.

I cuddled tessa and said sorry but it never entered my head to report the matter, smacking was allowed back then but if anyone got on the wrong side of the head they would lose their job. We were all scared of him!

I would love to know what happened to tessa .I took her home for the week-end once, another thing that wouldn't be allowed now, with everyone who work with kids become paedophile suspects. Kissing and cuddling wouldn't be allowed now, but it's such a shame such innocent gestures are now forbidden.

When you children were left at a strange school, saying goodbye to parents and faced with all those strangers a little cuddle must have been a bit of comfort. I could go on forever, but does anyone remember Tessa,she did have her sister Maria there with her but they moved her to a different place,which was sad.Their father had brought them up alone, he was a lovely polish man.

I remember Natasha Handscome arrive,a tiny little cutie with white calipers,which were unusual, as everyone else had brown ones. I also would love to know what happened to so many, Sharon Geary,born with no arms or legs,susie carter, and so many others.I am so sorry that I didn't keep in touch,I got so involved with my own family which I now regret.

I am sorry I didn't stick up for things I thought wrong, but I was very young and was too afraid. I only hope many of you have had a good life,and if anyone wants to ask me anything, I'll gladly help if I can.many of the younger children probably won't remember me.

Mike Morgan

12 June 2014

I have put this webpage link up on my fartbook page, people may contact me there or on my Works skype "mikeymc67".

Mike Morgan

12 June 2014

Well written article, Thank you. I Too was a Palace School Attendee, from winter of 1976 to summer of 83.

David Walsh

8 August 2013

My name is David Walsh. I come from Newcastle upon Tyne. I went to Ely school from 1969 to 1981. I was in class with Mandy Bloss and Katherine Warren. I loved my old school it was fun. Please get in touch with me on FB under David Walah or drop me a line to my email davidwalsh671[at]

Brian Reed

12 February 2013

Hello Anne im not sure if you remember me Brian Reed from norfolk i went to the palace school from 1978-1983.I remember the years i spent there some that i really dont want to remember but those times are in the past.

I also remember june & anna june took ill in the main lounge area one afternoon & passed away that same evening Bernie Gray the senior nurse told everyone the next morning at breakfast & anna taylor went into hospital for a back operation & never came back as she passed away at home i might be wron on that though

people i remember were kim palmer wo ive seen a couple of times over the years on & offline lost contact though i remember you as well Anne caroline french akram natasha handscome fred horn the thorpes granvills colin walker john lafferty he passed away in hospital complications of a bed sore Les Graves he passed away june-july 2011 i went to his funeral georgina gibson lost contact with her after Les passed away shes last known in norwich area.

Also remember terry boyle & loads of others as well if anyone reads this & wants to contact me feel free not sure if there are any of us around but those who are can contact me at

Rebecca Stell (aka Lady Crookback)

24 July 2012

So many of us have memories like this and if we went to special school they may be harder to bear than most. I went to a mainstream school, but I still remember the bullying, the cruelty and not mattering. Once I was tricked into a part of the playground that was out of bounds and some of the children held my hands whilst others put dirt from the gutter into my mouth and said I was eating my shit. They were often cruel, but that day, it was like another world, another place.

I shared the car to school with one of those girls. Years later, after we had left primary school, gone through secondary school and gone our separate ways I discovered that she had carried the guilt of her part in that for years. To the girl who felt bad about it, thank you. Your awareness heals all and mean more than the cruelty. Be at peace, all who have bullied like that for a moment and felt the weight of being like the oppressor. If they knew that you felt true remorse, they would say it paid for all.

Kim Palmer

22 May 2012

Hello Anne

A very good story, very emotive I thought. You always had a talent for your writing of stories and poems didnt you? I remember in class with Miss Hall and Mrs Scott!

Yes Life in some respects werent good there at the Palace School was it? I felt we were protected from things that we werent needed to be protected from, ie like from the deaths of June etc. We were just told, and that was that really wasnt it? Matters like that almost appear to be brushed under the carpet werent they? They didnt really have a clue, as to how to treat us "older ones" especially did they?

On the plus side, I am glad I went there, as during my time there, I did make some really lovely mates there, that I have sadly lost touch with. I remember having Caroline French to stay at my house a couple of days,who incidently after I left, went to the same sixth form as me for about a year, but we have lost touch sadly. And then there was lovely Akram, who came to us one October half term to stay, and then in 1984, my parents surprised me by inviting her without me knowing to my 18th Birthday party, we had such a lovely time. Akram was someone, who I thought I would of never been close to, but actually we got on well. I have tried to find her but.. I remember many of the other names she mentions in her message, and I remember being in contact briefly with you, a few years ago, on another site, which I have now left but... Anyway keep up with the writing and I wish you well

Akram Lari

9 March 2012

Dear Ann

You described very well on how we were treated at Palace School. To this day, I remember some bad things and some goods things but mostly bad things.

I remember June Hayward, Gary Royce and Brian Andrews. I remember when they had all died. There was no explanations why they had died and as you said no funerals for any of us to say goodbye which was very important as there was no closure.

I remember the matron, giving me a yellow and white dress to wear that belonged to June Hayward. I remember protesting strongly that I did not want any clothing that belonged to June. It felt wrong to be wearing her clothes when she had died.

I was there when June collapsed in front of me. She had been taken to the sick room. That night I new she had died but we were not told until the next day at breakfast.

I remember children like Terry Boyal, Mark Randall, Vincent Granville and his sister Paula and not Natasha as someone had stated in their comment. I also remember Natasha Handscombe, Ramona Thorpe, Colin Walker, Michael Morgan, Mark Payne, Caroline French, Karen Doughty, Danny Bass, Fred Horn, Kim Palmer, Mark and Paul Panter and Sharon Dyer.

Andrew horn (fred)

31 October 2011

Well done Ann wonderfully written and extremely powerful .Brings back many memories some good some that have been long buried in the far corners of my mind.But as i know its the same for most of us the painful memory of that god awful place and the regime will haunt me forever.

mark thorpe

1 July 2011

this is my email as you can see colin as i got yours,ann you forgot about anna taylor died as well,as children we sometimes do things we should not, i hated anna taylor, made fun out of her because you spoke funny coming from hull, how stupid i was,even worse i stole ten pence from her,we had a fate every year at school when i was there,she drop the ten pence on the floor, i saw it and put my wheelchair wheel on it so she cant find it and went to spend it on the fate, three months later she gets a sore on her backside and dies, anna had the last laugh because i have tortured myself ever since with the guilt for what i done,wont for get it until i die ,sorry anna taylor.

Colin Hambrook (editor)

30 June 2011

Mark - both Ann and I have tried contacting you - but the emails we've sent keep coming back undelivered. Ann's writing is based on her experience at Palace School - but the character of Amy is fictional.

mark thorpe

29 June 2011

If anybody wanted to know about the Palace School I have much more to say some of which is very sad to do with the abuse which went on there; some happy times and many sad times for me.

mark thorpe

25 June 2011

There were about 50 kids there. I knew every one and was very friend with you ann, with your yellow hat on, so when you fell over you didnt hurt your head. I was there when gary royce, brian andrews, june hayward, mark payne, terry boyle ,vincent and his sister natasha. brian and gary were my best mates. I remember them all dying. gary died on the saturday, they sent us to the pictures in the afternoon to take our minds off it. brian died at home we were sent home because the boiler broke so we went home and brian never returned ,bless their soul


4 June 2011

I recognise this story, from yours and my experience.need hidden stories of the past to be brought to the surface to help change the future.

Matt Harvey

20 May 2011

You continue to amaze me Ann. Miss you!

Patsy Hardiman

2 May 2011

Dear Ann,

Yours is a truly moving story and I hope that things will change for all in care young and the elderly disabled or non-disabled.

Patsy H

Ann Young

27 April 2011

Dear Colin, thank you! I really appreciate your comment. I hoped that other disabled people could relate to Amy and June. We all matter and should not be forgotten. Our stories should not remain untold.

Colin Cameron

26 April 2011

Thanks, Ann. It's in your lines 'June had just disappeared from Amy's life. Nobody explained why or how she had died. There was no funeral or memorial service to attend' that one of the most uncomfortable truths comes out. Disabled people weren't meant to matter. Out of sight, out of mind.

But your words bear testimony to the fact that your friends did matter. And to the fact that they still matter.

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