Institutional life opened up


A light was shone on the stories and legacies of institutions at an exhibition about Calderstones and Brockhall hospitals. David O’Driscoll viewed some service history

“You’d Hear Them Jingle.” Views of Institutional Life. Voices from Brockhall and Calderstones, Clitheroe Castle Museum, Lancashire

Few of my colleagues working in learning disabilities today have experience of the long-stay hospitals that once dominated our services.

As a Hertfordshire NHS history project worker, I once made an unsuccessful attempt to develop an exhibition on the history of three local institutions (CL 30:3 2017). So when I heard about an exhibition on long-stay hospitals – You’d Hear Them Jingle – I knew I had to see it.

The title refers to a remark made by a former patient about staff coming down the corridor with their keys.

The exhibition examined the history of two long-stay hospitals, Brockhall and Calderstones, which were a few miles apart. Both opened after the First World War and closed in the 1990s. Both were major institutions holding up to 2,000 patients.

The exhibition featured oral history by family members, patients and staff. Memorabilia included nurses’ uniforms, patient menus and, of course, keys. There was also a short film, made in 1968, about Brockhall patient Bill Howe (view it at

Views on the hospitals contrasted. One nurse recalled: “I think the staff, the artisan staff, and the drivers and the laundry, they all cared about the staff and patients alike. Everybody cared somehow.”

However, another, who worked there in the 1960s, said: “They were rough tough places, institutions. I can’t hand on heart say I’ve ever seen any extreme cruelty – which I think is a tribute to the place given the times – but it was hard. It was a hard, hard place, and it sort of made you a bit hard as well, as time went by.

“You recognised how [staff] became institutionalised themselves …. they fit into this very cosy and pleasant place to work.”

One resident said: “They used to give you Largactil [chlorpromazine] syrup … to quieten and calm you down. It had a nasty, sweet taste. You got it for shouting and arguing. It made you go to sleep – dopey.”

Dr Nigel Ingham developed the exhibition with the help of Professor Duncan Mitchell. It was part of a project by Pathways Associates, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, to develop a digital archive: www.lancs learning disability

See pages 16-17