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Mansions in the Orchard: If walls could talk

2014 Winter Early879 Zpse95B5B9C

Last week was the final week of our first display associated with the Mansions in the Orchard project (supported by the Wellcome Trust). Held at the Bethlem Gallery, the exhibition showcased some of the photographs taken, oral history interviews recorded and items collected so far. It also offered an opportunity for site users to respond to the images gathered during the project, adding their own thoughts and memories of the hospital directly onto the images. The symbolic quality of Max Reeves’ photographs, with which the artist aimed to represent the subjective experiences of mental illness, led many visitors to reflect on states of mind, freedom and its loss and the differing nature of perceptions, as well as direct memories of the buildings and grounds. The photographs will be retained as part of the project, and the ideas raised will feed into future exhibitions, such as a planned collaboration with the Dragon Café (which opens again on Monday 17 February) in autumn 2014.

Oral histories are still being collected, primarily from current and former staff, including nursing, administration and ground staff. This year, we would like to increase the proportion of service user and local resident interviews, of which so far we have only a handful. If you were a service user at Bethlem prior to the year 2000, for whatever length of time, we would be very interested to hear from you. The views of long-term local residents around the Hospital on its grounds and services would also be extremely valuable to the project.

The next phase of the project has the aim of increasing the participation of local residents, as well as gathering further items for the archive. An exhibition at Bromley Local Studies Library & Archive focuses on the foundation of the Monks Orchard site. A Clearer, Bluer Sky was first displayed at the Bethlem Gallery in January 2012, and has been updated to include information and images from the current Mansions in the Orchard project. It will run from 24 February to 17 April. On Tuesday 11 March there will be a talk and collections day, A Treasure-House of our History, starting at 2.30pm. Help fill a gap in the Bethlem Archives for the twentieth century! Photographs, maps, plans, event brochures and other ephemera are all valuable to us, and we will be able to scan items if you don’t wish to donate the originals. We are particularly interested in any items relating to the former onsite entertainment hall and Park Farm (before and after its closure in the 1950s).