Our Brain is ElectricThis blog post is from Glenside Hospital Museum as part of a series of posts on the theme of ‘Human Discovery: Experiencing Science’ for History Day 2022.

Glenside Hospital Museum, with support from the Royal Society, discovered three historic pioneers of brain research in Bristol.

Rosa Burden was a matron at Stoke Park Colony, a hospital for residential care of those with learning difficulties, and widow of the owner of the hospital the Rev. Harold Burden. She wanted to find solutions for her patients, and founded the Burden Mental Research Trust with a donation of £10,000 in 1933 (equivalent to over £750,000 today) to investigate the causes of “mental deficiency”. In 1939 this attracted eminent scientists to Bristol to discover how our brain works at the newly opened Burden Neurology Institute (BNI), one of whom was Grey Walter.

Dr. W. Grey Walter was a pioneer of robotics and artificial intelligence from 1930-1971. He also developed electrical methods to record activity in the brain to help those who were mentally ill; EEG (the electroencephalogram). EEG is used to help diagnose and monitor a number of conditions affecting the brain. He also created an ECT (electroconvulsory therapy) machine that with electricity helped some people with severe mental illness to recover.

In 1944 another pioneer, Dr Donal Early (1917-2004) came to Bristol. At Glenside Hospital he saw new ways of treating people with mental illness. In the 1950s he instigated research on new therapies and drugs, often in conjunction with the Burden Neurological Institute.

The asylum had been built to provide patients with five ingredients to support recovery and wellbeing which we are all familiar with today: a safe uplifting environment, good diet, sleep, exercise and occupation. However Donal Early saw, with the birth of the National Health Service in 1948, the element of occupation within the mental health hospital was largely withdrawn. He set about providing a radical, pioneering system of “industrial rehabilitation”. He started by bringing real work into the Occupational Therapy department, continuing by providing a factory outside the hospital grounds, and finally, taking supported groups into open industry.

By 1960, the scheme had become the Industrial Therapy Organisation (Bristol) Ltd (ITO) with patients being paid to work alongside permanent employees in a number of industries at various sites around Bristol. ITO was such a successful model in supporting patients’ recovery that it was replicated across Britain, and internationally. In 1979, he retired from the NHS and worked as a World Health Organisation Advisor on Mental Health. He went on in 1984 to found our unique and nationally important Glenside Hospital Museum, now housed in the church that had once served the hospital.

Come and visit us on a Wednesday morning 10am-1pm or Saturday 10am – 4pm. Groups can book other days too.

Visit: www.glensidemuseum.org.uk