What was the Alleged Lunatics’ Friend Society?

Introduction

The Alleged Lunatics’ Friend Society was an advocacy group started by former asylum patients and their supporters in 19th-century Britain.

The Society campaigned for greater protection against wrongful confinement or cruel and improper treatment, and for reform of the lunacy laws. The Society is recognised today as a pioneer of the psychiatric survivors movement.

Background

There was concern in the United Kingdom in the 19th century about wrongful confinement in private madhouses, or asylums, and the mistreatment of patients, with tales of such abuses appearing in newspapers and magazines. The Madhouses Act 1774 had introduced a process of certification and a system for licensing and inspecting private madhouses, but had been ineffectual in reducing abuses or allaying public anxiety. Doctors in the 19th century were establishing themselves as arbiters of sanity but were reliant on subjective diagnoses and tended to equate insanity with eccentric or immoral behaviour. Public suspicion of their motives was also aroused by the profits that were made from private madhouses.

In 1838, Richard Paternoster, a former civil servant in the East India Company, was discharged after 41 days in a London madhouse (William Finch’s madhouse at Kensington House) having been detained following a disagreement with his father over money. Once free, he published, via his solicitors, a letter in The Times announcing his release. The letter was read by John Perceval, a son of prime minister Spencer Perceval. Perceval had spent three years in two of the most expensive private asylums in England, Brislington House in Bristol, run by Quaker Edward Long Fox, and Ticehurst Asylum in Sussex. His treatment had been brutal in the Brislington House; at Ticehurst the regime was more humane but his release had been delayed. Perceval contacted Paternoster and they were soon joined by several former patients and others:

  • William Bailey (an inventor and business man who had spent several years in madhouses);
  • Lewis Phillips (a glassware manufacturer who had been incarcerated in Thomas Warburton’s asylum);
  • John Parkin (a surgeon and former asylum patient);
  • Captain Richard Saumarez (whose father was the surgeon Richard Saumarez and whose two brothers were Chancery lunatics); and
  • Luke James Hansard (a philanthropist from the family of parliamentary printers).

This group was to form the core of the Alleged Lunatics’ Friend Society, although the Society would not be formally founded until 1845.

The group began their campaign by sending letters to the press, lobbying Members of Parliament (MPs) and government officials, and publishing pamphlets. John Perceval was elected to the Board of Poor Law Guardians in the parish of Kensington (although he was opposed to the New Poor Law) and was able to join magistrates on their visits of inspection to asylums. Richard Paternoster and Lewis Phillips brought court cases against the people who had incarcerated them. John Perceval published two books about his experience. Richard Paternoster wrote a series of articles for The Satirist magazine; these were published in 1841 as a book called The Madhouse System.

Formation

On 07 July 1845, Richard Paternoster, John Perceval and a number of others formed the Alleged Lunatics’ Friend Society. A pamphlet published in March the following year set out the aims with which the Society was founded:

At a meeting of several Gentlemen feeling deeply interested in behalf of their fellow-creatures, subjected to confinement as lunatic patients.

It was unanimously resolved:… That this Society is formed for the protection of the British subject from unjust confinement, on the grounds of mental derangement, and for the redress of persons so confined; also for the protection of all persons confined as lunatic patients from cruel and improper treatment. That this Society will receive applications from persons complaining of being unjustly treated, or from their friends, aid them in obtaining legal advice, and otherwise assist and afford them all proper protection.

That the Society will endeavour to procure a reform in the laws and treatment affecting the arrest, detention, and release of persons treated as of unsound mind…

John Perceval was listed as the honorary secretary, Luke James Hansard as treasurer, and Henry F. Richardson as honorary solicitor (Gilbert Bolden would later become the Society’s lawyer). Sixteen vice-presidents included both Tory and Liberal MPs; notable amongst them was the radical MP for Finsbury, Thomas Duncombe. New legislation, championed by Lord Ashley, was being introduced in parliament (the Lunacy Act 1845 and County Asylums Act 1845) and the creation of a formal society put the group in a better position to influence legislators. Four days after the Society was founded Thomas Duncombe spoke in the House of Commons, arguing for the postponement of new legislation pending a select committee of inquiry, and detailing a number of cases of wrongful confinement that had come to the Society’s attention. The legislation however went ahead, and the Society would have to wait until 1859 for an inquiry, although the Society’s supporters in parliament managed to secure a number of clauses to safeguard patients in the 1845 Act.

