Vawdrey project diary: Session five

Outside In artist Emma Louvelle discusses how the Vawdrey Archive Project is working to address what falls outside the history books. She concludes: “We need to acknowledge the past to understand the present and we can only move to the future clearly by doing so.” This is her diary from the fifth session.

 

On the 4th February our session began with the wonderfully informative, rich with texture and thought provoking treat in the form of a talk from Katherine Slay about the history of the Graylingwell Hospital. Katherine is an Archives assistant at the West Sussex Record Office who has been working on Graylingwell hospital for about 10 years and her dedication to this project was more than evident. Thanks to people like Katherine we are given access to areas of the past all too often neglected. The predominantly narrow confines of what is considered relevant for the history books constantly fails in preserving and presenting access to areas ‘outside’ of its interest. It is not by coincidence that these ‘outside’ histories are often bound up with those who society, at the time or still, are often made to feel that they are ‘outsiders’. Addressing this imbalance is an integral part of what the Vawdrey project is about.

Front entrance, from the Graylingwell Hospital archive at West Sussex Record Office

Front entrance, from the Graylingwell Hospital archive at West Sussex Record Office

Graylingwell hospital opened in July 1897 and was originally entitled the West Sussex Asylum until after the first world war. From 1896 to 1926 Dr Harold Kidd was the medical superintendent at Graylingwell. Dr Kidd is considered forward thinking for the time. He saw the stigma in the use of the term asylum and Graylingwell had an underlying ethos of treating patients how you would like to be treated. There were piano’s, board games and plants in the wards. There was a recreational hall with a stage, gardens by each ward and chapel. The hospital was in many ways self sufficient with its farming activities and kitchen garden. Many of the male patients worked on the farm with about eighteen male patients also living in the farmhouse. However these factors that are in many ways positives are contained within the other dominating realities of the time. Realities that are disturbing and distressing, rich with prejudice and stigma around ideas of what is ‘normal’. At its opening until really the mental health act of 1959 once certified ‘insane’ your fate was no longer yours. Release only obtainable via the permission of visiting committee. Originally the Commissioners in Lunacy this body of authority was renamed the Board of Control in 1913 and was finally abolished under the 1959 act. Patients included those with dementia, epilepsy, learning disabilities and children. We must also not forget that homosexuality was illegal until 1967 and that sexuality and gender that did not prescribe to the rigid patriarchal heterosexuality of the time were overwhelmingly considered ‘abnormalities’ and signs and symptoms of mental illness. When Katherine showed us some photo’s of some of these early patients tears blurred my vision as I looked at these haunting faces weighted with meaning in their eyes. Two of the photo’s were of children.

Chapel interior, from the Graylingwell Hospital archive at West Sussex Record Office

Chapel interior, from the Graylingwell Hospital archive at West Sussex Record Office

This talk presented us with so much information and food for thought that it would be impossible to convey in this posting. I have concentrated my comments on the first fifty odd years of the hospitals history but there is so much more to tell such as the introduction of drugs, ECT, the use of Leucotomies and insulin induced comas. The place Graylingwell had in innovative research and was an early home of one of the first computers and so on and so forth. But what I do know is that learning and recognising this history is vital. We need to acknowledge the past to understand the present and we can only move to the future clearly by doing so.

The afternoon was a meaty pile of discussion (as I am sure you can imagine) but I will save that for another time.

More about the Vawdrey Archieve Project, including artist profiles and diaries from previous sessions, can be found HERE

To see Emma’s Outside In gallery, please click HERE

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