Participants at the workshops at Brecon & District Mind told us about a tiny but packed museum in the Old Post Office in Talgarth which they thought would have artifacts relating to A Private Land. So we made a visit and were surprised and delighted to objects, images, artworks and records from the Mid-Wales Hospital, donated by the community.
Whilst we were there we met people with fascinating tales to tell, many of whom had long standing connections with the town and the old hospital, but some who happened to be visiting. One chance encounter was with Dr Jacqueline Hopson who told us about her own experiences of and interrogation of issues relating to our project. Later she sent us a link to her recent publication ‘Stigma and Fear: The ‘Psy Professional’ in Cultural Artifacts’ which ‘explores ways in which the fear of madness, and the stigma which clings to sufferers and their professional carers, is perpetuated by a constant stream of popular cultural artifacts.’ https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/bjp.12441
Tony James at Talgarth Museum lent us books containing early annual reports from the ‘Brecon and Radnor Asylum’ as it was then called. He encouraged us to participate in Talgarth Festival and offered to lend items from the museum and request loan of archives in private hands to share with the public there.
We had been planning a walk and talk sharing event in Talgarth, so adjusting our plans to have a Festival stall at August Bank Holiday meant we were much more likely to meet a wide range of people – to let them know about our project and as another way of hearing memories and stories. We thought a lot about the kind of art activities to offer and wondered if we could manage to make 1000 flowers together.
Making flowers was intended as a tribute to all who lived, worked and died at the former mid-Wales hospital, but flowers, memory and forgetting have also been a strong theme through our project’s community workshops over the summer and reflect the importance of nature and community gardens such as those in Talgarth for our sense of well being. Susan and I were also aware that there was a link to past flower-making and procession in Occupational Therapy at the old Hospital (Purcell, Up Top 2018) but at our stall, people could make their own associations and engage at whatever level of meaning felt right to them. A special part of our day was meeting so many people who told us of their experiences there, how they feel about the site now and what they would like to see become of it.
Thanks to Tony and all at Talgarth Museum we were able to display some of the very few objects rescued from the old hospital. Many of our visitors were particularly intrigued by the paybooks, showing the tradesmen employed at the beginning of the 20th century and how much they were paid. Visitors recounted memories of family members who worked at or were admitted to the hospital, and told of how staff kept working through snowstorms, power cuts and the energy rationing of the Three Day Week of 1974. One person lookinmg at the paybooks was struck by the recurrence of Talgarth family names still familiar today, such as Bullock, Bridewell, Skyrne. Tony explained why all the stamps were in the records – signing on the king’s head on the stamps was a way of certifying or legalising the payment.
By the end of the day we’d made about 150 flowers and a group of us set off with them on a short walk up to the old hospital site. Starting in sun, we were soon drenched in torrential rain but at the gates we paused to read a poem from Angela Morton’s collection ‘the holding ground’ (the collective press, 2002). Angela had spent some time in the hospital as a patient, and ‘A visitation on the path’ was chosen for us by her daughter Becky because it spoke of hope and recuperation. The path through the hospital grounds is a private road through private land, and although people often do walk through, we had formally sought permission to do so as our walk was organised as part of the Festival. Permission was denied by the owners so the walk route was planned to the gates and back, but some people chose to leave the official walk and return via the hospital grounds.
This moment of pausing, discussion and decision-making enacted many of the dilemmas we have encountered in our project in relation to the nature of a collaborative project and how we respond to physical and psychological fences – and played out issues that impact on the local community everyday.