‘300 Years of Legal Insanity’: Exhibition explores history of mental illness around Manchester and UK

Madness and insanity are the themes of a new Manchester exhibition examining mental illness opening at The People’s History Museum this week.

‘Furiously Mad: 300 Years of Legal Insanity’ will look at the history of mental illness in Britain and how patients have been treated in that time.

The exhibition, which will run from April 2 to July 6, will focus particularly on past legislation and how it has shaped the lives of mental health patients.

The exhibition – to be held at the museum in Left Bank, Spinningfields – features an interactive timeline which traces the history of mental illness all the way back to 1714.

FINISHING TOUCHES: Alison Kershaw preparing the text displays for the exhibit


It was in this year that parliament passed the first law about the detention of people ‘of little or no estates, who by lunacy, or otherwise, are furiously mad’.

Visitors can also look forward to a series of artworks and videos, all of which have been created by Manchester-based Pool Arts, who were funded by Heritage Lottery.

Additional talks and performances will be given on the official launch day on April 5.

Alison Kershaw, one of the co-curators of the exhibition, told MM: “People will see a timeline taking them through changes in law and legislation. They’ll see a whole array of fantastic artworks. We’ve also got a computer terminal where you can look in detail at history resources spanning 300 years.

SIMON MAWDSLEY: Working on his study of One Flew Over The Cuckoo Nest

“Hopefully we’re raising questions and enlightening people to the history of mental illness. The treatment of the mentally ill isn’t something that’s fixed – it’s changed over time.”

Pool Arts’ Simon Mawdsley, 43, from Macclesfield, has focused on the classic film One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest for the exhibition.

“It’s a very powerful film”, he said. “If you did a documentary now in a psychiatric hospital, you probably wouldn’t come across the same kind of atmosphere.”

Ms Kershaw, from Manchester, said: “Simon choosing to work on One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is very interesting because it shows a very pivotal time in society, where there were a lot of different movements that were questioning authority.

“Psychiatry was one area where people started to question the validity of the way of treating people and the concept of asylum.

“From then on, there was a big movement to start to close the kind of institution that’s portrayed in that film.”

ART: Various artists have contributed to the exhibition 

Artists Eddie Price (a.k.a. Opitz) and Galen Zdelar – both from Manchester – have contributed to the exhibition with various artworks.

Mr Zdelar is displaying one work which he composed when he was at The Priory in Darlington.

There will also be one of his artworks up for grabs if you win a colouring competition.

The exhibition will be closed on Wednesday afternoon, all of Thursday, and Friday morning but the main attraction will be the launch day on Saturday between 1pm and 3.30pm.

MADNESS: Exhibition will run through to July

Guest speakers Dr Ivan Leudar and Dr Helen Spandler will be giving talks – ‘Voices in History’ and ‘Alternative Psychiatry and Asylum Magazine’ – at 2pm, while the curators and artists will be taking people on guided tours.

Performances from Pool Arts’ Ruqia and Traë will feature too. Entry is free but donations are welcome.

For more information about the exhibition, you can visit the museum website or the Pool Arts website.

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