Insanity, the law and asylums

bedlam hogarthThe word Bedlam comes from the Priory of St Mary at Bethlehem which was founded in London during the thirteenth century.  By 1377 it had become home to people suffering from mental illness or as the inhabitants were described at the time – “distracted persons.”  The law meanwhile was concerned that landowners were of sound mind and indeed the law continued to be concerned about property throughout the centuries.  By 1735 Hogarth was using Bedlam to end his social moral fable of the Rake’s Progress and the conditions in which patients found themselves were horrendous.

Fans of Poldark will no doubt have noted that the care of George Warleggan in the eighteenth century has to date not been kind following the death of his wife Elizabeth – he’s been half drowned, starved, restrained and leeched within an inch of his life.  However, this is not a post about the eighteenth century or earlier.  I want to look in this post  at the development of the law during the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth century with a view to understanding the process by which women could become confined to a county mental hospital during the Great War.  This post is not a definitive guide – its research for my own nefarious reasons.  It would have to be said that the terminology by which mental health was described throughout history gives very little thought to the patients or their families.

By the end of the nineteenth century more than 70,000 patients had passed through the doors of an insane asylum of some kind or other.  Nationally there were 120 asylums.   The 1800 Criminal Lunatic Act was particularly interested in securing those people who wanted to assassinate the monarch and the criminally insane.  The 1808 County Asylum Act dealt with fund raising methods that combined taxation with public subscription.  The idea was that the poor insane should be removed from workhouses and prisons. The wealthy insane were being paid for by their families and resided in private sanitariums or were locked up in various secluded attic rooms (see Jane Eyre and The Woman in White for literary examples.)  Almost inevitably lunacy became a condition in many counties as a method of differentiating between the deserving and undeserving poor.  There was also the fact that men and women who behaved in a socially unacceptable way could be deemed to be mad and shut away, often for the rest of their lives.  Records reveal that many people spent their lives locked in asylums having been sent there for reasons other than madness, including in one instance for excessive shopping in her husband’s opinion.

Sneinton in Nottingham was the first asylum founded by a mixture of subscription and taxation. The county had not offered care of any kind for poor people suffering from mental health difficulties before that date.  The West Riding’s asylum opened in Wakefield in 1818 though its minutes date from 1814.  Further parliamentary acts defined lunacy, attempted to regulate private asylums and sought to monitor the health care provided – good practice and well meaning concern was mixed with what modern eyes would define as barbaric practice.

In 1828 an act required all pauper lunatics to be documented and certificated.  This in turn would mean that commissioners would be able to inspect institutions and people incorrectly placed in asylums would be released (in theory) and care could be monitored – gradually more humane treatment became more the norm although restraint remained common practice for a very long time as did incarcerating people not for mental health problems but for their socially unacceptable behaviour or for having the misfortune to be born with learning difficulties.

In 1845 county asylums became a legal obligation and the Lunacy Commissioners were appointed to oversee the running of asylums. It was only in 1890 with the passage of another act that county asylums began to move away from their pauper associations to begin their evolution to hospitals caring for all walks of life.

Interestingly Wakefield was one of the first asylums to employ therapeutic employment, though this was thanks to the enlightened attitude of Dr William Ellis who moved from Wakefield to Hanwell in 1832. Ellis was a believer in the benefits of outdoor work rather than the brutality espoused by earlier “mad doctors.”  It is perhaps for this reason that many of the Victorian asylums were set in beautiful grounds.  Hanwell is also an example of changing attitudes in terms of names.  It opened as an asylum in 1832 but became a hospital  in 1926 and was then completely renamed in a bid to dissociate itself from past stigma. Not that this has ever been successful as group memory lasts longer than a name change – The Garlands in Carlisle was guaranteed to make my mother-in-law concerned for the mental well being of anyone sent there irrelevant of the fact that it had long since been renamed and re-purposed.  Many hospitals were not only renamed but shut and then demolished during the later half of the twentieth century and early twenty-first century.  For example,  Derby’s mental hospital remains a building site although the twin brick entrances remain – architecturally it is helpfully described by Kelly’s Directory.

