I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike.

On June 29th 1878 the Wanderers Bicycle Club, based in Lavender Hill London, came to Caterham Asylum. The club had asked for permission to use the cricket ground for their ‘annual races’. The letter explaining the days event was sent to Dr James Adam three weeks prior, on beautifully designed headed paper.

Letter from Wanderers Bicycle Club

Dr Adam was cordially invited to participate in the races, which Mr Walter Delany (secretary of the club) felt that he would enjoy due to him being a keen cyclist. He was, along with his wife (who was not invited to take part in the races) invited to take tea with the club.

Aside from the logistics of getting any number of people with their rather hefty Victorian bicycles, let alone their tea and cakes across from Lavender Hill to Caterham, it is in the choice of location which is of interest. What had led Mr Delany to select the Caterham Asylum cricket pitch as the most appropriate site to hold their annual races?

I have not been able to find mention of it in previous committee minutes or annual reports, nor in Dr Adams diary from previous years.  One can only assume that through the power of Victorian cycling, sporting, and society networks which Dr Adams was active in that he met a range of people and made a range of such connections.

Yet, it would appear that Mr Delany and the rest of the Wanderers Bicycle Club had to ‘sing for their supper’. According to notes written in his diary, Dr Adam allowed patients to  be taken out from the day rooms, airing courts, and workshops, to watch the races.
Members of the Pickwick Cycling Club (est. 1870), on velocipedes, taking part in their annual race.

Whilst I myself have images of men in tophats and natty breeches, riding around on penny farthings, I assume the races saw men on velocipedes, bikes which had no chain but were powered by pedals on front wheel, commonly known as ‘bone-shakers’.

Despite the lack of penny farthings, the races must have been a delight to watch. They also provided an interesting opportunity to invert the institutional gaze, as it would appear that the visitors indeed became the spectacle!

For more on the history of cycling in Victorian England see Will Manner’s excellent blog https://thevictoriancyclist.wordpress.com/

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Trains, tardiness and trade

Caterham, the village, relied on the local railway station, and the railway line, for numerous things. So too did Caterham, the asylum. The location of the asylum was in part dictated by the proximity of the railway station, as was its sister, Leavesden, the managers arranging for use of a section of railway sidings and buildings during construction.

The railway conveyed patients, staff, and visitors. It brought fuel and food to the asylum. It also allowed for the daily and weekly newspapers to be delivered to the asylum, as well as the numerous letters from the various Boards of Guardians,  notes from the management committee, and leaflets from the professional societies. In fact, so frequent was the delivery of the newspapers, that a special box was installed at the Caterham railway station specifically to store them.

Caterham Railway

Caterham Railway Station – telegraph office and goods yard c.1900 Caterham and District Local History Centre

Trawling through the institutional diary of Dr Adams (one of my favourite things to do), there are numerous memorandums from the gate keeper reporting the names of tardy staff members. Often on the following day a note is pasted in from the train company attesting to late trains, presumably requested by staff members, or Dr Adams, to prove the authenticity of the excuse.  One interesting memo from the gate guard reads that a male attendant, who appeared at the asylum gate at 5.00am in the morning had apparently fallen asleep on the Caterham train and had ended up in Eadenhinge(???) ( I am unable to decipher exactly the name of the station where the attendant in question ended up as the gate keepers writing was atrocious). There are also memorandums from the head cook in the kitchen, explaining (on more than one occasion) that the evening meal would be delayed as the fish was late coming up on the train.

The asylum’s reliance on the train, whilst not discussed in the official record, such as the annual reports or the Commissioners in Lunacy inspections, is hinted at in the medical superintendent’s reports, and those of his support staff. The matron discusses the number of patients visited by their family members. Quite often, during the Easter weekend, Bank Holidays, and Whitsun celebrations, upwards of 500 families would take advantage of the cheap tickets that the asylum managers had arranged, and pass through the small end of line station to visit the asylum. When the management committee would make their annual visit to the asylum a special train would be laid on for the day.

Caterham Station staff, 1886 Caterham and District Local History Centre

Caterham Station staff, 1886
Caterham and District Local History Centre

The paper box at the asylum, the cheap tickets, and the laying on of special trains, along with the everyday uses of the station, illustrates a level of connectedness and integration with the immediate community that is lost in the official documents, photographs, and even maps, which are static snap shots of the asylum.

It is always the everyday, glimpsed, whispered, and suggested, that grabs our attention, that provides us a look behind the curtain, and a peek into the lives and experiences of those who lived and worked in these huge institutions.

Railway Memo

Railway Memo, dated 25/9/1876.

