What was the Idiots Act 1886?

Introduction

The Idiots Act 1886 (49 Vict.c.25) was an act of Parliament of the United Kingdom. It was intended to give “… facilities for the care, education, and training of Idiots and Imbeciles”.

Refer to Chronology of UK Mental Health Legislation.

Background

The Act made, for the first time, the distinction between “lunatics”, “idiots”, and “imbeciles” for the purpose of making entry into education establishments easier and for defining the ways they were cared for.

Before the Act, learning institutions for idiots and imbeciles were seen as either “licensed houses” or “registered hospitals” for lunatics, for which the parents of children hoping to enter would have to complete a form stating that they were “a lunatic, an idiot, or a person of unsound mind”. Additionally, they were required to answer irrelevant questions and present two medical certificates.

The Act was repealed by the Mental Deficiency Act 1913, by which time two further classifications had been introduced: “feeble-minded people” and “moral defectives”.

What was the Mental Deficiency Act 1913?

Introduction

The Mental Deficiency Act 1913 was an act of Parliament of the United Kingdom which made provisions for the institutional treatment of people deemed to be “feeble-minded” and “moral defectives”.

“It proposed an institutional separation so that mental defectives should be taken out of Poor Law institutions and prisons into newly established colonies.”

Refer to Chronology of UK Mental Health Legislation.

Background

The Idiots Act 1886 made the legal distinction between “idiots” and “imbeciles”. It contained educational provisions for the needs of people deemed to be in these categories. In 1904 the Royal Commission on the Care and Control of the Feeble-Minded was set up with the warrant “to consider the existing methods of dealing with idiots and epileptics, and with imbecile, feeble-minded, or defective persons not certified under the Lunacy Laws… to report as to the amendments in the law or other measures which should be adopted in the matter”. The Commission returned a lengthy report in 1908 which estimated that of a population of 32,527,843 British inhabitants 149,628 people (0.46%) were considered “mentally defective”. It recommended the establishment of a board of control which would oversee local authority efforts aimed at “the well-being of the mentally defective”.

Winston Churchill spoke of the need to introduce compulsory labour camps for “mental defectives” in the House of Commons in February 1911. In May 1912 a Private Members’ Bill entitled the “Feeble-Minded Control Bill” was introduced in the House of Commons, which called for the implementation of the Royal Commission’s conclusions. It rejected sterilisation of the “feeble-minded”, but had provision for registration and segregation. One of the few voices raised against the bill was that of G.K. Chesterton who ridiculed the bill, calling it the “Feeble-Minded Bill, both for brevity and because the description is strictly accurate”. The bill was withdrawn, but a government bill introduced on 10 June 1912 replaced it, which would become the Mental Deficiency Act 1913.

Mental Deficiency Act

The bill was passed in 1913 with only three MPs voting against it. One of them was Josiah Wedgwood, who attempted to filibuster and said of it, “It is a spirit of the Horrible Eugenic Society which is setting out to breed up the working class as though they were cattle.” The new act repealed the Idiots Act 1886 and followed the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Care and Control of the Feeble-Minded. It established the Board of Control for Lunacy and Mental Deficiency to oversee the implementation of provisions for the care and management of four classes of people,

a) Idiots. Those so deeply defective as to be unable to guard themselves against common physical dangers.
b) Imbeciles. Whose defectiveness does not amount to idiocy, but is so pronounced that they are incapable of managing themselves or their affairs, or, in the case of children, of being taught to do so.
c) Feeble-minded persons. Whose weakness does not amount to imbecility, yet who require care, supervision, or control, for their protection or for the protection of others, or, in the case of children, are incapable of receiving benefit from the instruction in ordinary schools.
d) Moral Imbeciles. Displaying mental weakness coupled with strong vicious or criminal propensities, and on whom punishment has little or no deterrent effect.

A person deemed to be an idiot or imbecile might be placed in an institution or under guardianship if the parent or guardian so petitioned, as could a person of any of the four categories under 21 years, as could a person of any category who had been abandoned, neglected, guilty of a crime, in a state institution, habitually drunk, or unable to be schooled.

At the height of operation of the Mental Deficiency Act, 65,000 people were placed in “colonies” or in other institutional settings.

The act remained in effect until it was repealed by the Mental Health Act 1959.

