What’s available online and in the archives
Most asylum records are held at local archives. You can find out which one you’ll need to visit by checking the Hospitals Records Database ( nationalarchives. gov.uk/hospitalrecords); this will tell you whether any records survive for the asylum you’re interested in. Collections usually include a variety of documents such as admission and discharge registers; patients’ casebooks and case files; staff records; visiting committee minute books; photographs; annual reports and other ephemera. Annual reports relating to an individual asylum often describe the types of treatment offered and whether there was any overcrowding at the time your ancestor was an inmate. Look out for histories of the asylum that may have been compiled by a local history group.
The National Archives
The National Archives ( TNA) at Kew holds records for criminal lunatics who were confined at Broadmoor and Bethlem. Search the Discovery catalogue ( discovery.nationalarchives. gov.uk) for the record series HO 8 Quarterly Returns of Prisoners (1862-1875); HO 20 Prisons Correspondence and Papers (1820-1843); HO 144 Supplementary Papers (1869-1941); and HO 145 Criminal Lunacy Warrant and Entry Books (1882-1921). Also held at TNA are the Admission Registers for public and pauper asylums kept by the Lunacy Commission in series MH 94 (1846-1960). They record the name and sex of the patient; the name of the hospital, asylum, or licensed house; and the date of admission and discharge or death of each patient. These registers are useful if no other records exist for the asylum that you’re interested in.
More and more asylum records are appearing online. The Wellcome Library has begun an ambitious project to digitise some of its own mental health collections and those of partnership archives. The first three institutions whose records are now freely available online are Ticehurst House Hospital, East Sussex; The Retreat, York; and Gartnavel Royal Hospital (Glasgow Lunatic Asylum). Other asylum archives that are to be digitised include St Luke’s Hospital, London; Crichton Royal Hospital, Dumfries & Galloway; and Camberwell House Asylum, Surrey. Search the collections at wellcomelibrary.org/ collections/digitalcollections/mentalhealthcare.
Ancestry ( www.ancestry. co.uk) has digitised some of TNAs’ early Criminal Lunatic Asylum Registers 1820-1843 ( HO 20), as well as the Criminal Lunacy Warrant and Entry Books 1882-1898 ( HO 145/1-9). Also on the Ancestry website are TNAs’ Lunacy Patients Admission Registers 1846-1912 ( MH 94/1- 47).
Findmypast ( findmypast. co.uk) has provided online access to the records of Bethlem Hospital from 1683-1932. This fascinating collection takes in a wide range of topics including the records of a would-be assassin of King George III, a man who had overtaxed his brain by writing a dictionary and a woman with an insatiable appetite for shopping. You can also view digitised documents for South Yorkshire Asylum Admission Records (18721910) and Prestwich Asylum Admissions (1851-1901).
The Wellcome Library is digitising some of its mental health collections
TNA’s Discovery catalogue