There are different ways of looking at things. Yesterday, a visitor named Beverley who lives in West Yorkshire, left the following thoughtful response to my "Asylum" post. I hope she won't mind that I have chosen to make it the main body of today's blogpost. Beverley reminded me and others that within those grim psychiatric institutions of long ago there were always dedicated and kindly members of staff doing their best to serve the residents or patients or inmates or victims - call them what you will - with kindness and professional expertise.
|Storthes Hall Hospital - the administration building|
"I would like to add some local insight to the above post. My husband worked at Storthes Hall Hospital for almost 40 years. His mother had been a nursing sister and my mother a nurse there over two very different periods in history. My husband and I still live in the next village to Thurstonland.
I'm sure in the early part of the century when there was less knowledge about the causes and treatment of mental illness that there was indeed cruelty to the patients, but from 1960 when my husband was an occupational therapist there, things were very different. Yes, the patients were in dormitory style accommodation but many were permitted total freedom during the day to attend church, or walk in the neighbourhood, catch the bus into Huddersfield etc. They were taken by mini bus to places of interest by my husband and his team. He was in the occupational therapy department but also took his painting/craft materials onto the wards where some of the patients were not permitted to wander outside alone. The work of some of the patients was childlike but some of them made wonderful pottery and woodworking items.
There was a theatre where outside theatre groups came to put on musical shows and dances for the patients. At one point there was a gardening group and patients went willingly to work outdoors tending vegetables that were destined to be taken into the kitchens for cooking.
A friend of mine was a therapist specialising in helping patients to make cakes and even meals for themselves.
Eventually the powers that be deemed that this practice smacked of exploitation and so the gardening and cookery ceased to be.
The patients who are buried in Thurstonland all had relatives in either Huddersfield, Barnsley, Sheffield or Dewsbury areas and so they could have taken their relatives back to the area they came from for internment, but of course it was shameful for families to acknowledge that they had a relative in a mental hospital.
I remember it as a small well knit community and the patients were in a safe environment which was not the case by the 1980's when the large hospitals were closed down in favour of care in the community which did not work in the patients favour at all. They were seen wandering around our town centre just killing their time aimlessly. Many were put into small houses with a couple of staff members to make it more like a home environment but sadly they had lost a lot of their friends from the "big house" as they were scattered back into their own local authorities.
I could go on at length and I do know that it wasn't all quite so idyllic. There is a book written by a lady called Ann Littlewood, who was a senior nursing officer there, and it has lots of photos and stories about the hospital from the 1900's up until its closure so if anyone wants an interesting read I'm sure it would be available on either Amazon or maybe even on line somewhere.
The whole hospital and its grounds are mostly derelict now except for the area where the student accommodation is and it looks so very sad to see it like this. The buildings, tennis courts and cricket field all gone to ruin.
The institutions did have much cruelty in the early days but once people understood more about mental illness then the asylum system wasn't so necessary as when people were much misunderstood and it was thought they should be incarcerated for everyone's good.
I hope that this gives a little perspective to what YP has experienced in a graveyard near by. I have many really good memories about the place from the last 60 years.
YP, the area around Thurstonland, Emley Moor and Farnley Tyas has some glorious walks. If you should ever take the train here again I could suggest some fantastic footpath walks that you would enjoy."
|West Riding Lunatic Asylum (Storthes Hall Hospital) in its heyday|
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I agree with John. Thank you Beverley.ReplyDelete
Thank you Beverly for giving your personal perspective on Storthes Hall Hospital. I enjoyed reading what you shared with us.ReplyDelete
Thanks to Beverly to supplement YP's post with such personal insight, and thanks to YP for making it an extra post so that the comment won't be missed.ReplyDelete
It seems the closing of the hospitals and sending patients with mental illness back into the community sounded like a good idea to many back then, but maybe the patients' and staff's perspectives were never heard, and the program not entirely thought through. It may have been the best for some patients, but definitely not for all.