Although the Society had influential supporters such as Thomas Duncombe and Thomas Wakley (surgeon, radical MP for Finsbury and coroner), they did not gain widespread public support, probably never having more than sixty members and relying upon their own money for funding. A critical article in The Times of 1846 revealed the views and prejudices that the Society would have to counter:

“We can scarcely understand what such a society can propose to accomplish… There have been, no doubt, many cases of grievous oppression in which actual lunatics have been treated with cruelty, and those who are only alleged to be insane have been most unlawfully imprisoned… These, however, are evils to be checked by the law and not tampered with… by a body of private individuals… Some of the names we have seen announced suggest to us the possibility that the promoters of this scheme are not altogether free from motives of self-preservation. There is no objection to a set of gentlemen joining together in this manner for their own protection… but we think they should be satisfied to take care of themselves, without tendering their services to all who happen to be in the same position.”

John Perceval replied that the law afforded patients insufficient protection, and that the Society existed to give legal advice to individuals and draw the government’s attention to abuses as well as to encourage a more general discussion about the nature of insanity. In response to the article’s reference to the fact that several members of the Society had been patients in asylums, Perceval had this to say:

“I would remind the writer of that article, that men are worthy of confidence in the province of their own experience, and as the wisest and best of mankind hold the tenure of their health and reasoning faculties on the will of an Inscrutable Providence, and great wits to madness are allied, he will do well to consider that their fate may be his own, and to assist them in saving others in future from like injustice and cruelties, which the ignorance of the fondest relations may expose patients to, as well as the malice of their enemies.”

Social worker Nicholas Hervey, who has written the most extensive history of the Alleged Lunatics’ Friend Society, suggested that a number of factors may have contributed to the lack of wider public support, namely: alignment with radical political circles; endorsement of localist views, rather than support of the Lunacy Commission’s centralism; fearless exposure of upper-class sensibilities regarding privacy on matters concerning insanity, thus alienating wealthy potential supporters; attacks on the new forms of moral treatment in asylums (what John Perceval referred to as “repression by mildness and coaxing”).

Achievements

As well as lobbying parliament and campaigning through the media and public meetings, during the next twenty years or so the Society took up the cases of at least seventy patients, including he following examples:

  • Dr Edward Peithman was a German tutor who had been falsely imprisoned in Bethlem Hospital for fourteen years after he had tried to gain access to Prince Albert.
    • John Perceval took up his case and, after the Commissioners in Lunacy released him in February 1854, took him home with him to Herne Bay.
    • Dr Peithman promptly tried to speak to Prince Albert again, and was committed to Hanwell Asylum.
    • Again Perceval obtained his release, this time escorting him back to Germany.
  • Jane Bright was a member of a wealthy Leicestershire family, the Brights of Skeffington Hall.
    • She was seduced by a doctor who took most of her money and left her pregnant. Soon after the birth of her child, her brothers had her committed to Northampton Hospital.
    • On her release she enlisted Gilbert Bolden, the Society’s solicitor, to help her recover the remains of her fortune from her family.
  • Anne Tottenham was a Chancery lunatic who was removed from the garden of Effra Hall Asylum in Brixton by Admiral Saumarez.
    • This course of action was a rare exception to the Society’s more usual rule of following legal routes to secure the release of patients who had been wrongly confined.
  • Charles Verity was serving a two-year prison sentence when he was transferred to Northampton Hospital. He contacted John Perceval in 1857 about abuses in the refractory ward and the Society secured an inquiry.
    • The Commissioners in Lunacy reported in 1858 that charges of cruelty and ill-usage had been established against attendants and the culprits had been dismissed.

