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Medical records, 19th century photographs and original casebooks: An interactive look at Norfolk’s mental health history

PUBLISHED: 08:58 27 June 2017 | UPDATED: 18:54 27 June 2017

Some of the patients detailed in the case books of Norfolk County Asylum. Photo: Norfolk Records Office

Some of the patients detailed in the case books of Norfolk County Asylum. Photo: Norfolk Records Office

Norfolk Records Office

The fascinating history of mental health treatment in Norfolk has been unveiled as the stories of those admitted to the Norfolk County Asylum - later known as St Andrew’s Hospital - have been revealed.

Change Minds workshop and exhibition at the Archive centre, Norwich.Change Minds workshop and exhibition at the Archive centre, Norwich.

Before the County Asylums Act, people with mental health issues were either looked after in private ‘madhouses’ - if they could afford it. Or paupers were often sent to the workhouse or prison.

But in 1808 justices of the peace were encouraged to build county lunatic asylums, and in 1845 this became compulsory. The Norfolk County Asylum opened in Thorpe in 1814 and a project called Change Minds - from the Restoration Trust - has enabled people living in the county with mental health issues today to delve into the records of those who may have had similar issues in the past.

The project, which began in 2015 and culminates at the end of this year, was made possible thanks to a £87,700 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. And has seen hours spent pouring over casebooks in the Norfolk Records Office to unearth what became of the asylum’s patients.

And Norwich had actually had provision for the mentally ill for 101 years before the asylum opened, with the first known charitable madhouse opened in the city in 1713, Norwich Bethel.

Click the photos below to read the original case notes for each patient.

One of those involved in the project, 51-year-old Georgina Brabender, looked into the records of a woman admitted for what we would now know as postnatal depression.

“I chose her because she had similarities to me, in that she had lots of children and so do I,” Ms Brabender said.

She said although her conditions were different to the woman she chose, she found her situation intriguing.

“She was admitted every time she had a baby,” Ms Brabender said.

Laura Drysdale, director of The Restoration Trust, said: “It’s been about exploring these records. One of the big differences we see is the use of medication, in the casebooks it shows it used sporadically and often at night.”

In the coming months, the hard work of participants in digging out stories will be put on show, with the first exhibition opening at the Forum, Norwich, on November 21. It will also be shown at Oddfellows Hall, Sheringham, from November 30.

For more information click here.

Hospital history

Building of the Norfolk County Asylum in Yarmouth Road, Thorpe St Andrew, was completed in early 1814. It continued to be expanded until it could care for around 140 patients in the late 1850s.

the Norfolk County Lunatic Asylum drawn by J.B. Ladbrooke, engraved by T. Barber, published by P. Youngman, Witham on 10th December 1825.t. Photo: Picture Norfolk at Norfolk County Councilthe Norfolk County Lunatic Asylum drawn by J.B. Ladbrooke, engraved by T. Barber, published by P. Youngman, Witham on 10th December 1825.t. Photo: Picture Norfolk at Norfolk County Council

An auxiliary asylum, St Andrew’s House, was completed north of Yarmouth Road in 1881, allowing 700 patients to be accommodated. The two sites were, and still are, connected by a bridge over Yarmouth Road.

In April 1889, the institution was renamed the Norfolk County Asylum, and, after modernisation, had room for more than 1,000 patients.

During World War One most of the patients were evacuated to other institutions across eastern England and in 1915 the asylum became the Norfolk War Hospital for military casualties.

When the asylum was re-converted in 1920 it was named Norfolk Mental Hospital, although the local use of the alternative, St Andrew’s Hospital, was officially recognised from January 1924 onwards.

During World War Two the hospital was used as a multi-purpose hospital and received refugees, evacuees and civilian casualties in cleared wards, but maintained its complement of mental patients.

Change Minds workshop and exhibition at the Archive centre, Norwich. Karen Cletheroe and Veronica Medler look at the exhibition.Change Minds workshop and exhibition at the Archive centre, Norwich. Karen Cletheroe and Veronica Medler look at the exhibition.

From the 1950s onwards, St Andrew’s spent most of its years as an NHS hospital under threat of closure and was eventually closed in April 1998.

The original grade II listed hospital buildings from 1814, to the south of Yarmouth Road, have since been converted into private housing.

St Andrew’s House was used as offices by the Norfolk Primary Care Trust until 2007 and in January 2011 the 13-acre site was put on the market by NHS Norfolk with a price tag of £2m.

Change Minds workshop and exhibition at the Archive centre, Norwich.Change Minds workshop and exhibition at the Archive centre, Norwich.

Change Minds workshop and exhibition at the Archive centre, Norwich.Change Minds workshop and exhibition at the Archive centre, Norwich.

the Norfolk County Lunatic Asylum by drawn by G.F. Sargent. Photo: Picture Norfolk at Norfolk County Councilthe Norfolk County Lunatic Asylum by drawn by G.F. Sargent. Photo: Picture Norfolk at Norfolk County Council

Change Minds workshop and exhibition at the Archive centre, Norwich. Deborah Crawford, Georgina Brabender and Janice Hubbard look at some of the archive books.Change Minds workshop and exhibition at the Archive centre, Norwich. Deborah Crawford, Georgina Brabender and Janice Hubbard look at some of the archive books.

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