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The Story of a Mental Hospital: Fulbourn, 1858-1987

by David H.Clark

| Contents | Foreword | Preface | Chapter: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | Postscript | Acknowledgements | References | Index |



This book is about Fulbourn Hospital and about the exciting things that happened there in the postwar years under the National Health Service. It sets out the background, the 90 years of asylum life from 1858 to 1948, with its early promising beginnings and the decline into apathetic custodialism. It then describes the Open Door revolution of the 1950s, the Social Therapy and Therapeutic Communities of the 1960s and the Rehabilitation Programmes of the 1970s, and attempts to portray some of the factors that made these all possible as well as the deeper changes in nursing practice and medical thinking which followed.

This is not a definitive history of Fulbourn Hospital and everything that happened in it over 125 years, with a just and measured attention to all the worthy efforts of hundreds of people during that time. That task requires an impartial social historian, which I am not. This is a selective tale, told by one person, from his point of view. It is only one of the many stories that could be told. There is no attempt at fair assessment of different people’s contributions. I hope I have not been too unfair to anyone mentioned, but this is an account of how I saw things.

I have told the story as I saw it. I have told of the contributions that I valued and named those who made them. The patients’ identities are covered by pseudonyms and the blurring of a few details, but they are as I remember them – ‘Jack’ who cut his throat, big ‘Elizabeth’, ‘Arthur’ the librarian, and hundreds of others.

For over 40 years, since 1953, I have been thinking and writing about Fulbourn Hospital where I spent thirty 30 years of my life. I published annual reports (for 10 years), scientific articles (for 30 years) and three books (about Administrative Therapy and Social Therapy) – all reflections on what I was doing and learning at Fulbourn. I lectured in many countries, I wrote diaries, essays, memoranda to myself. I also tried to write about the hospital. In 1958 I made notes for a booklet to mark the centenary of the hospital; in 1962 I drew these notes together as a ‘Brief History of Fulbourn Hospital 1858–1958’ which has circulated in manuscript around the hospital ever since. In 1963 in California I attempted a first account of what we had done in the Open Door years and in 1966 drew it together as a manuscript entitled ‘Nine Exciting Years’. Several editors looked at it and turned it down. After I retired from the NHS and from Fulbourn in 1983 I started once again to try and tell the story of what we had done. A first manuscript entitled ‘The Asylum of the Fens’ attempted to tell a detailed factual story. It foundered in minutiae and attempts to assess fairly everyone’s contributions over 125 years. Finally in the early 1990s the present book took shape.

This book is as much autobiography as narrative history, for I was a central figure, first as Medical Superintendent and then as Senior Consultant of the hospital for 30 years, from 1953 to 1983. I figure constantly in the story – my hopes, my fears, my failures, my rethinking. In recounting what I thought and hoped and did, I trust I do not give the impression that I think I was solely responsible for all that happened. I had the good fortune to be in at the beginning and to start things off, but the achievements of Fulbourn arose from all the people who worked there – many of whom are mentioned in the story. The true achievements are those of the men and women trapped in the old custodial asylum regime who had the courage to change the hospital and remake their lives after many years of defeat and stigma.




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