Chosen by Susie Duffin, member of staff
Graylingwell Hospital, formerly known as the West Sussex County Asylum, was opened in 1897, just north of Chichester. Some years after its decommission in 2001, the Graylingwell Heritage Project, a community based heritage and arts programme, received funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to explore the history of the hospital. In partnership with the University of Chichester, Pallant House Gallery, and the Chichester Community Development Trust, West Sussex Record Office digitised the early patient case books and conducted oral history interviews with people who have a connection to Graylingwell.
Access to some of the patient records is restricted but for those records which are accessible, a word of warning to researchers not used to blunt medical terminology – people might be shocked or offended by the way some patients and their behaviour were described. The case books provide a window into the world of mental health as it was then, and reflect the social attitudes toward people with mental health problems and learning disabilities at that time.
According to his death certificate, my great great grandfather, Edmund Collins, died in Graylingwell in 1909. So imagine my delight when I discovered that not only does he appear in a patient case book within the Graylingwell Hospital collection at the Record Office, but the notes on him even contain a photograph.
My family has few surviving early photographs for this line of the family and we had no photographs of Edmund Collins. When I first saw the image, I was pleased to see that he did not appear distressed and, for some reason, I liked him! I think I can even see similarities in certain features with my dear late mother.
The case book entries provide a lot of extra descriptive information and some of the facts confirm what I already knew about him. He had been living with his son, Jesse, prior to his admission, and I feel he had been well looked after. They were both gardeners living in Vicarage Cottages, South Bersted, similar to Edmund’s own father, also called Edmund Collins, who had been gardener to the Bishop in Chichester.
Reading his case notes, I think Edmund was lucky to have received care at Graylingwell, rather than be admitted to the dreaded workhouse. He was diagnosed with Senile Dementia, and the descriptions of his condition and behaviour could just as easily apply to someone today. He was a patient there for 10 months; his condition gradually deteriorated until he eventually died.
This record is not only interesting to me as a Family Historian, but the collection provides a valuable insight for anyone interested in hospital records, or the history of medicine/psychiatry and, as a former nurse/midwife myself, I find the case books incredibly informative. Some of them even contain photographs of patients at admission and then again at the time of discharge.
More information about the Grayingwell Heritage Project can be found on the website http://graylingwellheritage.co.uk/