Hot Off the Presses: Patient Publications at Gartnavel Royal Hospital


Framed etching of hospital by Susan T Crawford (NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Archives, HB13/15/63)

The second anniversary of the Wellcome Trust funded project, Digitisation of Mental Healthcare Archives, is almost here. The project team have produced over 250, 000 images of artefacts, documents, volumes, artworks and photographs from across the Gartnavel and Crichton collections. The most extensive, excluding the patients case notes, are the patient produced magazines from each hospital. In this blog post we’ll take a closer look at the publications produced by Gartnavel Royal Hospital.

Gartnavel Royal Hospital was the first asylum to produce a patient magazine, called The Gartnavel Minstrel. The original was “printed on detached scraps for distribution amongst the inmates” before being formally published in the tiny volume that resides in the archive today. In line with the title, the bulk of the publication is an impressive collection of almost 50 poems written by J R Adams who was a patient at Gartnavel in the early 1840s. Adams gives a fascinating insight into life at Gartnavel. He chose to stay at Gartnavel as a voluntary patient for three years and his positive experience there is reflected within his poetry. Song on Opening the New House, Gartnavel gives a unique insight into life at the hospital including the provision of a billiard room for the gentlemen patients, tennis courts and bowling greens as well the extensive gardens that the patients both worked and took leisure in.

Sadly any subsequent editions of The Gartnavel Minstrel have not survived. The next example of a patient magazine held within the archive is a publication entitled The Gartnavel Gazette (1883). Gartnavel had an onsite printing press which eased the ability to produce such publications in house, rather than sending it offsite at a higher cost. It is not surprising there was an appetite for such literature within the asylum. Patients were encouraged to keep up to date with the world’s events outside the institution. Daily newspapers were available for patients to browse in the Reading Rooms. This is reflected in The Gartnavel Gazette which also mixed news worthy events, such as the Crimean War, with satire aimed to poke gentle fun at the patients and staff at the hospital as well as the world outside the asylum’s walls.

Later editions included sports reports focusing on Gartnavel’s cricket, bowling and tennis teams. Victories were celebrated whilst defeats were duly recorded with a humble nod to the winning team. The early twentieth century saw a return to the Gazette’s roots as increasing numbers of prose and poetry were printed in the magazine. Travelogues also held regular slots in the publication ranging from articles in the tone of ‘My Holiday in the Lake District’ to more far flung locations including New York and Palestine. One stand out article from a 1915 edition of the Gazette gives the account of Agnes Hunter, held as a suspected spy in Berlin after the outbreak of war.

The Gazette production stopped in 1915 and was not re-started until 1920. A statement on the first edition printed after the gap, in January 1920, hints at the horror of war and the impact it had on the community at Gartnavel. A Roll of Honour featuring hospital staff and those connected with Gartnavel appears in the final pages of this edition:

HB13_5_186_Roll of Honour 1

Glasgow Royal Asylum’s, as Gartnavel was then known as, WWI Roll of Honour. HB13/5/186, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Archives.


HB13_5_186_Roll Of Honour 2

Glasgow Royal Asylum’s, as Gartnavel was then known as, WWI Roll of Honour. HB13/5/186, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Archives.


The digitised collection of The Gartnavel Gazette and much more can be explored via the Wellcome Library’s Digital Collection.

Categories: Archive Services

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