Keeping Us in Mind – Missing Voices

Exhibition panel 7

Silences and Absences

Seen but not heard

Through this project the organisers hope to allow former patients to speak for themselves. The project team are grateful to those who shared their experiences, but are aware that they make up a small proportion of interviews. The project team are aware that there are many other perspectives.

Maud. Image courtesy of Surrey History Centre

Maud. Image courtesy of Surrey History Centre

Throughout the history of mental health care, it has been hard to capture the direct experience of patients. Maud (left) was admitted to The Manor in 1901. She left no letters or diaries, so all we know about her is what was written in her case book by her doctors and nurses.

The type of language used to describe her was still in patients’ records at The Manor in the 1980s, as trainee nurse Tracey Taylor found:

Many of the [older] patients had really strange diagnoses.You would look in their notes and somebody would be “feeble-minded”, for instance.

Many institutionalised patients chose not to interact with those around them. Brian Leedham was a nurse at West Park and remembers taking a patient who very rarely spoke for a walk. The patient named every tree in the grounds:

I looked up hi records and he’d been a gardener. I never knew. It was quite a revelation.

Speaking out against a strict regime was not easy. Mandy McCann remembers that children at The Manor in the 1960s sometimes did not get enough food and it was of poor quality:

Eating! That wasn’t the word! It was disgusting.

Mrs Sextone, who worked on the domestic team, has similar memories of children begging her ‘Lulu give me bread’. It put her job at risk, but she always did.

Why are there so few patients’ stories?

A day room at West Park hospital after closure.<br /> Photo: Mark Davis

A day room at West Park hospital after closure. Photo: Mark Davis

This exhibition only can only illuminate part of the story of the hospitals. Many experiences remain untold, or are only glimpsed in the accounts of others. The silences and absences of the past both reveal and conceal.

The number of patients the project team have been able to interview has been limited partly because many were elderly when the hospitals closed. Sadly, long-term mental illness can shorten someone’s life expectancy by up to 20 years.

Some people contacted the project team but did not want to relive a distressing time in their lives by recording an interview. Others still felt stigmatised by the experience. The project team will continue to seek interviews with former patients, and to respect their wishes.

Two interviews with long-stay patients, Reg Collett and Kathy Haddrell, recorded in the 1990s, are now kept in the archives of the British Library. These are from a collaboration between Mental Health Media and the British Library.

Mandy describes the food.

Clive Driscoll, neighbourhood police officer, tells how he worked closely with the hospital to protect vulnerable patients.

If you would like to record an interview, please email: [email protected] Or send your comments using the form below.

Listen to Recordings Here

Read more about the Epsom Cluster.

Find out more about the project.

Click on the following links to see the exhibition panels created by the project team: