In compiling a history of the Argyll and Bute Hospital (originally the Argyll and Bute District Asylum) we decided to concentrate on the social and community aspect that formed around the building and its location in Lochgilphead.
We discovered an abundance of evidence, which showed that the hospital had been a thriving and industrious place where patients were expected to work as this was seen as an important part of treatment.
There were many occupations involved and over the years the hospital had it's own farm, piggery and various workshops where patients were employed subject to their abilities and fitness. It was interesting to note that right at the beginning there was a definite hope for recovery, a sentiment much lauded today, with emphasis placed on the benefits of fresh air and exercise.
The very same things that are being heavily promoted today. One can only speculate on the effect that the belief that patients were being exploited by working which resulted in them being confined to wards for long periods of time.
During the 150 years, which forms the basis for this publication as well as work and exercise, there was also a huge amount of social and recreational activity with outings, dances, parties and the formation of a hospital brass band and choir.
Whilst not wishing to dispute that not everything that happened in the hospital was good and that for some people it was a frightening and unhappy place, it would seem that the good intentions outweighed the bad and the desire to properly care for people with mental ill health was there from the beginning.
Prior to the Lunacy (Scotland) Act of 1857 there were 9 lunatic asylums and 1 pauper asylum in Scotland; of these all but 2 were situated in the eastern half of the country with the remaining 2 being in Glasgow.
The first asylum to be built as a result of the 1957 Act was the Argyll and Bute and lengthy discussions as to its design, size and patient numbers began in April 1860 between the General Board and the Argyllshire District Board.
These discussions lasted for just over a year with various suggestions and ideas put forward regarding all aspects of the new building and not surprisingly many of these were dismissed on cost grounds. Finally, it was decided to build the asylum in one single block and this formed the basis for subsequent asylum building projects. The original plan would accommodate 120 patients.
Before the 1857 Act provision for people with mental ill health was patchy at best. Anybody could open a “madhouse” regardless of their ability or occupation and take "lunatics" into their home to "care" for them!
An early example of care in the community? Needless to say many people suffered abuse and despicable living conditions under this system with some of them being simply a family member who was deemed to be a nuisance. So, after much deliberation, planning and discussion the Argyll and Bute District Asylum opened in June 1863 set upon an elevated site with beautiful views, surrounded by woodlands and was innovative in that it had no boundary “Asylum” walls.
“In memory of all who sought and found sanctuary within Argyll and Bute Hospital and of those whose lives ended here from 1863 to the present day.” - Memorial Plaque in the High wood by J Barnett.