What was the Lunacy (Scotland) Act 1857?

Introduction

The Lunacy (Scotland) Act 1857 formed mental health law in Scotland from 1857 until 1913.

Refer to Chronology of UK Mental Health Legislation.

Background

Prior to the Lunacy (Scotland) Act, lunacy legislation in Scotland was enshrined in the Madhouses (Scotland) Act 1815 which established the right of Scottish Sheriffs to order the inspection of madhouses. However the Scottish Lunacy Commission inquiry which reported in 1857 found that the official oversight of mental health institutions “remained at best variable and at worst simply inadequate”. It recommended the formation of a “Scottish Lunacy Board” who would address the shortfall in oversight.

Provisions

The legislation created a General Board of Commissioners in Lunacy for Scotland.

It also created district boards with the power to establish and operate publicly funded “district asylums” for patients who could not afford the fees charged by existing private and charitable “Royal Asylums”. These existing “Royal Asylums” (with Royal Charters) included the Aberdeen Royal Lunatic Asylum, the Crichton Royal Institution, the Dundee Royal Lunatic Asylum, the Royal Edinburgh Lunatic Asylum, the Glasgow Royal Lunatic Asylum, the Montrose Royal Lunatic Asylum and James Murray’s Royal Lunatic Asylum.

The aim of the legislation was to establish a network of “district asylums” with coverage throughout Scotland.

Subsequent Legislation

Under the Mental Deficiency and Lunacy (Scotland) Act 1913, the General Board of Commissioners in Lunacy for Scotland was reconstructed and designated the General Board of Control for Scotland.

Refer to Mental Deficiency Act 1913.

What was the Board of Control for Lunacy and Mental Deficiency?

Introduction

The Board of Control for Lunacy and Mental Deficiency was a body overseeing the treatment of the mentally ill in England and Wales.

Background

It was created by the Mental Deficiency Act 1913 to replace the Commissioners in Lunacy, under the Home Office however it was independent in that it reported to the Lord Chancellor who had responsibility for investigating breaches of care and integrity. The Board was transferred to the Ministry of Health by the Ministry of Health Act 1919, and reorganised in 1930.

The Board consisted of a Chairman, two Senior Medical Commissioners, one Senior Legal Commissioner, six Commissioners including lawyers and doctors, six Inspectors and administrative staff. By law, at least one of these had to be a woman. The Commissioners of the Board travelled around England and Wales ensuring that those detained under mental health legislation were legally in custody, their care was appropriate, and moneys and other properties owned by patients were not being misused or stolen.

The Board was based in Northumberland Avenue, London, until 1939 when it was moved to Hobart House, Grosvenor Place.

Its functions were transferred to the Minister of Health by the National Health Service Act 1946.

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

Members

Announcements of members were carried in the major national newspapers, including The Times.

  • On inception of the Board in 1913, the chairman was Sir William Byrne with Arthur Rotherham and Mary Dendy joining the ex officio members of the previous Lunacy Commissioners; C.H. Bond, Marriott Cooke, S. Coupland, B.T. Hodgson, S.J.F. MacLeod, F. Needham L.L. Shadwell, and A.H. Trevor.
  • In 1916, due to Sir William Byrne moving on, Marriott Cooke became acting chairman, and Robert Welsh Braithwaite was appointed to the board.
  • In 1921, Dr Ruth Darwin was appointed to the Board
  • In 1926 due to Robert Welsh Braithwaite’s retirement, Robert Cunyngham Brown was appointed a commissioner.
  • In 1928, due to the retirement of the chairman, Sir Frederick Willis, Laurence George Brock was appointed chairman.
  • In 1929, Dr Bedford Pierce was appointed a commissioner.
  • From the start of 1931, the Board was reconstituted, with a chairman and four other members.
    • L.G. Brock continued as chairman, with S.J. Fraser MacLeod, C. Hubert Bond, Arthur Rotherham, Ellen Pinsent.
  • William Rees-Thomas was appointed to the Board in 1931.
  • In 1931, Dr Isabel Wilson was appointed as a Commissioner, holding the position until 1948.
    • From 1949 to 1960 she was a Senior Commissioner, after which the Board was abolished and her position was changed to the Principal Medical Officer, Ministry of Health.

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.