Not all the Society’s cases were successful:

  • James Hill (father of Octavia Hill) was a Wisbech corn merchant, banker, proprietor of the newspaper the Star of the East and founder of the United Advancement Society.
    • He had been declared bankrupt and had been committed to Kensington House Asylum.
    • After his release in 1851 the Society helped him sue the proprietor of Kensington House, Dr Francis Philps, for wrongful confinement but the case was unsuccessful.
  • Captain Arthur Childe, son of William Lacon Childe, MP, of Kinlet Hall in Shropshire, was a Chancery lunatic who had been found to be of unsound mind by a lunacy inquisition in 1854.
    • The Society applied on his behalf for another lunacy inquisition in 1855, claiming he was now of sound mind.
    • The Society was unsuccessful; the jury found Captain Childe to be of unsound mind and there was a quarrel about costs.

The Society was successful in drawing attention to abuses in a number of asylums. Notable amongst these was Bethlem Hospital, which, as a charitable institution, had been exempt from inspection under the 1845 Lunacy Act. The help of the Society was enlisted by patients and they persuaded the home secretary to allow the Commissioners in Lunacy to inspect the asylum. The Commissioner’s critical report in 1852 led to reforms. Together with magistrate Purnell Bransby Purnell, the Society ran a campaign to expose abuses in asylums in Gloucestershire.

One of the aims of the Society had always been to persuade parliament to conduct a committee of inquiry into the lunacy laws. This, after numerous petitions, they finally achieved in 1859. John Perceval, Admiral Saumarez, Gilbert Bolden and Anne Tottenham (a patient they had rescued from Effra House Asylum) gave evidence to the committee. The results were disappointing; the committee made a number of recommendations in their 1860 report but these were not put into place.

Legacy

The Society’s activities appear to have come to an end in 1860s. Admiral Saumarez died in 1866, and Gilbert Bolden had a young family and moved to Birmingham. In 1862 John Perceval wrote a letter to the magazine John Bull:

“I am sorry to say that this Society is so little supported, in spite of the great good it has done, and is in consequence so entirely disorganised, that I have repeatedly proposed to the committee that we should agree to a dissolution of it, and I have only consented to continue acting with them, and to lend my name to what is rather a myth than a reality, from their representation that however insignificant we were, we had still been able to effect a great deal of good, and might still be further successful…”

Nicholas Hervey concluded:

“The Society’s importance lies in the wide panorama of ideas it laid before Shaftesbury’s Board. Unrestrained by the traditions of bureaucratic office, it was free to explore a variety of alternatives for care of the insane, many of which were too visionary or impolitic to stand a chance of implementation. The difficulty it faced was the blinkered perspective of the Commission and of Shaftesbury in particular… it would not be an exaggeration of the Society’s worth to say that patients’ rights, asylum care, and medical accountability all suffered with its demise in the 1860s.”

The cause for lunacy law reform was taken up by Louisa Lowe’s Lunacy Law Reform Association, whose aims were very similar to those of the Alleged Lunatics’ Friend Society. In more recent years the Society has been recognised as a pioneer of advocacy and the psychiatric survivors movement.

What was the Madhouses Act 1774?

Introduction

The Madhouses Act 1774 (14 Geo. 3 c.49) was an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain, which set out a legal framework for regulating “madhouses” (insane asylums).

Refer to Chronology of UK Mental Health Legislation.

Background

By the mid-eighteenth century, the common methods in the United Kingdom for dealing with the insane were either to keep them in the family home, or to put them in a “madhouse”, which was simply a private house whose proprietor was paid to detain their residents, and ran it as a commercial concern with little or no medical involvement. This led to two forms of abuse: the first was the keeping of “legitimately” insane people in atrocious conditions, and the second the detention of those who were falsely claimed to be insane – in effect, private imprisonment.

At this stage, there was no legislation to regulate the incarceration of anyone other than a Chancery lunatic or a pauper; there was only a vaguely defined common law power to “confine a person disordered in mind, who seems disposed to do mischief to himself, or another person”.

