Val Pounds, ‘The Birth of Style Acre’

This article was originally written in reply to a piece in The Villager for August/September 2013, entitled: ‘The Style Acre family– Born in Brightwell.’

May I take your readers back to the true birth of Style Acre which was as long ago as 1895, when Alan and May Morphew built the house as their family home. Mrs Vi Smith, of Brightwell History Group had a wealth of knowledge about those years, and photographs of the house and the family. Apart from the sad occasion when Ned Morphew fell from a balcony at his school and died, the house always rang with laughter and was a very happy family home.

In 1959 Style Acre was acquired by the St Birinus Hospital Group and began to function as an NHS Hospital for mentally handicapped (as they were then known) men, most of whom were sent there by court orders for committing minor offences. Most of the men were employed by the Council Refuse Dept. The environment at Style Acre was abysmal and spartan. Clothes hung round the walls on the picture rail, and their only personal item of furniture was a tin locker in the over crowded bedrooms which were now dormitories. The Board of Governors visited the hospital and wrote their reports in the 'Governors Book'. One such entry on 30th July 1959 read “We saw the patients removing the thatch from the stable block” and “The hospital was full-with 30 boys in residence”.

In 1980 the role of Style Acre changed again and it began to offer training and rehabilitation to the residents with progression into the community if appropriate. Several houses were acquired locally by the St Birinus Hospital Group, and people began to move out with discreet supervision from the Style Acre staff. Many residents who, in this day and age, would never have ended up in hospital care were discharged into the community, leaving behind a group of residents who had more demanding needs.

The old house had been allowed to fall into a serious state of disrepair over the years; the green painted walls were stained with nicotine, and cigarette burns embedded in the linoleum. One solitary power point existed as a shaving point for the men, the kitchen was unbelievably archaic, and the aroma from the urinal was suffocating.

At this point, in 1985, Style Acre was sold, with the residents in it, to be run as a private hostel. This was probably the most dramatic change in the house's history. It reverted to a 'family home' and both staff and residents became one big happy family. The residents were totally involved in the decorating and upgrading of the fabric of Style Acre. They chose colour schemes, helped paint and wallpaper, and put flat pack furniture together. The animation which all this activity created was something to believe. The residents took such an interest in their surroundings, having been so involved, and really appreciated their personal contributions, which gave them confidence and self esteem. There were no cooks or cleaners or gardeners. Style Acre was 'home' and everybody, staff and residents, worked together, side by side to achieve all the daily living skills we all take for granted. They learned to cook, keep their rooms clean, do the washing and ironing – ‘just like normal people'. Of course there was plenty of time for recreation, and horse riding, swimming, art, keep fit and drama classes, were all available in the community and were taken full advantage of. Many villagers befriended Style Acre and in particular, two local musicians used to come and put on mini concerts, often accompanying the residents percussion band. At last Style Acre had replaced the 'bad boys' reputation, and earned a great welcome at the village pub, church, the WI , the village fete and other social events. Many friendships and partnerships were formed both within and outside Style Acre. Newly built flats at the top of Style Acre garden provided a stepping stone to community living, but sight was never lost of the individuals who would always require a peer group with less pressure than trying to live what other people perceived as 'a normal life'. Once again, Style Acre rang with laughter and was a happy family home. Both staff and residents had a great affection for the old house which had such a special welcoming atmosphere as one turned into the long drive. Such happy times were had at Style Acre, which will live on in many people's memories.

In 1995 the house was sold once again, and that lovely old family home has since been completely demolished. Nothing is left of the old Style Acre except the name, which somehow does not have the same meaning. Style Acre, as remembered by many, was certainly born at Brightwell, but it died when the house was destroyed, although no-one can destroy the happy memories of so many.