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At home in the institution?

Posted on 05/01/2012

A growing housing crisis and a struggle to control the urban poor – homelessness on the streets of Cameron’s Britain or the plight of Common Lodging Houses dwellers in Victorian Surrey?

Calls for education reform, with Government intervention to force change – 21st Century education reform or 19th Century public schooling?

Creating living spaces for mentally ill patients – a concern for 21st Century doctors, or a worry for the first psychiatrists?

An exhibition looking at life in some of Surrey's Victorian and Edwardian residential institutions including a mental hospital, common houses for the poor and a public school will reveal some surprising similarities with life today.

Living away from home: life in some of Surrey’s Victorian and Edwardian residential institutions, which opens at Surrey History Centre in January, considers how Holloway Sanatorium, common lodging houses and Charterhouse School were organised and decorated and provides a glimpse of how some people who lived there reacted to their surroundings.

Organised by Dr Jane Hamlett, from the Department of History at Royal Holloway, University of London, the exhibition tells the stories of the residents at the institutions. It reveals how Miss P, a high class governess, was admitted to Holloway Sanatorium in 1865 suffering from mania, and how her condition deteriorated when she was moved from a private room. And how Charterhouse schoolboy, Adrian Daintrey, found life tough in his house and sought solace in the school library. George Davis, meanwhile, the disgruntled inmate of a Common Lodging House in Staines, wrote to the Chief Inspector at Scotland Yard to complain about his poor night’s sleep.

Dr Hamlett said: “Clearly there are many differences between the Victorian and Edwardian periods and the present day – in institutional provision as elsewhere in society... But we’ve found that some concerns, such as the need for some personal space and rest, could be universal and shared over time.”

The exhibition shows some of the results of a two year study into how the institutions used interior decoration, and how this influenced the lives of their inmates during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Dr Hamlett added: “Exploring the material world of institutions can reveal much about the privations suffered by inmates, but also new aspects of their lives and opportunities.”

Dr Hamlett and Dr Lesley Hoskins will be giving a talk Care and Cure? The Material World of Victorian and Edwardian Asylums in Surrey on Saturday 7th January 2012 at 2pm at Surrey History Centre.

Living away from home: life in some of Surrey’s Victorian and Edwardian residential institutions will be exhibited at Surrey History Centre, Woking, until 28 January.

This research is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC RES-061-25-0389).


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