In a case in the mid-1750s, a woman came to suspect that her son-in-law had committed his wife to a madhouse in Hoxton; with the aid of a Justice of the Peace, she secured the release of her daughter after obtaining a confession from the husband. A similar case in 1762 saw a man trying to obtain the release of an acquaintance, one Mrs Hawley, who he suspected had been confined in a madhouse. His initial application to Lord Mansfield for a writ of habeas corpus was rejected because he was not a relative and so had no standing, but the judge arranged for a doctor to visit the house and speak to the woman. On his report, a writ was granted; she was brought before the court, and discharged.

A Select Committee of the House of Commons, chaired by Thomas Townshend, was set up in 1763 to study the problem of unlawful detention in private madhouses and focused on the Hawley case. It found that she had been committed to the house solely on the word of her husband, who paid two guineas (two pounds and two shillings) a month for her board, and that she was unable to leave the house or communicate with anybody outside it. The inmates were treated as insane, but the agent who arranged their entry freely admitted that he had not committed a single insane person to the house in the past six years. No-one who would pay was turned away, no physicians attended the inmates, and no register was kept of their names. This was, the Committee stated, a common situation; they noted that a number of similar cases could have been studied, and they recommended that some form of legislative intervention was needed. The Commons ordered the committee to prepare a bill, but it appears this was never brought in.

The issue was next addressed in 1773 when Townshend’s son, also named Thomas Townshend, sponsored a bill to regulate private madhouses; within seven miles of London, this would be the responsibility of the Royal College of Physicians; and outside that, magistrates in county towns. The bill passed the Commons but was rejected by the Lords.

Legislative History

In 1774, Thomas Townshend again reintroduced the Madhouses Bill. The Bill was presented to the Commons for its first reading on 02 March, and was amended in committee on 23 March. The Lords voted on it on 21 April, and made two amendments (the addition of s.19 and s.31) on 06 May, before the bill returned to the Commons on 10 May. The bill received Royal Assent on 20 May.

Provisions

The Act required that all madhouses be licensed by a committee of the Royal College of Physicians. This license would permit the holder to maintain a single house for accommodating lunatics, and would have to be renewed each year. All houses were to be inspected at least once per year by the committee, who would also keep a central register of all the confined lunatics in order that people could locate them; outside London, the task of inspecting them would fall to the local quarter sessions.

The penalty for “concealing or confining” more than one insane person without a license was set at £500, and every keeper of such a house who took in a patient without an order from a doctor was liable to a fine of £100.

Implementation

The Act took effect on 20 November 1774, six months after receiving Royal Assent, and was originally stated to remain in force for five years and then until the end of the next Parliamentary session.

  • It was continued for a further seven years by the Madhouse Continuation Act 1779 (19 Geo. 3 c.15);
  • Then continued indefinitely by the Madhouse Law Perpetuation Act 1786 (26 Geo. 3 c.91); and
  • It remained in force until repealed by the Madhouses Act 1828.

What were the Commissioners in Lunacy?

Introduction

The Commissioners in Lunacy or Lunacy Commission were a public body established by the Lunacy Act 1845 to oversee asylums and the welfare of mentally ill people in England and Wales.

It succeeded the Metropolitan Commissioners in Lunacy.

Refer to Chronology of UK Mental Health Legislation, Commissioners in Lunacy for Scotland, and Commissioners in Lunacy for Ireland.

Previous Bodies

The predecessors of the Commissioners in Lunacy were the Metropolitan Commissioners in Lunacy, dating back to the Madhouses Act 1774, and established as such by the Madhouses Act 1828.

By 1842 their remit had been extended from London to cover the whole country.

The Lord Chancellor’s jurisdiction over lunatics so found by writ of De Lunatico Inquirendo had been delegated to two Masters-in-Chancery.

By the Lunacy Act 1842 (5&6 Vict. c.64), these were established as the Commissioners in Lunacy and after 1845 they were retitled Masters in Lunacy.

Establishment

Anthony Ashley-Cooper, Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury was the head of the Commission from its founding in 1845 until his death in 1885. The Lunacy Commission was made up of eleven Metropolitan Commissioners: three medical, three legal and five laymen.

