On Sunday, 7 April 2019 the doors of Herrison Hall were thrown open to anyone with an interest in the old Herrison Hospital in Dorchester and before the exhibition was officially opened every space in the car park was taken as people seemed to be heading for the hall from all directions. We had to park some distance away and as we walked we met up with a man who was excitedly returning as he told us he had started work in the kitchen, many years ago, on leaving school. Many came with items or photographs to share but many came just with their memories and it was the sharing of these memories that set up such a buzz around the hall. Herrison Hall was originally the ballroom and was saved from demolition and replacement at the time the site was redeveloped and the new housing was added.
The Open Day organised by Dom White and a group of ex-staff members and was attended by the Dorset History Centre, consisted of information, much of it collected and retained by individuals involved with the day to day running of the hospital, together with photographs, newspaper cuttings and much more besides. At the back of the hall was a fascinating display of items found when the building had to be cleared. These items survived thanks to the man who used to run the market garden at the hospital where he met his future wife who was a nurse. He was one of the last people left on site after the hospital closed, when they were told to throw everything out of the windows into a skip, so he started saving bits and pieces and some of these many items were on display. Apparently he has more stuff at home! I watched as the official photographer, using a light box, photographed some of these items and we both agreed that it was very fortunate now that someone had managed to retrieve all these tangible objects carrying with them their messages to us of a former time.
The Charlton Down Local History Society was well represented and a history of the hospital and its redevelopment can be found here on the village hall website.
Many of us, with extensive Dorset family trees, are likely to find that one or two members of our earlier family will have ended their days at the hospital and I know that I have made this discovery in the past which is why I was so keen to attend the exhibition. The Dorset History Centre is very pleased to have received a £56,000 grant from the Wellcome Trust for cataloguing and conservation of items, documentation and photographs for the hospital which should enable all the major conservation treatments to be completed and to catalogue the whole archive. Much of it will remain subject to the Data Protection and GDPR Legislation, but all the building records and staff and patient records over 100 years old will be available for local and family historians. Sophie Smith, Archives Services Officer (Cataloguing), is the project Archivist.
Barbara Elsmore April 2019