Monday, 7 September 2015

Bromley Union Lunatic Register detention of imbeciles

The construction of the Union workhouse at Locksbottom in the 1840's brought two areas of the site for detention of Lunatics and Imbeciles. ( I adopt the language of the periodand Lunacy Acts). Those detained within the registers as Lunatics were housed in wards within the Infirmary block which was a single wing to the east of the main block or "house". Bromley Archives have an architect's diagram (reference 1786/1) which shows an individual Infirmary building in detail. The purpose of the diagram was to identify existing drainage with a view to extending the Infirmary and creating a Wellbrook Road entrance with wall and iron railings. The diagram (circa 1899) identifies also an isolation ward although no specific purpose for this bay to the east of the infirmary is given it can be assumed to have been used to isolate those who medically or for behaviour management reasons needed seclusion. The diagram also shows two sides of the room had observation.
The mechanical restraint register which remains closed to public examination until 2033 records use of restraint Bromley Archives reference 846GBy/W/I/L/10. The register includes copies of the relevant Lunacy Acts which require its maintenance and entries date from 1899 to 1933.
The diagram referred to also shows that separate accommodation had been made since the Workhouse construction in the 1840's for the detention of imbeciles. The surviving register kept by various Masters of the Workhouse from 1871 onwards records some detail of detention from childhood of children teenagers and adults who within the Victorian language of the Lunacy Acts were deemed feeble minded Idiots or imbeciles. Close to the Chapel of the workhouse a wing of the Workhouse had been designed for the reception each evening of the male and female vagrants who were admitted as "Casuals". In the centre of this building was a ward for imbeciles. Throughout the 1890's and 1900's this ward was supervised by a married couple designated in commercial directories and census as responsible for imbeciles.
The youngest child detained was three years 8 months old; Lucy Allen Bromley Archivist and I have researched his life history. Most of those detained  after a period of detention at the Workhouse are transferred to Kent County Asylum at Barming Heath. The Workhouse Lunacy registers seem to indicate transfer is delayed by availability of bedspace at Barming as extension orders are recorded by the Workhouse Medical Officer.
The Union Workhouse Infirmary was expanded after 1899 with the building of two additional wings with a main internal corridor and Wellbrook Road entrance with increased staffing for the infirmary. A further plan Bromley Archives reference 1786/2 records the new Infirmary wards and details the 1908 planning consent for a childrens ward for girls and boys for the 1909 construction to begin. This utilised land along Wellbrook Road to the north east of the Infirmary and adjacent to a private house.
The Lunacy Registers also confirm a practice found in asylums throughout the nineteenth century of using former patients as attendants.
Sir Alexander Morison 1779-1866 was physician at Bethlem Hospital and in common with other asylums such as Hanwell commissioned three artists to sketch patients in acute phase and "recovery". In his work The Physiognomy of mental diseases published in 1843 (a year before Bromley Union Workhouse began to operate) he devotes a chapter to those with "idiocy". This work readable online reflects the understanding of Victorian medicine and early psychiatry and Morison records that there is a spectrum of impairment from "idocy in which the intellectual impairment is but little beneath the ordinary standard and the individual is nearly but not quite competent to manage the affairs of ordinary life" to those who lack continence speech and are in need of complete care.
Among the illustrations is the trio of a 34 year old man with epilepsy and in Morison's words "weak intellect and kind disposition...takes fatherly charge of two idiots one nine and the other fifteen years old both of whom seem fond of him".
The Bromley Union Lunacy Registers record examples of the Workhouse Medical Officer allowing former patients to remain in the Infirmary to act as Attendants and the youngest child found in the registers refrred to above was on transfer to Kent County Asylum at Barming Heath resident on a female ward to be cared for by a female patient.
 © Henry Mantell Downe Online Parish Clerk 2015