Sunday, January 21, 2007

Dr. John Conolly

Near my house is a small park called Conolly Dell. It was created by Dr. John Conolly in the 1840's as a rest garden 'for the aged and blind, and those desiring quiet rest'. Dr Connolly generously made the park using the grounds of his house as he saw the need for sanctuary in many people's lives.
Dr. Conolly was a pioneer of his time; He graduated as an MD in 1821, and his main area of expertise was working with mentally disturbed patients, who at the time were 'treated' by being 'restricted' with the use of mechanical restraint. In 1832, he founded a small medical association with a view to raising the standard of provincial practice. In later years this grew in importance and membership, and finally became the British Medical Association. In 1839, he was elected Resident Physician to the Middlesex County Asylum and began his work which was to transform the way that the mentally ill were treated throughout the then Kingdom and paved the way for more understanding of mental illness and more importantly, for the sufferers to be treated with dignity and compassion.
He also ran a busy private practice in Hanwell and was a much admired man, whose foresight and learning changed and formed the basis of a far more caring medical society. His memorial garden, Conolly Dell, was once a beautiful place, full of fragrant flowers and three small lakes into which fountains trickled. It was one of the first 'sensory gardens' where visitors could sit at peace and find tranquility away from the hustle and bustle and strife of city life.
When I first came to live nearby, my friends and I treated the park with respect, not just because of the signs by the gate stating 'Children prohibited unless accompanied by an adult' or the shouty parkie who would chase us out just for being there, but because it was a memorial garden, and so was not a place to run riot.
But now, thirty years on, the park is a far different place.
The signs by the gates are still there, but are now defaced by graffiti and ignored. Many times brats on motorbikes and scooters have been chased out by local residents who have been showered with threats and abuse for daring to tell the children to bugger off.
Until about a year ago, gangs of teenagers would hang around there after dark, and many people became fearful of attack, and so many of the old, flowering bushes and shrubs were cut back so that there were no more places for the kids to hide in.
John Conolly's memorial statue was once a magnificent, working drinking fountain, topped by an eagle that could be seen from most parts of the park.

But that has now been vandalized, and I can't remember when last I took a drink from it, and the once proud eagle has long since gone after someone stole it. All that remains is the stump of its claws and the base of it's perch where it was broken off.
Sad indeed, and there have been times when I've not wanted to take Pudsey there as we don't like the shouts and screams from the teenagers and drunks that have tried to take over this once beautiful place.
But the other day was the worst.
I was on my way past and heading to the shops, when I noticed a sign had been placed by a gate.
A serious assault had taken place in the early hours of Sunday morning.
I'd been asleep at the time, but something woke me and I was sure I'd heard screaming. As screaming is all too often heard round here, I just rolled over and went back under the duvet to muffle the noise.
Yesterday, I took Pudsey there and we uneasily walked through the grounds.
We got to the spot where the assault took place and found that more signs asking for information had been put up, and the wind ruffled the 'Police Cordon - Do Not Cross' tape, right next to Dr. Conolly's memorial. We both felt something was 'wrong', so we headed back home for a cup of tea and the sanctuary of home. I found out later that the victim was someone I know. He'd been attacked violently on his way home from a party. A completely random attack it seems, by a 'disturbed' person who is still running loose somewhere. The very sort of 'disturbed' person that Dr. John Conolly dedicated his life, home, and garden to helping. Something has gone very, very wrong with the world, and I don't like it one iota.

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