Stephen Soanes (Warwick): “The Place was a Home from Home”: Patient Identity and Belonging in Cottage Homes for Convalescents, 1910 – 1939

Royal Holloway University of London Department of History

Event Date:
14 and 15 September 2010

11 Bedford Square, Royal Holloway (Central London)


Inhabiting Institutions in Britain, 1700-1950

Spaces and Institutional Structures

Institutional environments and boundaries

Stephen Soanes (Warwick): “The Place was a Home from Home”: Patient
Identity and Belonging in Cottage Homes for Convalescents, 1910 – 1939

This paper responds to a recent call for more historical investigation into the emotional response of institutionalised patients (Coleborne, 2009). Scholars have begun to explore the complex and often equivocal reactions of asylum inmates and their families to institutional provision (Long, 2004; L. Smith, 2009). Nevertheless, very little attention has been paid to the experiences of rate-assisted patients (particularly after 1914), or to institutional residents who were neither sick nor well. Convalescence presented particular challenges to patient identity, as a transitional and liminal stage of treatment between hospital and “home” in the community. As this paper will explore, convalescence gave poorer patients on the cusp of recovery the chance to reappraise notions of “home” and belonging within their personal narratives of illness/health.

Between 1910 and 1938, the number of patients boarded in the Mental After-Care Association’s (MACA: 1879) voluntary cottage convalescent homes rose eight times. Encouraged by the Board of Control, local authorities in this period also widely established convalescent villas within mental hospitals. The proliferating use of these units was justified on the grounds they offered patients a familiar, familial, and homely environment in which to consolidate and confirm recovery. Yet how far did patients themselves share this interpretation, which was arguably based on changing medical paradigms, and concerns for the tarnished image of stigmatised asylumdom? (Scull, 1991; Harding, 1993)

This paper utilises MACA case records and published patient accounts to examine the variety of ways that convalescents interpreted their temporary treatment in these “halfway homes”. Through these often brief and partial records (J. Andrews, 1998; Berkenkotter, 2008), I will examine the diverse range of patient responses to institutional convalescence. Looking at their actions and (usually mediated) accounts of residence, this paper explores ideas of rejection, acceptance, identity and belonging among those on the borderlands of institution and society.





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