Posts Tagged 'Out of your Census'

Exercising the Brain 2

Almost two years ago, one of our volunteers here at the Archives and Museum (who has since moved on to other things) wrote a post about her experiences of working on the Archives & Museum’s ‘Out of Your Census’ project, the long-term aim of which is to bring details of Bethlem’s Victorian and Edwardian-era patients, suppressed by census officials at the time, into the public domain. The project is still work-in-progress, and has expanded to embrace 1911 data from Croydon Mental Hospital. Here another of our volunteers provides an update.

I have been volunteering at the Archives and Museum for a couple of months, and so far have been specifically involved in recording information from the Warlingham Park casebooks. Warlingham Park opened as Croydon Mental Hospital in 1903, and following its closure in 1999 the hospital’s archives were transferred to Bethlem. The Archives & Museum recently launched an online learning resource about its history.

In the course of gathering data for the ‘Out of Your Census’ project, I recently came across a particularly interesting case, that of a barrister named Corrie Grant, who was admitted as a private patient in 1910, and spent two years in the hospital. His diagnosis was a rare one for the time: ‘folie circulaire’, or circular insanity. This term was coined in 1851 by Jean-Pierre Falret for a set of symptoms that might today trigger a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

Accompanying his formal patient record is an autobiographical account of his personal history, which records a series of maladies as well as the circumstances of his forced admission to Croydon Mental Hospital, which he considered to constitute a betrayal on the part of his wife and his friends. A set of equations arranged into a long derivation, but without any clear intention or result, are written over the pages of this record. Other notes accompanying the record hypothesise concerning the possibility of a ‘trick letter’ and ‘fraud’. A letter addressed to the Right Hon. Lord Gladstone in South Africa remains unsent. As has been recently noted on this blog, correspondence such as this invites (and surely deserves) further research.

Cases such as Grant’s are part of what makes this project fascinating to carry out, and I often find myself engaging on an emotional level. It is great to think that through my work the stories of patients will not stay hidden behind initials in a census, but will become available for family historians and others to discover and bring back to life.



Exercising the Brain

One of our volunteers has written the following reflection on her experience so far of working at the Archives & Museum:

“I am now into my sixth month as a volunteer archive assistant at Bethlem Royal Hospital Archives & Museum, and the assignment I am currently working on is an in-progress family history project entitled ‘Out of your Census’. The purpose of the project is to ascertain the identities of the patients at Bethlem Royal Hospital when the census returns of 1891, 1901 and 1911 were made. When these records were produced, the patients who inhabited Bethlem during these periods were identified by their initials only. Now that the returns are in the public domain and available online, they are an invaluable resource for family historians – but not in respect of patients of hospitals such as Bethlem. The project utilises historic archival data indices to identify the Bethlem patients whose initials appear in these census returns, with the aim of putting this data online in a searchable form.

“My time at Bethlem Archives & Museum has been rewarding on both a personal and an academic level. My MA was in Art History and I chose to concentrate part of my studies on art and mental health, so the work of Bethlem Museum is of particular interest to me. The research also allows me to utilise my academic knowledge and exercise my brain!  Due to the current economic climate, finding work in this field has been extremely difficult, so volunteering at the museum is a break from the monotony of working in a shop. However, juggling a job in customer service and volunteering is sometimes difficult, as I have to keep to full-time hours in my paid employment, yet my interest and passion lies in my voluntary work!

“I have found reading nineteenth-century handwriting challenging. Moreover, due to the content of the records it has been hard to read the words before me without sentiment due to their content. Though 120 years have passed since the making of the 1891 census, the memories of many of the individuals whose lives are documented in the leather bound records of this era will remain with me; they are an indelible part of Bethlem’s history. When finished, ‘Out of your Census’ will provide a unique means of bringing these ‘invisible’ individuals out of the shadows of history, and I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to it.”