Delegates hear of Crichton’s value
Conference celebrates contribution estate has made
A one-day conference called A Celebration of the Crichton was held in the Easterbrook Hall.
The conference was attended by about 100 delegates and a series of lectures were given by knowledgeable speakers, ranging from its early days as a pioneering mental hospital to its current use as an academic campus and plans for the future.
Beforehand, some delegates attended a service in the Crichton church and were able to hear the magnificent Lewis organ.
The first speaker was Morag Williams, former health board archivist, who spoke about the founding of the Crichton as a mental hospital by Elizabeth Crichton, the appointment of Dr Browne and other pioneering medical superintendents and the use of art as a therapeutic tool for the treatment of mental disorders.
The next speaker was the author and poet Mary Smith, who described how Dr Browne, believing that keeping patients busy was a key to their treatment, introduced innovations such as allowing patients to work in the grounds, farm or laundry, and to produce a magazine, New Moon, which was so successful that the profits allowed the Crichton to buy its own printing press. The patients also produced and took part in theatrical performances.
The next session concentrated on medical aspects. Dr David Hall, consultant psychiatrist at Midpark Hospital, described how psychiatric treatment developed from the early days of Dr Browne and his successors through to ground-breaking research in recent years.
Alverie Weighill, retired consultant clinical psychologist, discussed the setting up of a department of psychological research in 1943, which still continues. Dr Shirley Turberville, senior lecturer in nursing and midwifery at the University of the West of Scotland, pointed out that Dr Browne instituted a course of lectures on mental illness for hospital attendants as far back as 1854, six years before Florence Nightingale set up her nursing school.
Finally Michael Cook, former general manager of Dumfries and Galloway Health Board, told how Dumfries had an excellent reputation for its health services in the years following the creation of the NHS. An attempt was made to set up a worldclass head injury unit at the Crichton but, despite having funding and promises of international collaboration, the project was vetoed by the powers at the time.
After lunch, the conference moved on to other aspects. Martin Robertson, president of the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland, spoke about the architecture of the Crichton. Over the years, different medical directors employed some of the best architects to design the buildings which combined fine architecture with a design suited to their individual purpose within a mental hospital.
The last of these was James Flett, employed by Dr Easterbrook, who designed the magnificent Easterbrook Hall in which the conference was held.
The next talk was by Graham Roberts, council archivist, who reported on the project to digitalise the Crichton Archive. The Wellcome Trust has funded the work and the wider availability of the archive has resulted in international interest, including a visit from the director of the Victor Hugo Museum in Paris.
The final session started with a talk about the Crichton farm by Dave Roberts, professor of dairy farming systems at the Scottish Rural College (SRUC).
He described how, starting in 1867, the Crichton Royal Farm was set up by buying land adjacent to the hospital. In due course, this provided food for the hospital and work for the patients. Many agricultural innovations were made, tractors being first used as early as 1918. Since 1976 the farm has been part of SRUC and remains at the forefront of agricultural research.
The final session was a panel discussion on present and future use. This was led by Gwylim Gibbons, CEO of the Crichton Trust, Professor David Clark of the School of Interdisciplinary Studies, University of Glasgow, and Dame Barbara Kelly, of the Crichton Campus Leadership Group.
Future ideas and projects in the fields of education, commerce, patient care and leisure activities were discussed in short presentations by each of the speakers. The session was then opened to questions from the audience which helped to refine some of the ideas described by the panelists.
After the talks, delegates were able to join guided tours of the Crichton led by Robin Tilson, head gardener, and architect Martin Robertson, to view the gardens and architecture.
Over the years, the Crichton has been a place where innovation and excellence have gone hand in hand. This applies not only to its pioneering work in the treatment of mental disorders, but in medical training, architecture, and medical and agricultural research.
It is an institution of which Dumfries should be proud – a wonderful educational and recreational facility for the town.
The conference was organised by the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society in collaboration with the Crichton Trust.
Dr Jeremy Brock President, Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and