by Kate Smith, from the History of Place project
The History of Place project highlights sites of importance within disability history, culminating in exhibitions in London, Liverpool and Bristol.
The Project has been exploring eight historic buildings, each of which relates to the history of deaf and disabled people.
One of the places the project has been exploring is the Guild of the Brave, which was active between 1894 and 1987 in Bristol, and offered community, training and the occasional country holiday away from the smoky city to disabled people.
As we delved into the archives, we found a series of photo albums and minute books from around the time of the First World War, which bring the lives of Guild members vividly alive.
From monasteries to the Independent Living Movement
The Guild in Bristol is part of a bigger picture. The eight places we are exploring range from a monastery built in Faversham, Kent in 1234 to schools for blind and deaf people in Liverpool and Margate respectively.
From the 18th century, there’s a rough story arc which traces the rise of more benign Victorian institutions – which offered at the least safety and kindness, and at best training and respect.
However, what started out as genuine provision for disabled people where there was nothing, soon became not much better than a prison. Being ‘institutionalised’ made many disabled people feel separated, different and powerless in their lives. This became a human rights issue with the conception of the Social Model of Disability, recognising that it was the disabling barriers that people faced that made them disabled rather than a medical condition and ultimately led to the Independent Living Movement in the 1970s.
The most recent building in the history we are telling is Grove Road in Nottingham, commissioned and built by two disabled people, Ken and Maggie Davis, who wanted to live together in their own home, not in ‘a home’.
The Guild fits into this bigger narrative. In its history, from the late 19th century to the 1980s, there is a strong theme of many of its members wanting to find a place in society, which often meant developing skills for employment.
It can take work to bring archive material alive. We wanted to create something fun and accessible to everyone from all that we’ve discovered.
During April, a group of 13 – 30 year olds have been working with theatre specialist John Norton and techies Surface Impression to turn the story of the Bristol Guild into a digital game. The characters and scenarios we are developing are inspired by the lives we can see reflected in the Guild photo albums and other archive material.
The final result will be part of the exhibition at M Shed from 14 October. We are still working on it, but we hope the games will tap into all the senses, so regardless of disability, everyone can take part. There will also be an online version.
Stay in touch
If you would like to stay in touch for full details of the exhibitions and games – as well as hearing more about our discoveries in the archives – do sign up to the History of Place newsletter.