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LOCAL BUSINESS MAN TELLS THE HISTORY OF BARNSLEY HALL

Home / News & Opportunities / Member News

Date: 23/03/2018

W J Holden & Associates Chairman, Bill Holden, is pleased to announce the release of his first expedition into the mysterious world of publishing.

A pile of old exercise books in a bureau left to him by his father Alfred J. Holden was the start of Bill Holden’s adventures in the world of publishing, which came to a climax last week in a book launch at Bromsgrove Public Library.
 
The books contained, in his father’s meticulous copperplate writing, a memoir of his life as an engineer at Barnsley Hall Hospital, starting as an apprentice and ending with his retirement as Chief Engineer with responsibility for a group of local hospitals. Among the pages was a note saying that maybe one of the grandchildren might be interested in publishing the story one day. Bill decided to take the job on himself.
 
He is well placed to do so, since he was born in the grounds of the hospital and spent his formative years among the tools and machinery of his father’s workplace – a sound foundation for Bill’s own career in engineering that was to follow.
 
The book is called “In the Cuckoo’s Nest?” a reference to Bill’s early years in what was originally opened in 1907 as a lunatic asylum. It traces the development from those early days of incarceration of the mentally unstable to a more modern attitude to mental health, all as seen by his father’s inquisitive, affectionate and often amused eyes.
 
Alfred Holden gives a haunting account from 1918 of seeing – and hearing – the ritual of a patient being admitted, in police custody, with additional nursing staff often needed to manhandle the unwilling arrival. The stigma of mental illness in those days was felt all through the sufferer’s family, and many would fight to avoid being admitted. His account of witnessing this as a young man marks his developing sympathy for the patients he met in his work.
 
Later stories in the book describe some individual patients and staff, all with a true writer’s eye for the quirks of character – not all positive – that distinguished Alfred’s companions in his long years of service. One in particular stands out throughout the book: Dr Andrew Shepherd, the Chief Medical Officer who was responsible in large part for the developments that made Barnsley Hall a pioneer in the treatment of mental health problems.
 
After describing the finding of the manuscript, Bill gives an account of visiting with his family the soon-to-be demolished shell of what had been such a beautiful and important building, a landmark not just in Bromsgrove, but in the history of mental health treatment in this country. His son Jeremy gave the party a brief account of his visit in 1998, and its effect on him. Under the stage in the derelict ballroom they found the remains of the beautifully constructed mechanical swans that were used in a pantomime put on by staff and patients in the 1930s. The book details the immense efforts his father put into these events, and the pleasure that they gave.