The Lunacy Act of 1890 covered admission to private asylums but did not change the 1845 Lunacy Act and 1853 Act for pauper lunatics – by which it meant anyone unable to earn the money to pay for their care – on the grounds they were confined or without sufficient wealth to fund their care as averse to the destitute. The Lunacy Act of 1845, required  two medical certificates signed by qualified medical doctors for admission to lunatic asylums. The qualified medical doctor could incidentally be a pharmacist.  In theory a JP or official should have organised the doctor to examine the person to be admitted but it seems as though this happened prior to the jp being involved. In practice it would appear that one doctor and a vicar would be enough to certify a poor person in some locations.   The 1890 Act required an additional “summary reception order” particularly in the case of private admissions. This was also known as  “legal certification.” The 1890 law stated, as an additional safeguard against wrongful committal, that a justice of the peace specially appointed, a county court judge, or a magistrate could issue legal certification for privately admitted patients.  There was a £50 fine for any institution that was found not to have followed the correct procedure. The 1890 act also applied a time limit to the the duration of a stay in a private asylum.  The 1890 act also ensured that a policy of licensing developed that would help to bring about the demise of private asylums.

The act of 1890 reflects the increasing opposition to private asylums following examples of wrongful confinement relating to inheritance and unhappy marriage etc but as is the way of these things people still wanted to get rid of difficult, embarrassing or inconvenient relations so there was a flurry of illegal nursing homes prosecutions during the period that followed. The problem still existed after the passage of the 1927 act pertaining to the care of people with mental health disorders.

In 1910 there were slightly more than a thousand criminal lunatics, approximately 10,500 private patients and a staggering 118,901 pauper lunatics.  The numbers would steadily rise until the 1950s.  The State was concerned about the growth of insanity in the poorer classes.  Amongst this number were people suffering from senility and dementia, epilepsy, melancholia, learning difficulties, moral insanity and congenital insanity.  The causes were variously listed as heredity, excessive drinking, syphilis, influenza apparently caused madness in 2.8% of cases, starvation and mental stress.  It was also recognised that the onset of puberty could trigger some mental illness. 53% of female private cases were because of childbirth.  Essentially the first six weeks of motherhood left rich women at risk of insanity but only 7.5 % of pauper women.

The Mental Deficiency Act of 1913 identified four categories of young person who might need to be managed and cared for – these included the feeble-minded and the moral imbecile. This rather effectively ruled out the requirement for medical certification as a parent or guardian just needed to petition for the person to be placed in an institution.

Feeble minded:  that is to say, persons in whose case there exists from birth or from an early age’ mental defectiveness not amounting to imbecility, yet  so pronounced that they require care, supervision, and control for their own protection or for the protection, of others, or, in the case of children,’ that they by reason of such defectiveness appear to be permanently incapable of receiving proper benefit from the instruction in ordinary schools.

Moral imbeciles: that is to say, persons who from an early age display some permanent mental defect coupled with strong viciously criminal propensities on which punishment has had little or no deterrent effect.
One of the identifiers for moral imbecility was to be in receipt of poor relief, unmarried and pregnant. In addition to two medical certificates testifying to lunacy the master of the asylum was also required to determine the sanity of the person being admitted.The chances of you being committed were much higher if you were a woman – hysteria covered a multitude of criteria as did “female disease.”
Have I got what I wanted? Yes – a woman without private means during the early years of the twentieth century could be detained as a pauper lunatic.  All that would be required would be a medical certificate signed by a doctor or a pharmacist stating that she had been examined at some point during the previous week and was deemed by them to be insane.  An order from a JP, vicar or poor law relief officer was also needed.  Once admitted there was no appeal.  Following the passage of the 1913 act even this became much easier to implement if a young woman was deemed to be a moral imbecile. She did not have to be under twenty-one.  If her behaviour was deemed morally imbecilic in that she demonstrated an inability to exercise self control she could be given a guardian who could arrange for her to be admitted to an institution based not on the word of a doctor but on the person appointed her guardian (I think I’ve understood it right but am more than happy to be corrected.)  Of course this was not to punish the woman but to provide a safeguard for society!  As mental hospitals closed down during the 1970s there were newspaper articles about women who had spent most of their adult lives in mental hospitals based on the fact that they had a child out of wedlock. 

