From shell shock hospital to magical community – my trip to Seale Hayne

11958244_10154172096635031_9052966308211887393_oLast week I was lucky enough to be invited to Seale-Hayne Hospital, near Newton Abbot in Devon, to meet Ray Bartlett, Chair of the Seale Haynians, who has a special interest in the role of Seale-Hayne as a military hospital during the Great War. The building is now run by one of Britain’s oldest charities, Hannah’s (run by the Dame Hannah Rogers Trust) which is ‘dedicated to empowering children, young people and adults with profound physical and learning disabilities, providing them with life-changing opportunities and advocating their needs…… challenging societal beliefs and cultural acceptances surrounding disabled people with the aim of making disability incidental.’

Arthur Hurst

Arthur Hurst

I have written about Seale-Hayne before, as I researched the work of Dr Arthur Hurst there for both Shell Shocked Britain and a lengthy article for Britain at War magazine, so I was thrilled to be able to appreciate the beautiful buildings first hand. Hurst was the doctor behind the grainy black and white films detailing the experiences of men admitted suffering from the effects of shell shock and he made claims for a cure rate of around 90%, a figure that has been challenged along with his methods. Much of the controversy seems to be caused by a 21st century determination to judge methods used 100 years ago by present day standards. This applies not just to the treatment regime but to the making of documentary films, and it has infuriated Ray Bartlett, and others on the research team working to find out more about the men who spent time at the hospital in 1917 and 1918.

images (1)Having discussed this controversy in a previous post Shell Shock on film – myth or reality, I won’t detail it again, but the matter is complex. Ray was generous with his time and I enjoyed hearing first hand his enthusiastic defence of the doctor.  Real or reconstructed, the symptoms exhibited by the men on the films are as described in much of the documentary evidence of the time, and Hurst’s use of hypnosis and suggestion achieved its greatest success in the reduction of ‘somatic’ or physical symptoms – facial tics, contractures, sensory impairment for example. How far he ‘cured’ men of the impact of the psychological trauma of war is certainly debatable. Ray and the team have uncovered success stories, particularly that of Percy Meek, the ‘star’ of the films, but the psychiatrists of the First World War were notoriously bad at follow-up, and the numbers breaking down post war suggest that for many, respite was short-lived.

11951526_10154172096655031_4646655159308305315_oRay Bartlett thinks Seale-Hayne is magical, and having visited it I have to agree with him. The men treated for shell shock were given the opportunity to work on the farm land around the hospital, rest in the grounds and use the workshop space to gradually rebuild their skills at woodwork, pottery and basket making. The views across the rolling Devon countryside are stunning (although there is concern that housing developments are encroaching at an alarming rate) and the peace and quiet can only have been beneficial to the traumatised minds of men sent home from the Front so desperately damaged.

horticulture.1024x384What is so significant though is how, despite being housed in buildings that spent much of the 20th century as an agricultural college (the purpose for which it was built, before it was briefly used as a military hospital), Hannah’s has somehow taken on the mantle of Hurst’s work nearly 100 years ago. People with profound disabilities have opportunities to work alongside members of the local community in areas dedicated to horticulture and creative arts. Art exhibitions, small creative businesses and story telling areas sit alongside sports facilities, hydrotherapy pool and a polytunnel. Psychological therapies are available, as is accommodation for respite care. The similarities to Hurst’s mission are significant, but because it is the 21st century, there is a bistro, shop and other ways to support the building financially, offering meeting and conference facilities.

11057379_10154172096645031_2317976920443704293_oI spent some time in the Old Library, sitting with Ray in an environment that is redolent of the original Edwardian atmosphere and I saw the small archive they have built up, much of which is currently on display in the Newton Abbot Museum’s First World War exhibition sited in the Great Hall. The Seale-Haynians and Hannah’s are keen to hear from anyone descended from patients or staff at the hospital, or anyone with a story of that time to share and I hope to be able to help them with some of the family history research necessary to identify the families of patients they know to have been treated there.

887457_10154172096630031_1886468922130911862_oI would like to thank Ray and Hannah’s for welcoming me, and I was thrilled to have my photo taken on the very steps down which the men are filmed taking the first footsteps to some kind of recovery. I was surprised to find architecture so unchanged over a century, and one could genuinely feel that should ghosts exist, the spirits of those tormented men who sought help from Dr Hurst could be roaming the high-ceilinged corridors and rooms of the old building.

Shell Shocked Britain has offered me the opportunity for some wonderful experiences, and the visit to Seale-Hayne was one of the loveliest.

Posted in First World War, History, Shell Shocked Britain, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

On sitting down to watch Withnail and I once again….

downloadApologies to John Keats for mangling the title of his poem on King Lear, but it seemed very appropriate. This blog has always covered an eclectic mix of subjects to say the least, breaking basic rules of blogging (know your niche, focus, give readers what they want etc) but one thing I rarely talk about is film. Yet I had ambitions – I took an Arvon Course on screenwriting eight years ago, when Jane Campion had recently stolen my thunder and come up with an idea for a biopic of John Keats that wasn’t about Keats and announced Bright Star. So I was hoping to focus on adapting a short story I had written about my great-uncle (that went on to inspire my book, Shell Shocked Britain) into a short film. On the first evening the course leaders went round the gathered company asking each of us to name our favourite film.

Now this was a challenge to me as I rarely sit down to watch a movie. My husband and I have very different tastes and although I will happily watch a two-hour episode of Inspectors Morse, Lewis or Montalbano, I am not a ‘movie night’ kind of gal.  I often lose patience mid way through a DVD, and trips to the cinema are infrequent. I do love some films –  Little Miss Sunshine, Lost in Translation and the aforementioned Bright Star; Love Actually is a favourite at Christmas largely because Emma Thompson is so brilliant in it, and at the same time of year the Muppet Christmas Carol is an annual treat.

