The story of Rustington Convalescent Home

The story of Rustington Convalescent Home

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There’s an amazing story behind Rustington Convalescent Home.

How it all began

It all started off with a son called Henry Harben. Henry was fortunate enough to be born into a wealthy Sussex family linked to the Old Bank in Lewes. He joined “The Prudential Mutual Assurance Investment and Loan Association” – now known as The Pru! – as an accountant but worked his way up to the position of Chairman and is considered to be a pioneer of industrial life assurance.

Prestigious roles

Henry Harben joined The Carpenters’ Company in April 1878 and was elected Master, the most senior Liveryman of the Company, to help run the trade association in the year beginning July 1893. Five years later he was appointed High Sheriff of Sussex, where he represented the Sovereign in upholding all matters relating to the Judiciary within Sussex.

Influential for good

As well as taking on these prestigious roles, Henry was also a philanthropist with a particular interest in medical charities, local institutions, schools and churches. Among his good deeds, he funded a village hall and a cricket club in Warnham where many famous cricketers made use of the facilities including WG Grace and Walter Mead.

The hunt is on

Henry was heartbroken when he lost his first wife after 37 years of marriage and this was compounded by losing his only son. He focused his energies on searching for a suitable site in Sussex where he could build a convalescent home. His aim was to provide a place where men working in the cramped, dirty Victorian cities could get high quality convalescent care in the clean country air to help them recover from an accident or illness.

The perfect sea setting

When a piece of agricultural land at Mewsbrook Furlong in Rustington became available, Sir Henry purchased the nine acres. The land was originally part of the Goodwood Estate and called “The Sea Field”. Frederik Wheeler, the man behind St James the Great Church in Littlehampton and many other West Sussex buildings, was the chosen architect. The result was a striking Georgian-style building standing some 250ft from the seafront with ornamental iron railings surrounding the site.

Only the best

During the build, Sir Henry insisted on using the best materials and craftmanship he could afford and used new technology and systems wherever possible. Examples included cavity walls, glazed tiling and hard woods throughout the interior that did not need painting. Fresh water was drawn from a 55ft well and an underground tank that filled with salt water. Sea water was pumped to the home using an electric motor and the tank refilled at high tide directly from the English Channel. The stunning, solid teak main staircase with its beautiful stained-glass window remains to this day and is admired by all patients (although there is now a lift option too!).

Open at last

Rustington Convalescent Home was opened to the public by the Bishop of Chichester on 20 March 1897. Originally patients were admitted for three weeks and endowment funds meant that they could stay at little or no cost to themselves which opened convalescent care to everyone irrespective of income and background.

The Home’s contribution to the war effort

During WW1 Rustington Convalescent Home remained open however two days after the declaration of war in September 1939, the Ministry of Health took it over under the Emergency Hospitals Scheme. The Carpenters’ Company was allowed to visit once a month through the Second World War to monitor the conditions of the home. A little-known fact is that Rustington Convalescent Home was also used as headquarters of the Special Wireless Services in the days leading up to the D-Day landings. The home was de-requisitioned in August 1946 but it only reopened to patients on 1 July 1948 following the upgrading of plumbing and heating systems, new or renovated furniture and the appointment of new staff.

Shipshape once more

In the 1970s the standard stay of convalescence was reduced to two weeks, respite holidays were introduced and an extensive programme of modernisation took place. The centenary was celebrated on 17 June 1997 with the Duke of Norfolk among the guests. Rustington Convalescent Home was officially registered under the National Care Standards Commission in 2003 and regularly receives CQC inspections. Just before the lockdowns in 2020 due to Covid, further enhancements were made to the interior including better accessibility for wheelchair users, additional bedrooms, installation of more lifts and overall decorative enhancements – as well as sympathetic renovations to the exterior of the beautiful Grade II listed building.

Recovery needs

When Sir Henry opened the home in 1897, most patients were men recovering from an accident or illness such as bronchitis. Today, more than half of the admissions are women who need time and help to recover from hip replacements, knee replacements, cardiac or other medical procedures.

Charitable status

The Worshipful Company of Carpenters took over the management of the home when Sir Henry died in 1911. Today it still plays a vital part in the success of Rustington Convalescent Home – not least to manage the endowment established by Sir Henry and later enhanced by a gift from his daughter, Mrs Mary Woodgate Wharrie. This ensures that Rustington Convalescent Home, as a charity, can offer affordable convalescent care without compromising on the quality of service it provides, making it an option for men and women of all ages and from every walk of life.

Guiding principles remain

Even though there have been many changes since Sir Henry first built Rustington Convalescent Home, including the medical enhancements and the modernisation of facilities, it still remains a place of peace and tranquillity where patients receive high quality care, benefit from a 50% subsidy of the operating costs, and are looked after by a team of kind professionals in a relaxing, homely and happy environment. Rustington Convalescent Home is truly a unique and wonderful place.

Take a look at some wonderful historical photographs in the Sussex World article here.

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