UofGDC: One Year On

Last September, the University’s Digitisation Centre began work on the Wellcome Trust project, Digitisation of Mental Healthcare Archives. Today marks the first anniversary of this two year project. In that year the team have prepared, shot and processed over 100, 000 images from the records of Gartnavel Royal and Crichton Royal Hospitals. But where did it all begin?

The conference took place in January so it must have been chilly posing for this photograph! Conference of Scottish Aslyum Matrons (1914), ref: HB13/15/2.

The conference took place in January so it must have been chilly posing for this photograph! NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Archive ref: HB13/15/2.

This photograph has the distinction of being the very first item that was digitised as part of the project. It comes from the Gartnavel collection and features the attendees of the 1914 Scottish Asylum Matrons Conference. 1914 also celebrated the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the Glasgow Royal Lunatic Asylum, as Gartnavel was then known.

Two of these women, Margaret Damley (3rd row from the back, 5th from the left) and Elizabeth Brodie (Back row, 1st on the left) would become part of Gartnavel’s institution history. Margaret Damley was the Asylum’s Matron at the time of the Conference and would continue to serve there until 1922. Unfortunately there are not many surviving records that give an account of Mrs Damley’s time at the hospital. She retired in 1922 and was succeeded by another woman that attended the 1914 Conference: Elizabeth Brodie.

Elizabeth spent a great deal of her professional life, walking the corridors of Gartnavel. She first arrived at the hospital as Night Assistant Matron in 1909. Again, the records give little information about her time at the hospital. Her application for the post of Lady Superintendent in 1922, left vacant by Margaret Damley, gives her address as the City Mental Hospital in Leicester. Elizabeth’s application states she spent working in military hospitals during the World War I, at home and abroad, but does not specify where. Her return to Gartnavel was the beginning of many years of service to the hospital, until her retirement in 1944.

As Lady Superintendent, Elizabeth was responsible for maintaining the behaviour of the nurses working in the hospital. One eye witness gives an account of a nurse cleaning windows, inside and out, as punishment for an unknown crime. “Out time”, when staff could leave the grounds of the hospital, was stricter than other hospitals. Nurses at Gartnavel were allowed 2 hours; the norm at the time was 3 hours, including a monthly evening “dance pass” which give pass holders permission to stay out until midnight. The two hour pass must have been extremely frustrating to the young nurses, especially when they were so close to the bright lights of the city. Nurses could also be banned from using the staff’s roof top garden if they stepped out of line. It’s safe to say that Elizabeth ran a tight ship at Gartnavel!

Her peers must have held Elizabeth in high regard as she became President of the Scottish Nursing Association, when Rebecca Strong retired in 1927. Elizabeth followed suit and remained in the post until her own retirement came in 1945.

It’s fascinating that the first image captured in the project including a woman who had worked at the hospital for over two decades. No doubt we will uncover more stories as the project progresses.

A wide variety of digitised material from the Gartnavel collection is available to view via the Wellcome Library Digital Collections including patient case notes, registers of staff, administrative papers, patient publications and photographs of the hospital’s staff, patients and grounds.

The records of Gartnavel Royal Hospital can be accessed at the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Archive. Please click here to find out their contact details.

Categories: Archive Services

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