Discovering Glenside Through its Objects #5: Every name is a number


3 men patients3 women patientsdischarge graph

One wall of the museum is devoted to a series of black and white photographs of patients from the nineteenth century. The images are of men and women, old and young, mostly from working or trade backgrounds. Some are housewives, some are maids and there are a smattering of artists and artisans.

Sitting just above, are a series of bar charts that summarise key data about the 5,111 patients admitted from 1861 -1900. They include information on outcomes for patients: the percentage of those admitted who died or were discharged; length of stay – which differed for men and women; and the marital status of women by diagnosis – far more married than single women were admitted with a diagnosis relating to childbirth.

Usually when we talk about statistics, we like to remind ourselves that behind the numbers are names – real people with real stories and real lives. The evocative photos on display go some way to helping us do this. But sometimes it’s interesting to focus on the numbers because they can tell stories too. This is what Anwyl Cooper-Willis, member of ‘alldaybreakfast’ (artists in residence at Glenside), did when she explored data collected by Paul Tobia from Glenside’s Victorian patient records housed in the Bristol Archives. .

For this blog, I interviewed Anwyl about why she wanted to look at the data, what she discovered, what questions the data raised for her and what, if given the chance, she would like to do with the data next.  Below are audio clips from that interview. I hope you enjoy listening to these.

Also, as part of alldaybreakfast’s residency at Glenside, Anwyl explored different ways of visualising the data to help make it more meaningful and accessible to those of us who are less keen on poring over spreadsheets and interpreting bar charts. The pieces that she created were part of an exhibition held in Broadmead in Bristol in November 2016. You can watch a video about the art works on the alldaybreakfast website.

My thanks to Anwyl for taking part in the interview and for allowing me to post the following clips.

If you enjoy these recordings, please do let us know by contacting the museum.

Audio clip 1 – Anwyl explains why she was interested in looking at the data (covering admissions to the asylum from 1861-1900). Length 0:43min

Audio clip 2 – Anwyl describes what she found when looking at the data relating to how long patients stayed in hospital.Length 00:21min

Audio clip 3 – Anwyl debunks some myths about the reasons women were admitted.Length 1:06min

Audio clip 4 – Anwyl reflects on the idea of the hospital as a place of relative comfort for patients, most of whom were from poor backgrounds. Length 0:50min

Audio clip 5 – Anwyl answers questions about the value of the data and what she would like to explore next. Length 0:51min

Further reading

You may be interested in reading other blog posts in this series. I would love to hear what you think.

You may also be interested in blogs written by Paul Tobia and other guest writers. Paul’s blogs focus on patients’ stories from the Victorian period and his more recent experience as a mental health nurse.

Artists in residence at the museum, alldaybreakfast, are researching the archive and making art works in response to the objects in the museum. For more information about the exciting programme of art and activities relating to the museum’s collection that they have planned and how to get involved, visit

There are lots of different things for volunteers to do at the museum. If you would like to get involved, see the information for volunteers on the museum website or use the online contact form.