Archive Visit #2 (By Jennifer)

On Monday 28th January 2019 we had our second archive visit, and this time we were looking more in detail at the documents.

When we went into the Archive room it was explained to us that they don’t wear gloves when handling the documents as the pages can rip and that they use beanbags to protect the spines on the book. Before they put the book down they make a mark, a dent in the cushion where the book is to sit to make sure that the spine is protected. We were also asked to not walk around with the books but to leave them on the cushion as this can also damage the books.

One of the documents that we had a look through was the Midland County Idiot Asylum Register*, I had a look through it with Ash and we noticed that some of the residents at Middlefield ended up being sent back home. One resident was sent back home only 2 days after being admitted into the hospital. Another resident was moved from Middlefield to ‘Leighton Buzzard Union’. We researched where this was and it turned out to be a workhouse, so a resident had been sent to this workhouse after being in the hospital for a time. The register did not tell us why this happened, but it may have been that their parents could no longer afford the fees charged by Middlefield.

The former Leighton Buzzard Union Workhouse (

We also looked at some plans** of Middlefield Hospital and had a discussion about the various rooms and where the main building would have been. The men were on the left side of the building and the women were on the right side of the building, it was noted that the women’s infirmary was the same side as the men’s ward but felt this was because the men’s infirmary was below and that they probably wanted to keep sick patients together.

Seeing the plans and the layout of the room really made you think what life was like there and where the staff areas would be. It felt to me like it was boarding school but you were locked up with no chance of going home unless you were lucky enough to be sent home. One of the plans that we looked at was from 1887. There was a beer room next door to the coal room in the kitchen, and there were also separate day sitting areas for the staff, visitors or the residents/patients of Middlefield.

We all separately went around and look at the various documents placed on the tables, we had a look at some old photos and checked that it was okay for us to touch them without wearing gloves and they said as long as we just touched the edges it would be ok.

There was also a newspaper clipping from the 1970s which was quite shocking.*** A nurse had been abusive to patients at Middlefield and he got found out, was reported to the police and went to prison for it. It is shocking that people who trust others to care for them was getting abused back then, but it still ongoing on today in residential care homes and even to elderly people in their own homes. It’s so sad and shocking to think that care staff feel that they can treat people in this way and that those in care have no rights. The people they are caring for have got every right to feel safe and to get the appropriate care.

Another article that I also found shocking was about Middlefield doing a project for ‘severely retarded adults’, to teach ‘backward’ patients basic skills such as washing, dressing, eating and shaving. They were taught by psychologists and trainers and if they proved to be successful they were returned to the wards as a self-respect for themselves to look after themselves. I found this awful not just by the wording but that had to go through all that just to be returned to the wards and to get some respect. Everyone with a disability is able to do different things, not everyone can do everything themselves and some do need help, that is just a part of who they are and I can imagine how upset they felt if they couldn’t do something.

In another article, Walter Gunzberg believed he had found the formula for returning ‘mentally subnormal people’ to community health and he did a film called the ‘ring of health’. This is just awful as disabilities do not have a cure and you can’t cure the world of people with disabilities. How we are born is part of who we are and we should be respected for that.

On a positive note I saw an article on John Kavanagh who was the deputy staff nurse at Middlefield who was retiring at the age of 77 and always cycled to work.

We had a good training day full of interesting facts and group discussions, we sat around the table and discussed what we would looked at during the day, and Rob came over and said hello to us.

It was an enjoyable day tinged with some sadness at what we found.

Thank you to Joannie and everyone for allowing us to come to the archives.


These lyrics sum up how I feel about the power of disabled people, we are their voice and we are an empowerment to them.

Documents referenced:

* CR2098/33 - "Register of patients", containing lists of patients in order of date of admission, 1866- Feb. 1928…

** CR2941/8 - Plans of Middlefield Hospital

*** CR2941/11, CR2941/13 - Volumes of press cuttings