Each month The Archives Hub highlights an archive or collection on its ‘Features’ page, in order to promote new research and resources. This month the Erskine Hospital collection has been featured – you can read the full article here.
June 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the official opening of Erskine Hospital, originally known as the Princess Louise Scottish Hospital for Limbless Sailors and Soldiers. Erskine was initially a military convalescence facility for servicemen who had lost limbs in the First World War and for the last 100 years has continued to care for ex-Service men and women, providing rehabilitation services in residential care homes across Scotland.
In 2015 the University of Glasgow and Erskine formed a partnership funded by the Wellcome Trust to catalogue and preserve the records of Erskine. The partnership came about as part of the University’s Great War community research project, and as part of Erskine’s centenary celebrations, ensuring that material is accessible for researchers and outreach projects alike.
The Erskine Collection is vast in its scope – ranging from items intrinsically tied to the hospital, such as minute books and admissions records, to items which are more tangentially linked, such as silk embroidered, souvenir postcards sent during the First World War, or loose photographs, the owner or subject of which may have been a resident at some point in time.
While the administrative records are useful in tracing the patients of Erskine, The Erskine Bugle – a patients’ magazine set up in 1966 – give a real insight into what being a patient at Erskine was like. The magazine was set up with the intention of “cater[ing] for all tastes. For the scholar – poetry and articles. For the Sports follower, comment from those who know. For the curious, Quizzes and Crosswords. For the punter, a monthly draw, and for the otherwise disinterested, just plain gossip”. With submissions from both staff and patients, the first edition sold 210 copies, and the paper produced a successful monthly edition for over ten years.
The nature of submissions are varied, from fictional short stories about Mr Murgatroyd McLuckie – an inpatient turned detective – to poems and songs espousing life at Erskine.
Historic events are also captured in the Bugle, from discussions in 1967 about entry to the Common Market, to the Moon landing in 1969, to 18-year-olds being given the right to vote in 1970. These would often be accompanied by illustrations by resident cartoonist Tom Findlay:
The Bugle also served as a medium whereby patients who were confined to their wards would have the chance to learn about events taking place throughout the hospital, and gave a voice to those who may have thought they had nothing to say. The untiring narrative from the magazine was one of inclusiveness, and it was made clear that submissions were welcome from anyone: “[I] urge every patient to take an active part… to help make it a better magazine. Your ideas, thoughts and commentaries in the Bugle may be invaluable to one or some of its readers”.
The means of production of the paper also encapsulated the ethics and determination of the people at Erskine. Members of the Occupational Therapy Department spent their dinner breaks typing up submissions, while members of the workshops used aluminium sheeting to reproduce hand-drawn cartoons and crossword puzzles. The completed pages would then have to be stapled together by hand – no easy feat for a magazine with a circulation of about 250 magazines every month.
The magazines are full of character – both humorous and touching – and capture the essence of life at Erskine. One of the most touching moments is the obituary of Sgt. Jack Easson, affectionately known as ‘Mr Erskine’ – “the spirit and fortitude of [whom] were as much an encouragement to the disabled who passed thro’ this Hospital as most surely was his leadership an inspiration to the platoon he led on that fateful day at Loos in 1917”.
The glimpse the magazines provide into the community of Erskine is truly unique, and a worthy legacy to the patients and staff who created it.