Sunday, 30 September 2018

Herdmanflat Hospital

This week, it's Archivist Louise taking a turn on the blog:

This past month has been an extremely hectic one for me in terms of outreach - I've given four talks in three weeks, for example, each one focusing on a different aspect of our work here at LHSA, and yesterday I was out and about at the Royal College of Psychiatrists History of Psychiatry Special Interest Group meeting in Glasgow telling researchers about our extensive collections on Lothian asylums and psychiatric care. 

Our collections from and related to the Royal Edinburgh Hospital certainly are popular with students, academics and genealogists: rarely a week goes by when part of the collection isn't being used in a family history enquiry, or being viewed in the reading room. We do hold fascinating records from other Lothian asylums, though (including an extensive one for the Borders), which also are more than worthy of investigating. So for this week's blog - since one of my recent talks was on the history of East Lothian hospitals - I thought that I would focus on an East Lothian psychiatric institution: Herdmanflat Hospital, once Haddington District Asylum.

More recently a psychiatric hospital serving the whole of East Lothian, Herdmanflat has had a long history, reflected in the archives we hold....

Herdmanflat Hospital, LHSA photographic collection
From reports of the General Board of Control (the committee which inspected all asylums in Scotland from 1857), we know that the hospital opened in November 1866 as Haddington District Asylum on the site of a farm called Herdmanflat. It housed just nine patients then – five male and four female – growing to around 70 the next year, and 138 by 1900.

In 1867, the report of the General Board of Control stated that: ‘The aspect of all gives indications of abundant diet, good management, and constant attention to cleanliness, tidiness and comfort.’ and the inspectors were very happy that ‘each patient is bathed once a fortnight.’ As a district asylum, it served mostly paupers. The report goes on to mention that patients were kept busy: women in sewing, knitting, cleaning or laundry work, men in the gardens, stable and grounds.

People often imagine the Victorian asylum as a grim place – a Bedlam type institution with little joy. Our records from psychiatric hospitals have evidence to dispel this, though – in Haddington District Asylum, we know there were evening amusements, dancing, public readings, a library, exercise within and outside the grounds, and even excursions. Herdmanflat was brought into the NHS in 1948, managed by different local boards until it came under the larger umbrella of Lothian Health Board in 1974 (the predecessor to NHS Lothian)

So what records do we hold for Herdmanflat? We do have some administrative records, like this 1869 booklet of rules and regulations...
Haddingtonshire District Lunatic Asylum: Rules and Regulations, 1869 (LHB47)
But we have most records from Herdmanflat for its patients, in the form of registers, admission papers and cases. These span 1866 to 1993 in all, with some types of records being better represented than others. One of the most interesting groups of records for genealogists, though, are the patient case books that we hold, which record each patient admitted to the hospital from 1866 to 1915. Here’s one for Alexander Tulloch, for example:

Casebook entry: Alexander Tulloch, 1890 (LHB47/1)
Aged just 34 in March 1890, Alexander  had emigrated to Florida from Haddington, but came home to East Lothian since his wife noticed him becoming forgetful and getting himself lost. When this continued on his return to Haddington, Alexander was admitted to the asylum, where he was found to be suffering from general paralysis of the insane, final stage syphilis causing physical paralysis and dementia – a common diagnosis then. He died in the asylum two years later.

We also have some letters written by patients, which were found in the case books. It was common practice in the nineteenth century that, authorised by Lunacy Acts, letters from patients could be confiscated by head of asylums. There were several possible reasons for this: to avoid distressing relatives, to avoid giving a potentially bad name for the hospital, to head-off any warnings of dangerous intent or suicide or because the letters simply did not make sense. This one is from W A Swales writing in 1893, describing Haddington District Asylum as a ‘living grave’, and protesting his sanity:
Letter from W A Swales, 1889 (LHB47/1)
We have over one thousand patient letters from the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, but for Herdmanflat, we don’t have many. There could be a number of explanations: that they did not survive, not many letters were written, or perhaps more letters were sent out from Herdmanflat: maybe in an institution with fewer private patients and less reliant on fees and public donations, there was less of a need to keep up appearances.

If you'd like to explore our collection from Herdmanflat, you can do so here.

Friday, 14 September 2018

Accessing accreditation

LHSA Manager, Ruth, was out and about on Monday, spending part of the afternoon at the National Records of Scotland’s General Register House, helping the Scottish Council onArchives deliver a workshop that introduced Archive Service Accreditation to a group of archivists and collection managers interested in undergoing the process.

Janice Tullock (a freelance archive consultant) led the session, providing an overview and working through the three main sections of the online application form. By the time I had arrived, she had already got the participants thinking about they did and didn’t have in place for an accreditation application (through the medium of a multi-coloured post-it note exercise!), and my contribution was a 20-minute slot in which I described why we had wanted to apply for accreditation, how we’d gone about it and what benefits we had seen from becoming accredited.  

Archive Service Accreditation is administered by a partnership of key archive sector bodies, with the National Records of Scotland and the Scottish Council on Archives representing Scotland. It is a single UK-wide accreditation scheme for archive-holding organisations across the UK: it defines good practice and identifies agreed standards within the archive sector. For more information please see The National Archives website:

LHSA was awarded Archive Service Accreditation in 2014 and we recently underwent the compulsory three-year review, retaining our accreditation until 2021 when we’ll have to re-apply. It was a substantial piece of work, but the team pulled together to contribute key elements to the application and assessment day, and we’ve enjoyed having this recognition of the high quality of our collections management and services. I hope I was able to take a little bit of the mystery and/or trepidation out of the process for the workshop attendees by sharing our experiences, and I’ll look forward to seeing the announcement of their successful accreditation applications in the future!