The relationship between asylums and nearby train stations also hint at the wider social, economic, and cultural geography. Many asylums were built beside, or very close to, existing railway lines and stations, some growing, adapting, and evolving due to the demands of the asylum. The Middlesex County asylum, otherwise known as Colney Hatch Asylum, was instrumental in the location of the nearby railway station. The Great Northern Railway (now part of the Thameslink:Great Northern) from Kings Cross up to Peterborough was under construction, and the powers that be were able to arrange for the GNR to build one of their stations beside the asylum, to allow for provisions, stocks, and patients, in return for gas and water supply from the asylum.[1]

The Colney Hatch Station had a number of name changes, beginning with a change to Southgate and Colney Hatch in 1855, then New Southgate and Colney Hatch in 1876 and New Southgate for Colney Hatch in 1883.[2]  In 1923 Colney Hatch was dropped from the name of the station, partly due to the negative association of the term ‘Colney Hatch’, which had become slang for ‘barmy’ and ‘crazy,’ by the end of the nineteenth century.  The slang term even appeared in the Narnia books. [3]The station is now known as New Southgate, the asylum, a luxury housing development, is now known as Princess Manor.

Caterham Station Building

Caterham Station Building

It is refreshing that Caterham station is still Caterham Station, with the same yellow brick waiting rooms and the same ramp leading up to the main street, views and buildings which patients, staff and visitors would have seen over 150 years ago. Also, judging by the performance of many train companies, the fish would probably still continue to be late!

[1] David Berguer The Friern Hospital Story, p.8

[2] Butt, R.V.J. The Directory of Railway Stations.  pp. 66,171,215.

[3] Kathryn Ann Lindskoog Journey Into Narnia p.91

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Our house, in the middle of our street….

I have recently been elbow deep in research, looking at various demographic features of Caterham’s patient population. Using the addresses listed in the casebooks, be it of a family member, the patient, or their friend, I have been tracking these individuals (when possible) in the census. I have also been using the excellent Charles Booth maps, and in some cases I have also used the Medical Officer of Health reports, digitized by the Wellcome, to create a fuller picture of the London that the Caterham patient corpus would have experienced. [1]

Hence the lack of posts!

It has been back breaking and eye-sight destroying work, not least as it would appear that many Victorian officials, from doctors, administrators, and census enumerators, flouted all of their childhood handwriting lessons.

However, as with any work that involves the names of people, places or streets, one is frequently met with delightful sounding sites, such as the Pine Apple Hotel on Hercules Street, or the evocative sounding Snowfields. Alas the latter was a slum area of Bermondsey, but the former is still a pub. It was indeed Bermondsey that provided the most amazing sounding streets of all. Alongside Snowfields, there was Paragon Alley, Foxlow Street, and of course the wonderful Jamaica Road.

Nestled in the casebooks were relatives of the patients who lived in quite ‘seasonal’ sounding places outside of London, such as uncle of one patient (a tobacconist) living on Christmas Street in Bristol, and the stepmother of another patient living at Number 1, Annadine Villa in Rugby.

Yet for all these amazingly named places it was Asylum Road in Peckham that grabbed my attention. As I have noted in a previous post, the main road leading up to Caterham was named Asylum Road, and remained Asylum Road until the 1930s when it was renamed The Westway.

Asylum Road, Peckham 1870

The Peckham Asylum Road was so called after the Licensed Victuallers’ Asylum, which was not an asylum in the more familiar meaning of the term, but was actually an almshouse. However, it would appear that these were no ordinary almshouses. Built for retired workers of the alcohol trade, the Licensed Victuallers’ Asylum was one of the largest  almshouse complexes in London. Built in 1827 the buildings, on an impressively laid out six acre site, the almshouses are now Grade II listed buildings.[2] The impressive site can be seen in the map above, situated at the top of Asylum Road, which runs through the centre of the map section.

Licensed Victuallers' Asylum

The almshouses, still residential units, were renamed Caroline Gardens after a former resident Caroline Seeker,  wife of a Royal Marine, James Seeker, who was said to be the man who caught Nelson after he was wounded at Trafalgar.[3]The Chapel that formed the heart of the almshouses and the surrounding community, which was badly damaged during the Blitz, is now an arts and music space, as well as being used for weddings, funerals and supposedly could be used for christenings too![4]

Licensed Victuallers' Asylum Chapel

Image By Jo Denis, asylumlondon.org/home

What I was most excited to discover is that the road is still called Asylum Road, and is still a major thoroughfare connecting Old Kent Road to Queens Road. It also has a pub, like Caterham had in the nineteenth century, called the Asylum Tavern.

