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.