On the 25th July we invited the public to join us for an afternoon of creative writing exercises inspired by the records of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. To find inspiration participants looked at architectural plans and photographs, read minute books, listened to oral history recordings, and took a walk around the old site of the Infirmary at Lauriston Place.
LHB1/68/18 – Plan of Surgical Hospital, April 1872
Having no creative skills of my own I was fortunate enough to have Laura Beattie, Community Outreach Officer for Museums, Centre for Research Collections, on hand to take the group through a number of fun and fast paced writing exercises. We began by selecting an item from the collection display and then writing a Haiku based on it. The group then shared their Haiku’s and everybody guessed which item they had written about. Photographs of nurses proved very popular, with the word starch featuring strongly!
P/PL1/S/013 - b/w postcard showing a group of nurses and doctors on the balcony of wards 13/ 14 at the RIE, c.1910
The group then listened to three clips from oral histories taken as part of the pilot project to capture memories of the RIE building at Lauriston Place. We heard stories of a receptionist in the clock tower, the nursing home curfew, and too much custard. After some word association there was time for free writing and some sentence starters were given such as ‘I looked up and saw’. The clock in the tower formed the basis for a number of stories as the group were interested in it as both a visual and an audible feature of the building.
After this we worked up the courage to venture outside… out in to the hottest day of the year. While planning the event we had a conversation about what to do if it was raining heavily, but we never for once imagined that we might be too hot!
P/PL1/B/E/327 - RIE, Lauriston Place from the Meadows with sheep grazing
Before leaving we looked at the image above showing sheep grazing on the Meadows. We then weaved through sunbathers and footballers to find as close a spot to where the picture was taken as possible, and from there we observed the huge changes to both the building and the surrounding area. The group wrote down their thoughts on what they could see and smell, what they felt, what had changed, and what had not changed.
Our final exercise after returning to the air conditioned room inside the library was to write down three words or phrases that we had thought about on our walk and place them on the table. Working as one group we then assembled the words in to a poem, and the results can be seen below:
Green fields, grass, trees, bicycles, birds, spider
The smell of cut grass,
Sunbathing shepherds, Baaa Baaa, Baaa Baaa
Siren. Hope and Fear. Symmetry
Round windows staring out
Sheep and Shepherds viewed as patients smoking
“I’m just going to take your temperature”
No Meadows Access, Ivory Tower, Elite Space
Patients on a wheelchair sitting in sun escaping wards
Hot tarmac, gentle breeze
Old and new melding
Structures of glass and steel
The sounds of nature
When you are working with archive collections every day you are aware of their potential to stimulate and inspire, and to see it in action is always a wonderful experience. The event was enormously enjoyable, and we hope to put on similar events in the future. We are lucky to have so many fascinating collections that allow for endless possibilities!