Surrey is very fortunate in the survival rate of records of the county’s mental institutions. These records can be used for a variety of purposes, such as the development of modern psychiatric medicine or the training of nursing personnel, as well as other less expected subjects such as building architecture and office procedures. However, the records are proving to be an indispensable source for family historians. They can inform the nature of a patient’s illness and how that illness was treated, they can confirm important genealogical information such as family relationships and dates of birth, admission and discharge or death, and, perhaps most importantly of all, provide some historical background into an ancestor’s life and the circumstances surrounding their illness.
1881 photographs of the female (left) and male (right) wards at Brookwood Asylum. From an album belonging to Mrs. H. Brushfield, wife of the first medical superintendent. These photographs from the early years of Brookwood, some annotated with names. also show the original hospital chapel, superintendents house, chaplains house, stewards house, ward interiors, and general views.
Further images from the archive at Surrey History Centre.
The National Archives Hospital Records Database provides information on the existence and location of the records of UK hospitals. There are currently over 2,800 entries, which have been compiled by the Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine. These can be found by searching the database (click here to visit the site).
Click here to read a pdf () copy of Julian Pooley’s article: Private Minds, Public Histories: Discovering Archives of Mental Illness and Learning Disability at Surrey History Centre.