West London asylums in 19th century literature

In the nineteenth century, the asylum moved west.

William Ayres House, which moved from Kensington to Hackney, was moving against the flow.

In terms of the numbers of inmates, this was mainly because large county asylums were opened at Hanwell - Springfield and Friern, to provide an alternative to the large pauper asylums in Hoxton and Bethnal Green. But there was also a development of west of London private asylums.

Two asylums - Bethlem and the Tuke's asylum - actually moved from the east to the west.

In the table below I am attempting to look at the development of the west London asylums through the lives and writings of Mary and Charles Lamb - Harriet Martineau - Thomas Noon Talfourd - Wilkie Collins - Charles Reade - and Rosina Bulwer Lytton

Mary Lamb (with her brother Charles) was one of the best known writers of nineteenth century children's literature. She was also the kind "aunt" to several real children. After her death it was revealed that she was also a lunatic. She had murdered her own mother and spent the rest of her life in community or asylum care. Her brother, who cared for her, also had a history of insanity. In the later part of her life, both the asylum and community care for Mary appear to have been coordinated by another writer, Thomas Noon Talfourd, the son of the proprietor of an asylum in Fulham.

The social writings of Harriet Martineau also include stories for children. But her writings are serious factual contributions. She popularised the principles of the new poor law in the 1830s but this hard side to her social philosophy was offset by a benign understanding of the new moral treatment of those who cannot help themselves in the new Middlesex pauper lunatic asylum at Hanwell.

Whilst Mary Lamb was a lunatic, Rosina Bulwer Lytton believed she was only an alleged lunatic. The daughter of the pioneer feminist Anna Wheeler, she married the novelist and Liberal politician, Edward Bulwer- Lytton. In her book A Blighted Life (1880) she claims that she was confined in a Brentford asylum in 1858 because she was an embarrassment to her husband's political career. Her writings are linked to the madhouse novels of Wilkie Collins (A Woman in White - 1860) and Charles Reade's (Hard Cash - 1863) through their connection with the Victorian "Lunacy Commission". This, as well as regulating asylums, provided salaried work for several literary figures of the nineteenth century.

1860: The Woman in White

We can begin by thinking of that scene in Willkie Collins' The Woman in White where the story-teller first meets the mysterious woman on a lonely road north of London, the road west from Hampstead.

London is the combined cities of London and Westminster, south of the heath. Country roads stretch south to the start of the city and north and west, deeper into rural Middlesex. The story-teller is walking back to London, the woman he encounters has escaped from a nearby private madhouse and in my imagination I see her coming from the west, finding herself at a crossroads, and waylaying the first passing stranger for directions.

In this picture, the countryside north and west of London is where secretive madhouses have been established in redundant country houses where the friends and relatives of those who can afford to pay are spirited away.

The Woman in White is a sensational novel by the inventor of the detective story, but its dedication to Bryan Waller Procter, one of the legal commissioners who visited asylums, reminds us that Wilkie Collins, like his friend Charles Reade, had inside sources. And long before he became a Lunacy Commissioner, Bryan Waller Procter was the close friend of Charles and Mary Lamb, both of whom were, at times inmates in private asylums. He was also the friend of another of their other biographers, Thomas Noon Talfourd, who was the son of the proprietors of one of those West London asylums.

Geography of the private asylums

There was a substantial development of West of London private asylums in the 19th century but, in two areas, West of London private asylums have a longer history.

There is a series of asylums that begins with Irish's in Guidford, Surrey in 1700 and concludes with Stilwell's in Hayes, Middlesex in the mid ninteenth century. At times, the location of these asylums may have been related to the Royal Court at Windsor. They are (certainly at times) asylums for the very rich.

Irish's makes the West of London madhouses almost as old as the East of London ones, such as Hoxton House, where Charles and Mary Lamb were confined. The East London Houses, however were on a much larger scale and included the poor as well as the rich.

