Dr Claire Hilton has a wonderful title, Historian in Residence at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and her latest blog (see this link) asks: ‘have you ever wondered where all those Victorian and Edwardian “lunatic asylums” have gone?’ Actually, I have!
I developed an interest in my own family’s history a few years ago – I guess as a family therapist I should be interested in family history. I discovered that my paternal grandfather had an older brother called James Stanley Garside who was born on 6 May 1892. I got a copy of his birth certificate and located his baptism. In the 1901 census he was aged 8 and living with his parents and siblings, including my grandfather, then aged 6. I had great difficulty tracing him after that and wondered whether he died in the 1914-1918 War. But then I found him (I think so anyway). He was admitted to Storthes Hall Asylum on 14 June 1906 when he would have been aged 14, and died there on 16 March 1919 of influenza and pneumonia. I haven’t been able to trace his grave, but I have discovered that there is a plaque at the church of St Thomas, Thurstonland, Huddersfield, dedicated to patients of Storthes Hall Hospital buried in a nearby field in (mostly) unmarked graves. The plaque reads: ‘In Loving Memory of all who died at Storthes Hall Hospital and are laid to rest in unmarked graves within this Churchyard REST IN PEACE’. Perhaps he is buried there. And perhaps, as I continue my research, I will manage to learn more about him, my no-longer-so-invisible great-uncle. I hope too that I can learn something about the place that he lived and died.
Claire talks in her blog about stigma by historical association and the way that the history of the asylums has been obliterated. She also talks about how ‘even in death patients and staff were never quite equal’ (see this link). Parity of esteem is a term used (in my view) to highlight the unequal way that mental/ psychological illnesses are regarded, treated, resourced in comparison with physical illnesses, today, now, still, in the 21st century. The history of mental illness and the asylums is the history of families, and still touches us today.