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

By Steven Cherry | Go to book overview

2

Norfolk Lunatic Asylum: plans, problems and patients, 1814—43

Although the 1808 Act encouraged county justices to establish lunatic asylums, it provided few specific instructions and there was no compulsion to build until additional legislation was passed in 1845. 1 A complex of national and local influences, outlined in the previous chapter, may have featured when the Norfolk Quarter Sessions first discussed this possibility in October 1808 but the dominant contributions were not recorded. 2 This chapter examines the establishment of the Norfolk Lunatic Asylum and its physical features, its medical and lay personnel, the patients and treatments, focusing upon local records but drawing upon contemporary surveys and accounts. It suggests that considerable efforts were made to ensure that the relatively novel institution incorporated good practices as they were then understood. The grim beginnings of the NLA, particularly as experienced by its patients, were not wholly intentional and there were signs of improvement over time, although there was much to be desired when reform standards of the early 1840s were applied by the inspecting Commissioners in Lunacy.

With an eye to wider contexts, two issues emerge. The Norfolk justices, in building at an early date and to plans which involved considerable cost — more than they intended — responded to the reforming intent of permissive legislation. Yet they were not wholly compliant, which may indicate local motives and a desire for autonomy. Research findings on other asylums suggest that, 'as states sought to exert greater control over the classification and treatment of lunatics by the elaboration of administrative regulations and statistical information, local agents and professional bodies asserted their own capacity to identify and manage the insane'. 3 In Norfolk, the committee of visiting justices was involved in close supervision of the asylum, rather than relying upon indirect control, and they evidently resisted its medical superintendence, although medical influences began to feature more prominently in the 1840s. Moreover, the asylum's management suggests awareness

____________________
1
8 and 9 Vict. An Act to amend the Laws for the Provision and Regulation of Lunatic Asylums for Counties and Boroughs, and for the Maintenance and Care of Pauper Lunatics, in England. (1845) c.126.
2
Norfolk Quarter Sessions minutes (NQS) 1805—1811, c/s/1/17; 11 Oct. 1808.
3
B. Forsythe, J. Melling and R. Adair, 'Politics of lunacy. Central state regulation and the Devon Pauper Lunatic Asylum 1845—1914', in J. Melling and B. Forsythe (eds), Insanity, Institutions and Society 1800—1914, Routledge, London, 1999, pp. 68—92.

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