The Chelsea madhouse date back to before 1743. They appear to have migrated north to Kensington in the nineteenth century. These madhouses are related to the West London medical profession and have connections with the madhouses of the West of England, on the London to Bath road.

In the early 19th century, a group of private asylums developed in Fulham. At the time, Fulham was the market garden area for London and "contained many handsome villas and country seats". Beaufort House appears to have opened by 1801 - Normand House by 1812 -

There is a group of private asylums in, around, or associated with Hanwell. The first is probably Ann Pope's, which may have opened in 1804. Elm Grove was open by 1833 and was related to the superintendents of the Hanwell County Asylum which opened in 1831. The retired first superintendent opened Southall Park in 1838. The Shrubbery, Southall was associated with this.

Turnham Green Terrace may have included a small private asylum from 1818.

Manor House, Chiswick became an asylum in 1833.

Three houses - Earls Court House Old Brompton - Wyke House, Sion Hll, Brentford - Inverness Lodge, Brentford - are inter-related in that they were operated, at some time, by Robert Gardiner Hill, one of the originators of the non-restraint system.

Mary Lamb

We have very few lists of the patients in London asylums before the census of 1841. The rest of England abd Wales has a Register (to 1828) in the care of the Royal College of Physicians. The London Register of the Royal College of Physicians was lost because it passed to a government agency in 1828.

There is, however, a register of all London's private asylums for the years 1829/1830. In this, Mary Lamb, brother of Charles Lamb, is recorded as a patient at Normand House in Fulham.

The life of Mary Lamb illustrates many of the features of mental health care in the early 19th centry that the local historian will look for.

Her brother, Charles Lamb, was a patient in Hoxton House, east London, in 1795 and Mary was also a patient there, later. This was a large asylum with a gentleman proprietor who had his private house next to the asylum. The asylum itself had separate departments. The pauper department received people on benefit from the City parishes, from west London, and from counties all around London and elsewhere. The private department received private patients of a middling income. Further up the road was an elite house that received the relatives of the rich and powerful. Hoxton House also had a department for naval lunatics.

In the 1820s and 1830s, Hoxton House made an annual profit of £4,000 a year. The state of the art county asylum opened at Springfield in 1841 cost £85,000 - So just over 20 years profits from Hoxton House could have paid for it. The private asylum trade could be big business.

Or it could be a small domestic industry. At Turnham Green Terrace, Turnham Green, for example, John and Mary Jackson took in James Poynder on 3.3.1818 and four years later found room for William Hill. The same two men were living with them and a man and woman servant in 1841, and "Jackson's Lunatic Asylum" continued until the late 1840s.

Mary Lamb murdered her mother on 22.9.1796. She was spirited away to a madhouse in Islington, where she was kindly treated.

Discharged, by her brother, from the asylum in April 1797, I believe she was maintained for some years in single houses. These were unregistered asylums where one lunatic was looked after by a family. A stay in such an asylum could be arranged by the same physician who arranged a stay in an asylum, or it might be arranged by the proprietor of an asylum. Mary's first single house was in Hackney.

In April 1799, Mary's father died. There appears to be a general agreement that, after this, her brother Charles took her into his own care at his home in Islington.

This famous account of Mary's relapses may relate back to this period

"Whenever the approach of one of her fits of insanity was announced, by some irritability or change of manner, Lamb would take her, under his arm, to Hoxton Asylum. It was very affecting to encounter the young brother and his sister walking together (weeping together) on this painful errand; Mary herself, although sad, very conscious of the necessity for temporary separation from her only friend. They used to carry a strait jacket with them."

These were very uncomfortable times for lunatics and their relatives. The attempted assasination of George 3rd, by a lunatic, in 1800, made life particularly difficult. Charles and Mary removed themselves from Islington to the relative anonymity of the inner city.

