News from the Culture on Campus intern

This summer, one of our usual archives volunteers, Heather, has taken up a two month internship with the Culture on Campus team, spending three days a week in Archives and Special Collections and two days a week with the Art Collection. Here, Heather discusses her work with the Stirling District Asylum Archive.

When I began working on cataloguing the Stirling District Asylum case notes and admissions registers as part of my ‘Culture on Campus’ internship, I assumed they would be full of horrible stories about lobotomies and mistreatment of patients. Fortunately, I was wrong in this assumption. Through cataloguing these patient records, I learned of many positive stories to come out of the asylum. 

The Stirling District Asylum was established in 1865 by the Stirling District Lunacy Board, admitting its first patients in June 1869. It was eventually renamed Bellsdyke Hospital in 1960. The superintendent, Dr James MacLaren, promoted the idea of trying to understand the patient rather than using force to subdue them. In the following decades, James MacLaren and his successors worked to improve conditions for mental health patients within the asylum. Patients were no longer referred to as inmates and there was a push for medical treatment of patients. One superintendent, Dr John Macpherson, stated that the Stirling District Asylum was the first institution in the world to adopt this practice. The asylum also implemented the use of trained mental health nurses. 

During the First World War the Stirling District Asylum temporarily became a Naval War Hospital, moving its mental health patients to other asylums, however during the Second World War, the asylum remained open to mental health patients. In 1948, the asylum was placed into the hands of the NHS. 

The University of Stirling Archives team obtained these records from the Stirling District Asylum in April 2012. I began work to continue the creation of a database of patient admissions records in February of this year as a volunteer in the archives and continued with this work as part of my internship. During my internship I also began cataloguing case notes and noting any discrepancies between the case notes and the admissions registers. Through this work I noted some patients with very positive stories from the asylum. One of these patients is David Wardrope. 

David was admitted to the Stirling District Asylum on the 5th of March 1912 at age 62 after attempting to commit suicide. He was unable to work and due to this had fallen into a depressed state, using alcohol to cope with his feelings. He spent three months in the asylum before being discharged on the 4th of May 1912. His condition upon discharge is listed in his case notes as ‘Recovered’, meaning he was well once again. 

Included in David’s case notes is a letter he wrote to his doctor just a couple of weeks after his discharge. David writes on behalf of himself and his wife to thank Dr Goswick for all of his kindness while he was a patient, and to say that he is still feeling well.  

Letter enclosed in case notes, SD/1/4/25

One of the unique things about the records of the Stirling District Asylum is the inclusion of photographs in the case notes of most of the patients. Often there are two photographs – one upon admission, and another upon discharge. The difference is often quite distinct, particularly in the case of David Wardrope. Below is an image of David at his time of admission, and another around the time of his discharge.

Patient photographs, SD/1/4/25

Reading through the case notes and admissions registers of the Stirling District Asylum as I have catalogued them has definitely challenged my perceptions of what these types of institutions were like for the patients who spent time there. I highly recommend volunteering with the archives to anyone who thinks they might have an interest – you will learn a lot! 

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