The Last Post

The cataloguing of the records of Crichton Royal Hospital is now complete and after what seems like a very quick 20 months my role at Dumfries Archive Service has come to an end. The project, which has also involved vital conservation work being carried out on some of the records that were in poor condition, has produced a catalogue comprising nearly 2000 entries which describe the material contained in the Crichton Royal Hospital archive collection. The catalogue can be accessed and searched at the Dumfries and Galloway Council Archive Service online catalogue. Now the collection is available online it will hopefully prove to be a valuable resource for researchers from various fields to discover the wealth of information that can be found in the records of Crichton Royal Hospital.

From my time cataloguing the records I have been lucky to get to know the collection in detail and spend time finding out about the history of the hospital, the people that worked there and the patients that were treated there. From the founding of Crichton Royal Institution by Elizabeth Crichton and its opening in 1839, the establishment of Southern Counties Asylum for pauper patients in 1849, the massive expansion of the hospital in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the distinguished Physician Superintendents and staff members, the advances in psychiatric treatment and development of occupational, recreational and social therapy, to the contributions of the patients themselves to hospital life, it is clear that Crichton Royal was a remarkable establishment and this is reflected in the material contained in the archival collection. I came across this fitting poem on the back page of the hospital magazine, The Crichtonian from Spring 1963, from someone who seems to have been trying to sum up their experience of and esteem for the hospital:


 Although the cataloguing project has come to an end, there are ongoing volunteer projects which are continuing to make the collection more accessible. The assistance of a great team of volunteers has been a huge part of this project and made it a group effort. As the volunteers came into the Archive Centre (and now the Ewart Library) on different days they did not get to meet each other or hear about the different work others were carrying out. To get everyone together and thank them for all their hard work and enthusiasm we had a little Crichton Royal tea party on Monday, complete with a Crichton Royal teapot and plates.  So thank you to Sue Greig, Sue Williams, Betty Paisley, Margaret Smith, Lynda Mackie, Alverie Weighill and Heather Barrington.DSC07698

Archivist Graham Roberts, Archive Assistant Cathy Gibb and Local Studies Officer Alison Burgess have also been invaluable in the completion of this project so thank you to them. And finally, this project was made possible thanks to the Wellcome Trust Research Resources Scheme, so thank you to the Wellcome Trust for kindly funding this project.


As it is Christmas Eve, it seems appropriate to share some of Crichton Royal Institution’s Christmas traditions with you, references to which have been found in the Annual Reports, the New Moon magazine and Dr Easterbrook’s ‘Chronicle of Crichton Royal’.

One of the earliest events held at Crichton Royal to celebrate Christmas suggests the Institution was leading the way again. This extract from Dr W. A. F. Browne’s Annual Report for 1855 (p34), gives a wonderfully vivid description of the celebration and the positive effect it had on everyone involved.

‘The first Christmas Tree which it is supposed has flourished in an Asylum in Scotland, was raised here, and decorated upon the appointed day. For months every ingenious and beautiful device was constructed, or obtained, to adorn its branches. Some of these contained an acceptable gift; others conveyed a lesson or encouragement. Disordered imaginations received a new direction, lethargic temperaments a new stimulus. The spectacle was inaugurated with carols and music; and while its lights blazed and its green branches bent under the load of trophies of art and taste, its origin, history and objects were stated; and the distribution of its productions was accompanied by such illustrative, or mirthful, or admonitory remarks by the medical officers as the occasion suggested; and either from the novelty or nature of the scene, from the combination of pleasing impressions, or their variety, an amount of hilarity and happiness was diffused which more elevated kinds of recreation have failed to produce, and which still furnish topics pregnant with interest and gratification’.