You are probably right Librarian. In closing down the mental hospitals and selling off the land there was a big element of money saving. The saved money was not all poured into "Care in the Community" by any means.Delete
My grandmother was a patient in Storthes Hall in the late fifties and early sixties. Although I was only a child at the time, I remember it as being clean, bright and airy., and the staff were always kind to me, and treated her with respect and kindness.ReplyDelete
Thank you Tavyman. You confirm that these places were not entirely bad.Delete
I read Beverly's comment yesterday and was moved by the remembrances of staff who worked hard to give patients a better life and treated them with kindness and respect. I appreciate you sharing it with those who may have missed it.ReplyDelete
Her comment was certainly worth sharing. I don't think it is something I have ever done before in this humble Yorkshire blog.Delete
It illustrates how weasel words and phrases can be used to push through policy. "Care in the community" seems unquestioningly assumed by the public to be a good thing, unlike "being locked up in an institution" which sounds terrible. If you term it "living in a supported residential community" it takes on an entirely different light. Although different people have different needs, of course.ReplyDelete
You are right Tasker. Another example of weasel words that fools followed like turkeys voting for Christmas was "Get Brexit Done". I still have no idea what that means.Delete
It is certainly good to have a different perspective. And I'm sure that some of the places that people were put for mental health issues tried as hard as they could to make things as pleasant and therapeutic as possible. So many variables. But the fact remains that many, many people died in horrible conditions and lay now in unmarked graves. In a slightly related topic, there is a place right near where I live which up until fairly recent times in which untold (until now) horrors occurred. Colson Whitehead wrote a fictionalized (but very accurate) report of the place, the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys. The name of the book is "The Nickel Boys." Many survivors of the place still live and many who did not survive are buried there in unmarked graves.ReplyDelete
Yes. That's the bottom line Ms. Moon. It was about keeping those people away from mainstream life and even in death many thousands were given secret, apologetic funerals - as if they had not really mattered.Delete
Well, what a surprise to see your post today YP. I don't mind in the least that you have shared my thoughts.ReplyDelete
I well remember the first picture you posted. This was the Central or Main entrance through which visitors entered. It was very smart, with polished wooden doors, a brass plaque on the Superintendent's door, photos on the walls. Very unlike the miles of tiled corridors leading off to the wards.
Men were segregated from women on the wards but they did meet up at social events and according to my husband a lot of them were in every respect fully sexually aware and had to be chaperoned closely, if you get my meaning.
The very old photo of the hospital is way before my time so must have been taken in the 1920's as the roads look to be unfinished.
The grounds were beautiful with lawns and flower beds, dozens of pink cherry blossom trees were the main feature along the drive and roads in spring. There were lots of lovely areas to walk through mature woods and these trees had coloured markers on them so that they would be easier to search if a patient went missing and a search party was sent out to look for them.
I have 2 of the very same commemorative plates that you show and also 2 mugs which were produced at the time the hospital closed.
If you speak to anyone in the local area they will say that their grandparents, mothers, uncles all worked at Storthes Hall at one time or another. It was a huge provider of employment over the years.
I will finish with just one more recollection. Four women patients used to walk to our village church on Sundays and one of these, Lilly, could tell me the date of both my children's birthdays and how old they were. My husband had obviously told her at the time they were born and she never forgot their birthdays even though she never met them.
I think we must end this reminiscing now. I am sure that in the early years much that we nowadays would never expect or allow did take place in these institutions, but the patients had a secure home and were provided with good food and clean clothes, they had spending money and an onsite shop where they could spend it on little treats for themselves.
I hope that those who were treated less well than we would expect are at least thought about by some people when visiting the memorial in Thurstonland church yard. I'm so pleased to live in more enlightened times but we still hear about bad things happening to vulnerable people so human nature is very hard to fathom sometimes.
I especially liked the reference to the woman who remembered your children's birthdays and I wonder why she was committed to Storthes Hall.Delete
It's wonderful to get this perspective from Beverley, and to know that, for some period of time at least, the conditions were reasonable and comfortable. Thanks for sharing those memories and thoughts - both to you, Beverley, and to you, YP, for making a separate post.ReplyDelete
Thank you Jenny. It was nice that Beverley called by wasn't it?Delete