Better Court Than Coroners: v. 1: Memoirs of a Duty of Care

9780956991003: Better Court Than Coroners: v. 1: Memoirs of a Duty of Care
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Barone Hopper's comprehensive work, on psychiatric care over the last hundred years, is based on a working lifetime's involvement with those who have passed through the asylums and mental hospitals of Sussex. The book, teeming with characters, is based chiefly on decades of recording the memories of staff and patients; from psychiatrists, therapists, nurses and pharmacists, through administrators, clerks, ward orderlies, cooks and cleaners to the patients the system was designed to serve. Hopper introduces his own vivid memories, supported by a wealth of research, and includes a detailed study of one particular West Sussex institution, Graylingwell. He explores the sometimes dramatic history of this Victorian-built hospital, as it adapted over the years to changing duty-of-care philosophies. The book is lavishly illustrated, with many photographs in colour, and includes a wealth of maps, contemporary accounts, hospital surveys and personal testimonies. It captures a world which no longer exists, but whose themes still echo for today's mental healthcare professionals.

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"Entering Graylingwell Hospital near Chichester in the 1960s was like being transported into another world. Barone Hopper vividly recalls his first visit there on a wet, dark day back in 1967, coming across the gaunt main building, erected as a lunatic asylum 70 years earlier. Hopper, who was training as a mental nurse, was given friendly but limited assistance as he tried to find his way round the endless rooms and corridors. But he stayed for more than 30 years and retired in 2000 with an unmatched knowledge of the institution. Now he has written an enormous 700-page book, mingling his own experiences with episodes of earlier history at a hospital which dealt with patients from most of West Sussex. He says: "It would be lovely to recall only tales of a happy, often humorous place and to depict numerous scenes wholly without dour sickness, death or unhappy disorder - even of occasional chaos." But he discounts prevailing myths which abounded among those who had never been there that Graylingwell was a place of Gothic horror. It was a huge institution in substantial grounds that became home not only for the hundreds of inmates but also for the staff chosen to look after them. The hospital was big enough to have its own farm, while a tower which served as a local landmark helped produce Graylingwell's own water supply. Graylingwell was opened in 1897 after completion was delayed by a building strike. The first superintendent was Dr Harold Kidd, whose humanity helped make it a less fearsome place than many others. Kidd stayed there for 30 years and Hopper says he was far ahead of his time. Early on he changed its name from the West Sussex Asylum to Graylingwell Hospital. Hopper was able to cover the whole history of Graylingwell by interviewing people whose parents had worked there, and they included a son of Dr Kidd. It was used as a hospital during the First World War when there was a desperate need in the South for more beds, and the military did not leave until 1920. Even in the 1960s, Graylingwell was changing from the early days. Hopper recalls an experimental day hospital which provided a community health service. Patients were able to return home at evenings and weekends. He also remembers taking some patients out with other members of staff for pleasant walks around country lanes. But there were other patients who would never leave their wards for a moment unless made to do so. He says the dedicated and unremitting quality of care by most of his colleagues to patients, even the really difficult and disturbed ones, had to be seen to be believed. Over the years, huge advances in the care of patients with mental problems led to the closure of the old asylums and the widespread use of care in the community. Graylingwell, like the other two large Sussex mental hospitals, St Francis at Haywards Health and Hellingly near Hailsham, has been earmarked for housing, although traces of the old buildings remain. Hopper has performed a public service with his book and there is a second volume to come. He helped make the history he has written about." Adam Trimingham, Evening Argus. "This is perhaps one of the most significant memoirs of a mental health nurse to emerge for some time. The biography of the author, who commenced nursing in the 1960s, is a fascinating one, as are the events he observed during his training and work at Graylingwell Psychiatric Hospital in Chichester. Hopper was born in 1937. His childhood home was bombed during the Blitz, and he spent some years as an evacuee during and after the Second World War. The members of his family were separated and this enforced break-up provided fertile ground for reflection and for insights which he later applied in his conversations with patients and observations of staff During his national service, Hopper spent 13 months on Christmas Island at a time when nuclear weapons were being tested there, so making him a 'nuclear veteran'. Once demobbed and prior to doing nurse-training, he Worked in various jobs, including periods spent at a Fleet Street photographic agency, as a West End dance teacher and in the Press Office of New Scotland Yard. After qualifying as an registered mental nurse, he became a social worker, and for more than 30 years specialised in the care of older adults and people with learning disabilities, working close to where he did his initial training. As he states in the 'Preface', for Hopper, this book represents a labour of love which has been gestating for the past 30 years. Readers will be impressed by the enthusiasm with which he approaches his work, the acuteness of his recall, and the ease with which he references the arts, humanities and sciences throughout his book. It is apparent that from his first day as a nurse, his curiosity was active and the committed interest he took in his work is testified to by the meticulous recording of conversations with patients and staff and of the practices he saw around him. Hopper clearly believed that everyone he met had an interesting story to tell. He draws on both formal records and verbatim accounts of patients, psychiatrists, nurses, pharmacists, administrators and support staff In describing the context in which mental health services were provided using the language and terminology of the time, Hopper brings to life mental health care in an age that for most mental health personnel today is regarded as 'history'. The people Hopper talks about come alive as he skilfully knits his accounts of each of them into a coherent tapestry of mental health nursing history. While the book is highly informative and a fascinating read, there are a few criticisms that might be made by readers versed in historical methodologies. First, the fact that Hopper does not make his methodological approach explicit will, doubtless, cause some to ask why certain events are focused on and not others. I feel the book would have benefitted from more attention to style and presentation, the elimination of repetition, and the correction of some typographical and a few factual errors. These drawbacks may be considered to be countered by the fact that, as the author frequently reminds the reader, this is a personal memoir. Hopper does not claim that the events about which he writes were typical of what was happening in other hospitals at the time. However, through this personal account, he provides fascinating material for those interested in exploring the effects of organisations and legislative frameworks on the culture of care and nursing practice. I believe that this book is an important contribution to our understanding of the history of mental health care in the UK. It should encourage others to tell their own stories and for anyone interested in learning about or undertaking nursing history, this book would be an ideal place to start." Peter Nolan British Journal of Mental Health Nursing March/April 2013.

About the Author:

Born in 1937, Barone Hopper was in care as an evacuee during and after the war, and in 1940 was "bombed out" in the London blitz, which left him homeless for 12 years. His military life, from 1955-67 included national service and a period as a regular in the Royal Engineers, his thirteen months on Christmas Island making him a nuclear veteran. He was later a reservist in the Royal Engineers and a TAVR active reservist in the Royal Army Medical Corps. Early, varied, careers included; working in a Fleet Street photographic agency; as a West End dance teacher and, also, the press office for New Scotland Yard. Having qualified as a Registered Mental Nurse and in psychiatric child care, he became a Social Worker, working in child care, as well as with elderly and handicapped people. For more than thirty years he worked as a specialist psychiatric social worker, both in hospitals and out in the Sussex community. He retired in 2000.

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