From Iowa to Alloa, a patient’s story…
Last week David, one of our project volunteers, came upon a particularly unusual entry in the earliest admission register for Stirling District Asylum. While transcribing the information recorded in the volume onto a database which will greatly improve access to the material he noted that the “Previous place of abode” given for James Dempster, a patient admitted to the hospital in August 1881 was Iowa. The normal locations recorded for patients are the towns and villages of Central Scotland, not the American mid-west. The register recorded James’ occupation as “Farmer”, the “Parish to which chargeable” as Alloa and gave his “Supposed cause of insanity” as “Sunstroke.” It also noted he remained in the hospital until February 1909 when he was briefly discharged before being re-admitted in March 1909.
Armed with the information contained in the admission register we were able to locate James’ case notes in the asylum’s case books, shedding further light on his case. Unusually for the Stirling Asylum James was recorded as being a private patient. His uncle provided an account of James’ unstable behaviour while staying at the family home in Clackmannan, where he threatened both his sister and a servant. Described as suffering from “recurrent mania” James was admitted to the asylum on 20 August 1881. His case notes recorded that James “went to America at 24 years of age. Has been insane probably since the age of 32 as a result of sunstroke and has never recovered. Had been three years in a US asylum before return.” James’ farming skills were put to good use in the asylum and he was put to work on the hospital farm. The hard physical labour took its toll and by 1901 he had been moved to the less strenuous surroundings of the hospital garden. Described as being a “good worker, very quiet and no trouble” James spent much of his time in the grounds of the hospital, a note written in September 1909 recording that he “takes a great interest in the small stream beyond the house and says that fairy children play there and gets wildly excited if a horse is driven through the stream as it may kill his fairy children.”
James’ story is one of thousands contained in the 50 volumes of case books for Stirling District Asylum which cover the years 1869-1918, many of which are brought to life by the evocative photographs of the patients which are pasted into the pages of the volumes. The fantastic work being done by our team of volunteers who are cleaning and cataloguing the asylum records is making these stories accessible for the first time.
On Saturday we had the opportunity to talk about the Lindsay Anderson Archive at a fantastic conference organised by the Scottish Word and Image Group at the University of Dundee. The conference examined the interdisciplinary relationship and crossovers between live performance, film and television and included a special event celebrating the work of Lindsay Anderson at the DCA.
Our paper was a collaboration with Prof. John Izod from our film studies department which looked at how Anderson directed David Storey’s play In Celebration on both stage and screen. Anderson had a long and fruitful working relationship with Storey. They first worked together when Anderson adapted Storey’s novel This Sporting Life for the screen in 1963. Over the next 30 years Anderson directed 9 of Storey’s plays including Home (1970), Early Days (1980) and Stages (1992). In Celebration was the first of Storey’s plays that Anderson directed. It opened at the Royal Court Theatre in London on 22nd April 1969 and proved to be a critical and commercial success. In a terraced northern house a miner Harry Shaw (Bill Owen) and his wife (Constance Chapman) welcome their sons home to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary; but the reunion brings to the surface long-repressed tensions and conflicts which threaten to wreck the event. The father, last in a family of coal miners, has given everything to ensure that his sons escape the pit. However, the boys’ educational achievements have pushed them into worlds remote from their parents, and severed them from their roots. Andrew (Alan Bates), the ungovernable eldest, is a lawyer who has abandoned his profession to paint. Colin, the second (James Bolam), has risen to join middle management in a car factory. Meanwhile the youngest, Stephen (Brian Cox), is an introverted writer who, riven by unresolved family tensions, has suppressed his account of their youth.
Anderson and Storey returned to the play in 1974 to direct a film version for the American Film Theatre, a company which adapted plays to be shown in cinemas in the United States. In our talk Prof. Izod used Anderson’s production notes, correspondence and diaries to illuminate the process of transforming the theatrical into the cinematic. One of the key elements in the success of the film was Anderson’s insistence on reuniting the original cast of the 1969 Royal Court production for the film. Anderson noted that the actor’s performances had matured, partly because five years on they were closer to their characters’ ages, whereas some had been a little young for their roles in the original production. Their familiarity with the production also contributed to a sense of real family between them.
Saturday’s conference sessions were followed by a screening of Anderson’s film version of In Celebration at a packed DCA which was introduced by the actor Brian Cox. In Celebration was Cox’s first major film role and in an enlightening and entertaining Q&A session after the film he talked about the importance of the film in his career and his experiences working with Lindsay Anderson. He noted Anderson’s skill in getting the best out of his actors and he was struck, as were the audience, by how well the film stood up almost forty years after its original release. In the small claustrophobic sitting room of the family home the dramatic tension was built by the powerful performances of a cast led by a director who understood both the play and the actors, Cox referring to Anderson as “the best psychological director he’s ever worked with.”