Not immediately related but of a similar vein it is interesting to note that following World War One there is evidence of the State regulating women’s behaviour in terms of widows’ pensions which was a natural follow on from the separation allowances granted to military wives during the war. In theory the wife of an agricultural labourer could be financially more secure with the separation allowance than she had been before her husband became a soldier.  However, if she misbehaved herself this was removed.  Taken together with the concept of moral imbecility it is apparent that women were required to tow the line or that the State would step in to regulate their behaviour.  This would, of course, have depended on the people managing the system in a given area.
As I said at the start of this post – I’m looking for evidence to use elsewhere so it is one sided rather than balanced – and having found it I shall now go away and plot!

 

 

http://studymore.org.uk/mhhtim.htm#1920

Victorian Era Lunatic Asylums

“Lunacy In England And Wales.” The British Medical Journal, vol. 2, no. 2605, 1910, pp. 429–431. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25284642.
“Moral Imbecility And The Mental Deficiency Act.” The British Medical Journal, vol. 1, no. 2789, 1914, pp. 1316–1317. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25310285.

Showalter,  Elaine. (1987) The Female Malady: Women, Madness and English Culture, 1830-1980 London: Virago.

Takabyashi, Akinobu.  “Surviving the Lunacy Act of 1890: English Psychiatrists and Professional Development during the Early Twentieth Century” . 2017 Apr; 61(2): 246–269 accessed from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5426304/

 

The development of policing

Sir_Robert_Peel,_2nd_Bt_by_Henry_William_Pickersgill-detailPolicing has always had rules attached to it.  In theory if a crime was identified in the medieval period hue and cry had to be raised thus ensuring decent law abiding citizens turned into a pitchfork wielding mob looking for the stranger in their midst in order to avoid being fined by the local lord or the monarch.  Gradually officialdom became involved – initially on an enterprising basis with thief takers which generally speaking is a polite historical term for bounty hunter.  In urban areas there were also parish constables and night watchmen.

Things started to be more regularised by foundation of the Bow Street Runners.  The Metropolitan Police was founded in 1829 by Sir Robert Peel pictured at the start of this post.  They were responsible for keeping law and order in London as well as policing Windsor Castle.  The square mile of the City of London was, and still is (I think), policed by its own force.

Elsewhere the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 allowed local councils to set up their own police forces.  The detective branch of the Metropolitan Police followed in 1842.  Inspector Whicher – as in the “Suspicions of Mr Whicher” was one of its orginal members.  New Scotland Yard was founded in 1890 in the aftermath of the Jack the Ripper case that began in 1888.

As the Metropolitan police developed other areas developed their own constabularies.  Mostly the newly founded police forces were urban. Halifax was one of the first areas to have a police force founded in 1848 along with an accompanying Watch Committee. Gradually a network of police forces spread across the countryside. For example in Derbyshire there were eight divisions of police sited at: Ashbourne, Bakewell, Belper, Chesterfield, Derby, Glossop, Melbourne and Matlock.

At the same time that various police forces were being established around the country moving the transport police were also evolving to meet the needs of the Railway Age.

In 1913 the Government increased the capacity of the police force by setting up a police reserve of retired officers who were retained on an annual fee so long as they were still able to do the job of a constable.  A second reserve was to be made up from volunteers. The Special Constable Act of 1914 allowed these volunteers to be appointed as Special Constables.  This was probably just as well because there were numbers of territorials as well as reservists in the regular ranks.  Such was the pressure on the London force that women were admitted to the ranks for the first time.

The  Metropolitan Police Roll of Honour is in Westminster Abbey. More than four thousand of the twenty two thousand officers serving in 1914 joined the armed forces.  Of that number 864 were killed or wounded.