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Posted in Art, Film, London, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Thank-you. Five Years of London Historians

keatsbabe:

I just had to reblog this piece by Mike Paterson, who founded London Historians exactly five years ago. Five years!!! I am proud to be a Founder Member of what has become a hugely popular and brilliantly run organisation, offering talks, walks, newsletters and pub meet ups for anyone with an interest in our lovely capital. I am living in exile in Somerset at the moment, still yearning a little for the city of my birth (which I visit only occasionally for research trips) .Mike has done a great job and keeps me in touch with everything I am missing! Thanks Mike.

Originally posted on London Historians' Blog:

Today marks the 5th anniversary of the founding of London Historians.

The first London Historians member card. Somerset House. The first London Historians member card. Somerset House.

I’d like to thank every single member who has joined us in that time. I’d also like to thank all the friends we’ve made at museums, libraries, historic buildings, local history societies and other heritage groups, the London Topographical Society, to pick a random example. Curators, librarians, authors, academics, genealogists, archaeologists. And tour guides, a special mention for them: there are several dozen among our membership which now stands at 520. I wonder if we can make that 600 in 24 hours?

SPECIAL OFFER NEW MEMBERS. This Day Only, ends midnight.
If you’re a non-Member reading this and would like to take the plunge, we commemorate this anniversary with a £10 discount on joining. 24 hours only! Please proceed to this page. (for “Qualifying Group”, please put LH5).

Here are some…

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My next book on 18th & 19th Century medicine – and a competition to come up with a title!

L0025088 Death as an apothecary's assistant making up medicines in aBefore you read this post, I would love to know if, after hearing a little bit more about my next book, you can think of a fabulous, attention-grabbing title. The working title is ‘Death Disease and Dissection’ but it hardly covers it! If your title is chosen (just add it to the comments below the post) I will include you in the acknowledgements and ensure you get a free copy of the book….!! 

I am actually working. Posting this is part of a proper writing day. Admittedly I have been sending lots of emails, arranging research trips and talking to people who have information that may be useful, but now I am getting words down on paper, and will continue to do so off and on for the rest of the day.

I am currently researching two commissions. The first is a book about medicine in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, focusing on  young apothecary apprentices and their education to the required standard to undertake the role of surgeon apothecary, a career roughly equivalent to present day general practitioners. In a past post I have bemoaned my lack of progress, and inspiration, but something has changed in the past couple of weeks, and writing this is, to me, a proof of  my commitment to the project.

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Posted in Books, History, Keats, London, Medicine, Mental health, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Don’t leave it too late to live in the moment: Rooting our lives in the present

keatsbabe:

I wrote this piece for The Terrace Psychotherapy & Complementary Therapy Clinic in Taunton. and wanted to share it on here. I just love the poem, and having read the article referred to in it, about the nature of time passing, seemingly more and more quickly, I want to try and make the most of every moment. It is such hard work to rein ourselves in though, isn’t it?

Originally posted on let's talk!:

mindfulness-meditation-reduces-loneliness-older-adults-study-1343684974Have you noticed how quickly 2015 seems to be flying away from us? Someone mentioned it is just 19 Fridays until Christmas – which sounds terrifying, bearing in mind we hardly seem to have taken the lights down from the last one. There is an interesting article doing the rounds online called ‘How did it get so late so soon?‘, which examines the 21st century perception of time, and why it seems to pass more quickly now than even a couple of decades ago. It seems to be something to do with our need to multi-task simply to stay on top of all the demands made on us in the 21st century. It also offers a reason for the seeming increase in the speed of time passing as we grow older:

“There’s a suggestion that our perception of time may be in proportion to the length of our…

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Four poems on one day – a challenge for my 5 year ‘bloggerversary’

robert-frost-poetry-quotes-poetry-is-when-an-emotion-has-found-its-thought-andIt is 5 years since I started blogging!! I can’t believe it! So much has happened in my writing life just because of this blog so THANK YOU to everyone who has kept reading over the years! I celebrate with, what else? A post about poetry…xxxx

Last week I was challenged by the lovely Lorna Fergusson, writer and inspirational creative writing teacher at Fictionfire, to post four poems in four days on my Facebook timeline.  Normally, this is not something that would cause me too much of a problem – I love poetry, as anyone who reads my blog even occasionally knows. But I am in a funny place work/writing wise at the moment and I just couldn’t allow myself to be distracted. To have the opportunity to think about poetry when I was supposed to be doing client work was, it pains me to say, almost too tempting to resist.  I closed my eyes to my favourite anthologies, Keats books and The Poetry Archive website and cracked on with designing a website and proofreading ( a rather marvellous) manuscript about a holocaust survivor. But oh, it almost HURT!!

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Posted in Literature, love the universe and everything, Mental health, Poetry, Reading, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Running hard to stand still: Anxiety, writing & a world of confusion…

images (2)I sit at my PC. My hands hover over the keyboard, my mind trying hard to focus on the letters. I will them into words, sentences, paragraphs. I flick through my folders of research; the articles I must read, the chapters I have identified in the books taken  out of The London Library. But it isn’t right. It is never right. The words are there but they are not fit for purpose and refuse to get into shape. I switch to the internet, searching for inspiration on twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. Nothing but distraction, they only add to a sense of frustration and an anxiety that increases as the minutes and hours pass.

I turn to the social media and blogging work I do for others – that is fine. My editing and proofreading work is going well. I am not letting clients down, just myself.

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Posted in Books, Mental health, News, Work, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments