This Blog is Dead

It’s served us well for five years and over 600 posts, but from today we will no longer be posting updates on this site.

However, we have not given up blogging! From today, all future posts will be on our main website at: and we have moved all our old blog posts to this site.

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Although this website will remain live for any links that may have been created elsewhere, it will no longer be updated or maintained.

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The ‘Ancient’ Game in a Modern Conflict


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A Bite-size Museum Talk by Jody East and Dan Robertson titled ‘Before the Paralympics: sports for amputees at the Royal Pavilion during World War One’ will take place in the War Stories exhibition from 12-noon this Saturday 7th February 2015. They will discuss the sports played which helped those convalescing at the hospital maintain morale and improve their fitness and strength in preparation for receiving prosthetic limbs.

Below is a little taster of what will be discussed at the talk. If you wish to discover more and see objects relating to the sports played, please feel free to attend this Saturday.

Technical advancement met the battlefield in the First World War. Increasingly mechanised on a scale never before seen, the war became a “storm of steel”, coined as the title to the memoir of German officer Ernst Jünger’s experiences on the Western Front.

Among scenes of mud, futility and sacrifice, particular forms of offensive and defensive weaponry became synonymous with trench warfare: the machine gun and barbed wire; sapping and the laying of mines; trench, field and heavy artillery and names like ‘howitzer’, ’18-pounder’ and ‘Big Bertha’; shell fire and shrapnel are to name but a few. The latter in particular claimed more lives than any, an estimated 70-80% of all fatal casualties. Furthermore, wounds from shrapnel significantly contributed to the approximately two million British soldiers, sailors and airmen that had been permanently disabled or disfigured by the conflict. This included over 41,000 amputees.

The first limbless patients at the Royal Pavilion were admitted on 20th April 1916 following the complex’s use as a hospital for Indian servicemen. Colonel Sir R Neil Campbell, “the trusty Scot to be relied on”, and his staff focused on rehabilitation and vocational training, pioneering at the time, laying the groundwork for today’s treatment of limbless ex-servicemen. Here, they convalesced to improve their strength before referral to Queen Mary’s Hospital at Roehampton, a specialist centre for fitting prosthetic limbs.

Maintaining morale of the invalided men as well as preparing them with the skills needed to find employment after the Army were very much part of daily life at the Royal Pavilion Military Hospital. The Pavilion “Blues” magazine, running from June 1916 to February 1920, gives a good insight into the activities patients involved themselves in. Sport features strongly, and a Sports Committee was quickly formed to organise events within the hospital and elsewhere, answering the cry “Play up “Blues”, and make the Pavilion the most interesting Hospital in Brighton”. Of the outdoor sports football, ‘king’ cricket and the ‘ancient’ game of stoolball would prove especially popular among the men, and women, who participated.

For those not familiar to stoolball, it’s probably best described as ‘cricket in the air’ with different bats, balls and wickets. My personal interest in the ‘ancient’ game comes from having played it whilst at primary school in Brighton. Regrettably, I have yet to pick up a stoolball bat in anger since and was completely unaware of its fascinating heritage and significance in rehabilitating injured soldiers until reading through volumes of the “Blues” magazine, seeing it referred to time and time again. This curious game predates cricket and other modern batting-sports, being played for over 500 years. It is even given a mention in Shakespeare’s comedy The Two Noble Kinsmen, “playing stool ball” supposedly used as a euphemism for sexual behaviour! The origins of the game lie firmly in Sussex and it could be argued that England’s first female sports ‘stars’ were those named in the Glynde Butterflies team of 1866, along with teams from other Sussex villages with brilliant names like the Chailey Grasshoppers and Selmeston Harvest Bugs.

The popularity of the sport has ebbed and flowed over the past 150 years or so, but midway through the First World War it experienced a real resurgence thanks to one Major William Wilson Grantham (1866-1942). He almost single-handedly revived the sport, suggesting its suitability to Military Tribunal for men invalided by war “for whom cricket or football was too strenuous”, prompted by his own son being wounded whilst serving in the Royal Sussex Regiment. Thanks to his efforts, knowledge of the game was passed to military hospitals such as the Royal Pavilion where it was very much enjoyed by patients and staff alike.

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Heightening popularity resulted in matches featuring injured servicemen being played at the County Ground, Hove and elsewhere in the country, including Lords. The first of these matches at the home of cricket on 31st August 1917 featured teams from the 2nd London Hospital, ‘damaged by wounds’, and Ye Ancient Lawyers, ‘damaged by age’. It was reported in newspapers as far afield as Kalgoorlie, Western Australia and was also recorded for promotion and posterity by the Topical Film Company. Soon after the war’s end, showpiece matches were being played to raise funds for injured ex-servicemen such as that played at Buckingham Palace, watched by George V and Queen Mary, in September 1922. Through Major Grantham’s passion and determination, stoolball would experience a golden era and an almost worldwide reach being achieved, funds raised being used to send equipment and copies of the rules to Australia, Canada, Egypt and Japan.

All-female stoolball teams battling it out at the County Ground, Hove, c1930s. Image obtained from a glass plate negative of the Brighton & Hove Herald newspaper [DB1124.346]

All-female stoolball teams battling it out at the County Ground, Hove, c1930s. Image obtained from a glass plate negative of the Brighton & Hove Herald newspaper [DB1124.346]

Dan Robertson, Assistant Curator

The Royal Pavilion’s Hidden Histories: the hospital for Limbless Men


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This Saturday, 7 February 2015, Curator Jody East and researcher Dan Robertson will be giving a free talk in Brighton Museum at 12pm, on the often forgotten story of the Pavilion hospital for limbless men. Below, Jody introduces the story of the hospital.  

Photo of patients at the Limbless Hospital, 1917

Patients at the Limbless Hospital, 1917

When I was a student in Brighton 25 years ago I became very used to seeing the iconic Royal Pavilion building during my everyday life in the city. I then discovered the story of this former Royal Palace being used as a hospital for injured soldiers during the First World War and suddenly I started looking at it in a new way. Since then it has fascinated me that this beautiful, yet strange building was somehow transformed into a state of the art military hospital, first for Indian soldiers and then for British soldiers who had lost a limb in warfare. I am certainly not the first to have found this fascinating.

An article in the 1917-18 The Brighton Season magazine describes the spectacle of the transformed palace:

‘..the great rooms, famous for their beauty, now hospital wards, is indeed a strange, sad sight, and one that probably very few ever dreamed that their eyes should rest upon.’

Since the opening of the Indian Military Hospital display in the Pavilion in 2010, there has been renewed interest in the forgotten story of thousands of Indian soldiers hospitalised in the city between 1914 and 1916. We are fortunate that this was recorded through a huge range of photographs, paintings, postcards and a commemorative book — all of which can now be downloaded for free.

However, the story of the Pavilion as a hospital for limbless soldiers, from 1916 until 1920, is a little less well known. There are hardly any photographs of the interior of the Pavilion during this time.

It was not just a hospital at this time, but a place of rehabilitation and retraining, before the men went to Roehampton to be fitted with new prosthetic limbs. To this end, workshops were built in the Pavilion grounds. The motto written over the entrance, ‘Hope welcomes all who enter here’ was said to be chosen by Queen Mary, who gave her name to the new buildings.

Queen Mary's workshop, 1917

Queen Mary’s workshop, 1917


The Queen Mary workshops provided training to enable the soldiers to learn to become book-keepers, motor mechanics, and carpenters, among other trades. There is a short film showing life at the workshops, held by Pathe, which can be seen here.

Sport and leisure activities were also used as a means of rehabilitation. Cricket, the ancient Sussex game of Stoolball, even hairdressing competitions were held in the Pavilion Gardens.

Jody East, Creative Programme Curator, Brighton Museum & Art Gallery


To discover more about this come to our ‘Bitesize’ talk with curator Jody East and researcher Dan Robertson at Brighton Museum on Saturday 10 February, 12 noon in the War Stories exhibition galleries. It’s free and open to all.