Friday 27 January 2023

Parkside Asylum Case Books - Not just names on a page…

The history of Parkside Asylum can be found on-line today (Parkside - County Asylums) but what do we know about the patients who were admitted there? Who were they? Where did they live? Why were they admitted? How long did they stay? Where can we find their stories?

At Cheshire Archives, we are just beginning to explore the wealth of incredible material found within Parkside’s case books. Technology is supporting the information shift from these original leather-bound books into a searchable, accessible on-line research goldmine. With that transformation, our insight into the lives of those living within its walls magnifies and we start to gather information beyond the medical…These patients were real people, with real lives, in a time when we were just learning about mental health.

Where did they come from? 

Parkside Asylum was in Macclesfield; however, its patients came from all over the United Kingdom. The case books are an incredible source of address and place information, which helps us delve even further and join the dots with sources already available to us – censuses, births, marriages and deaths indexes, electoral registers.

What did they do before they came to Parkside? 

The occupations of the Parkside patients are incredibly diverse – from actresses to accountants, cloggers to cooks, shepherds to schoolmasters, paupers, and private patients alike. Parkside treated patients from every walk of life.

Could these be the only images of your ancestors? 

The casebooks contain small passport-sized images of many of the patients. Putting a face to a name and their story. An interesting observation is although there are a few from the 1870’s, these photographs are generally much more common during the 1880’s onwards.

Happenstance or hereditary…

The detailed case notes, medical terms and diagnoses of Parkside’s patients will help us to better understand mental illness and its treatment in the 19th century. Why were patients admitted? How were they treated? What was their diagnosis? Some patients were admitted many, many times. Can we find out why? Although some died at the Asylum, others were discharged, some were transferred to other asylums or hospitals. With the right connections, perhaps one day we can build a timeline of what happened to them. After all, wouldn’t you want to know what happened to your great Aunt or great-great Grandmother?

The use of different sources, like the census, comes in handy as interpreting the copperplate writing from the original books is sometimes a challenge! Were they a Boden, Bowden, or Bodan? Is that a T, a J, or an S – occupation Tailor, Jailor, or a Sailor?

Prepare to be shocked…there was no holding back with how medics described their patients in the 1870’s. Some of the terminology used then, we certainly wouldn’t use now. Medical terms and names of diseases are vast and varied. Do you know what Mania a potu is, for example?

We have 40 years of detailed case books and - with the help of our amazing volunteers – we will continue to build and develop this incredibly valuable information source for us all.

So, you see, the patients of Parkside Lunatic Asylum are not just names on a page, and we’re starting to tell their stories…

Our team of remote volunteers are helping Cheshire Archives index the Parkside case notes. This means the data can easily be searched and analysed by the public and researchers alike.

Want to be a part of it? You can! Email us for more information or join up straight away on the Zooniverse website


Tuesday 17 January 2023

Behind the Scenes in Repro!

Everybody is welcome to visit Cheshire Record Office to discover our Archives and Local Studies collections. But did you know we have a copying service for people who can’t make it to the search room in Chester? This is a glimpse behind the scenes of our Reprographics Department. 

‘Repro’, as it’s known, is run by the four Archives Assistants (‘AAs’) who work at Cheshire Record Office, and we do our best to provide copies of almost anything that people ask for, within copyright rules of course. We use a combination of photocopying, digital photography, microfilms, scanning and printing to fulfil orders placed via our online shop or the search room, and there is a huge range of items that can be reproduced: from wills to parish records, maps to newspapers, vehicle registrations and many, many other documents. 

We had over 400 reprographics orders last year, not just from Cheshire but from all four nations of the UK, and around 10% of the orders are from overseas. Nearly one in 20 are sent to the USA and, over the past 12 months, they also went as far afield as Jersey, Spain, Norway, Sweden, Israel, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. 

Some of our most popular requests are for wills, which can help with family history research. We hold thousands of Cheshire wills dating back to the 16th century, and these can usually be photocopied and sent by post. They are charged at a flat rate whether they cover just one or two pages or dozens, so you might get a bargain! We never know until they’re retrieved from storage how long they are, what they include or how beautifully written they might be. Occasionally people decide to order them in large format for display, such as this one from 1806.

Family history enthusiasts can also order copies of parish register entries, where we print and post out the handwritten notes from a church’s baptism, marriage or burial registers from over 100 years ago. These documents also stretch back hundreds of years, and some have been digitised, appearing on family history web site Find My Past as part of The Cheshire Collection.

We get numerous requests for copies from our extensive collection of Cheshire newspapers, and usually use microfilm to produce these. Orders include anything from someone’s own appearance in the local paper; to reports of significant events like the late Queen’s Coronation (these were particularly popular during last year’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations); or back further still to articles from the 19th and even 18th centuries, to help with family or local history research.

Maps and large format prints are a substantial part of our repro work. We can produce copies up to A1 in size (that’s 594 x 841 millimetres!) and copy items up to 72 x 110 cm, but sometimes even this isn’t sufficient to reproduce our extra-large archive documents. In those cases, the AAs try to weave some digital magic to provide you with the best image possible. For instance, one order was for a map so big that it that had to be captured in 9 separate photographs, but we used computer software to stitch them together to send the customer one overall image by e-mail. And copies of old Ordnance Survey or Tithe maps are not just for people to hang on their walls for decoration – we’ve recently done an order for someone using our maps to replant and restore trees in their original locations! 

Vehicle licensing documents are also popular repro requests – they are needed to re-issue original number plates for vintage cars, but we are asked to copy other transport-related records as well. The order below was for an image of an early wagon built by Foden’s of Sandbach. The image in question was an old glass plate negative, but we were able to use digital technology to provide a more realistic image to go with it. 

In addition to regular repro orders, we also deal with bulk orders – these are for large numbers of images which often come from academics needing copies of documents for their research. They can be on any subject but, as an example, we have recently photographed hundreds of pages of 17th and 18th century court documents for a national academic project about the English Civil Wars. 

These are just a snapshot of the many different types of documents that come through the reprographics department. And we don’t just deal with customer orders – we produce material for in-house and partnership events as well. Recent work includes printing photographs for a project celebrating the lives of older people at Storyhouse in Chester; making displays for a Chester Town Hall event celebrating the long friendship between the City of Chester and Poland; and digitising memorabilia from Browns of Chester department store for a series of events in partnership with the University of Chester and West Cheshire Museums. 

Working on repro can bring to light some unexpected items from our collections, and we’ll end with a couple of our favourites. When reproducing some images from an album of photographs of Spanish mines belonging to the United Alkali Company, we found this one showing three men on the night of 7th May 1910 – they were watching out for the passing of Halley’s Comet! And when copying some archives of the village of Bollington, we thought the description ‘photograph of Sunday School’ would be an image of a building, but instead found a lovely photo capturing hundreds of people at a Sunday School event in 1908. 

If you’d like to have a copy of something from the Archives or our Local Studies collections, first head to our online catalogue then click on our online shop – and our Repro team will do the rest! 

All of these items and more can be viewed at Cheshire Record Office in Chester – or ordered from our Reprographics Department!