In 1896 the Christmas tree was displayed and decorated on Christmas Eve, ‘to which over 200 hundred articles were contributed and £14 10/- , and every patient at Crichton Royal Institution and Southern Counties Asylum received a gift’. [Chronicle of Crichton Royal, p118]

It seems that a Christmas Ball for both staff and patients was added to the celebrations and in 1870 the opening of a new recreation hall in Crichton Royal Institution was celebrated by a Christmas Tree and Ball, which was attended by those at the hospital as well as invited guests from Dumfries and district.

A printed timetable of Christmas and New Year Entertainments for 1897-98, featuring an image of Crichton Memorial Church on the front, lists dances, a ball, a concert and a limelight demonstration among the events taking place over the festive period. [found on p69 of Dr Easterbrook’s CRI Scrapbook]

Christmas and New Year Entertainments 1897-98

Christmas and New Year Entertainments 1897-98

Some more recent references to Christmas celebrations note that in 1964, ‘Christmas lights (147 bulbs in all) are hung on one of the trees in front of Crichton Hall’, and goes on to say that the lights could be seen from the New Abbey road. In the same year the first Nativity play in the history of the Memorial Church was performed by several of the hospital’s long stay patients, aided by Occupational Therapy staff and help from the Dumfries Guild of Players.

Finally, here a couple of images from the photograph collection of the Crichton Royal staff Christmas Do, with the obligatory paper hats being duly worn!

Preparations for Staff Christmas Dinner, 1960s. Photograph by James C. Gair

Staff Christmas Dinner, 1960s. Photograph by James C. Gair

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Focus on staff

This post will put the spotlight on a few of the many records in the collection which relate to the staff members  at Crichton Royal Institution, both those about the staff and those created by the staff. Although the majority of enquiries we receive are from researchers looking for information about patients, we do get quite a number relating to staff members also. In terms of locating individual staff members in the records we have a series of separate registers for Attendants and Servants Engaged and Attendants Leaving. Registers of Attendants Engaged record date of appointment, staff name, capacity in which employed, how much they were paid, number in register of staff leaving and additional remarks (e.g. retired on pension, dismissed, resigned, probation not completed, re-entered the service); and Registers of Attendants and Servants Leaving record date of leaving, staff name, capacity in which employed, number in register of engagement and reason for leaving. The registers include both medical and non-medical staff members at all levels of seniority.

Unfortunately these registers do not appear to have been maintained from the opening of CRI and although the first staff name listed in the earliest Register of Attendants Engaged commenced employment in 1843, there are only 46 staff members listed as being employed between 1843 and 1883.

From other records in the collection we know that there were a lot more that 46 new members of staff employed in that 40 year period! Often information about senior staff members can be found in Minute Books and Annual Reports, and we are lucky we have Dr Easterbrook’s book, Chronicle of Crichton Royal, which is also a good resource as it has lists of senior staff and qualified nurses included at the rear of the publication. Information about earlier staff members, from housemaids to medical assistants, and the positions they held can be found in the first five volumes of Sederunt Books and in Staff Pay Books. Like the Registers of Attendants Engaged and Leaving, the individual volumes of Staff Pay Books were not maintained from the opening of the Institution and the earliest volumes in the collection are a Crichton Royal Institution Pay Book, 1879-1890 and Southern Counties Asylum Pay Book, 1879-1890. From 1890 the Crichton Royal Institution and Southern Counties Asylum staff are recorded in the same volumes. The series of Pay Books runs up to 1944 and show the monthly sum paid to staff members, their position, the department or house they worked in and later volumes record date of birth, marital status, whether they resided in hospital accommodation and what emoluments they received, for example use of the laundry, vegetables from the hospital gardens and fuel. The Pay Books also list the temporary staff, of which there were many, mainly carrying out manual tasks in the hospital grounds and building works.

The Sederunt Books record staff salary and wages lists for Crichton Royal Institution and Southern Counties Asylum staff as part of the House Steward’s quarterly accounts for the two establishments from 1842 to 1866. One of our volunteers, Alverie Weighill, has recently completed an index of staff names from these five volumes, which will hopefully prove to be a useful finding aid for search room staff dealing with enquiries. From the index it is interesting to see how the numbers of staff altered and how the number of staff employed in Southern Counties Asylum grew from its opening in 1849.