The Commission was monumental as it was not only a full-time commission, but it was also salaried for six of its members. The six members of the commission who were full-time and salaried were the three members of the legal system and the three members of the medical community. The other five lay members of the commission were all honorary members who simply had to attend board meetings.

The duty of the Commission was to carry out the provisions of the Act, reporting to the Poor Law Commissioners (in the case of workhouses) and to the Lord Chancellor. The first Secretary to the Commissioners was Robert Wilfred Skeffington Lutwidge, a barrister and uncle of Lewis Carroll. He had previously been one of the Metropolitan Commissioners, and later become an Inspector of the Commission.

A Master in Lunacy ranked next after a Master in Chancery in the order of precedence.

Asylums Commissioned

The following asylums were commissioned under the auspices of the Commissioners in Lunacy (or their predecessors):

English County Asylums

  • First Bedford County Asylum (Bedford), 1812.
  • Second Bedfordshire County Asylum (Fairfield), 1860.
  • Berkshire County Asylum (Moulsford), 1870.
  • Buckinghamshire County Asylum (Stone), 1853.
  • Cambridgeshire County Asylum (Fulbourn), 1858.
  • First Cheshire County Asylum (Chester), 1829.
  • Second Cheshire County Asylum (Macclesfield), 1871.
  • Cornwall County Asylum (Bodmin), 1818.
  • Cumberland and Westmorland County Asylum (Carleton), 1862.
  • Derbyshire County Asylum (Mickleover), 1851.
  • Devon County Asylum (Exminster), 1845.
  • Dorset County Asylum (Charminster), 1863.
  • Durham County Asylum (Sedgefield), 1858.
  • East Riding County Asylum (Walkington), 1871.
  • East Sussex County Asylum (Hellingly), 1898.
  • First Essex County Asylum (Brentwood), 1853.
  • Second Essex County Asylum (Colchester), 1913.
  • First Gloucestershire County Asylum (Gloucester), 1823.
  • Second Gloucestershire County Asylum (Gloucester), 1883.
  • First Hampshire County Asylum (Knowle), 1852.
  • Second Hampshire County Asylum (Basingstoke), 1917.
  • Herefordshire County Asylum (Burghill), 1868.
  • Hertfordshire County Asylum (St Albans), 1899.
  • Isle of Wight County Asylum (Gatcombe), 1896.
  • First Kent County Asylum (Barming Heath), 1833.
  • Second Kent County Asylum (Chartham), 1875.
  • Kesteven County Asylum (Quarrington, 1897.
  • First Lancashire County Asylum (Lancaster), 1816.
  • Second Lancashire County Asylum (Prestwich), 1851.
  • Third Lancashire County Asylum (Rainhill), 1851.
  • Fourth Lancashire County Asylum (Whittingham), 1873.
  • Fifth Lancashire County Asylum (Winwick), 1897.
  • Sixth Lancashire County Asylum (Whalley), 1915.
  • Leicestershire County Asylum (Leicester), 1837.
  • Lincolnshire County Asylum (Bracebridge Heath), 1852.
  • First London County Asylum (Hanwell), 1831.
  • Second London County Asylum (Colney Hatch), 1849.
  • Third London County Asylum (Belmont), 1877.
  • Fourth London County Asylum (Coulsdon), 1882.
  • Fifth London County Asylum (Woodford Bridge), 1893.
  • Sixth London County Asylum (Epsom), 1899.
  • Seventh London County Asylum (Dartford Heath), 1898.
  • Eighth London County Asylum (Epsom), 1902.
  • Ninth London County Asylum (Epsom), 1904.
  • Tenth London County Asylum (Epsom), 1907.
  • Eleventh London County Asylum (Epsom), 1921.
  • Norfolk County Asylum (Norwich), 1814.
  • Northamptonshire County Asylum (Duston), 1876.
  • Northumberland County Asylum (Morpeth), 1859.
  • North Riding County Asylum (Clifton), 1847.
  • First Nottinghamshire County Asylum (Sneinton), 1812.
  • Second Nottinghamshire County Asylum (Radcliffe-on-Trent), 1902.
  • Oxfordshire County Asylum (Littlemore), 1846.
  • Shropshire County Asylum (Shelton), 1845.
  • First Somerset County Asylum (Horrington), 1848.
  • Second Somerset County Asylum (Norton Fitzwarren), 1897.
  • First Staffordshire County Asylum (Stafford), 1818.
  • Second Staffordshire County Asylum (Cheddleton), 1892.
  • Suffolk County Asylum (Melton), 1827.
  • First Surrey County Asylum (Tooting), 1840.
  • Second Surrey County Asylum (Woking), 1867.
  • Third Surrey County Asylum (Hooley), 1905.
  • Sussex County Asylum (Haywards Heath), 1859.
  • Warwickshire County Asylum (Hatton), 1852.
  • First West Riding County Asylum (Wakefield), 1818.
  • Second West Riding County Asylum (Middlewood), 1872.
  • Third West Riding County Asylum (Menston), 1885.
  • Fourth West Riding County Asylum (Storthes Hall), 1904.
  • Fifth West Riding County Asylum (Burley in Wharfedale), 1902.
  • West Sussex County Asylum (Chichester), 1894.
  • Wiltshire County Asylum (Devizes), 1849.
  • First Worcestershire County Asylum (Powick), 1847.
  • Second Worcestershire County Asylum (Bromsgrove), 1907.

