Asy­lum his­tory re­vealed on web

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - ON THE RECORD -

An­ces­try.co.uk has pub­lished more than 840,000 asy­lum records on the web for the first time.

Digitised from doc­u­ments held at The Na­tional Ar­chives, the three col­lec­tions (MH 94, HO 20 and HO 145) pro­vide de­tails of pa­tients com­mit­ted to more than 300 men­tal in­sti­tu­tions be­tween 1820 and 1912.

This in­cludes peo­ple deemed to have been ‘crim­i­nal lu­natics’, who were ei­ther trans­ferred from prisons on grounds of insanity, or found not guilty and sent to asy­lums in­stead.

Although the na­ture of their crimes var­ied, pa­tients were of­ten treated harshly – de­spite their ill­ness. A note re­gard­ing Aaron By­wa­ter, for in­stance, states that he should be “left con­stantly hand­cuffed and chained by night”, af­ter hav­ing killed a fel­low in­mate at Shrews­bury Gaol.

“It’s clear that the men­tal in­sti­tu­tions were truly ter­ri­fy­ing places by to­day’s stan­dards,” said An­ces­try’s Miriam Sil­ver­man. “Not only are th­ese records in­ter­est­ing from a so­cial his­tory point of view, they are valu­able for any­one look­ing to find out if one of their an­ces­tors was a pa­tient.”

In­mates in the day room at Broad­moor, 1867

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