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Material from psychiatric hospitals to be digitised by Wellcome Library

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Some 800,000 pages of material from psychiatric hospitals in the UK from the 18th to the 20th century will be digitised and made freely available as part of the Wellcome Library’s digitisation programme.

The Wellcome Library will partner with the Borthwick Institute for Archives, London Metropolitan Archives, Dumfries and Galloway Council Archives, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Archives and the Royal College of Psychiatrists for the project, which will bring together documents from the York Retreat, St Luke’s Hospital Woodside, Crichton Royal Hospital, Gartnavel Royal Hospital and Camberwell House Asylum.

The documents include the above painting by George Isaac Sidebottom, a patient at York Retreat c.1890 to 1900.

These collections will be added to the Wellcome Library’s own collection of archives from public and private mental health institutions, including the records of Ticehurst House Hospital in Sussex, which provide a rare insight into the running of a privately-run asylum.

The project will focus on records dating from the 19th and 20th century, and will touch on the movement away from institutional care as the 20th century progressed. Patient records and case notes, photographs, administrative documents and registers will be digitised, creating an extensive online archive that will be a valuable resource for historical research.

The documents will be available via the Wellcome Library’s website, where users will be able to search the archives using the catalogue and view documents on the media player.  In line with Wellcome Library’s commitment to open access, the documents will be under an open licence (CC-BY or CC-BY-NC), allowing users to view, download, reproduce and distribute the material.

Simon Chaplin, head of the Wellcome Library, said: 'This partnership will bring some rare and important historical material from a fascinating period of medical history into an open and free online resource. Broadening access to such collections is at the heart of the Wellcome Library’s digitisation project and we are delighted that others are joining with us to make this possible.'

Work to digitise the archives began in recent weeks and will take two years to complete.