Other staff records relate to staff pensions, war bonus payments, sick leave and absence and housing. We also have material relating to Nursing Training and some personal papers which were donated to Crichton Royal Museum and Archive either by the former staff member themselves or by their relatives. The largest collection of staff personal papers relating to Printer, Adam Richardson was the focus of a post at the start of the year, however some of the other personal papers we hold includes a letter of appointment for a nurse appointed in 1928, material relating to a study tour of mental hospitals in America made by the Matron in 1947, which includes her Cunard White Star Liner embarkation notice and invitations to various events she attended while there. With regard to the work carried out by staff at the hospital we have a large collection, over 200 items, of published journal articles written or contributed to by staff members.

Hopefully this brief overview of some of the staff material in the collection will give some idea of the types of information that can possibly be found about staff members. I thought I would end this post with a few photographs from the collection so you can see what some of the Crichton Royal Staff looked like.

… well not quite as it was Scottish Hallowe’en traditions that were the order of the day at Crichton Royal Institution.

The emphasis on recreation and amusement as part of patient life can be further demonstrated by the annual festivities that took place on All Hallow’s Eve. From looking at copies of the patient magazine, the New Moon, and material found in the two scrapbooks in the collection, which give a vivid picture of the social side of life at the hospital, it seems the tradition of celebrating Halloween began early in the hospital’s history. In 1842 a lengthy account is recorded in an extract from the Dumfries Times describing of one of the largest halls in the establishment being decorated in ‘festoons of evergreen and flowers’, the evening beginning with Halloween traditions that were ‘a fund of amusement and laughter to all: hands were dipped, swimming and swinging apples were caught, and kail stock were brought in.’ As I, and a lot of people now, am more familiar with the American traditions of celebrating Halloween,  a bit of internet searching informed me that the pulling of the kail stocks was the first ceremony of Halloween and involved participants pulling up a stock or plant of kail, the size and shape of the plant pulled being representative of their husband or wife and if any earth remained stuck to the root it meant fortune.

This programme of events for Halloween in1852 comes from a scrapbook that was compiled by James Flett, who was the hospital’s Clerk of Works from 1911 to 1939, and gives us an idea of what traditions were being followed, accompanied by extracts from Robert Burn’s Halloween poem. The burning nuts involved placing two nuts in the fire which were supposed to represent you are your intended husband or wife and your future prospects would be shown by the way the nuts either jumped together or apart!

Hallowen 1852

Another account is featured in the New Moon in 1853 and again describes the rites and traditions observed and notes that there were near 180 participants, both patients from Crichton Royal Institution and Southern Counties Asylum who gathered together, ‘guests arrived in detachments according to their sex and classification’.

Halloween 1853

In the twentieth century the occasion appears to have been marked by annual dances. This Halloween dance at the farm is undated but from editions of the New Moon dances are recorded being held into the 1920s.

Halloween Dance programme

Halloween at Crichton Royal certainly sounds more interesting than today’s traditions anyway- Happy Hallowe’en!

Artwork on Show

A very significant part of the Crichton collection is the patient artwork. The first Medical Superintendent at Crichton Royal Institution, Dr W. A. F. Browne (1805-1885), collected the majority of the artwork in the collection. The works were accumulated during his time at CRI from 1839 to 1857 and after, during his time as a Commissioner in Lunacy for Scotland from 1857 to1870, and contains works which were produced by patients under his care, as well as some by patients from other hospitals. Dr Browne, who advocated the moral treatment of patients and the therapeutic benefits of occupational and recreational therapy, encouraged the pursuit of various creative activities in the form of writing, with the establishment of the New Moon magazine, performing and contributing to theatrical and musical productions, and drawing and painting for those patients who showed an interest in art. Mention is made of patients engaging in art in patient case notes as well as in Dr Browne’s Annual Reports. Such was his interest in patient art that he began collecting paintings and drawings and many years later, in 1880, published (anonymously but later attributed to Browne) an article entitled Mad Artists, on the subject of ‘insane art’ and in which he refers his collection of artwork. Part of this important collection survived and was discovered in 1983 in Johnston House at Crichton Royal Hospital by former Health Board Archivist, Morag Williams. When discovered the collection of art works were housed in one large volume, but due its poor condition were removed, remounted and re-housed in 1989.* Other pieces of artwork from Dr Browne’s original collection have been found in other archives, for example a series of drawing depiciting different forms of mental illness by Crichton patient William Bartholomew are now in the Thomas Laycock Collection at the University of Edinburgh.

Dr Browne’s collection of Crichton artwork comprises 134 works in the form of drawings, paintings and sketches by 15 identifiable male and female patients, and several by unknown artists. The images cover a variety of subjects, ‘the most common themes in the art collection are townscapes and landscapes (32); portraits (16); natural history studies (16); and views of the Crichton and other asylums (4)’.*

We are very fortunate that Dr Maureen Park of Glasgow University has written a comprehensive book about Dr Browne’s collection and the patient artists who created the works. Her book is a great resource for anyone wishing to find out about the collection and the history of art in asylums. Her research included looking at the case notes of the individual patient artists who could be identified and identifying other patient artists whose work has not survived or cannot be identified, again through patient case notes. She also looked into the origins of many of the works, discovering that several had been copied from other prints.

Below are some examples of the artwork in Dr Browne’s collection:

William Bannerman - Girl in a Landscape (watercolour)

Joseph Askew - Stylised Figure (pencil and watercolour)

William Bartholomew - Cake Month -ain't it ridik'lus? (pencil, pen and ink)

Although no other Superintendent followed Dr Browne in amassing patient artwork in the same way, there are further examples of more recent artwork that form part of the collection. For example, ten works by John Gilmour, who was a patient at Crichton Royal between 1905 and 1913, depicting his view of his treatment and confinement. Gilmour’s works were collected by either Dr Rutherford (Physician Superintendent 1883-1907) or Dr Easterbrook (Physician Superintendent 1908-1937) and were found at the back of Dr Easterbrook’s scrapbook.**

John Gilmour - Boat of Commonsense (watercolour drawing)

John Gilmour - The Confessional Press (watercolour drawing)

The importance of the patient artwork is recognised by its inclusion in national exhibitions. At present the works of fifteen Crichton Royal patient artists are on loan to the Djanogly Art Gallery in Nottingham and are being displayed as part of Art in the Asylum: Creativity and the Evolution of Psychiatry, 7 September to 3 November 2013.


  • *Maureen Park, Art in Madness – Dr W. A. F. Browne’s Collection of Patient Art at Crichton Royal Institution, Dumfries (Solway Offset, Dumfries, 2010) p.41 and p.44
  • **A. Beveridge and M. Williams, ‘Inside ‘The Lunatic Manufacturing Company’: the persecuted world of John Gilmour’, in History of Psychiatry, vol.13, (2002), pp.19-49
  • Annon [W. A. F. Browne], ‘Mad Artists’, The Journal of Psychological Medicine and Mental Pathology, 6, pp.33-75

As the project is now into the final quarter I think a bit of an update is required. From previous posts it is clear that I have been working with a wealth of interesting and important material, more of which I will share in future posts before the project comes to an end. I haven’t really focussed hugely on what I have been doing with these interesting and important records, which is creating an online searchable catalogue using archival software called CALM. This involves creating a CALM record entry for each item in the collection where is it appropriate to describe to item level, which is in most cases. I then populate fields to describe the item, both physically and in terms of content and accessibility. Contextual information is provided where necessary to explain a little more about the item. In addition I add index terms to aid searching and authority files to provide further information about record creators. The catalogue is growing daily and I have plenty more records create in the coming months. Below is an image of a CALM record entry.