“New” Mental Hospitals Established Later by Middlesex County Council

  • First Middlesex County Mental Hospital.
    • The First Surrey County Asylum at Tooting (see above) was transferred to Middlesex County Council in 1888 and became the First Middlesex County Mental Hospital in the early 20th century.
  • Second Middlesex County Mental Hospital (London Colney), 1905.
  • Third Middlesex County Mental Hospital (Shenley), 1934.

English Borough Asylums

  • Croydon Borough Asylum, 1903.
  • First Birmingham City Asylum, 1850.
  • Second Birmingham City Asylum, 1882.
  • Third Birmingham City Asylum, 1905.
  • Bristol City Asylum, 1861.
  • Canterbury Borough Asylum, 1902.
  • Derby Borough Asylum, 1888.
  • East Ham Borough Asylum, 1937.
  • Exeter City Asylum, 1886.
  • Gateshead Borough Asylum, 1914.
  • Ipswich Borough Asylum, 1870.
  • Kingston upon Hull Borough Asylum, 1883.
  • Leicester Borough Asylum, 1869.
  • Lincoln Borough Asylum, 1817.
  • Middlesbrough Borough Asylum, 1898.
  • Newcastle upon Tyne Borough Asylum, 1869.
  • City of London Asylum, 1866.
  • Norwich Borough Asylum, 1828.
  • Nottingham Borough Asylum, 1880.
  • Plymouth Borough Asylum, 1891.
  • Portsmouth Borough Asylum, 1879.
  • Sunderland Borough Asylum, 1895.
  • West Ham Borough Asylum, 1901.
  • York Borough Asylum, 1906.

Metropolitan Asylums Board Asylums (Established for Chronic Cases)

  • Caterham Asylum, 1870.
  • Darenth Asylum, 1878.
  • Leavesden Asylum, 1870.
  • Tooting Bec Asylum, 1903.

Welsh County Asylums

  • Brecon and Radnor County Asylum (Talgarth), 1903.
  • Carmarthenshire, Cardigan and Pembrokeshire County Asylum (Carmarthen), 1865.
  • Denbighshire County Asylum (Denbigh), 1844.
  • First Glamorgan County Asylum (Pen-y-fai), 1864.
  • Second Glamorgan County Asylum (Bridgend), 1886.
  • Monmouthshire County Asylum (Abergavenny), 1851.

Welsh Borough Asylums

  • Cardiff City Asylum, 1908.
  • Newport Borough Asylum, 1906.
  • Swansea Borough Mental Hospital, 1932.

Successor Body

The Mental Deficiency Act 1913 replaced the Commission with the Board of Control for Lunacy and Mental Deficiency.