Craig Fees, “From the Archive [#2],

Therapeutic Communities 19:1 (1998), pp. 65-66



An archive and study centre is a place into which experience in its many forms flows, is stored, is protected against decay, and when called for is made available again, with safeguards for confidentiality. Behind it is the belief that a society or a profession with a deep and critically tuned memory is more likely to live well through difficult, dangerous, or simply new and unexpected experiences than ones that live by the seat of contemporary memory alone, however rich in organisation, structure and tradition.


The depth and diversity of experience even in a small specialist archive can be astounding. Handling it for the first time, an old bottle of pills tumbles out of the file of a client which hasn’t been opened for forty years. Among the letters of another file you come across a bent and twisted ring with a note to take it to be repaired. In the bottom of a plastic bag holding part of an archive you have just been given there is a torn-up photograph.


The phone rings and the daughter of a man to whom you sent a Christmas card tells you over a terrible line that he is dead. You are taken back to a tiny flat in Cornwall and to the interview with a man whose fierceness of experience and integrity transformed an interview about the Northfield Military Psychiatric Hospital into a changing ground for both of you. A man who, as practically a boy, had been sent with the Hampshire Regiment to North Africa and discovered horrors in himself and others which Northfield could address but not cure: captured in action in 1943, shipped via Italy and cattle car to the barbarous Arbeits Kommando 7006, working the winter quarry face in feet wrapped in rags and having escaped from the subsequent death march of prisoners being driven away from the advancing Allied armies in 1945, spending his last minutes before liberation hiding in the muck of a hole-in-the-ground latrine, and finding himself when finally ‘free’ sharing an emergency school room shelter with a woman who had been liberated from a concentration camp, crying on his shoulder. And depressed at being ‘free’. After years of a kind of voluntary exile in which his guilt over his experiences in the war had made it impossible for him to do so, he had finally returned to his native county the year before last and found an unexpected welcome among the comrades of his Regimental Association. He was, his daughter says, finally happy.


Trying to find one of the smallest collections in the Archive for the donor: a stamp sold to raise money for Boys Town in the United States; a little green piece of paper from the wallet of an American Air Force officer killed on active service in 1956, something which could easily have been thrown away, but was found in his wallet by one of his children and given to the Archive instead.


Listening to audiotape copies of a set of four gramophone records of Donald Winnicott delivering his famous series of BBC broadcasts, ‘The Child and the Family’, recently given to the Archive anonymously. Discovering that the world-famous paediatrician and psychoanalyst sounds for all the world like the Yorkshire Playwright, actor and humorist Alan Bennett and wondering whether it will ever bepossible to read Winnicott with a straight face again.


Shelving The Seclusion Room, a crime and detection novel by Fredric Neuman published in the Gollancz Detection series in 1979, purporting to take place in a therapeutic community and described (among rampant fictional murder and betrayal) as “A novel that lifts the curtain on life in a mental hospital, showing both staff and patients as they really are”.


And then, of course, the Internet, which careers back and forth between surprise and tedium as we troll it in aid of the Archive’s current awareness programme listing discoveries on the web-site’s links page and taking hard copy for our permanent files. In theory - triage and personal exhaustion aside - if it has appeared on the Internet and if it pertains in some way to the therapeutic community it should, ultimately, be available in the Archive, as a part of the contemporary experience which flows in and through the Centre. Breasting the waves of the links page you can almost see at a glance how the differing concepts of therapeutic community have raced around the world, and in some cases even taken root in the local legal culture. It’s wonderful.


And finally, speaking of Northfield: According to the Minutes of the Medical Committee of the Cassel Hospital for June 7 1946, Tom Main, Maxwell Jones, J.D.W. Pearce and David Jones were shortlisted (in that order) for the post of Cassel Hospital Medical Director. Main brought with him - and presumably would have taken with him anywhere - the people and influences of Northfield: Harold Bridger who helped scout the new post-war site before the hospital moved in, Millicent Dewar who joined the staff in 1948, Eric Wittkower and A.T.M. Wilson (of the Tavistock) who helped inaugurate the first Cassel Summer School for general hospital nurses in 1949, with Wilson becoming a member of the new Nurses’ Training Committee later that year (for example). But what would have happened if Maxwell Jones had been given the job instead of Main. What if, instead of having to wait almost twenty years to become Medical Director of Dingleton Hospital in Scotland, Maxwell Jones had been able to step straight into the Medical Directorship of the Cassel Hospital while it was still a well-endowed private hospital eyeing the pros and cons of the coming National Health Service, and fresh from Mill Hill: Given free rein, and side-stepping the wars and frustrations of the life he had at Belmont running a radical unit within the structures of a larger and more conventionally-organised hospital? And what influence, I wonder, did the outcome of this particular competition have on the future relationships of the two men?


 Craig Fees


The references in this piece are to tape recordings, files, logs and other materials for which the Planned Environment Therapy Trust Archive and Study Centre is responsible. Not all materials held in the Archive and Study Centre are publicly available. For further information please contact the Archivist at: The Planned Environment Therapy Trust Archive and Study Centre, Church Lane, Toddington, Cheltenham, GLOS. GL54 5DQ England, or seeour website at