Mental Health Care in Modern England: The Norfolk Lunatic Asylum/St. Andrew's Hospital C. 1810-1998

By Steven Cherry | Go to book overview

1

Contexts: asylums, insanity and locality

James Thomas Secker, a pauper aged 36 from Aylsham, was among the first eight people, 'all of a very bad description of lunatic', admitted into the new Norfolk Lunatic Asylum in May 1814. 1 He suffered from fits but his noisy and violent behaviour appears to have led to his admission. Had he lived a century earlier, he might have been regarded as wild, 'furiously and dangerously mad' or worse: a century later, his epilepsy would have featured primarily in medical treatment. Thomas Caryl, the barely literate asylum master, reported early in June that Secker had been 'ordered to bed by Dr Wright for misconduct after which he knocked down a part of is sleeping cell'. 2 Helped by patient Richard Gent, Secker 'attempted to git away' on 17 June, after which Caryl 'put the chanes onto both of them'. Secker tried to hang himself on 8 July and was subsequently involved in a grim series of confrontations, restraints, and escape and suicide attempts before his death on 24 October 1821. 3

Other early patients had different experiences. Sarah Newell attracted little comment or attention and within weeks was 'delivered ... upto hir husbon', one of six people 'restored to their reason and discharged' by December 1814. The nature of her illness, treatment and recovery remained unclear. Hannah Harvey's release may have been temporary, as her admission was 'occasioned by excessive use of spirituous liquors ... she would remain free from insanity if this habit could be conquered or prevented'. Amy Delf, aged 21, received greater attention as Dr Edward Rigby considered that her excitement stemmed from 'religious impression'. 4 In August Caryl reported that she had 'broken [a] window in the incurable yard upon which I locked hir up' and early in September she was one of three women patients who destroyed their stockings, shoes and gowns. Subsequently she was less disturbed and Dr Rigby persuaded the Committee of Visiting Justices which

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1
Under the 1714 Vagrancy Act the 'furiously and dangerously mad' could be confined by county magistrates. Norwich Quarter Sessions (NQS), c/s/4/2; 1812—19, 14 July 1814.
2
Master's Journal, May 1814—Nov. 1815, SAH 123, 29 May and 17 June 1814.
3
ibid., 14 Sept. 1814. Secker then had 'the straight wastecoat on which ... he bit and pulled all to pieces and also broke 2 locks'. The day before his death he 'complained of a violent pain of the bowels' for which he had 'some drops ... a small dose of salts every four hours and a powder at bed time'. Master's Journal, Dec. 1820—July 1832, SAH 126, 22 and 23 Oct. 1821.
4
ibid., 3 Dec. 1814 (Newell); Physicians' Report Book 1814—17, SAH 147, 26 Sept. 1814 (Harvey); 7 Sept. 1814 (Delf).

-1-

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