The stigma, discomfort, and dismay that surround mental asylum sites are complex, created in part by modern attitudes and modern interpretations. It is a stigma that is perpetuated by a lack of engagement with the word. Despite nearly thirty years of wide ranging research on asylums, lunacy, mental health and psychiatry, in a significant number of cases scholars are still expected to acknowledge the notion of the ‘total institution’, and engage with discussions surrounding control, segregation, and isolation when presenting their work. This sustains the unhelpful grand narratives that in some ways restrict more helpful, fruitful, and telling engagements with our asylum heritage.

Asylums were multi-level sites, palimpsests of life, of history, of existence. They were lived in by varied and various populations. Equally varied populations lived beside them, the walls, trees, water tower and grounds visible from numerous sitting room and bedroom windows. The various sights, sounds, and smells accessible from the streets that boarded these mammoth sites. It was incredibly hard to miss an asylum in the Victorian period, much as it is still hard to not see a Victorian water tower from one of the overland train carriages coming into London. I see two such structures on my journey to work in St Albans.

Edward Jarvis, an American statistician was interested in the notion of this ‘stigma’.[5] Did it really exist, how did it operate, and what were the contributing factors that could lead to the sense of stigma, and conversely lessen the sense of stigma associated with asylums. For Jarvis it was close proximity to a lunatic asylum that increased the likelihood of individuals to commit their family member to an asylum. This theory has been tested, challenged and revised, by a plethora of historians, geographers and sociologists, who take into account a range of socio-economic, legislative, and political factors that played a major role in the patient pathway.

Edward Jarvis

Edward Jarvis

What I have always found to be most useful about Jarvis’s study was the actual query itself. As Joseph Melling and Richard Turner explain ‘underpinning the distance–decay model was Jarvis’s belief that physical proximity to an insane asylum provided a clear perspective on its moral and medical value, producing that “generous confidence in its management, [which] diminishes as we recede from it”.[6] For Jarvis, there was a very real feeling that knowledge and proximity mattered. Being close to an asylum led to greater awareness of what the institution did, how it functioned, what occurred within the walls.

It is perhaps the original use and meaning of the term asylum in the context of the almshouses as a place of sanctuary that the road still retains its original name. It is probably not an insignificant point that Caroline Gardens/Licensed Victuallers’ Asylum was never used as a site to housed lunatics, be they curable or incurable. A quick Google search has uncovered three other Asylum Roads in Britain, one in Birmingham, Southampton, and Kingston upon Thames. There is also an Asylum Road in Londonderry, and several Asylum Road/Asylum Streets in the United States.

astonbrook-through-astonmanor.co.uk

Asylum Road, Birmingham, astonbrook-through-astonmanor.co.uk

Perhaps it is the proximity, as well as the use, of a site that communities would continue to use the names. I have been unable to find the reason for Caterham’s Asylum Road name change. What I do find interesting is that there is a move to name the streets of the housing development that inhabits the old Caterham Asylum site in an effort to recognise the history of the site. The council has identified 8 key individuals from Caterham’s history, including Emma Mosley, the first Matron, James Adams and George Elliot, the first two Medical Superintendents, as well as Doreen Firmin was the hospital’s first female physician superintendent.[7]

I live near the Colney Hatch asylum, an institution which is often mentioned at any conference, talk, or article on asylum history, architecture, or lunacy. The asylum, like many of its fellow institutions, has been redeveloped into luxury housing and now known as Princess Manor.

Colney Hatch Asylum Wellcome Images

Colney Hatch Asylum Wellcome Images

Barbara Taylor has recently published her historical biography, recounting her time at this institution. On the developer’s website one would struggle to find any reference to the history of the building, a history which is very much alive in the minds, and hearts, of local residents like me, or former patients like Barbara Taylor. On the website it states that the building provides a ‘living link with the glory of Victorian England’, it is also ‘A Victorian masterpiece which has delighted and inspired aficionados of fine architecture for generations’.[8] Now perhaps this is just a rather extreme example of ‘estate agent speak’, a profession which is now for its elaborate and elastic use of language, truth and history.

All of Caterham’s buildings were demolished, unlike those at Colney Hatch. This may be the source of the discomfort, or the reason for the company to not mention the word ‘asylum’, despite it being a widely known fact. Colney Hatch, or Friern Barnet Hospital as it was also known, had a reputation that spread far and wide. This was one of the reasons for the train station that served the institution, and now provides residents a 20 minute journey to Kings Cross, to be renamed New Southgate, despite Southgate being some 20 minutes away by car/bus.

However other asylum developments that retained the buildings make a point of recognising the significant history and mental health heritage of the development. A good example of this is Napsbury in Hertfordshire, which has a thriving local history group.

