Beginning a series of extracts from the 'Asylum Diary' written by Britta von Zweigbergk. Now a Centrepieces trustee, she worked at Bexley Hospital until it closed and kept a detailed journal of her time there in the hospital's Art Therapy Department. They paint a vivid picture of what working in the mental health sector was like over twenty years ago. The selection of entries for this blog begins in 1984...

Wednesday 1 February 1984

A selection of work by 'GG'.

I got a shock when I walked into the Art Therapy Department this morning. The damp smell that has been troubling us for a few days was even more pervasive, and the cupboard had been moved to the back door.

It was strangely unnerving to come in, prepared for a quiet morning as is usual on Wednesday when we are closed to patients, to suddenly see someone rise out of the floor wet and smelling of sewage. It’s a good thing my heart is fairly sound.

Evidently there is a blockage in the drains – certainly, the end of the department and store room have been smelling very damp, and the floor in my office is gradually subsiding into the labyrinth of cellars below.

Dudley helped me move the cupboard into the office. It’s a lot better in there anyway, and, as he said, it could be to our advantage in the long run – our floors will finally be repaired.

I have warned people that if I do not emerge after a period of time from the office, please explore as I might have disappeared into the cellars underneath, never to be seen or heard of again  another of the unsolved mysteries connected to Bexley Hospital.

GG was on hand to help and to move his paintings to a safer place. After all the hard and unexpected work, he certainly regretted coming in so early. I should have gone to collect my wages,” he commented ruefully .

I am taking BH and GG to the Tate Gallery later this morning. Ive arranged the hospital taxi to take us to Swanley Station, where we can get a train to Victoria and then the underground to Pimlic. Much quicker than going from Bexley station to Charing Cross.


The back door of the Art Therapy
Department, with the Art
Department bike!
It was good looking round the Tate. GG disappeared to look at some paintings and BH and I did our own tour of the place. We started off in the main gallery where there is still an exhibition of pre-war British sculpture. Its not a big exhibition, but it’s a good one. I particularly liked Jacob Epsteins work, a small figurine, grotesquely pregnant; Osbert Sitwell’ by Frank Dobson was gently good; Epstein’s head of Nan and a couple of portrait busts – a Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore… there is something so harmonious and compelling about these shapes.

BH seemed impressed but a little tense. I wondered whether he may have felt a bit out of place in our surroundings – being very much a ‘man’s man’. Culturally it may not have been entirely acceptable for him to go to galleries and museums. He was reluctant to be seen in the cafeteria; he said he would stick out like a sore thumb. Overall, though, I think he was pleased to have gone to the Tate and enjoyed seeing the different pieces; he has a natural affinity with shapes and sculpture. It’s pleasing to see this natural ability developing in the open art therapy sessions in the department.

To be continued

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