Tuesday 10 January 2017

Exploring Lincolnshire Archives - Lincoln Lunatic Asylum

Between 2012 and 2015 many happy days were spent in the search room of the West Yorkshire Archive Service (WYAS), Wakefield delving into the myriad of surviving records for the West Riding Pauper Lunatic Asylum (WRPLA), a record collection that has since been recognised as a resource of national, if not international, significance. Beyond brief long distance forays into the archives of Bethlem Hospital, Fisherton House Asylum and Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum I had not studied records relating to other early asylums outside of Yorkshire. Inspired by November’s Explore Your Archive campaign I thought it was time to jump in the car and pay a visit to the neighbouring county of Lincolnshire.

Lincoln Lunatic Asylum (HOSP/LAWN/3/8/1)
Lincolnshire Archives in St Rumbold Street, Lincoln is the home for the surviving records from another early mental hospital, Lincoln Lunatic Asylum. Founded in 1819 by public subscription it provided treatment for both pauper and private patients. In 1885 it became known as The Lawn Hospital for the Insane and that is the name used to identify the collection in their catalogue. My own photographs of the records are displayed here with the kind permission of Lincolnshire Archives.

This was a just a one day “sampling” visit so that I could get some idea of the scope, completeness and age of the surviving records. By closing time I had been unable to examine the full range of records I had wished to check, for the simple reason that I had become engrossed with the content of those which I had been able to view. Being familiar with the WRPLA records held by WYAS I had some idea of the likely content to be found in Lincoln but I was still pleasantly surprised with what I discovered.

Minute Book, 1807 (HOSP/LAWN/1/1/1)
The Minute Book (HOSP/LAWN/1/1/1) provided an insight into the fund raising which went on to enable the hospital to be built, the first minute dating back to January, 1807. The fund raising committee then evolved into the asylum management committee.

Page from Director's Journal,
Patient’s case books (HOSP/LAWN/2/12), organised by patient and showing the treatments given to them over time, only start in 1847, unlike WRPLA where they go back to the very earliest admissions. That is however compensated by the existence of three other record sets - House Surgeon’s Journals (HOSP/LAWN/2/1), Physician’s Journals (HOSP/LAWN/2/2) and Director's Journal (HOSP/LAWN/1/2/1). These are organised by date and diarise notes regarding each patient seen on a particular day.

Although some date ranges are missing and the poor condition of some journals means that they are “Not For Production” these journals should allow the patient researcher, pun intended, to build up a relatively complete picture of observations and treatment for each of the earliest patients. No such journals survive in the WRPLA collection but reference has been found to the fact that they had existed and had been used to retrospectively create the very earliest case books.

Admission Papers for John ROBINSON, 1820.

Bundles of still folded Admission Papers (HOSP/LAWN/2/11/0) survive being the legal paperwork required to admit a patient to the Asylum. There are some papers missing, including almost inevitably, those for the very first admission. The numbering of these admissions suggests that in its first 50 years Lincoln admitted around 2,000 patients in complete contrast to WRPLA which admitted around 11,500 patients over the same period. What I found particularly interesting was the different paperwork accompanying patients being admitted privately as all the earliest admissions to WRPLA were at least part funded from local poor rates.

Statutory Registers of Admissions (HOSP/LAWN/2/6) and Removals, Discharges and Deaths (HOSP/LAWN/2/22) survive for the period after 1845 when the Commissioners in Lunacy were formed. Reporting to the Home Secretary, this body took responsibility for the management of the country’s strategy for the treatment of the insane in county asylums, private asylums, workhouses and prisons.

Register of Patients' Work, 1836.
Two very distinctive registers survive which have no equivalent in the WRPLA collection. Only one Register of Patients' Work (HOSP/LAWN/2/18) exists. Dated 1836 – 1837 it initially shows the daily work allocated to named patients but quickly becomes just a record of who was working on each day, a simpler but still time consuming administrative task.

Page from Register of Restraints, 1829

The Register of Restraints (HOSP/LAWN/2/19) was of particular interest as in the 1840s Lincoln Asylum was hailed as being the first example of a system of patient management which did not need to use mechanical restraint. The earliest register (HOSP/LAWN/2/19/1) dated 1829 – 1832 reads like a shopping list for a torture chamber, for example, body belt and hobbles, so clearly things must have changed.

I will be delving further into the records and writing more about what I found in the Lincoln Lunatic Asylum archives over the course of the next few weeks.