Stigma is, as noted, a modern phenomenon in many cases. It is an assumed and (wrongfully) expected aspect of mental health history. It is perpetuated by lack of engagement with the language, attitudes and responses that surround both the physical and emotional remnants of these institutions. I am glad that Asylum Road Peckham still exists; I only wish that one in Caterham was still around.

[1] http://wellcomelibrary.org/moh/

[2] http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/542870

[3] http://www.southwarknews.co.uk/00,news,8472,466,00.htm

[4] http://asylumlondon.org/home/

[5] E. Jarvis, The influence of distance from and proximity to an insane hospital, on its use by any people, Boston Medical and Surgical Journal 42 (1850) pp.210–3 and pp.216–7.

[6] Melling, J and Adair, R (1999) The road to the asylum: institutions, distance and the administration of pauper lunacy in Devon, 1845–1914 Journal of Historical Geography 25:3, pp. 298-332

[7] http://www.getsurrey.co.uk/news/local-news/new-road-names-honour-hospital-4720473

[8] http://www.princessparkmanor.net/

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Casebooks, photographs, and institutional intimacy

I have recently been trawling through the mammoth, dusty, fragile patient casebooks of Caterham. I have numerous images of them saved on my pc, but missed having the dirt, the grime, and the feeling of the pages under my fingers. I also found that flipping through the pages physically allowed me to see was contained within the casebooks beyond that of brief notes as to their health, qualitative information which is hidden, or less evident when I scroll through them on my computer screen.

So there I was, sat in the archive room looking at the casebooks, items that are so very familiar to me after several years of using them, physically and digitally. However, on this occasion I was being purposely unfamiliar with them, wanting to rediscover them, and look at them as physical objects, as cultural products,  beyond them being institutional entities and forms of administrative activity.

I wanted to think about them as objects that were interacted with in a number of ways, that were receptacles of snippets of information of the patients, both administrative, qualitative and quantitative. I could imagine the overworked medical officer bent over the casebook, as I was, hastily writing his notes, as I was more laboriously noting his notes. This tactile interaction made me realize, more acutely than I sometime remember to do so, that the casebooks are my only connection with some of the people who in many cases remain voiceless and hidden. The casebooks remain, in many cases, the only record of the patient’s life, an existence that is only recorded on the national registers, little more than an entry in the decennial census, or another name alongside the numerous others recorded in the Birth Deaths and Marriage lists.

These casebooks were dealt with regularly, possibly weekly or monthly, though judging by the Commissioners In Lunacy complaints that the patient documents were not very well kept at the asylum, it was not daily! Caterham had a medical team of three men, the Medical Superintendent and two Medical Assistants, to administer and care for 2,000 patients, a third of which at any one time were resident in the asylum’s infirmaries. There was little change in the medical staff, and correspondingly little changes in the handwriting, which at times was easy to read, and towards the end of the century fell afoul of the doctors handwriting and the script becomes almost unintelligible.

Patient casebooks reveal a number of examples, insights, and illustrations of how patients were classified, diagnosed and treated within the asylum. However, wider and deeper reading of the casebooks can reveal how patients were regarded in the asylum by the staff themselves, as humans, as persons, as individuals. References to their character, their behaviour, and even descriptions of their death give rise to the emotional connections and aspects of the asylum. They also provide a hint at the relationship between the doctors and the patients, both of whom were to some degree long-stay residents of the asylum. Caterham’s medical staff worked at the asylum for significantly lengthy periods, Dr Elliot joined the institution in 1870 as an assistant medical officer, before succeeding Dr Adams, the first Medical Superintendent, in 1880. Dr Elliot remained in post for 20 years until his retirement in 1900. During both Dr Adams and Dr Elliot’s time at the asylum they would have become familiar with patients, some of whom they were seeing daily or weekly, some of whom would have assisted in their offices, or within their homes, as maids and servants.

The intimacy that could develop between the staff and the patients is hinted at in the patient photographs that were pasted into the patient casebooks. Dr Adams requested that the Management Committee provide him funds to purchase photographic equipment in 1873. His request was granted, along with one for the purchase of meteorological observation equipment. In that year Dr Adams set up his photographic studio and processing room, as well as a mini weather station. Along with recording the weather, Dr Adams, and his replacements, visually recorded the patients in a variety of ways.

As with many nineteenth century institutions, there are few images of the internal world of the asylum. That is what makes the photographs contained within the patient casebooks so very interesting, and dare I say valuable on a number of levels. Firstly, the images were not for identification purposes, namely as not all patients were photographed, and not all casebook entries have a photograph attached.

