The written memory of Epsom’s five Cluster hospitals is extensive and of major importance for the history of mental illness and learning disability throughout the twentieth century. As each hospital closed in the mid-1990s and the wards and corridors emptied of patients and staff, Surrey Record Office rescued vast quantities of their historic records. Now repaired, catalogued and preserved at Surrey History Centre, the admission, discharge and medical treatment registers, committee minute books, reports of the house steward, chaplain and nursing staff, architectural plans, photographs and newsletters all provide a rich research resource for anyone interested in the history of these large institutions. They are augmented by detailed medical records of the tens of thousands of people admitted to these hospitals with a very wide range of mental illnesses or conditions. Early case books – large, robustly bound heavy folio volumes - record in meticulous detail the medical history of each patient. If we are lucky, as we are with the case books of St Ebba’s and The Manor, we find a photograph of the patient pasted to the page and are presented with a haunting sepia image of a fragile person at a particular crisis point in their lives. In the early twentieth century when cameras were still a luxurious rarity, many of these patients, largely drawn from deprived areas of London, are unlikely to have ever entered a photographer’s studio. These may therefore be the only photographs that were ever taken of them. We look into their eyes and we read their stories but there is always something missing. Their voices are hidden behind the official record.
This is why ‘Keeping Us in Mind’ is so important and so timely. Over twenty years have passed since the hospitals fell silent and the microcosm of their institutional life became a memory. It is vitally important that the personal testimonies, stories and anecdotes of everyone touched by these hospitals are gathered and recorded before it is too late to ask. Kirstie Arnould and her colleagues in Love Me Love My Mind
, assisted by a tremendous team of enthusiastic volunteers have successfully reached out into the community to ensure that the rich oral histories of former patients, nursing and administrative staff, entertainments officers, support workers and families is preserved alongside the surviving written record to enhance our understanding of the huge impact that the Epsom Cluster hospitals had upon so many lives across Epsom, London, and the wider world. Julian Pooley, Public Services and Engagement Manager.
Keeping us in Mind: Silences and Voices of the Epsom Cluster exhibition is on display throughout November at Surrey History Centre during normal opening hours
. It then goes to Bourne Hall Museum from 30 November. If you would like to record an interview please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
06 Nov 2017 at 9:30am
until 29 Nov 2017 at 5:00pm
Surrey History Centre
130 Goldsworth Road