The forgotten histories of Prestwich Asylum patients will be revealed in a talk at Salford’s Working Class Movement Library this afternoon.
The event forms part of the WCML’s free Invisible Histories talks, which have been running for some time, but have now been expanded to include areas outside Salford.
The talks chart the history of those whose stories have previously been overlooked, which explains Prestwich Asylum’s inclusion.
Library Manager, Lynette Cawthra, said: “The talks fit with our collections, which focus on history from below rather than of kings and queens.”
Prestwich Asylum is in Bury, three miles from Salford and opened in 1851. It operated for over 150 years, becoming a hospital, but was eventually closed in the 1990s.
Manchester County Records Office will provide hands-on experience of original artefacts and an informed insight into the daily life of this self-contained community.
These artefacts include nightwear patients would have worn, ward equipment and a locked cutlery box, illustrating how it felt to be a patient and a staff member at Prestwich.
People were committed to the Asylum for a variety of reasons and treated through a combination of methods, including Christianity, hard work and occasional electrolysis.
While some were placed in the Asylum for alcoholism and delusion, some were kept there for reasons that were less medical.
Lilley Handley, for example, was confined to Prestwich for being ‘disappointed in love’ in September 1900 and was not released for over a year.
However, while there has been much coverage of the negative aspects of the Asylum, Alison Gill, Information Officer at Manchester County Records Office, said this is misleading.
She said: “There was a significant amount of stigma surrounding mental illness and being incarcerated in an asylum, but we know from our research that it was a very common thing.”
The recent trend in family history has led many Lancashire residents to discover they had an ancestor in Prestwich Asylum, which has changed many attitudes to mental health.
Ms Gill said that while some patients may have been marginalised and treated without dignity, there is evidence that others were treated with kindness.
“Not everyone was manic and untreatable,” said Ms Gill. “Some were incarcerated for small periods and cared for with innovative treatments.”
However, there is a dark side to Prestwich Asylum; the nearby St Mary’s Church cemetery had to be expanded to accommodate the 5,000 patients who died there.
Yet their legacies are marked by one single grave, which was only erected five years ago.
This afternoon's talk starts at 2pm.
Other Invisible Histories talks include Counterpower on November 16, which explores social change and revolutions and Radical Gardening on November 30.
More information about the Autumn Talks can be found at www.wcml.org.uk/
Manchester County Records Office also urge anyone wishing to explore their own family connections to visit their website at www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/archon/searches/locresult_details.asp?LR=124.