Patients were photographed in a variety of poses, and in a variety of settings. Some were photographed inside the asylum, some were photographed outside the asylum building, in the vast asylum grounds. Some patients stare straight at the camera, others look away, some are sitting, others are leaning against a prop, some with a theatrical backdrop, some against a plain wall. There is no uniformity or universality to the images.

ImageIn one photograph a female patient, classified as chronic maniac, has a black and white cat perched on her lap. Both the patient and the cat look content, the patient is wearing the somewhat customary asylum shawl draped around her shoulders, the cat is repose on across her knees. In the numerous committee minutes, annual reports and official documents that make up the archive of Caterham I have never once found a reference to the cat.

It is the photograph of Emma Emmerson, one of the earlier admissions to the asylum that I found myself taken aback. Emma was 50 years old when she came to the asylum. The casebook within which I found her photograph begins in 1885, and the comments which circle and butt up to her photograph are dated 1892, so conceivably Emma was in her 70s when the image was taken. She sits in a chair, a large shawl is draped around her shoulders, and she has an elaborate cap upon her head. The quality of the image is poor, and due to age is faded, so it is difficult to tell if her eyes are open, or are heavy hooded.  Emma appears to have a smile, or an attempt at a smile on her face, and what I found most arresting was the doll she was cradling in her arms.

Image

The doll is dressed in a bonnet, and appears to be swaddled, but due to the quality of the image it is hard to tell. She also appears to have a small posy of flowers. My reaction to the photograph then, and now reflecting on it, remains to be highly emotional. There are a number of emotional and intimate hints in the image, Emma’s headwear firstly appears to be an attempt to make her look nice. This may have been done by the patient herself, or by the attendants and nurses. Clothing was highly regulated at the asylum, with the dress of the patients controlled by the asylum staff, and spare items were not left lying around, for fear of destruction, loss, or misuse. The photographs provide some insight and evidence of the agency of patients, namely that they were able to adapt, adjust and alter clothing to meet their tastes, choices, and desires, be it within tight constraints.

The fact that there was the opportunity for Emma to have a piece of head wear that was not a simple cloth cap gives rise to a number of interactions and activities that were taking place in the asylum, that are not always mentioned in the reports or casebook notes. In 1885 Emma collapsed, she recovered and no sign of paralysis, a major concern of the Medical Staff, was found. Emma was sent to the infirmary ward to recuperate, and the next case book note is revealing ‘Much better, but [it is] strange for her [to be] inclined to be quiet in bed’. On her admission notes Emma was described as talking in a ‘garrulous’ manner, delusional and ‘fancies we have sent for her to play the piano’. Emma soon recovered and her casenotes state that she was able to move about and do some light work.

The photograph and the brief notes about her quiet behaviour being ‘strange for her’ shed light on the staff and patient relations that fell outside of formal, or expected, interactions. That Emma was able to have her doll in the image suggests that the doll was a special object to her, and most probably an item that she carried about with her, for comfort or for security.

ImageThere were similar variances in the male casebooks.  Some men were fully bearded, others clean shaven. Some were in three piece suits, others with a short cloth jacket and shirt. Some had neckerchiefs, others were had bare throats, unencumbered by scarfs or kerchiefs. One dapper young man had a hanky in the chest pocket of his jacket. Some stare straight at the camera, others looking away, down at their hands laid in their laps, some with arms defiantly crossed across the chest. Robert Campbell admitted in December 1890 has his hands lightly clasped across his stomach, and is grinning at the camera. A mirror placed behind him reflects the back of his head and torso.

For a significant period of time it would appear that a number of the male patients were photographed in such as manner, sat on a chair before a mirror, in what appears to be more formal and formulaic institutional images. That the images are not dated makes it difficult to draw comparisons, contrasts, and consistencies between the way that men and women were photographed. However in one of the male patient casebooks there were equally candid and familiar images, similar to Emma and her doll, and with similar differences and variances of patient dress.

ImageRobert is wearing a light coloured corduroy jacket, and a spotted scarf is wrapped around his neck. As he was admitted in December, the image may well have been taken some time after his admission, the heavy textiles suggesting it was the winter wear of the patients. I was struck by Robert’s cheerful expression, his open appearance, which gave me the notion of a certain amount of trust, or of intimacy, between Robert and the person taking the photograph. It also alludes to a sense of ease, or intimacy, with the environment within which the photograph was being taken

In some of the photographs the patients do not look at ease, nor do they look comfortable with their surroundings. In other photographs the patients face is blurred, suggesting they were either unable or unwilling to sit still.

