The Magazine and Chronicle of the Stirling District Asylum, Larbert, Volume 14, No. 1, January-February-March 1914
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Patients were kept busy there by being assigned work in the laundries and gardens (amongst other jobs) as such work was thought to be therapeutic. They were also encouraged to participate in recreational activities, both individually—like art and writing—and in groups—such as theatre and sport. The emphasis on productive work and recreation had its roots in the ‘moral treatment’ promoted by Quakers such as William Tuke in the late eighteenth century.
The Passing Hour was the magazine of the Stirling District Asylum based in Larbert. Published regularly and available for a yearly subscription of a shilling including postage, the magazine detailed life in the asylum for both staff and patients. The other asylum magazines listed by the editor (p. 3)—including The Morningside Mirror from the Royal Edinburgh Asylum—show that such magazines were not uncommon in the period.
The Passing Hour was primarily written by staff, but patients contributed articles too. In this issue, from 1914, a patient writing under the pseudonym ‘Avis’ wrote an article titled ‘Asylum Notes’ that painted the asylum as a haven for pigeons and a shield to the rest of the world for patients: ‘Whatever changes may have taken place in the outside world, the Asylum regime has not been altered’ (p. 8). Other articles covered the various sporting activities—the football team had a particularly successful season and the staff billiards tournaments ‘created much interest’ (p. 5)—as well as staffing changes.
The title page shows a photograph of ‘Donald and His Guinea-Pigs’ which was related to a profile on Donald, a long-term patient at the asylum. As the article explained, the long-term residents who led ‘a restricted life’ would ‘become excessively attached to anything in the way of birds or beasts that are allowed to live about the place’. Donald kept the guinea pigs in an outbuilding at the farm where he fed and cared for them. The photograph was difficult to take as ‘Only by the presence of their trusted guardian and friend could the photographer ever have succeeded in getting the pretty picture reproduced on our front page’. Donald, meanwhile, ‘as you can see from the picture, is happy with his little herd of guineas’ (p. 4).
Think about the presentation of the asylum in The Passing Hour—how would you characterise it? Do you think this characterisation accurately captures life in the asylum? Think about the ways in which the asylum is presented in the articles and images. Do you think that there are any ethical issues associated with the ‘asylum as town’ model of treatment? How do you think it compares to modern attempts at ‘care in the community’?
Stirling District Lunatic Asylum was established in 1865 by the Stirling District Lunacy Board. The first patients were admitted in June 1869, many being transferred from asylums in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee. Located in Larbert the institution was renamed Bellsdyke Hospital in 1960 and continues to operate under that name today. The historical records of the asylum were transferred to the University of Stirling Archives in April 2012.