Re-discovering Leicestershire's Victorian Lunatic Asylums
  
 
 
 
 

 
 
ABOUT THE BOROUGH ASYLUM

Leicester Borough Lunatic Asylum

In response to a growing demand for asylum provision, rather than expand the first County asylum, authorities instead opened the Leicester Borough Lunatic Asylum at Humberstone, in 1869.

The building, designed by the Borough Surveyor Edward Loney Stephens, could accommodate 300 patients. Extensions were added in 1883 and 1890, increasing capacity to 581 patients. In 1919 the asylum was renamed Leicester City Mental Hospital, and records show that by 1928 patients numbered 375 men and 569 women. By 1932 the number of staff had increased so much that a Nurses Home had to be built. In the following year overcrowding on the women’s side of the hospital was noted as being “somewhat serious”, and so again the hospital was extended. During the 1940s the number of patients grew to over 1,200, and in 1947 this by now extensive facility was renamed the Towers Hospital.

In the early days there were teams of ‘hospital visitors’ who regularly inspected the premises to make sure that the buildings and hospital regimes were appropriate to patients’ needs. On November the 6th, 1873, inspectors reported that patients’ food was “of a good quality and well cooked with the exception of the milk, which instead of fresh milk, as required by the contract, was found to be skimmed milk diluted with water”. In 1938 it was noted that Francis Dixon Lodge (which stood where Humberstone Heights golf club is) had birds in cages, a skittle alley, and even a bowling green, that proved very popular with the male patients. It was also noted that the hospital had a cinema, which in the afternoon gave carefully chosen screenings suitable for the more disturbed patients.

As with most similar institutions, the asylum had its own farm which produced much of the fruit, vegetables and meat the asylum needed. Patients were used extensively on the farm for labour; a practice, which at the time, was considered a kind of occupational therapy. However, this ceased in the 1960s when it was felt that it was instead exploitation of patients; soon afterwards the farms ceased to operate.

At some point, probably around the middle of the 20th Century, The Towers Hospital acquired an ominous stigma in local mythology. Sometimes, if people were considered to be different or ‘a little strange’ they were said to have “escaped from The Towers”. By the 70s, The hospital’s steep-roofed Victorian buildings, perched on a hill, reminded many people of the old mansions often portrayed in horror movies – the house in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film, Psycho, is possibly the origin of this association.

The Towers Hospital remained on the original site at Humberstone until its eventual closure in 2013. The site is currently being re-developed, and some of the original asylum buildings have become residential housing.

Leicester Partnership Trust has launched The Towers Hospital Legacy Project, which will “combine a physical and online collection and historic record”. This will include documenting personal recollections, both positive and negative, from ex Towers Hospital patients and staff.

 

ROLLR – Courtesy of the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester & Rutland

 

Click on the image to see a larger version.

 
 
 
 

Draft elevation of the proposed Female Wards, 1864 (final 1869 plan does not survive)

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Draft elevation of the proposed Female Wards, 1864

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This was originally the Medical Superintendent's office, with the Female Wards either side The Female Wards have become residential flats, 2013
       
 
 
 
The Male Wards of the asylum became the Daisy Peake Building

 

Courtyard behind Male Wards block This was once the main corridor, and a branch to one of the Male Wards
       
 
 
 

Elevation drawing for the asylum Recreational Hall

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The beautiful wooden roofing still exists

BrightSparks researchers saw the old asylum Recreational Hall on their visit to the Towers Hospital site "I enjoyed looking at some of the architecture. The red brick is quite powerful."
       
 
 
 
The Gate Lodge to the asylum still survives

The Administration Block became George Hine House

Leicester Borough coat of arms on the Administration Block Green man carving above the main entrance to the Administration Block
       
 
 
 
Foundation Stone in the Administration Block

Foundation Stone in the Administration Block

The original Chapel continued to be used for many decades after the asylum became a hospital Stained glass window of the asylum chapel
       
 
 
 
  "The Tower Hospital was full of beautiful details such as the tiling, moulded ceilings and woodwork. There was a theme of nature running throughout."

Detail of a door handle

This old fire hydrant was discovered on a visit to the Towers Hospital site
       
 
 
 
Memorial plaque for asylum staff who died in WWI

Plans to extend the asylum site (then called Leicester Borough Mental Hospital)

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Admissions Book

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Elevation for the Nurses Home, opened 1932

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Elevation for the Nurses Home, opened 1932

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The Nurses Home

Archives from the asylum

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Asylum Regulations Book

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Asylum Regulations Book

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Asylum Regulations Book

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Medical Superintendent's Book, 1869

Courtesy of Sir Peter Soulsby

BrightSparks researchers looked at the Medical Superintendent's Book from when the asylum first opened. They were surprised how often he recorded patients escaping!

Courtesy of Sir Peter Soulsby

       
 
 
 
Courtesy of Sir Peter Soulsby

Cash Book showing salary calculations for a member of staff

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Leicester Borough Mental Hospital & Estate, c1912

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Photograph in a Case Book from 1911 of a patient (with nurse in the background)

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Photo of patient and member of asylum staff, 1904. Case notes say: "He is the best player at Draughts that has been seen about here."

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P. T. class, 1935

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The site and buildings of the Borough Asylum are being redeveloped as residential housing