Re-discovering Leicestershire's Victorian Lunatic Asylums
  
 
 
 
 

 
 
ABOUT THE COUNTY ASYLUM

Until the Counties Asylum Act of 1808, people suffering mental illness were ‘cared for’ in workhouses or private ‘madhouses’. Concern about the poor conditions in these institutions led to the building of publically funded asylums.

Leicestershire Lunatic Asylum

The first County asylum was opened in 1837. It was named the Leicestershire Lunatic Asylum, and was renamed the Leicestershire & Rutland Lunatic Asylum in 1849. The building, designed by local architect William Parsons, was situated in the countryside near to what is now Leicester’s Victoria Park. This is how ‘The Committee of Visitors’ (or asylum inspectors) described the location:

“Placed on an eminence, and commanding one of the most beautiful views in the County of Leicester, extending over the valley of the Soar and bounded by the Hills of Charnwood Forest, there is everything in its position to soothe and cheer patients...”

The asylum opened with space for 104 patients. In 1849, The Leicestershire & Rutland Lunatic Asylum Rules for The General Management of the Institution clearly stated an intention “to make this Asylum a HOUSE OF CURE, and not a HOUSE OF DETENTION.”

“...in the afternoon not one male patient was in bed, in the wards, or even the airing courts – That is every individual male patient was free & beyond lock & key – and it may be doubted whether this ever occurred before in any Asylum.”
Quote from the Superintendent’s Journal, 1885

The asylum existed for over six decades; and by the time this first site closed in 1908, it had expanded into a complex of buildings, and had provided for over 7,000 patients. Diane Lockley, in her book The House of Cure, reports that “50% of the patients were cured or ‘recovered’ enough to return to their former lives.”

After the 1st asylum’s closure, a replacement County asylum was built in Narborough. In 1914 this was renamed Leicestershire and Rutland Mental Hospital. In 1939 it then became Carlton Hayes Hospital, which it was known as until it finally closed in 1996.
 
The buildings on the site of the 1st County asylum remained empty until the First World War, when they became the military’s 5th Northern General Hospital. The site was even expanded in this period, and wooden open-air wards were built. It remained a military hospital until 1919.

Local textile manufacturer and philanthropist, Thomas Fielding Johnson, bought the site in 1919. He gave the buildings and the surrounding land to the Borough of Leicester to house Leicestershire & Rutland University College (which opened in 1921).

The site of the 1st County asylum is now the main campus of the University of Leicester. It has been massively developed; but the bulk of the asylum’s original central building still survives, and is now the University’s main administration block, known as the Fielding Johnson Building. The house of the asylum’s Superintendent also survives, and is now known as College House.

 

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

ULA – Courtesy of the University of Leicester Archives

 

Click on the image to see a larger version.

 

 
 
 
 

Draughtsman James Murray sketched the asylum whilst a patient in 1890

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Front gardens of the asylum

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Ornamental garden at the asylum

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The Leicestershire and Rutland Lunatic Asylum c1849

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Asylum staff playing tennis

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Snow in the asylum gardens, 1895

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Assembly Hall

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Asylum staff giving a performance for patients in 1894

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Mr Stewart in a performance for patients in 1895

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Female recreational corridor and bedrooms in the asylum, 1894

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Christmas decorations in the Recreation Hall

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Haymaking probably close to the asylum

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The asylum Chapel

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The asylum Chapel

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From the outside, the Chapel still looks how it would have done when it was part of the asylum

Mrs Beaumont, Asylum Matron, 1893

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The North West quadrangle of the asylum, which would have been used as an airing court for female patients

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The old airing court space still exists

 

Asylum regulations states that all patients should have regular access to fresh air

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Mr Rothsay Stewart, Medical Superintendent 1895 to 1930. Mr Stewart was a keen amateur photographer who left a wonderful photographic record of the asylum

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Image from Mr Stewart's photograph album

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As well as the images of the asylum, Mr Stewart's album includes photographs of his holidays

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County asylum patient

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County asylum patient

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County asylum patient

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Case Book

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Case Book

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Case Book

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Case Book

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"I was surprised at how big the record books were."

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Asylum regulations, 1837

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Asylum regulations, 1837

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"I was interested in the trips such as an annual picnic, not something that hospitals do now. I can't imagine seeing 58 patients in the park today!"

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Case Book
       
 
 
 

Medical Superintendent's House in 1894

BrightSparks researchers discovered that the famous David and Richard Attenborough brothers grew up here

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The Library, University College, 1920s

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5th Northern General Hospital

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Open air wards of the 5th Northern General Hospital

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Fielding Johnson Buiding c1922. This was originally the front of the County asylum

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Aerial view of the 1st County Asylum (then the Fielding Johnson Building) taken during the early 1930s

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Fielding Johnson Building

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Thomas Fielding Johnson

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A busy university campus has developed on the 1st County asylum site. The Medical Superintendent's Office still survives (building on the far left of this photo), as does the main asylum building (far right)

         
 
 
     
 
Close up plan of the 2nd County asylum showing the types of jobs patients were occupied with
 

Plan for the 2nd County Asylum

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Plan for the 2nd County Asylum

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Building the 2nd County asylum

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Guests on the Opening Day of the 2nd County Asylum

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2nd County Asylum Chapel

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