The Victorian Asylum

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, there were only eight pauper Asylum throughout the British Isles, and there care was paid for by charitable bodies.  The rest of the country saw their Lunatics being cared for in either the Poor Law Workhouses,  or within private ‘Madhouses’ that were licensed under the 1774 Madhouse Act.  This often led to the miss-treatment of many lunatics as there was little understanding of their condition and due to over-crowding, it was not uncommon for lunatics to be shackled is these early madhouses.  In 1808 the first County Asylum act was passed, with a second one being passed in 1845, which made the construction of the Victorian Asylum compulsory for all Counties.

The Victorian Asylums were built to serve as a tranquil retreat for people within the county population who could not afford treatment for themselves.  Their purpose served as a advantage for both the local population and the patients, it provided safety for both parties as the two were kept seperate and offered a large means of employment for the local population.  The Hospitals started off serving a small population of patients, typically below five hundred patients, but as time progressed and the population grew, the Asylum were designed or extended to house populations of over two thousands patients.  The largest Asylum, Whittingham, had nearly 3000 patients in 1949.

The majority of the Victorian Asylums were built between 1811 and 1914, with mental deficiency colonies being built after 1914.  At the time of WW1, there was approximately 110,000 people within the system and where the backbone of the Countries mental health care system.  Nearly a century later, this number had decreased significantly with many of the hospitals using less than 50% of their beds; with the Mental Health Act passed 1983, and the care in the Community Act passed 1990, many of these aging institutions closed down.  By the turn of the new millennium, nearly 200 years since the first County Asylum Act was passed, less than 20 Asylum remained open to Mental Health Services.  Ten years later, this number had been decreased significantly.

The Purpose of this section is to document the current condition of these of the Victorian Asylum Sites, and where possible, supply a history of the building.  The authors of these pages will try to remain impartial into the views of the Asylum system and the treatment that was used within their walls; it will however attempt to cover the topic as accurately as possible.  Please note that there are certain terms used throughout these pages that by today’s standards are incorrect, please note that they have only been used in their historical context, please do not contact the website if you are offended by any of these terms.

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Modified: 6th Feb 2016