Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Bromley Poor Law Union Lunacy Registers

As part of Kent Online Parish Clerks agreement with Bromley Archives I am currently transcribing surviving Lunacy Registers from the Union Workhouse.
This is an intriguing transcription project which requires an understanding of both the Lunacy Acts of Victorian Britain and the operation of the Poor Law in Bromley Union.
The Bromley Union has left the Archives with over 1100 items. At present three Lunacy registers are open to the public and the agreement includes a fourth register to be transcribed in 2016 when it becomes open to public use. In addition a fourth register which includes a relatively small number of admissions to Lunacy wards between 1871 and 1911 has been transcribed. The Deaths register is also relevant and has been transcribed.
The Master of the Workhouse in 1870 was T H V Lukey and he began this register and successor Masters may or may not have used this volume to record information about paupers who were removed from "the House" general wards because of their needs for observation or transfer to other institutions ( most commonly an Asylum).
The Workhouse had become known originally as "George's House" because of the leadership  offered over the early years of the Union by George Warde Norman.
For the searcher whether family historian seeking biography of family members or academic researcher it is important to understand the value of each of the volumes in the Archive.
Lukeys 1871 intention appears to have been to record certain admissions. The volume is particular in recording individuals parish of origin or identifying Settlement issues.(Bromley Archives reference GBy/W/I/L/9) This is particularly noteworthy in the Penge area the only part of the Union boundary to encounter a non-parochial area of land. Bromley Guardians appear to have been keen to seek Adjudication orders to identify where other Unions are held to be financially responsible. The volume  omits most admissions to the Lunacy wards in the period to 1907 but its value in those individuals recorded often have relatives names relationships and addresses. If the searcher can locate an entry this volume becomes very worthwhile.
One of the long serving Masters G H Gregory (until 1902) is in place when the first surviving register to conform to the format of the 1890 Lunacy Act (53 Victoria Cap.5) for the years from 26 June 1899 to 24 March 1902. This register is found at Bromley Archives reference 846GBy/W/I/L/1.
The register records over 7 columns information about the Lunatic or alledged Lunatic the authority by which they are detained and arrangement for discharge either to an asylum or other institution. A further 3 columns are then completed by the Medical Officer of the Workhouse.
It is therefore possible by inspecting this register to determine whether in practice those detained were done so in a legal manner and identify the authority responsible for their detention.
The register is written in the language of the the time and of the Lunacy Acts (consolidated in the 1890 Act). The slightly archaic view of mental health issues is plain to read with terminology of imbeciles, feeble minded and Idiots applied to those with often severe learning difficulties;dumb is used rather than without speech.
I had several impressions as I transcribed this volume. The work of Relieving Officers in their areas becomes apparent when they bring a person into the Lunacy Ward for up to 3 days (Section 20) as do Police orders under Section 20. A number of Police orders are found on medical examination to be more appropriate to the Infirmary or the general population of "The House" and the medical Officer discharges to the appropriate accommodation. The Relieving Officer is often dealing with two members of the same household or family with questions as to their mental health. The Relieving Officer is also responsible on discharge to the Asylum on escorting the person (sometimes with an additional Attendant from the staff) according to nature of the individual need and is the authorised person making the transfer.
The Second volume is for the period from April 1902 to October 1904 (Bromley Archives reference 846GBy/W/I/L/2) and this is partly under the Workhouse Master Albert Edward Cave. Unfortunately both the entries in the volume from 1871 begun by Gregory are almost wholly absent for these years and Lunacy register contains no entries by the Workhouse Medical Officer. It is difficult to conclude how Cave allowed such decline in record keeping and the result for the searcher is of limited value. The Admissions record (and discharge records) death registers and The Kent County Asylum casenotes are likely to add detail. The searcher for the record 1902-1907 at Bromley Archives has often bene more successful in searching the Kent County Asylum casenotes at Maidstone Library and Archives. Searchers are often puzzled why their ancestor cannot be found at Bromley;the answer is invariably the poor record left for these years.
There is then a missing record volume from the series. Cave died in 1907 the missing record is between October 1904 and May 1907. Mister T Healey takes up post in 1907 as Master and one of the earliest records in the volume is signed by him personally accepting admission in the early hours of the morning. Mister Healey's records are meticulous and the entries in the 1871 volume resume as a companion to the Lunacy Register. Bromley Archives reference GBy/W/I/L/3 contains entries from 6 May 1907 to 10 August 1911. The 1871-1911 volume Bromley Archives reference 846GBy/W/I/L/9 contains entries from 9 March 1871 to 20 September 1911 and this volume will be eventually researched with reference to Bromley Union Administration records for Lunacy Administration whose 2 volumes will record County Council repayments 1893-1904 and claims for maintenance 1905-1907 in an effort to support the searcher.
One immediate impression of operation of mental health legislation in the two registers where medical officer of the Workhouse examinations and movement are recorded concerns the use by police of their powers under section 20 of the Act to detain for up to 3 days an alledged Lunatic. In many cases the Workhouse Medical Officer uses this period to sober up clean up and diagnose medical treatment; relatively few Police Orders result in the Medical Officer detaining under his powers- a more likely outcome being transfer to the Workhouse general population or in case of medical need to the Infirmary ward of the Workhouse. This may be of interest since subsequent Mental Health Acts in the twentieth century retained the power of a constable but concern was expressed that such powers often presented individuals to Psychiatric Hospitals who did not require admission.
Working with  Bromley Archivist Lucy Allen each of the relevant transcripts in preparation are going to be compared with entries in the Mechanical Restraint register. The transcript will offer merely confirmation of an entry in this register. This register is closed to public examination due to entries covering 1899-1931. My work will cover the period to 1915 as Kent Online Parish Clerks operate a 100 year privacy period as required by international data protection legislation. The searcher will need to request permission of Bromley Archives and Local Studies to view the mechanical restraint register entry.
There are entries by Workhouse Master and Workhouse Medical Officer mentioning the use of a padded room in the workhouse and descriptions of violent or agitated individuals to be transferred by Relieving Officers to Kent County Asylum suggest that a degree of physical restraint was needed; some incidents of self injury or self harm are also contained in Medical Officer examinations and in some epileptic individuals there are recorded injuries to the head as a result of headbanging usually against a wall.
The transcripts will be prepared for online publication by the end of 2016.

 © Henry Mantell Downe Online Parish Clerk 2015