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Hanwell asylum

'In the 18th. century the only institutions specifically catering for the insane were private mad houses and subscription hospitals'. (Lappin,1995, p.p.8-4). 'From the early 19th. century, justices of the peace were encouraged to build county lunatic asylums to house pauper lunatics in their county: In 1845 this became compulsory' (see PRO Leaflet, 1999).

Hanwell was chosen, for its position, being outside of centres of population, but not too far for the occasional visit. Hanwell 'Lunatic Asylum' was built by the county and opened in 1831. It became a self sufficient 'village' which contained a farm, gardens for fresh produce, a laundry, brewery and a graveyard. Local artisans, for example, a tailor, and a shoemaker worked at the asylum which was supplied with goods from local manufactures, such as Robert Forest who was paid 20.00 for paving tiles in 1843, (Report for Visiting Justices, p.23). Large numbers of patients also worked in these industries (particularly on the farm and in the laundry).
The Southern Boundary wall
of 'Hanwell Asylum'

By 1841, the asylum employed 90 staff, looking after 1,302 patients. The impact of the asylum which covered some 42 acres of land and its close proximity to the small village of Hanwell was dramatic.

The staff of the asylum were divided into two sections: The Officers who consisted of the Doctors, Matron, Steward, Apothecary and Engineeer (most of whom had private servants). The majority of the staff were young and single, ( females were not allowed to be married) and many migrated from other areas such as the 'West Country" to work at the asylum. They lived in accomodation within the walls of the asylum, ( a great attraction for what was then a poorly paid and unattractive job). However, there was never a shortage of applicants. In 1871 a post of clerk (annual salary 25-30 drew 296 applications.(H11/HLL, p.193-208).

The other group were the servants (often referred to as keepers) who looked after the patients. In 1840 there were 75 servants for 800 patients....There were 48 attendants and nurses (keepers) responsible for wards and night duty. They worked 14 hours a day. There were also workmen, artisans, craftsmen and supervisors of the various means of employment on offer to the patients.

By 1891 the number of staff had risen to 139, and patients to 1,899, ( of these patients 1,138 were female. It is interesting to note that the ratio of female staff, to male staff was always much higher because, patients were always looked after by their own gender. Indeed, the asylum had two gate houses at the entrance one for males and the other for females.

Events were held at the asylum to which local people were invited. In 1895 a report in the Middlesex County Times (p.7) described a summer fete where the matron, Miss King 'did all that was possible to contribute her share to the happiness and sucess of the day for the patients.

Recent legislation concerning the treatment of the mentally ill, and those with 'special needs' has thankfully seen the demise of asylums and much of the land at Hanwell was recently sold to build private houses upon. Fortunately, the two gate houses, with porter's lodges and long portions of the boundary wall alongside the canal still remain. A reminder to all of us of those days when the poor, or insane, or both, were incarcarated within these walls. Now, in the chapel each year, an open day is held where artifacts from those long gone days, are on display alongside restaining equipment, nurses uniforms and some of the records.

Some information for this report was drawn from the Census Enumerator's Books for 1871-1891.

Tessa Speight.