Earlier this year I went to a seminar at the University of Stirling to discover their archive collections. By chance documents, including some huge ledgers, from Stirling District Asylum (later known as Bellsdyke Hospital), were on display.
I found these fascinating and very moving; the matter-of-fact references to lunatics and imbecility 125 years ago were breathtaking from a 21st century perspective. Of course there are the deaf&dumb/blind/lunatic/imbecile columns in census returns which have still not lost their impact but this contained names – Mary Campbell, the Lock-keeper’s daughter at the Crinnan Canal, George Anderson the policeman’s son from Golspie in Sutherlandshire.
Also on display were documents and images from the Royal Scottish National Institution Archives, children being schooled and cared for by nurses in immaculate white aprons and caps. in one of the photos the children are looking at a line of dust along the centre of a gleaming ward – perhaps the staff had been teaching them useful domestic skills.
There’s more information about these records on the University of Stirling Archives blog. Looking back and writing about it this evening has made we want to go back and look at the collection again, to have a glimpse of early mental health care.