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  • Amy Milne-Smith

But what if the asylum was like a countryhouse?

Updated: Feb 28

One thing that surprised me in my research was finding patients who were happy with life in the asylum. While there were many men who protested their incarceration or their treatment in asylums, not all were unhappy.



For wealthy men, the luxurious setting of the asylum and familiar patterns of life within could help blunt the humiliation of incarceration to some extent. When he was staying at Manor House Asylum, Henry Ashworth enjoyed playing tennis at Hampton court, and had a lathe brought to his room in the asylum so he could work on a model engine as was his whim.[1] Private asylums were able to come much closer to the ideal of early reformers, as non-violent patients’ experience mimicked being a visitor to a country house, dining with the family of the asylum owner, engaging in leisure activities, and interacting with the community.


Charles Johnston wrote to his family in 1863 that he was generally quite content with his accommodations, and praised the carriages, the servants, and the food at Manor House. He wrote, ‘I am well and am not anxious to run away from this pleasant place where they make me quite at home and insist upon my remaining “in their society.”’[2] Patients might have resented or been annoyed by the restrictions imposed by asylum authorities, but a luxurious country house surrounding could lessen the blow.

[1] Henry Ashworth, Manor House Asylum, Wellcome Archive MS 5725, 271. [2] Quoted in Keith Poulton, ‘The Tuke Family and Their Chiswick Asylums,’ Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal 1 (1980).

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