A YEAR-LONG project to fully catalogue the archive of the former Dorset County Asylum has been supported by a £56,000 grant.

The Dorset History Centre received the funds from the Wellcome Trust, the UK’s leading medical research charity.

The asylum, which was originally founded in 1832, was based at Forston House in Charminster, near Dorchester. By the 1860s, this facility was too small and the new asylum at the Herrison site was opened in 1863. Herrison House itself (pictured) was opened in 1904, and in 1940 the institution became known as Herrison Hospital.

The archive, which dates back to 1832, consists of 300 boxes of material, including thousands of poignant individual patient records, as well as a wide range of other material – from building plans to the hospital’s farm, and even social activities such as the rounders society.

The archive will be made available to the general public through the Dorset History Centre website. The centre has been working closely with academics from Bournemouth University and the University of Exeter who intend to use the collection for their research as the project unfolds.

In addition, the funding will enable a significant amount of conservation work to take place, including cleaning, repairing and packaging the archive to assist in its long-term preservation.

At its peak, Herrison Hospital was home to nearly 1000 patients and only closed its doors in 1992.

Over the years the establishment grew and the patients were encouraged to grow their own food in the hospital’s grounds and on its farm.

They slept in large wards, long rooms containing more than 70 beds, and, although the staff were compassionate, the treatments would be regarded as primitive and barbaric by today’s standards.

Cllr Andrew Parry, cabinet member for education, learning and skills said: “We are so grateful to the Wellcome Trust for their support. Securing this vital funding will enable the completion of work to catalogue the fascinating history of Herrison and create accessibility for anyone researching important aspects of the hospital’s work over a 160-year period.”

It is thought that some of Herrison’s archives were retained by hospital staff when the institution closed its doors.

Recently, Dorset History Centre received some records that had been rescued by a former employee, whose son brought them in to join the rest of the archive.

If you know of any records such as these, Dorset History Centre would like to hear from you. To get in touch email archives@dorsetcc.gov.uk or call 01305 250550 and ask to speak to an archivist.