When researching the history of the Royal Western Counties Institution at Starcross I was disappointed to find that the patient records and all material referring to individuals, including photographs, had been deliberately destroyed when the hospital closed in the 1980s. Therefore the story that unfolds in the remaining records is very much the 'official' history with few clues to the experiences of the people who lived there. I was therefore surprised and delighted to find a copy of this book of verse published in aid of the League of Friends of one of the branch hospitals. The poems, composed by one patient and typed by another, with a brief explanatory note by a member of staff, offer vivid pictures of routine activities and special events at the hospital.
This paper seeks to present the official biography of the institution alongside the life story of Charlotte, told in her own words in 'My book of verse'. Charlotte was a foundling and spent her whole life in care, including more than thirty years at the RWCI. She was diagnosed as having a learning disability and this was complicated by a severe eye problem that eventually caused her to go blind. Despite all these restrictions on her life, her own words are full of warmth and optimism; about her life, her friends and the hospital she called home.
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