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Home | Projects | Oral History Project – if these walls could speak

Oral History Project – If these walls could speak

There is an urgent need to capture the living memory (first and second-hand knowledge) through the voices of those alive today who have stories and connections to The Crichton. We are currently capturing their collective memories through a carefully designed oral history project. It explores the impact of psychiatric hospital treatment, how it and opinions have changed over time, building on the heritage and history of The Crichton Estate.

“We will give the people of Dumfries and beyond a platform to voice the memories they have of an institution that was a central part of the lives of so many”.

We believe that the memories of those who worked and were patients in one of Scotland’s largest mental health hospitals in the twentieth century, up until the 1990s collectively form a unique asset to explore. Thousands of doctors, psychologists, nurses, support staff and patients lived and worked together in a community that had originally been self-supporting, with its own farm, kitchen gardens, and workshops.

The Crichton Royal Hospital was the last, and grandest, of Scotland’s Royal asylums, founded in Dumfries in 1838. The legacy both physically in its buildings and gardens that remain today (occupied by over 80 businesses and 4 universities) and the collective memory of stories and myths of the people who were patients, worked and lived on The Crichton Estate coupled with the wider community memory of those who lived outside the walls presents a rare opportunity to explore the role and impact of institutional psychiatric care on both a host community of an ‘asylum’ and the community within the bounds of the hospital itself.

We aim to engage our community in the history and impact of institutional mental health care, build an understanding of the particular importance in the development of mental health care played by the Royal Crichton Hospital given its early adoption of therapeutic activities including engagements in gardening and the arts.

The recorded material collected will form, in the first instance, an online exhibition. This will be the first stage in making a new oral history collection and primary source archive for wider dissemination and interpretation. Our intention is to develop an oral history tour of the Estate along with making a series of clips deep linked to the extensive Wellcome Trust digital collection already online, building depth and understanding of the heritage of the estate.

The project began in November 2019 with the appointment of a Project Officer, who recruited and trained a team of dedicated volunteers. Trained to record people’s memories and experiences, they began work in March 2020. The project paused during the pandemic and resumed in early 2021. To find out more, to become a volunteer, or to share your memories and experiences, please contact the Project Officer:

The Crichton Oral History project is supported by The Heritage Lottery Fund and The Crichton Foundation. In December 2021, The Crichton Trust was also confirmed as an official partner in Scotland’s Year of Stories 2022. Find out more below.

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