With the majority of patient records catalogued I will soon be working my way through the staff records and records relating to recreation at the hospital.  I should take this opportunity to again praise the work of the team of dedicated volunteers who have been working on a variety of projects relating to the Crichton collection. A volunteer task, which involved the removal of all loose material from the 129 case books and the recording of page numbers and marking where items were removed from, was completed a few weeks ago. Now this time consuming task has been successfully completed, (I didn’t realise quite how time consuming until I did a few of the volumes myself!) the case books are ready to undergo conservation work that is badly needed for many of the them in poor condition. In several cases this being due to the large amount of the aforementioned loose material damaging the spine and binding. The photo below is an example of the condition of some of the volumes.


On the subject of conservation, two weeks ago we delivered the first batch of material to undergo conservation work, which included architectural plans, early admission papers and registers. There will be more on the conservation work in future posts with plenty of ‘before and after’ photos.

Crichton Royal enquiries were coming in thick and fast to the Archive Centre over the summer months, mostly relating to family history research. However recently I was visited by staff from the Crichton Development Company (CDC) who are preparing to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the opening of Easterbrook Hall on 18 October and wanted to look at some of the items in the collection relating to the building and Dr Easterbrook. CDC staff were then kind enough to give me a tour the following week of Easterbrook Hall, Crichton Memorial Church and some of the other buildings on the Crichton Estate, both those in use and those currently empty. Although I have been in a few of the buildings now used as office space, it was great to be given a good look round and see how the buildings are living on and providing accommodation for a wide range of businesses. Thank you to Donald Mackinnon and Wendy McLeod for their time.

A significant change taking place this week, which affects not only the records of Crichton Royal Hospital but all the records held by the Dumfries Archive Centre, is the integration of the Archive service into the Ewart Library in Dumfries. This means we are saying a sad farewell to the Archive Centre on Burns Street, originally set up by former Archivist Marion Stewart in 1987, which has been a well-loved repository by staff, volunteers and researchers for over 25 years. The Crichton Royal Hospital records previously stored in Dumfries Archive Centre have now been moved to the Archives and Local Studies section in the Ewart Library. The new repository will be open to the public next week.

Just to end I thought I would share some images of a few of the interesting loose items that have been removed from the (now completely catalogued!) case books and have been re-housed in folders. To give you an idea of the volume of material that has removed, in one volume (Male Case Book, 1908-1913) there was loose material relating to 71 different patients.

Patient artwork is a significant part of the Crichton Royal Hospital collection, still be covered in detail on the blog, but found in the case books were these sketches. The first is one of a male patient by a fellow patient (Male case book 1932-33). The second images shows several sketches by a female patient depicting various scenes (Female case book 1918). The last is by another male patient and is a map of Dumfries town centre showing the location of all the pubs and bars, of which there were and still are many! (Male case book 1932-33)





It has been several weeks since my last post and my only excuse is that I have been fully immersed in cataloguing and am only now coming up for air having reached the clinical patient records. I have done a few posts about the patient case books, but now I think I should be sharing some of the other clinical material we hold in the collection, such as the Record of Post Mortem Examinations, 1929-1935. There is only one volume of manuscripRecord of post Mortems first paget post mortem examination reports which contains structured reports showing patient name, age, date of examination, reference to the volume their case notes are in, cause of death, a clinical summary and histological report. Also included in the volume are several printed post mortem summary forms, many of which are also found in the Case Books as loose enclosures or stuck into the volume, recording details of the examination. The volume contains information relating to 114 patients.

 From comments made by the General Board of Lunacy in their inspection reports, post mortems do not appear to have been routinely carried out at Crichton Royal Institution until towards the end of the nineteenth century.  The Commissioners of the General Board of Lunacy noted in 1871 that they were rarely undertaken and that this was regrettable. However in their report two years later it was noted that post mortems were being carried out in most deaths, only to comment in 1875 that post mortem examinations were again not often being undertaken! There are a few early manuscript post mortem reports in the early Crichton Royal Institution Case Books before the printed post mortem summary forms appear appended to Case Books from around 1910.