In one photograph a patient, his face is turned three quarters to the camera, stares cautiously, his shoulders hunched, and his body language appears guarded. ImageA large number of the images from the male case book which includes patients admitted between 1890 and 1891 are closely cropped, however it is possible to see what appears to be a landscape backdrop of plants, trees and flowers. The chair upon which the patients are seated is not restrictive; it was a simple armless curved back chair.  Some institutional photographs, from lunatic asylums, have shown patients seated in high backed chairs, their heads held in clamps. I have come across no images like this at Caterham, which was an asylum built to provide long-term accommodation to incurable insane paupers. Thus the intention and working remit of Caterham differed significantly to the county and borough asylums that dominate the historiography. This is reflected in the photographs, and the other sources, of Caterham.

With Caterham being a long-stay asylum, the longevity of the staff in terms of service and employment and the patients’ residency, in some cases being upwards of 30 years, gave ample opportunity for relationships, familiarity and intimacy to develop. The manner in which the patients were photographed provides visual evidence of this, which at times is hidden in the textual sources, despite them appearing alongside one another!

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Entertainment, Amusement and Mirth. Highlights of the Diary of Dr Adams

In recent weeks I have been trawling through the institutional diary of Dr James Adams, the first Medical Superintendent at Caterham. The diaries document the life within the asylum from an administrative point of view, detailing the numbers of patients, who was sick who was in the infirmary, and those who were on extra diet. It also detailed the staff members who were off on leave, or who were sick, as well as those on night duty.

In the margins, across the header, and sometimes at an angle across the page, squeezed in amongst these administrative recordings there are notes and references to another side of asylum life. Dr Adams was a regular in Caterham society, attending Caterham Literary Society, as well as being a church warden. He appears to have gone to the theatre quite often, judging by the snippets and programmes pasted in the back pages of his diary. It also appears that he was keen to bring the theatre to the asylum.

His institutional diary, aimed originally as a receptacle for the recording of institutional matters, such as patient numbers and staff responsibilities, is full of programmes from theatrical and musical performances held at the asylum. These are pasted into his diary, covering records of the day-to-day dealings of asylum life, from staff sickness to patient admissions. The programmes range from hand written cards to professionally printed cards, from performances by the asylum staff to those given by visiting companies. From a material point of view his diary is a goldmine, providing a tactile and visual avenue into the social and material culture of the asylum. For one who has only a handful of photographs to imagine the asylum, its spaces and the interactions that occurred within it, the diary of Dr Adams holds enormous and exciting potentials.

The entertainments, and the manner in which they were recorded, provide an insight into a part of asylum life that is often overlooked in the wider history of C19th asylums, institutions that have frequently been discussed in terms of segregation, isolation, and panopiticism.  There is an inner life of the asylum that is rarely addressed in asylum studies. Historians of material culture, as well as landscape historians, through their interest in the space and uses of the physical environment, have provided snapshots of the inner life, by exploring what was in the asylum, in terms of flora, fauna, and furnishing.

The amusements provided at Caterham allow us to view how the space was being used, and a tantalising peek at an element of the asylum experience. Not only did Dr Adams keep mementos of the events, they were also regular sections in the annual reports of the asylum, discussed alongside the more standard administrative statistics regarding admission and discharge rates, and patient classification.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Caterham’s Theatre Royal, otherwise known as the Recreation Hall, was the site of many theatrical performances, including the popular Little Toddlekins and King John, two well known nineteenth century plays. When Little Toddlekins was performed at Caterham it was the asylum staff that donned the costumes and assumed the characters, including Captain Littlepop and Mr Badicombe of Badicome Bay. Female nurses and attendents played the female roles, and patients were regularly entertained by the asylum theatrical company, under the watchful direction of one of the Assistant Medical Officers Dr Secombe.

The amusements did not end there. The more musically gifted staff were soon drafted into the asylum band and the asylum choir, both lead by Dr Secombe’s opposite number Dr Elliot (who went on to be the second Assistant Medical Officer in 1881). The band played twice weekly during the summer months, one of these performances being held on the front gardens of the asylum for the benefit of the bed bound and infirmary patients, who were unable to make it to the Recreation Hall.

The Hall, along with the cricket and football pitches, was built at the insistence of the first Medical Superintendent of Caterham, Dr James Adams. During summer months cricket and football matches were played daily between staff and patients, however visiting teams would often come and compete against the staff whilst the patients spectated.

Theatrical productions were often performed by the asylums Dramatic Company, the programmes of which were pasted into the diary, as well as pamphlets from visiting troupe performances, including the magic show held at the asylum in 1872, by The Renowned Physicien and Prestidigitateur Mr Alfred Stodare. Alfred had also performed for the Queen herself, as well as ‘twice before the H.R.H Price of Wales’. Billed as a night of Magic, Mirth and Mystery, around 500 patients and a significant number of staff were entertained by ‘astounding allusions’, ‘wondrous feats of magic’ and, as seems to be typical of the Victorian era, ‘instructive experiments’.