The pay that a policeman received had been kept deliberately low since the founding of the service as a means of keeping the police on a level with the communities they served. But by the end of the Great War many men were working long hours for very little pay.  Wages for long serving officers were less than the average rate for agricultural labour. This resulted in the police strike of 1918.  Matters were compounded by the fact that each local area had a watch Committee that set the terms of pay and conditions for their local force.

The problem was  that by the end of 1918 the Government was rather alarmed about the police being unionised as they made the connection to revolutionary Russia – they had been less concerned by the fact that a poorly paid police force might have been susceptible to the odd back hander.  As a result of  establishment fears the Police Act of 1919 was passed which made it illegal to join a union, though the Police Federation was created as an alternative. Men who went on strike after the passage of the act faced immediate dismissal.

 

https://www.oldpolicecellsmuseum.org.uk/content/history/police_history/police_strike_1918-1919

Wellingtonia on the doorstep.

Scotland_Forever!I’ve gone a bit off my usual tangent with this post in the spirit of waste not, want not.  I recently contacted a regional newspaper in the hope that they would want a regular history columnist.  It’s surprising the number of papers that do have a history slot including my favourite regional paper The Cumberland News which wins prizes on a regular basis.  What follows is my sample article which didn’t even merit a response from the editor several weeks ago – obviously I’m not doing something right.  So back to the drawing board and try again.

The two hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo has sailed by. But who would have thought that Derbyshire had so many links with the Napoleonic Wars?

In Chesterfield a plaque bearing the legend 1816 above a scruffy looking red brick building marks the remnants of Griffin Foundry. It produced shot that was fired during the Napoleonic Wars, the way some local Chesterfield books tell it they produced the cannon shells that tore into the French forces on Sunday 18 June 1815.

In Ashbourne, French prisoners-of-war married local girls and provided the town with a recipe for very tasty gingerbread that’s still being made today in the same bakery where it was first produced.  The black and white Tudor building on St John’s Street has been a bakery for more than two hundred and fifty years.  By now the smell of newly baked bread must have seeped into the joists.

Both Chesterfield and Ashbourne parish churches contain the graves of French prisoners-of-war who didn’t make it home as well as a few British officers who did.  Elsewhere in Derbyshire there are tales of men who refused to be conscripted into Wellington’s army.

Along the A517 at Holbrook, William Leeke was once the vicar. There’s a window to him inside the church. His headstone, in the graveyard, reveals not only that he died aged eighty-one but also that in 1815 he carried his company colours into the battle. At the time he was seventeen-years-old. He served with the 52nd Regiment. As luck would have it he recorded his experiences but they are not always in accord with the official version of events. He was firmly of the opinion that it was the 52nd Regiment who beat off Napoleon’s Imperial Guards rather than the 1st British Guards. His account has caused a fair amount of controversy amongst historians over the years.

E.M. Wrench was another ex-soldier. In 1866, Doctor Wrench, raised the ten-foot high cross that stands on Baslow Edge, it’s outline stark against the sky and a magnet for walkers. Other monuments to the battle and its hero are rather leafier. There’s a Wellington Oak at Renishaw Hall.

EXHIBITION USE ONLY npg.896.1337Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1815-16 NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY MARKS 200th ANNIVERSARY OF WATERLOO WITH THE FIRST EXHIBITION ON THE DUKE OF WELLINGTON The first gallery exhibition devoted to the Duke of Wellington will open at the National Portrait Gallery, to mark the 200th anniversary year of the Battle of Waterloo in 2015. APSLEY HOUSE, London. "Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington" c.1815 by Sir Thomas LAWRENCE (1769-1830). WM 1567-1948.

EXHIBITION USE ONLY
npg.896.1337 Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1815-16
NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY MARKS 200th ANNIVERSARY OF WATERLOO WITH THE FIRST EXHIBITION ON THE DUKE OF WELLINGTON
The first gallery exhibition devoted to the Duke of Wellington will open at the National Portrait Gallery, to mark the 200th anniversary year of the Battle of Waterloo in 2015. APSLEY HOUSE, London. “Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington” c.1815 by Sir Thomas LAWRENCE (1769-1830). WM 1567-1948.

