Novelist Patrick McGrath talks about his childhood as the son of a psychiatrist growing up in the grounds of Broadmoor – one of Britain’s highest security psychiatric hospitals – in an article for Intelligent Life.
Broadmoor Hospital has a special and undeserved place in the British psyche – stereotyped as ‘the real-life equivalent of Arkham Asylum’.
The reality is vastly different. While dangerous people do genuinely go there, it is primarily a hospital and a particularly state-of-the-art one at that, although it is a very secure place.
With this is mind, McGrath’s article is all the more amazing, as it describes a forensic hospital of generations past where children could live on the grounds and play amid the hospital buildings.
…the family had settled happily into Broadmoor life. The superintendent’s kids—there were four of us eventually—were well pleased with their lot. Kentigern had sculleries, pantries, a meat safe, servants’ quarters, and various sheds and outhouses, including a conservatory where the patients grew tomatoes. The garden was a sprawling expanse of trees and lawns, a goldfish pond with a fountain, a vegetable garden and, best of all, areas of dense rhododendron bushes where you could hide out from the authorities and build a campfire. It was a good place to grow up.
I occasionally work in medium secure psychiatric wards, a ‘step below’ Broadmoor on the risk ladder, and it usually takes me at least 15 minutes to get in through the searches, doors and endless locks. The days when families lived on site are long gone.
McGrath also talks about (in)famous patients and cases that made the media and how they affected their family life.
Interestingly, McGrath has gone on to write several novels that feature psychiatry or madness as central to the plot.
A curious and unique perspective.