Visitors’ Book, Royal Scottish National Hospital, 1885-1928 (ref. RS/2/6)
Established in 1863 the Royal Scottish National Hospital was one of the first institutions in the country to have at its heart the education of children with learning disabilities. If children could not be looked after by their families, the alternatives at the time were the poorhouse or an adult lunatic asylum. Instead the RSNH taught its patients to read and write, according to their abilities, and encouraged good health and exercise. A local journalist writing in 1886 noted that “a considerable space is allotted to playgrounds, fresh and green, bright too with gowans [daisies] and buttercups, and bearing plenty of grass for the ‘feeble folk’ to tumble in.”
Located in Larbert, close to Stirling, the hospital gained an international reputation for its enlightened approach to care and treatment attracting patients from across Scotland, Britain and beyond. The hospital’s visitor’s book provides evidence of its status and reputation. This small volume was used by visiting deputations and individuals to record their impressions of the hospital. Many of the visitors came from overseas and the volume includes comments from all corners of the world.
For example Dr J A Peeters from the Colony Gheel was commissioned by the Belgian government to examine the organisation of the Scottish system of lunacy administration. In July 1892 he visited the hospital and wrote “I have been deeply touched by the care which is lavished upon the children. I hope that Belgium may some day have the glory of possessing an establishment organized in a similarly admirable manner.”
The rich historical importance and research value of the RSNH Archive was recognised in 2013 when it was added to UNESCO’s UK Memory of the World Register, sharing this honour with such well-known treasures as the Domesday Book, the films of Alfred Hitchcock and the papers of Winston Churchill. The collection has been fully catalogued and conserved with the generous support of the Wellcome Trust. The RSNH Archive is part of the larger NHS Forth Valley Archive which also includes the historical records of Stirling District Asylum.