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Hidden Histories – 'Alternative Futures'

An exhibition exploring heritage and creative responses to Whittingham Asylum

Whittingham Lives announces the opening of its exhibition ‘Hidden Histories – Alternative Futures’ at the Harris Museum, Art Gallery & Library from Saturday 13 October to Sunday 25 November.

In partnership with Lancashire Archives, the Harris and Lancashire County Museum Service, the exhibition forms part of a wider two-year arts and heritage project exploring the history and legacy of Preston’s Whittingham Asylum, from its opening in 1873, through to its final demolition in 2016.

The University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) is one of a number of local institutions involved in the Whittingham Lives research project.

The exhibition is a creative response to the Asylum, combining personal experiences with social, cultural and historical observations, with the aim of examining changing attitudes towards mental distress, past, present and future.

On display will be heritage items including patients’ photographs, reception orders from the early 1900s, keys, a teapot, postcards and badges from various collections, which will appear alongside creative responses including visual art, music, poetry and film.

The exhibition includes paintings by the famous rock musician Kevin Coyne (1944-2004), who worked at Whittingham Asylum early on in his career as an artist in the Occupational Therapy department from 1965-68. Many of the drawings and paintings included in the exhibition are drawn from his personal mental health experiences. 

The exhibition features paintings and drawings from all stages of Kevin Coyne's life, but includes rare items made whilst in his job at the hospital.

David Manley, Emeritus Professor of Art at Derby University and curator of ‘Happy Little Fat Man’ The Art of Kevin Coyne said: “Kevin Coyne was recognised for his contribution to music but also had an important career as an artist. Much of his inspiration rested on the vital experience he gained as a young man working at Whittingham, where he developed his lifelong obsession with those on the margins of society and a passionate interest in mental health.

“The exhibition features paintings and drawings from all stages of his life, but includes rare items made whilst in his job at the hospital.”

‘Dressed for the Part’ by Dr Carole Hunt working in collaboration with Alex Hurst, Amy Ashcroft and Liz Lewis will explore the link between clothing and the management of women patients in County Lunatic Asylums throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Clothing items on display will include crocheted collars that have been specially made in response to those female patients would have worn.

Other items in the exhibition will feature visual artworks created by Kate Eggleston-Wirtz, Sue Flowers, Amy Prescott, Sophia Boeer, Darren Andrews, George Coupe, Fraser McMillan, Julia Swarbrick, Service Users at Guild Lodge* and members of the Preston-based Creative Routes and Free Your Mind projects.


Whittingham Postcard, courtesy of Geoff Speight.

There is huge public interest in the heritage of the Asylum and its contemporary relevance, and it is heartening that the University has a key stake in this community initiative.

UCLan’s Professor Mick McKeown is an active member of the Board of the Whittingham Lives Association. He said: “Colleagues and students from across the University have supported this project, including from the School of Nursing and Heritage Network. Masters students working for UCLan Publishing have produced a high quality booklet for the project and drama students will be performing in a play. There is huge public interest in the heritage of the Asylum and its contemporary relevance, and it is heartening that the University has a key stake in this community initiative.”

Cllr Peter Kelly, Cabinet Member for Culture & Leisure at Preston City Council commented: “I’m delighted that we are supporting this superb exhibition, exploring the 150-year history of one of Preston’s most historical buildings; its significance to the landscape and how creative responses to the project examine attitudes towards mental health in the past and present.”

The exhibition will feature at the Harris Museum, Art Gallery & Library until Sunday 25 November, with a plan to tour museum locations across the North West at a future date.

The exhibition forms part of a series of programmes exploring the 150-year history of Whittingham Asylum.

The project has received nearly £70,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England. It has also received substantial funding from the trade union Unison and part of the exhibition reflects union organising in the asylum.

To get involved with the Whittingham Lives project email: contact@whittinghamlives.org.uk or visit www.whittinghamlives.org.uk.

Press Office | 03 October 2018