A look at the painstaining process of of preserving local history
In August 2021 some remarkable sculptures by a Fishponds resident who had once been a patient at Glenside were donated to the Hospital Museum. They eventually went on display for visitors to admire in January 2022.
However, the journey from donation to display is often much longer, as Artefacts Collection volunteer Sue Farrell explains.
“When an item comes in we have to make sure it is safe and relevant to our collections,” she says.
”Ideally it should relate to the psychiatric Hospital itself, to its days as the Beaufort War Hospital, or to the Stoke Park Colony, but the museum also traces the history of mental health treatment and training.”
A former teacher who has been a volunteer at the museum since 2016, Sue is one of several who keep track of artefacts and documents brought in by the public that comply with the Museum’s Collection Development Policy.
“We would prefer people to make contact before just bringing things in. It’s helpful to know what to expect, and when,” she explains. ”There is a quite complex procedure to ensure we have accurate details about every item. We have to record information about its provenance, and documents have to be completed to confirm whether it is now the property of the Museum in perpetuity, or just on loan.”
Some artefacts, like documents, clothing and wooden items, may first need to go into quarantine for a period to ensure that there is no possibility of hidden pests transferring to the Museum collection.
“We have had a problem with moths,” admits Sue, wrily. Cloth items often have to spend a while in the freezer at the Bristol Museum to kill off potential infestations.
Each item has to be carefully catalogued, photographed and numbered, with details of its location recorded.
“There are more than 2,000 items in the Museum,” says Sue. “And it’s anyone’s guess how many others are waiting in boxes for more detailed cataloguing.”
The Museum has extensive exhibitions and many items held in storerooms and other parts of the building. And there is a library of books and papers set around the altar of what was once a chapel. Everything has to be recorded and traceable.
One of the headaches for the volunteers, who come in twice a week to help complete the process, is the lack of computers capable of storing and cross referencing information about the museum’s extensive archives.
Cataloguing is painstaking work and not to everyone’s taste, but Sue finds it rewarding. For her perhaps the most poignant items in the collection are the drawings by local artist Denis Reed who was a patient at Glenside in the 1950s. “For me he captures the loneliness and vulnerability of fellow patients at the time.”
Originally from Yorkshire, Sue taught English at Clevedon School before taking early retirement in 2005 and obtaining a degree in archaeology. Having volunteered at Weston Museum before she moved to Fishponds, she was delighted to discover Glenside chapel on her doorstep. It has now become a part of her life since she joined the team of volunteers who keep the Museum alive.
One of her colleagues at the moment is Qiwen Chen from Xiamen University in China. She originally came to help with Glenside’s ‘Protect Our Wellbeing’ (POW) project as part of her Museum Studies Masters course at the University of Leicester, but has stayed on as a volunteer, following in the footsteps of Junjie Wang, another Masters student from Leicester who is now working at the Aurora Museum in Shanghai.
They are just one example of the links the Museum has formed across the world.
A non-combatant’s uniform from World War I that is part of the Glenside collection is currently on loan to the Australian Army Museum in Freemantle, Western Australia. Even the postage date had to be recorded to ensure that links with the item would not be lost. Such are the minutiae of the cataloguing process.