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Amusements were also held purely for the staff of the asylum, and judging by the increasingly elaborate dance cards printed for these events, they were the highlight of the staff year.

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Extra food and drink was laid on for the staff, nurses, attendants and servants alike, to keep up their energies while they danced the night away to waltzes, polkas and circassion circle dance pieces.

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Held at the beginning of the year it can be presumed that the annual staff ball was the asylum’s version of the office Christmas party, an opportunity to let off steam, to drink too much, and dance the night away, well until midnight at least.

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It was not only staff and visiting companies that came to entertain the asylum population, in 1878, on what could well have been a dark and gloomy January evening, the Caterham Workmen Glee Club performed in the Recreation Hall.

It was believed that the entertainments would go some way to alleviating the monotony of asylum life, with Dr Elliot claiming in 1881 that:

‘It is now an established fact that judiciously selected recreation plays an important part in successful Asylum administration, and enters largely into the therapeutics of mental disease; in the case of gloomy and melancholy it is a potent curative…in the chronic and incurable victims of insanity, it ameliorates their condition by cheering and healthful influence, thus rendering their otherwise monotonous existence more happy & contented..’

Judging by the range of entertainments, and that they were laid on for both staff and patients, it can be assumed that the managers, and the senior medical staff, were keen to keep both sides of the asylum ‘more happy & contented’.

 

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Viewing Texts

(this blog post originally appeared on my languageofaccess.org blog)

I have recently been pointed in the direction of corpus linguistics, which I wish I had been made aware of in the first year of my PhD, when grappling with psychiatric texts on the subject of idiocy.

In the course of discovering what corpus linguistics was, and how it could help me, I stumbled across the website Voyant, a web-based reading and analysis environment for digital texts.

Running a digitzed text through the tool produces a word cloud, word trends, frequency tables, and much more. It can also put keywords in context, allowing you to navigate through the text and see the wider setting of keyword(s).

Luckily my research concerns the nineteenth century, and lots of texts have been digitized and easily accessible thanks to google, archive.org and the Hathi Trust.

So I chose three texts that have been identified both by contemporaries and by scholars as key publications, and ran them through Voyant.

This is what I got. Word Clouds!

Fletcher Beach The Treatment and Education of Mentally Feeble Children (1895)

Beach

William Wotherspoon Ireland On Idiocy and Imbecility  (1877)W W Ireland

George Shuttleworth Mentally Defective Children and their Training (1895) Shuttleworth

The Voyant tool also produces, as mentioned, frequency lists, word counts, and word trends.

I was struck by the similarity of words used, and the clear focus being on children. Whilst Beach and Shuttleworth are explicit in their titles that they deal with children, Ireland aims his publication as a general text, yet ‘children’ is very much a central theme in his work.

This is indicative of the wider literature on the subject of idiocy, publications written by those who were dealing with idiot and imbecile children, not adult patients. This influenced the wider literature on the subject, which was primarily produced by, and for, those involved in the management of smaller idiot and imbecile asylums.

Other frequent words that appear across the texts, such as intelligence, education, ordinary, deficiency, development and power (in the sense of abilities and faculties) suggest that the wider perception and understanding of idiocy is related to intellect and function.

Yet it is the quantifiable elements and terms emerging in the word clouds that are interesting. The attention to the physicality of the patients, as suggested by the frequency of the words ‘mouth, head, circulation, condition, teeth, lips, hands, feet’, and their measurements as seen in words such as ‘small, size, large, circumference, and inches.’

Finally, what is most surprising to discover in these word clouds, and the accompanying frequency lists, is the dearth of other terms to discuss idiocy and imbecility.

The latter half of the nineteenth century was a period of intense discussion regarding the classification and definition of idiocy and imbecility. Psychiatrists regularly discussed the different classifications of idiocy, filling the pages of medical journals with articles and references to the various schema on offer, with many devising their own.

One of the more infamous of these classification systems was John Langdon Downs ‘Ethnic Classifications’, which included the term ‘Mongoloid Idiocy’, nowadays known as Down Syndrome, Down’s Syndrome or Trisomy 21 .

Yet as can be seen in the word clouds, idiocy, imbecility, feeble- and weak-minded were the most frequent terms used. It is interesting to note that not one of these texts employs Down’s terminology or classification system, with the word ‘Ethnic’ appearing in Ireland’s text just once, as does the word ‘Mongol’.

The word clouds, and lists, have allowed me to see the texts in a different light, to view them as whole bodies, rather than the individual pages, chapters, or sections that I was concentrating on at any one time. The Voyant tools are not definitive! But for me they have provided a wider view of the texts, to see patterns,  frequency, use, and correspondingly the lack of use, that is extremely useful.

