Project Description

On 24 October 2018 I attended the CLOD ensemble workshop at the Harris which explored sound, music & wellbeing. My brief role was to put the session into the context of Whittingham Asylum and the project exhibition.

The session was led by Andrew Hall, a composer, researcher and musician in residence at CW+ where he has been identifying new musical tools for use in the London hospital.

Andrew commented that it was generally accepted that the use of music to benefit patients started in 1891 when Canon Frederick Kill Harford inaugurated the Guild of St Cecilia with a view to providing live music to patients in London hospitals*. I knew I had seen earlier references to musicians in the Whittingham Asylum archives and a brief search has uncovered the following:

The staff register has a number of musicians employed from 1 November  1887 and a pencil entry- ‘orchestra’ against the name of someone employed from 14 July 1886 (although this is probably a later annotation). (HRW 26/2)

On 12 May 1886 the Visitors’ report book (HRW 2/1) records: ‘A billiard table for the men and a piano for the women’

22 Jun 1887 the Visitors minutes (HRW 1/6) record the decision that ‘members of band and choir be granted a trip this year’

On 28 March 1888 the Visitors’ report book (HRW 2/1) records ‘The asylum band-30 attendants conducted ably by the steward – frequently performs and would we believe, compare favourably with any other asylum band in the kingdom’

So there was obviously music at Whittingham from at least 1886, probably for the benefit of the staff as much as the patients, but there is also the suggestion that other asylums had bands or orchestras too. More research needed!

Jacquie Crosby
Jan 2019

Jane Edwards, 2008, The use of music in healthcare contexts : a select review of writings from the 1890s to the 1940s, Voices: a world forum for music therapy, vol. 8, no. 2, pp. 1‐ 18

B. Bellamy Gardner, Jul 1944, Therapeutic Qualities of Music, Music & Letters, Vol. 25, No. 3 pp. 181- 186