Wellington died at Walmer Castle in Kent in1852. William Lobb introduced the following year a tree, native of Sierra Nevada, California into Britain. It’s become rather an unusual monument to the man who avoided the unnecessary bloodshed of his troops where possible  and said of his men, “I don’t know what they effect they have on the enemy but by God they terrify me.”  John Lindley of the Horticultural Society was given the job of naming the tree. The Americans wanted to call it after Washington but Lindley called it after the Iron Duke, the hero of Waterloo. The tree became the Wellingtonia. We also call them giant sequoia or giant redwood. Sequoia are the largest trees in the world. Wellingtonia can be found in stately homes from Chatsworth to Kedleston. These towering conifers with their furrowed rusty red trunks are babies. They’ll still be growing on the 2,000th anniversary of Waterloo.

There’s even a Wellingtonia Society  called Redwood World. Why not visit the site to find out if there’s one near you, or you may know of one that’s not on their list http://www.redwoodworld.co.uk/locations.htm.

Resurrection Men in Carlisle

st cuthThe story begins with the Liverpool coach on the 6th September 1823.  Sadly it overturned and badly injured a little boy.  His right leg was amputated at the knee.  The child died on the 1st November and was buried in the graveyard of St Cuthbert’s Church.

The body-snatchers Burke and Hare were up to no good in Edinburgh this time exhuming bodies and selling them to the medical world for dissection. Accounts of graves being robbed of their occupants featured in all the newspapers.  There was concern that a grave had been tampered with in Stanwix.  Before long suspicion focused on ‘two strangers’ who’d hired a room in Long Island.  The trail led to the offices of the Edinburgh Carriers where a stoutly corded box to be delivered to Lieutenant Todd in Edinburgh had already been dispatched. Suspicion excited, the box was stopped and opened at Hawick.  Inside were the bodies of three children.  Another, rather heavier box, had already been refused transportation.

Meanwhile on the 8th of December, another interment was about to occur in St Cuthbert’s.  The mourners may have been rather alarmed at what was discovered.  The body of a Botchergate Blacksmith wash discovered with cord tied around its feet.  He was carefully reburied and a search of the graveyard made.  The little boy, killed in the coach accident, was missing as was the body of a cotton spinner.

 

A twenty guinea reward was offered for the capture of the resurrection men but they disappeared as swiftly as they had arrived.  By 1828 body-snatching had reached such a pitch  that the Government of the day needed to legalize dissection.

 

St Cuthbert’s Church, Carlisle.

st cuthSt Cuthbert’s Church in Carlisle has had a chequered history.  These days its easy to miss tucked away as it is down a side lane between the House of Fraser and the Crown and Mitre.  St Cuthbert preached in Carlisle but it didn’t stop the Vikings destroying the church that stood on the spot.  It was William Rufus who ordered that the church should be rebuilt and it escaped the worst of the great fire of 1292 as well as the attentions of assorted besieging Scots.  In 1644 when the Parliamentarians closed the cathedral and the parish church of St Mary’s which lays inside the cathedral the mayor made St Cuthbert’s the city’s Civic Church.  It remains so to this day.

However, in 1777 it was decided that the church should be rebuilt, though the opening of the new church was delayed by a particularly bad storm in 1778 it took only two years to raise the money for the building and fitting out of the new church.   Nothing remains of the medieval church apart from some fragments of glass.  

The churchyard is an oasis of green in a city environment.  Headstones have been placed against the churchyard walls so there is no indication of the spot where executed felons and Jacobites were laid to rest.  There’s a further link to Carlisle’s troubled past as the last town besieged in England inside the church in the form of the royal coat of arms which were placed there in the aftermath of 1745 to remind the citizens of Carlisle where their loyalty lay.

  Back outside, the graveyard is the final resting place for members of the Royalist garrison who died during the siege of 1644. The guide-book also makes reference to a highwayman and if that weren’t lively enough in December 1823 the body snatchers came calling in Carlisle.  Graves were tampered with, two bodies went missing and one was discovered parcelled up ready for transportation.

Who would have thought there was so much history lurking in such a peaceful spot?