There will be more Voyant themed posts in the near future – stay posted!

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Make do and mend

At yesterday’s Modern British History Seminar, which covers the period 1815 to mid C20 and beyond (and I am still adjusting to the sense that I am a modern historian categorised alongside those who study stuff from when I was a kid!!!) I was lucky enough to meet and chat with Dr Vivienne Richmond from Goldsmiths.

Inspired by references to dress and nakedness in Katrina Navickas’s excellent paper on the body, violence and geographies of protest in the 1830s, we chatted about references to the clothing of patients at the MAB’s two adult imbecile asylums (Leavesden and Caterham) and the surprise we both felt at what was of concern to authorities at the time. Vivienne has just published a book on clothing and the poor in nineteenth century England, and clothing the patients was a frequent topic of conversation at the fortnightly meetings of Caterham’s management board and was a constant concern of the Commissioners in Lunacy during their annual inspectorate visits.

Laundry Room St Lawrence's Hospital

In 1874 the Commissioners in Lunacy expressed their dismay at the lack of clothing provided to patients, stating that the two changes of clothes was not enough, and that for male patients engaged in heavy duty and dirty work, such as gardening and farm work, they required a separate Sunday suit. This was due to the general wear and tear of their clothing. But at least their clothes were deemed warm enough, the female patients were worse off in their thin shawls and dresses made of unsuitable material. Dresses should be made of linsey (a mix of wool and linen), and the female patients should also be provided hoods when out in the airing courts. Cloth caps, especially for the aged male patients, should also be provided alongside ward slippers for young and old.

Whilst this all sounded well and good, the Commissioners in Lunacy were overlooking a rather important point in terms of dressing the patients – patient behaviour. Many of Caterham’s patients were either too infirm to dress themselves, so clothing needed to be easy to put on or off, also many were ‘wet and dirty’ and thus their clothing was often soiled. But perhaps most acute of all influences in the dress of the patients was the destruction of clothing. The management committee responded to these yearly ‘requests’ in the same manner, stating that linsey was too heavy, unsuitable for many of the female patients, especially those difficult to keep clean, and that cloth was easier to wash and keep clean, and was preferable to corduroy, the suggested material for menswear, which was again heavy and difficult to keep clean and hygienic.

In 1877 Matron Emma Mosely, possibly frustrated at the repeated complaints of the Commissioners in Lunacy, produced a list of the amount of clothing destroyed by the female patients in one year.

The list read thus:

762 dresses
363 pairs of hose
143 petticoats
121 aprons
100 bonnets
120 hoods
53 nightgowns
29 chemise
22 blankets
18 shawls.

Also in an earlier report it was stated that some patients had an ‘antipathy’ to clothing, and others were given over to stripping themselves, either during a ‘paroxysm of passion’, or a ‘mischievous’ episode. In 1875 there appears to have been a spate of new clothing made within the asylum and given to the patients, with particular attention being given to the colour, pattern, and material of the clothes. The more ‘careful’ patients were given a new Sunday dress, and fancy caps given to the aged women. This was part of an effort to brighten up the asylum and provide as ‘cheerful’ and comfortable an environment as possible as so many of the patients were ‘of a class who had seen better days’, and it was felt new clothing would go some way to ameliorating this.

Clothing was expensive, especially in an asylum with on average nearly 2,000 residents at any one time. Staff were careful to keep it in as good a condition as possible, through cleaning, mending and laundering. So much so that Sunday dresses and suits were kept in ‘in the custody of the Ward Attendants, or for workers in kitchen, stores etc, kept locked in a cupboard in the Steward department’, possibly in an effort to keep the clothes clean, and safe from destruction.

Patients were not the only group whose dress and deportment were of interest to the Commissioners in Lunacy or the asylum managers. Staff uniforms were also important,  with the Matron and Steward in charge of uniform design, ordering and regulations, yet this will be the subject of a future post.

For further reading on the subject of asylum clothing, both patients and staff, see:

Rebecca Wynter ‘’Good in all respects’: appearance and dress at Staffordshire County Lunatic Asylum, 1818-54.’ History of Psychiatry 22:1 (2011) pp. 40-57 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21879576

Jane Hamlett and Lesley Hoskins ‘Comfort in Small Things? Clothing, Control and Agency in County Lunatic Asylums in Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century England’ Journal of Victorian Culture. 18: 1 (2013)pp. 93-114
http://pure.rhul.ac.uk/portal/files/16820091/Hamlett_Hoskins_Comfort_in_Small_Things_1_.pdf

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