Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Craig-y-nos - Oral History conference


Dr.Carole Reeves, Outreach Historian with The Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine, University College London

Oral History Society Annual Conference

No sooner had I returned to London from Swansea when it was back on the train to Birmingham for the Oral History Society’s Annual Conference 2008. It was held at Birmingham University Medical School on 4th – 5th July, and the title was ‘Who Cared? Oral History, Caring, Health and Illness: Marking 60 Years of the National Health Service.’

There were 44 papers presented and these were run in parallel sessions, which meant that delegates had to choose themed presentations rather than try to get to everything. My presentation, entitled ‘Finding the Lost Children of Craig-y-nos’ was in the last session on Saturday afternoon although, for some unknown reason, I wasn’t themed with the two other speakers who’d also done oral history interviews with people who’d been in TB sanatoriums as children. Susan Kelly at the Centre for History of Medicine Ireland, University of Ulster, had interviewed 53 people who’d had childhood TB in Northern Ireland between 1926 and 1963.

Many of their experiences were similar to the Children of Craig-y-nos, particularly with regard to emotional trauma (more marked in the youngest children) and stigma. The other speaker was Malin Arvidsson, a student at Malmö University, Sweden, who spoke about Marklunda, a ‘preventorium’ – in other words an institution for children who tested positive for TB but didn’t actually have it. The institution acted as an orphanage by taking urban children from the poorest homes and giving them an open-air life. Malin found that most of the people she interviewed had a good life at Marklunda but then they weren’t confined to bed and they took part in many outdoor activities. Even so, they were still separated from their families with all the long-term effects that this produces.

Until I met Susan and Malin, I had no idea that other people were working on similar projects to ours so it was great to meet up and compare notes. About 120 people attended the conference, mostly from the UK but there was a contingent from the US and Scandinavia. Many European countries don’t do oral history so it wasn’t surprising to find no delegates from across the Channel.

After my talk, a lady approached who seemed rather tearful and thanked me profusely for my presentation. She explained that she’d been born in Morriston and had no idea that Craig-y-nos had ever been a sanatorium. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised but it reinforced the conviction that we really are reconstructing 40 years of missing Welsh history.

The lady has since contacted me. Her name is Trish Thomas and she works as an Occupational Therapist at Working Age Mental Health Services in the community, for Sussex Partnership NHS Trust, based at Bognor Regis. She’s asked if I could advise on setting up a project to record the memories of people who’d been locked away in mental hospitals for 20 years or more, in the days when we did that sort of thing.

Well, we did that sort of thing at Craig-y-nos, didn’t we?

Comment
trish thomas said...
I am really glad to have made this connection, and I must say that one of the things that most moved me in the recordings from Craig-y-nos played at this conference was the account of a child's mother who tried to bring to her - the smell of the sea, and the touch of her pet dog. That made it easy to understand that your project is as much about the warmth, invention, and strength of human relationships as it is about pain and separation. I hope that something comparable will emerge if we succeed in recording the oral histories of some of the people I work with.
Very best wishes,
Trish Thomas

1 comment:

Trish Thomas said...

I am really glad to have made this connection, and I must say that one of the things that most moved me in the recordings from Craig-y-nos played at this conference was the account of a child's mother who tried to bring to her - the smell of the sea, and the touch of her pet dog. That made it easy to understand that your project is as much about the warmth, invention, and strength of human relationships as it is about pain and separation. I hope that something comparable will emerge if we succeed in recording the oral histories of some of the people I work with.
Very best wishes,
Trish Thomas