Tag Archives: mental health institutions

Historical mental health records online

Further to my previous post about James Doran, who died in Prestwich County asylum in 1870, I realised that a list of admissions to Prestwich Asylum 1851-1901 are available on findmypast.co.uk (free to search but you need to pay to see the result). Sure enough, James Doran is there (Archive reference: QAM6/6/8; Patient number: 2588), aged 52, a married solicitor’s clerk, admitted to the asylum on 7th June 1870 and died on 8th June 1870. His religion is Church of England. Unfortunately, these are transcripts rather than original records, but armed with the reference number and patient number, the original records can be pursued at either the Greater Manchester County Record Office or Lancashire Record Office in Preston.

This prompted me to do a quick review of what other records are now available online:

Findmypast.co.uk (£):

  • Prestwich Asylum Admissions 1851-1901
  • Kent, Bexley Asylum Minute Books, 1901-1939
  • South Yorkshire Asylum, Admission Records (1872-1910)

Ancestry.co.uk (£):

  • UK, Lunacy Patients Admission Registers, 1846-1912 (registers of public and private asylums)
  • Criminal Lunacy Warrant and Entry Books, 1882-1898 (entries of warrants for removal from prison to asylums)
  • Criminal Lunatic Asylum Registers, 1820-1843
    • Bethlem Hospital, Criminal Lunatics (1823 – 1843)
    • Criminal Lunatics, Confined in County and Licenced Lunatic Asylums (1800 – 1839)

History of Medicine at the University of East Anglia

It turned out that James Doran was also in the Ancestry.co.uk lunacy patient admission registers. Whilst an impressive resource, it doesn’t give any other extra information, just his date of admission to Prestwich Asylum, and the fact that he died there, but it does confirm that he was a “pauper” admission.

Workhouse, poor law and prison records may also be relevant and worth exploring. The National Archives has a helpful guide to searching for asylum inmates, but does not seem to have digitised these records yet (apart from those available via Ancestry.co.uk). Of course, if you happen to live near Kew, you could go and examine them in person. There is another helpful guide about mental health records more generally.

A quick google search found a list of sites related to hospitals, including mental health asylums on Cyndi’s List, but many of these are in the USA. There are also some mental health records for Victoria, Australia freely available online.

I’m sure there are plenty of other hidden gems out there, I would love to hear if anybody knows of any.

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Filed under Mental health institutions, Records

Select Committee report into the state of madhouses: 1815/1816

I have spent some time today looking at some of the fantastic documents freely available over at Google Books. Although many caught my eye, one to recommend is:

House of Commons papers, Volume 6, 1816 (HMSO)

Minutes of Evidence taken before the Select Committee appointed to consider of provisions being made for the better Regulation of Madhouses, in England.

To put it into its historical context: Parliament first tried to regulate care for the mentally ill with the Act for Regulating Private Madhouses, 1774. At this time mentally ill people were variously housed in prisons, workhouses, public hospitals (e.g. Bethlem) or private madhouses. This Act set out regulations for the private institutions, which were to be inspected and licensed by Commissioners in the London area, and Justices of the Peace in the provinces. See here for more on the 1774 Act.

Despite the legislation, standards of care continued to be poor in many areas. The reform movement led by individuals such as Samuel Tuke brought the public’s attention to the inhumane conditions often suffered by sufferers of mental illness. Following some high-profile cases including William Vickers, at York Asylum in 1813, and James Norris, at Bedlam in 1814, the Select Committee was set up in 1815 to examine the matter, and re-appointed in 1816. See here for more information about Bedlam and the Doctors in charge at the time.

The findings of the Committee were published in three reports, all of which are available as part of the above linked volume. Here is an advertisement for the publication of the report, also found through Google Books.


So who sits on a select committee?  An article in The Morning Post on May 30th 1816 (Issue 14153, pg. 1) announces the publication of the first report, and the members of the Committee as:

Rt. Hon. Lord Baring, Rt. Hon. Lord Lascelles, Rt. Hon. Lord Compton, Rt. Hon. George Rose, Rt. Hon. Charles Williams-Wynn, Rt. Hon William Sturges Bourne, Hon. Henry Grey Bennet, Charles C Western, Esq., J.A. Stewart Wortley, Esq., Thomas Thompson, Esq., William Smith, Esq.

Andrew Robert’s fantastic website (here) identifies a number of other committee members. See here for more information on select committees from the Government’s website.

I’ve selected some of the passages from the Select Committee Report that caught my eye, for their depiction of the prevalence of cruelty within madhouses. There were many parts of the accounts that I could have highlighted, and if you are interested I strongly encourage you to have a look at the whole report.

Death of Mrs Hodges after being forced to swallow (Evidence of Mr John W Rogers, apothecary):

Death of Mrs Hodges after being forced to swallow

More on forcing patients to swallow (Evidence of Mr John W Rogers, apothecary):

Typhus fever (Evidence of Mr John W Rogers, apothecary)

Ill-treatment of patient Mrs Elliott (evidence of Mr John W Rogers, apothecary)

Chains for patient James Norris (evidence of Mr John Woodall, smith):

And look at the contrast in the treatment of patients with money (Evidence of Edward Wakefield, land surveyor):

For those of you who like figures, the number of registered lunatics:

I am also fascinated by the classification of patients in the Glasgow Lunatic Asylum into “frantic”, “incurable”, “convalescent” and “ordinary”. Of course, these are  the days before standardised classifications such as DSM/ICD.

The Appendix of the Third Report, which is a summary of an inspection of the state of public and private madhouses in Scotland also makes interesting reading.

Update: Have just found the following document which has a handy index of the 1815/1816 reports and summaries of contents of witness statements.

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Filed under Cruelty and neglect, Individual cases, Mental health institutions, Mental health law, Reform