The asylum patients being given their stories back

Selina Baiss

"They were referred to as idiots, imbeciles, and lunatics. There was no such thing as dementia or schizophrenia. Psychiatry was a young field of study.

A small group of volunteers in a Somerset town are sensitively and gradually telling the tales of those who resided at the Somerset and Bath Pauper Lunatic Asylum.

One of the volunteers, Clare Blackmore, remarked that the patients who were placed there were extremely poor.

"They were empty. There were a sizable number of kids there. In their notes, it frequently states that the mother is unable to cope, she continued.

Clare Blackmore
Patients at the asylum, according to Clare Blackmore, were "dirt poor.".

In 1848, the asylum opened in South Horrington, close to Wells, and initially housed 300 patients.

Before the structure was demolished in 1991, it accepted patients from Somerset and Bristol and was subsequently known as the Mendip Hospital.

When it first opened, Dr. Robert Boyd was in charge, according to Ms. Blackmore.

"He supported treating the insane with moral decency. He valued thoughtfulness, compassion, physical activity, healthy eating, and a comfortable bed.

"He would provide the patients with food, occupation training, music therapy, and entertainment. He said that if you could improve your physical health, your mental health would follow," she continued.

Asylum building as it is now (flats)
The former asylum building has been transformed into apartments.

For patient burials, land close to the asylum was set aside, and a chapel was built there.

There were about 2,900 burials there, but after the asylum closed, nobody used the cemetery.

Gertrude James
Leigh on Mendip resident Gertrude James was admitted for "idiocy.". She was rumored to have difficulty speaking and to grind her teeth frequently. She passed away at the age of 11.

As it grew overgrown and was slated for development, the site was saved thanks to a campaign by the Wells community, and volunteers who restored the land as a nature reserve.

There were no headstones because the patients were destitute. Instead, an iron marker with a number to identify the person interred in the plot was placed over each grave.

The volunteers intend to locate each patient's grave and install a plaque to remember them specifically. Many of the original markers have been uprooted and are now scattered around the cemetery.

Iron markers in graveyard
Patients were buried with iron markers instead of headstones because they could not afford them.
Iron markers in graveyard
In order to identify the person interred in the plot, each grave was given an iron marker with a number.

Peter Jaggard, who serves as the volunteer group's chair, claimed that "We have the records for everyone who is buried here.".

They provide information about themselves, their family members, their jobs, and a description taken from hospital records.

People can search the database we're building to find their ancestors or read about the working classes of the 19th century.

"These people received excellent care. Its name is not a coincidence. People seek asylum despite the common perception that asylums for lunatics are bad places. It was to take care of the people, he continued.

Peter Jaggard
According to Peter Jaggard, the group had records of every person interred there.

Many asylum residents' lives were essentially forgotten for many years. Their notes were kept out of sight in the Somerset Heritage Centre's archives, but they are currently undergoing the first transcription.

When Casey Reddin searches through archives to learn about patients' lives, she says she frequently experiences emotional reactions.

She said, "I've been particularly affected by a young boy named Joseph Tye who entered when he was ten and died there.

Casey Reddin
Casey Reddin claimed that learning more about those interred there frequently makes her feel emotional.

"I really do adore him. He was interred here. He and I communicate frequently. To each of them, I speak. It's been extremely emotional.

"It is an emotional journey to see people either improve and go on to a better life or see people go downhill," Ms. Reddin continued.

Along with inquiries from people locally, the group has also received inquiries about ancestors from people living in America, Australia, and Germany.

Mark Whitcombe
Mark Whitcombe, a Coleford resident, was described as "dull" and "a lunatic," and general paralysis of the insane was listed as the cause of death.

One woman, according to Ms. Blackmore, saw a picture of her great-grandmother for the first time at one of the group's most recent exhibitions.

She stated that one woman had to leave for a while in order to gather her thoughts after crying.

"I adore this location. We're proud to welcome visitors to the cemetery, which is not something you'd typically say to someone.

"We're proud of the work that was completed solely by volunteers, as well as the dedication and in-depth research that went into it. It's a unique and special place," she continued.

Beginning in early April, the cemetery is open to the public on Sundays and Wednesdays.

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