New exhibition in Wells left visitor shaking with emotion

  Posted: 08.06.21 at 07:49 by Philip Welch

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A new photo exhibition about the Somerset and Bath Pauper Lunatic Asylum is bringing surprises and praise.

One visitor found a photograph of her great grandmother who is buried in the asylum’s cemetery and said: "To see a photograph of a relative has been overwhelming.

"I came to the exhibition hoping to obtain information on how I might find more details but I have found her. I am still shaking with emotion."

The exhibition opened on Saturday at the Wells and Mendip Museum and the visitor, who came all the way from Clevedon, is now going to look for her burial place in the Mendip Hospital Cemetery in Wells.

The exhibition tells the story of patients and staff of the asylum – later renamed the Mendip Hospital – at South Horrington near Wells through 100 photographs from the archives of the Mendip Hospital Cemetery and the museum.

There are nearly 3,000 buried at the cemetery but these 100 people’s stories give an authentic taste of life in a Victorian asylum.

The major causes of admission included poverty, alcoholism, epilepsy, sexual disease, and physical and mental disability.

Many of the patients had manic depression, dementia and post-natal depression which in the early days of psychiatry were not differentiated from mania or melancholia.

A mental health worker who visited the exhibition at the weekend said: “I found the sensitive attention to detail and in depth history on the individuals respectfully presented.

"Thank you for reinstating the lives of people past. It was an invaluable insight into the life of the Victorian asylum.”

The exhibition is open in the museum on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10am to 4pm until July 10.

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