Q&A: Sally Middleton, Gloucestershire Archives

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m the Community Heritage Development Manager at Glos Archives, and work on all sorts of special or community projects such as Never Better.


How did you become involved in Never Better?

Sarah Blowers at Strike A Light raised the issue of doing some sort of mental health drama production, for the History Festival; as we have all the historic asylum records, it seemed a good fit.


How important have the archives been to the project?

Vitally important – volunteers have transcribed case notes from the Victorian and Edwardian asylums (there were 3 asylums in Gloucester at the time). These have inspired the creative team and provided original source material. We can only look at records that are over 100 years old.


What has been the most memorable archive material uncovered as part of the project research?

The stories of individuals and their treatment in the asylums. Also, the story of a young woman admitted in 1904 to a Gloucester asylum who had previously, in the 1890’s, thrown herself off the Clifton suspension bridge, attempting suicide. She was saved by the crinolines and skirts making her float down rather than hit the water with force.


Did you find anything you weren’t expecting?

Not really. But it was upsetting to see young children admitted to adult asylums (there were no childrens services at the time). Often this was for things like epilepsy or hydrocephalus or a learning disability. Also, there was no drug treatment or talking therapies during the time period we looked at – 1823 to 1916. And there were stories of people being admitted for what we would now call substance misuse – people addicted to opium or laudanum. 


What are you looking forward to most about the performance?

Seeing everything come together!


What role do the archives play in the local community and do you think it’s important to maintain this resource?

We work with community groups, helping them to gather, keep and share their documented history. We offer volunteering, and we are a resource in the local community – the Heritage Hub

David Drakeley