Mary Lamb had a nurse, Sarah James, who had been a nurse in a private asylum

Charles Lamb met Thomas Noon Talfourd in 1815. At the time, Mary was probably in an asylum in east London. Talfourd was the son of the proprietors of Normand House, Fulham and I think it highly likely that Mary became a patient there between 1815 and 1829, when we have a register entry for her.

In 1814, Edward Wakefield commissioned an artist to draw William Norris in Bethlem. The picture is famous as one of the extreme constraint of a violent patient an a run-down asylum.

Compare this with Edward Wakefield's description of Normand House, where Mary Lamb was confined.

Talfourd's was one of the few private asylums in which conditions were good, as far as Edward Wakefield could tell. There were many, including Hoxton House, to which he was refused admission.

Wakefield's good opinion of Normand House is echoed in the reports of the visiting commisioners at the time Mary Lamb was a patient:

25.7.1829: "The establishment is in excellent order. Religious service is regularly performed every Sunday evening to such patients as are capable of attending".

17.11.1830: "This house is in a very creditable state, but the commissioners would recommend that a larger room be appropriated to the worst class of patients"

23.3.1831: "This house appears in very good order. The suggestion made in the last Report has been attended to in the removal of the worst class of patients into a larger room"

A Hanwell visit

Harriet Martineau contrasts the treatment of rich patients in private asylums unfavourably with that of pauper patients in the Hanwell Lunatic Asylum.

At the time she was writing, Tuke's elite asylum at Manor House, Chiswick was only just developing, so I do not think she could be thinking of that. Nevertheless, it is interesting to compare Martineau's evaluation of Hanwell with the evaluation of Manor House given by its historian, Pamela Bater.

Pamela Bater writes that "most people had no choice but to consign mentally ill relatives to one of the big county asylums".

People with money, however, could send their mad relatives to places where they were "treated as individuals" and "entertainments were laid on and patients were taken on outings".

Martineau's argument is that because the rich were so anxious to secure the secrecy and privacy of their insane associations, the public treatment of paupers in the new county asylum turned out to be better and more therapeutic than the treatment the rich paid so much for !

The proportion of cures at Hanwell was low, but this, Harriet argues, is because it is not receiving patients early enough in their illness.

The internal workings of the asylum and its garden were focused on finding paients therapeutic occupation and opportunities to seek reward in activities were they are appreciated.

Unfortunately, the local community was not willing to make a positive response to lunatics becoming normal people. Harriet describes a popular horror at the inmates when they visited Brentford or the local parish church.

Observation of Hanwell casts light on what goes on in the world. Gin drinking is the main cause of women being admitted and bad treatment had made patients chronic:

"The malady of the greater number was brought on by gin-drinking, and rendered irremediable by a long infliction of chains and idleness"

The cause of gin- drinking is hinted at by an inmate who tells a visitor You are a delusive man. Men delude women and women resort to gin and gin reduces women to insanity and bad treatment keeps them insane.

The system at Hanwell appeared to depend on Dr and Mrs Ellis. If it was to be established, Harriet thought that governors and servants would need training.

Throughout Harriet Martineau's description, the figure of Mrs Ellis is larger than that of her husband, Dr Ellis and Harriet concludes by discussing "the equal participation of a woman".

