Archive for August, 2013

Mental Health and Museums

August 6th, 2013

This is the last post from Laura, apologies for posting in the incorrect order

One of the problems arising from the destruction/ development of former asylum sites is that none of these buildings have survived in a manner that preserves their heritage on-site. As much as Moorhaven Village (see previous post) is a well-preserved historic building that has been up-front and honest about its past use, it doesn’t have any historical interpretation on-site. However, in demonstrating that an asylum building is actually very well-suited to division into family homes, whilst preserving the integrity of the building, it has opened up the possibility of “Enabling Development”.

English Heritage published a document on enabling development in 2008, advocating the sympathetic and appropriate development of historic buildings to ensure their survival, and if possible, to finance a heritage aspect. The ideal resolution for Whitchurch, perhaps, might be to take Moorhaven’s management company one step further and include an on-site museum, cared for under the umbrella of that company, whilst developing the bulk of the building into residential units. This would preserve the building and create a small, sustainable focal point for the history of the site, and a resource for the local community.

Below, I have provided some summaries of existing museums of mental healthcare, with a view to illustrating what Whitchurch might consider in the future.

Glenside Hospital Museum

Photo below, copyright Laura Humphreys

https://y73qcq.bay.livefilestore.com/y2mPR4aoTEM5RLXnQ9M4w7GFeqffSC3xCDVtT-Pkig1EgdKm4G2UVh50ofVZaPGxvOS63whAlPHcXIdD0AlS9-5GHOf_JJ4tGEymFuB6Bx8iRvDoTw3c5RMr_fzmY71YgSX/Glenside%20museum%20-%20copyright%20Laura%20Humphreys.JPG?psid=1

Glenside, in Bristol, is housed in the former-chapel of the Glenside Asylum, and contains a vast number of historic objects that were used in the asylum. The museum is open once or twice a week, and is run exclusively by volunteers, the majority of which are former staff of the hospital. The asylum building itself remains empty (awaiting a developer), and unfortunately, the Glenside Volunteers have only a few years left on their lease of the chapel building from UWE. Their future is uncertain.

http://www.glensidemuseum.org.uk/

Stephen Beaumont Museum of Mental Health

Based in Wakefield on the site of the former West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum, built 1818. It was removed from its original site (latterly known as Stanley Royd Hospital) when it closed in 1995, and is no located at another local hospital. It holds a collection of objects and archives similar to Glenside’s, and includes an original and complete padded cell. Like Glenside, it is open once a week, and operated entirely by volunteers.

http://www.wakefieldasylum.co.uk/a-resource/stephen-g-beaumont-museum-of-mental-health/

Bethlem Royal Hospital Museum and Archives

Bethlem is perhaps more commonly known by its nickname, Bedlam. Situated in South London, the hospital remains an active mental healthcare facility, but operates a small museum and archive service as well. It holds historic objects and archives, as well as a large collection of artwork by former patients, such as Richard Dadd and Louis Wain. Bethlem is currently in the midst of raising funding to relocate from its small office and portacabin to a larger disused administration building on the same site.

http://www.bethlemheritage.org.uk/

 

There are also a number of medical museums which address the history of mental health, but are not dedicated to it. The Science Museum (http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/) holds a large collection of items relating to the history of mental health and illness, including asylums, psychometric testing, and anthropomety, and is organising an exhibition around the theme of electricity in medicine in the near future. At present, the Wellcome Collection is currently hosting an exhibition of Outsider Art from Japan, entitled Souzou (http://www.wellcomecollection.org/). Slowly but surely, museums are starting to address this formerly-overlooked facet of the history of medicine.

However, museums of mental health and illness do not have a track record of success. They are controversial sites in many ways, and many people would rather they were not preserved at all. In 2011, I undertook a survey asking people how they would feel about a museum of mental health, and specifically, one at Whitchurch, and the results were far from uniform. Several people felt that all asylums were places that should be destroyed and forgotten, while others had concerns for their own mental health:

“As I have suffered with severe depression in the past, I try to avoid anything that reminds me of the illness and therefore I would not visit any site with this subject matter. I realise that more people should be made aware of it and it will help to reduce prejudice, but unfortunately that is how I deal with my own circumstances.”

However, many respondents were upset that the history of mental health is not one that is covered in museums. Several respondents cited the “authenticity” of a museum in a former asylum being important, One respondent to the survey had this to say on the possibility of a museum of mental health and illness:

“…with the dissolution of the former asylums and mental hospitals, ironically some being converted into luxury accommodation following their closure, it is important that their past should be recorded and remembered.”

Whether or not a museum at Whitchurch would be a way to proceed with this aim remains to be seen, but it is a good point, well made. The history of mental health has been marginalised for a long time, something which is often echoed in contemporary attitudes to mental health and illness. It’s possible that in tacking “difficult” histories and facilitating discussion around them, a museum of mental health and illness might be able to make a positive contribution to contemporary issues of mental health and illness, as well as to its history.

I would like to close this series of posts with a comment on Whitchurch Hospital’s present, rather than its past. One respondent to my dissertation survey left a very simple comment, but perhaps the most evocative one of all:

“I hope Whitchurch does not close.”

Photo below, copyright Laura Humphreys

https://y73qcq.bay.livefilestore.com/y2m1wOVBxqgMbpf1k_W8-Oxfi_3eJ86ALajyd9ST1q8Xw0lzTHvsM4TCdMU5QVYSOPELMIdwQZ83bMoSbY9hZ20quC3rU9NB6YvJFty2zliHl8rEQvkHaSdHIN_5aWiPghi/Laura%203.JPG?psid=1

 

Sometimes, projects concerned with the conservation of historic buildings can come across as having a callous disregard for the present in favour of preserving the past, but I sincerely hope this is not the case here. As stated at the beginning of my dissertation, the preservation of Whitchurch and its history in the event of its closure is a legitimate concern, but in a wider context, it is a secondary concern. The most important issue regarding Whitchurch’s future is that patients and service users are provided for in the best and most effective way possible. I sincerely hope that the Cardiff and Vale NHS Trust will be able to address the future of mental healthcare in Cardiff as soon as possible, and that Whitchurch’s future, in whatever form, will be safeguarded.

Laura Humphreys is currently studying for a PhD in Historical Geography at Queen Mary, University of London, in collaboration with the Geffrye Museum of the Home. She previously worked at the Science Museum, where she helped to re-organise the Psychology and Psychiatry Collection, and co-ordinated a photography project and temporary reconstruction of an early-twentieth century Padded Cell. She currently lives in a former “Private Madhouse” in West London, and is researching its history. She can be contacted at: l.k.humphreys@qmul.ac.uk.

Another huge thank you to Laura for providing me with this post.

Iconic Film

August 1st, 2013

BBC iplayer have an iconic film to watch at the moment, One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0139jv6/One_Flew_Over_the_Cuckoos_Nest/

Available until 1:59AM Wed, 7 Aug 2013

Well worth watching if you have never seen it.