 This volume covers the period of Dr A. Wylie, who was Clinical Pathologist at Crichton Royal from 1929-1937. In addition to the written reportsthere are several clinical sketches, drawings and diagrams such as these, illustrating cell tissue.

Clinical Diagrams and Drawings

Post Mortem Motor Cells Drawing

 Also, there are a handful of loose items that were found throughout the volume, several of which are correspondence about certain cases. There was one piece of correspondence that I found particularly interesting and thought I would focus on, as the condition it relates to is one Archive Centre staff have been coming across recently in the course of answering Crichton patient enquiries.

 This letter, written in 1933, relates to the death of patient following treatment for GPI or General Paralysis of the Insane and appears to be from a Doctor at Crichton Royal to a Dr Lees. The treatment being given was malarial therapy and at first this course of treatment and the method described in the letter, the infection of a patient with the disease, in this case through the intravenous injection of another patient’s malaria infected blood, could seem a bit extreme. This was however a form of somatic treatment for patients suffering from GPI that was used relatively widely to treat the condition in the 1920s and 1930s, prior to the discovery of penicillin. Before saying any more about the treatment I should address the illness.

GPI letter p1


GPI letter p2

GPI, is listed in case notes and patient registers as a cause of death or diagnosis in many psychiatric cases in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, most commonly, but not exclusively in relation to men in their 30s and 40s. The symptoms were both mental and physical, and included ‘grandiose delusions, a staggering gait, disturbed reflexes, asymmetrical pupils, tremulous voice and muscular weakness.’* GPI led to degenerative dementia and paralysis and there was no known cure. It also shared symptoms with many other disorders which made it difficult to diagnose. The disease requires a little more explanation than some of the other conditions we come across in clinical records due to the potentially sensitive nature of the condition. While GPI was recognised as a disease associated with a lifestyle that included alcohol and sexual excess, as well emotional strain in the nineteenth century, links gradually started to be made between the condition and Syphilis, and in the early twentieth century a clear link was made between the two. This link was aided by the discovery of an effective test for Syphilis in 1906, the Wasserman Test, which led to many patients suffering from GPI testing positive. The test was used widely at Crichton Royal Hospital and are many laboratory test result appended to the case books showing the results of the test. The disease would now be referred to as tertiary or neurosyphilis.

 Early treatment for GPI included anti-syphilitic medicines such as mercury and iodides, then in the early 1910s the arsenic based drug, Salvarsan, and in the 1920s, malarial therapy. Malarial therapy brought on a fever causing very high temperatures and was successful in many cases, unfortunately, with regard to the letter I found, not on this occasion. The method described in the letter, of administering the malarial blood, was in fact ‘the most common method’ of carrying out this treatment.** I have presented a very brief outline of the condition and the subject, when really there is a lot more that could be said, but the references below contain a wealth of information and I would recommend them to find out more.

The Record of Post Mortem Examinations, printed post mortem summary forms and the enclosures are valuable records which complement the patient case notes and other clinical material in the collection. They help to tell the story not only of the patient but also the hospital, in terms of clinical study, research and practice.


* Jennifer Wallis, ‘This Fascinating and Fatal Disease’, The Psychologist, vol. 25, no. 10, October 2012, pp.790-791

Jennifer Wallis also runs a very interesting website looking at the history of asylums and scientific research:

** Gail Davies, ‘The Cruel Madness of Love’ – Sex, Syphilis and Psychiatry in Scotland, 1880-1930, Wellcome Series in the History of Medicine, (Rodopi, 2008)

C. C. Easterbrook, The Chronicle of Crichton Royal, (Courier Press, Dumfries, 1940)