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Coleridge called Hoxton House the Hoxton madhouse. It opened in 1695 and was demolished in 1911. It included (at different times) a gentleman's residence where the owner lived, apparently separate from the asylum, and asylum departments for private (fee-paying) men and women, for male and female pauper lunatics (especially from the City of London), and for "maniacs" from the navy. It was the naval lunatic asylum until 1818. It also received criminal lunatics.
1700   Madhouses for the rich
Irish's in Guildford, Surrey, already advertised good conditions in 1700 . We can trace a continuous line from Irish to Stilwell's in Hayes, Middlesex in the mid-19th century.
Before 1743   Earliest madhouses in Little Chelsea
Chelsea was a large village (so described in 1800) on the Thames, it was connected to London by Thomas Cubbitt who built "Belgravia" between 1826 and 1831. Little Chelsea was a village on the road to Fulham. Chelsea seems to have been the seed-bed of the West-London madhouse trade. Whereas Hoxton and Bethnal Green specialised in pauper lunatics, Chelsea houses specialised in private patients. A Little Chelsea house receiving paupers in the 1780s, was an elite Kensington house by the 1880s. The West London houses were not only convenient for West London doctors, but were on the roads west to the West of England madhouses. In the 1830s and 1840s, the Finch family maintained houses in Chelsea/Kensington and Wiltshire.
December 1795   Charles Lamb confined in Hoxton House
22.9.1796 Mary Lamb killed her mother Mary Lamb confined in Islington
Spring 1799 Mary Lamb living with her brother, Charles  
Summer 1800 High Born Helen: A poem by Mary Lamb about Charles' Lamb's fantasies.  
27.4.1801   Earliest known admission to Beaufort House, Fulham
In the early 19th century, Fulham was the market garden area for London and "contained many handsome villas and country seats"
1802   Blacklands House, Chelsea, opened by
1804   Pope's House, Hanwell may have opened
1807 Tales from Shakespear. Designed for the use of young persons - The comedies written by Mary Lamb  
22.10.1812   Earliest known admission to Normand House, Fulham
At Talfourd's house at Fulham, there were fourteen ladies who appeared to be treated with the greatest kindness. They went to the local church, and were allowed out for walks - Wakefield met two who had just 'walked to Walham Green to see Louis 18
7.6.1814   The sketch of Norris in Bethlem
1815   Bethlem moves from Moorfields to St George's Fields
3.3.1818   Mr and Mrs Jackson at Turnham Green Terrace may have taken in their first lunatic lodger
1826   Possible date that Wyke House, Sion Hill, Brentford became a private asylum
In 1828 all the large pauper madhouses of London were in the east or (a new one) to the south.
20.5.1829   Mary Lamb a patient in Normand House, Fulham
1.8.1829   First patient in Sidney House, Hackney Wick
16.5.1831   Hanwell Pauper Lunatic Asylum opened
1833   Elm Grove House, Hanwell was seeking patients. It was run by a relative of the Hanwell superintendent
1833   Edward Francis Tuke may have moved his elite business from Hackney Wick to Chiswick
1833-1834 Harriet Martineau's Illustrations of Political Economy  
June 1834 Harriet Martineau's The Hanwell Lunatic Asylum  
Mrs Ellis petitioned for a pony chaise, in which the convalescent patients might go backwards and forwards between Brentford and Hanwell, when a messenger went to Brentford on business; and every one must see the advantage to the patients of witnessing a little of the bustle of the world before they were called on to engage in it for themselves. The pony chaise was granted ; but, alas ! the people in the neighbourhood were frightened, and the permission to go to Brentford is withdrawn!
20.9.1838   The retired superintendent of Hanwell opened Southall Park
1841   Manor House: Chiswick Lunatic Asylum on the census
14.6.1841   Surrey Pauper Lunatic Asylum opened
William Ayres' house at Kensington Gore had moved to Mare Street, Hackney, by 1844. This is an exceptional movement from west to east.
1844   Dr Steward, the new medical superintendent of Southall Park, also used his own house, The Shrubbery, as an occasional asylum.
17.7.1851   A second Middlesex County Asylum, known as Colney Hatch Asylum, opened. Later renamed Frern Mental Hospital.
1858   Rosina Bulwer Lytton confined in Inverness Lodge, Brentford
1859 Wilkie Collins' story about hereditary taint in a family  
26.11.1859 to
Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White serialised: "four roads met - the road to Hampstead, along which I had returned, the road to Finchley, the road to West End, and the road back to London." The private asylum in which the woman in white has been confined appears to be west of London
March-December 1863 Charles Reade's Hard Cash  
10.2.1864 Rosina Bulwer Lytton wrote to Charles Reade  
1880 A Blighted Life by the Right Hon. Lady Lytton