In May this year I was delighted to be asked to undertake a research trip to view the historic records of Ladysbridge Hospital, in preparation for the Project Ability and C-Change social history project Ladysbridge Stories. These records are held by NHS Grampian Archives Special Collections at the Robert Gordon University Building in Aberdeen.
Not all the archive has survived but the collection does contain a wealth of material, such as patient’s case notes, admission and minute’s books, financial records, registers, maps, plans and photographs. The significance of such an archive can’t be underestimated and provides us with important working tools which help us understand the past. However, what such archives present is also a conspicuous absence of personal experience.
Our understanding of the past can be formed by historic records but it’s always important to look for what’s been leftout or overlooked; who is missing.
Deserted dining rooms and dormitories in documentary photography only indicate the presence of patients. No personal effects can be seen in these photos with bed-side lockers along with curtains separating baths only introduced in 1957. A basket of crumpled laundry in a door-less toilet block is the only physical evidence of human life.
Patient’s case notes form forlorn bundles tied up with string. Each collection of notes charts the life of up to 20 patients recording their personal details and outlining their condition. Often terms used to describe patients in these records are now considered derogatory and offensive but reflect the attitudes and language of the time. Patients might be referred to as ‘low grade defectives’, ‘lunatics’ and ‘Idiots’.
By documenting the views and memories of those living with Learning Disabilities through projects such as Ladysbridge Stories we can share our histories and shape the future together.