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/

 

General Wade – Jacobites, walls and Yorkshire.

Fleece Inn Image sml.jpgI first heard of General George Wade as the man who built the Military Road from Newcastle to Carlisle by using some conveniently placed worked stone – Hadrian’s Wall.  It didn’t endear him to me.  Across on the Continent he’d served in the Nine Years War and the Wars of the Spanish Succession. In 1724 Wade was sent off to inspect Scotland having done a stint as an MP for Bath and having foiled various Jacobite plots in the SouthWest in 1719.  It was he who orchestrated barracks, bridges, roads and fortifications by which the north and Scotland could be controlled – he was made a field marshall for his pains. But it wasn’t until 1746 that he vandalised Hadrian’s Wall. His Military Road is the B6318.  It used masonry from the wall and near Brampton simply ploughs along its path.

Marshall Wade was in Newcastle in October 1745. Essentially he hung around in Newcastle in case his Princeliness and his Jacobites followed after Sir John Cope to Berwick and then down the east coast.  Meanwhile the east coast all the way down to Norfolk prepared to repel invading French-persons – unfortunately Louis XV hadn’t got his act together at that point.  There was supposed to have been a Jacobite uprising with shiploads of French the previous year – and it hadn’t happened due to a February storm that had scattered the French invasion fleet- in addition to which it wasn’t because Louis felt strongly about supporting the house of Stuart it was more to do with the War of Austrian Succession that saw Britain and France squaring off without actually declaring war.  The Jacobites were a handy method of disrupting the English.  Anyway, in 1745 Louis waited to see what would happen and left concrete support far too late but hindsight is a wonderful thing and in the autumn of 1745 everyone on the east coast was feeling decidedly nervous.

Meanwhile the inhabitants of the Cumbria and Lancashire were remembering that in 1715 the Jacobites had headed in their direction.  Letters were exchanged. Wade waited to see what the Jacobites would do.  George Murray was a canny lad and kept Wade guessing about which direction the Jacobites would choose. When it was finally clear which direction Charlie-boy and his cohorts were heading in it was too late for Wade’s forces to deploy in time. Wade discovered that bad weather and bad roads would prevent him from heading the Jacobites off before they made too much progress into England.

He and his men headed south after the Jacobites – using what we know as the A1 and what they thought of as the Great North Road. Meanwhile the duke of Cumberland was summoned from playing soldiers in Europe.  He and his men were based in Lichfield. A third army was hurriedly assembled to defend London although there were rumours that the Scottish contingent of the London based army would defect to the Jacobites if they got within twenty miles.  Realistically, Lord George Murray had every reason to be concerned about being out manoeuvred when Prince Charles held his meeting in Exeter House in Derby on the 5th December.

Wade and his troops had arrived in Ferrybridge on the 8th December. They made it to Wakefield by the 10th December.  Cumberland had sent a letter demanding that Wade’s men cut off the prince’s retreat. Wade realising that his men weren’t going to get to Preston or Manchester in time to cut off the Jacobites sent his cavalry commanded by Olgethorpe, on the 11th, to do what they could.  They hurried from Wakefield to Elland via Westgate where they stopped so that Lady Oglethorpe could admire the view. According to https://lowercalderlegends.wordpress.com/2010/04/21/the-fleece-inn-elland/ the tenant of the Fleece Inn, George Readyhough, provided ale for three thousand troops.

 

Wade, meanwhile turned his men around and head back to Newcastle. Oglethorpe arrived in Preston more or less at the same time as Cumberland – the 13th December.

 

Sir Henry Savile V Sir Richard Tempest

halifax.jpgSir Henry Savile had a problem with his neighbours Thomas, Lord Darcy of Templehurst (Temple Newsam) and Sir Richard Tempest who was related to Lord Darcy.  There is a litany of court cases between the two parties.

One ongoing feud was about the vicar of Halifax.  A man who owed his position to Lewes Abbey which owned the Manor of Halifax and the incumbency.  The man in question was Robert Holdesworth who was an ally of Sir Henry Savile.  Because he was Savile’s man, Tempest seems to have worked against the vicar.  Tempest had been responsible for ordering the arrest of  Holdesworth and when he returned from London he even brought an injunction against Tempest not to burn his house.  The modern world seems a long way away in Tudor Halifax.  Tempest responded by saying that Holdesworth caused quarrels in the parish and, even worse, had falsified his tax returns (First Fruits and Tenths – the first year’s income from the position and a tenth thereafter).  Tempest also suggested that Holdesworth was about to sell his lands and scarper.  A petition was drawn up.  One hundred or so signature were added and off it was sent to Cromwell.  Tempest also accused Holdesworth of saying that if Henry reigned much longer then he would take everything that the Church owned….which smacked somewhat of treason.

Unsurprisingly Tempest had managed to land Holdesworth in rather a lot of bother.  It got worse.  Holdesworth had to go to York to answer the charges that had been levelled against him.  During that time Tempest’s son-in-law John Lacy stole all the poor man’s cattle and anything else he could carry off.  It’s ironic really that Holdesworth and Tempest should both, one way or another, have been against what Henry was doing to the church but the enmity between Tempest and Savile was so great that there was no meeting on the same ground for Savile’s supporter.

 

However, things were about to get even nastier.

Sir Richard, as the King’s steward of Wakefield, sent a message to Lord Darcy at the outbreak of the Pilgrimage of Grace that he would join him in Pontefract Castle but Darcy told him to remain in Wakefield. Initially it seemed that Sir Richard would take the Crown’s part in proceedings but the pilgrims were only ten miles from Wakefield and then Pontefract Castle fell. The Tempests swore to the pilgrim oath. Sir Richard is recorded in York as a pilgrim captain. His commitment to the whole proceeding was described by Cromwell as middling. His younger brother Sir Nicholas was much more involved and he was executed in May 1537 for his involvement with the rebellion.  This does seem rather unfair as he was told that unless he signed up to the rebellion his son would be executed on the spot.

 

Sir Richard was caught in the same net as John Neville, Lord Latimer (Katherine Parr’s husband). Both men were ordered to London. John Neville managed to bribe his way to freedom although many writers note that his health suffered as a consequence. Sir Richard on the other hand found himself confined to the Fleet. He too approached Cromwell. He asked to be released fearing the dirt and disease of the prison. He probably had a point. He died on 25th August 1537 in the Fleet along way from the West Riding.

 

Almost as a matter of course Sir Henry Savile discovering that the Tempests were for the pilgrimage declared himself for the king and fled to Rotherham. It was an old feud that had been simmering whilst the two men took part in the war against the Scots under the Earl of Surrey as he was then (he turned into the Duke of Norfolk). Even Wolsey had been unable to resolve the situation. A personal disagreement meant that the Pilgrimage of Grace turned into an opportunity for violence between the two sets of neighbours.

 

Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the Pilgrimage of Grace, Sir Henry Savile was on the up. He became the steward of Pontefract and from there was elected onto the Council of the North.

Dodds Madeline and Dodds Ruth (1916) The Pilgrimage of Grace 1536-1537 and the Exeter Conspiracy

TEMPEST, Sir Richard (c.1480-1537), of Bracewell and Bowling, Yorks. Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982 http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1509-1558/member/tempest-sir-richard-1480-1537