The Asylum as Utopia: A Case Study of Worcester County and City Lunatic Asylum from 1852 to 1885

Tembe, Julia (2020). The Asylum as Utopia: A Case Study of Worcester County and City Lunatic Asylum from 1852 to 1885. Student dissertation for The Open University module A826 MA History part 2.

This dissertation was produced by a student studying the Open University postgraduate module A826 MA History part 2. The research showcased here achieved a distinction.
Please note that this student dissertation is made available in the format that it was submitted for examination, thus the author has not been able to correct errors and/or departures from academic standards in areas such as referencing.
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W.A.F Browne published a series of lectures in 1837 entitled What Asylums Were, Are and Ought To Be. The lectures described a utopian vision for asylums in the nineteenth century. This dissertation assessed Worcester County and City Pauper Lunatic Asylum in the context of three of Browne’s criteria; the buildings and location, a humane medical superintendent and a regime of ‘kindness and occupation’ in an attempt to determine whether this vision was achieved at Worcester.

Worcester County and City Pauper Lunatic Asylum opened in August 1852. It was built as a result of the Lunacy Act of 1845 which mandated that every borough should have its own asylum to care for lunatics. This dissertation reviewed primary data sources to try to establish the voice of the people who were admitted to the asylum together with those who cared for them. It also provided a comparative analysis of Worcester, Fife and Kinross Asylum and The North Riding Asylum to determine if the experience at Worcester was manifestly different to other asylums in the United Kingdom.

The analysis of the buildings and landscape showed that those responsible for the development of the asylum made decisions that they believed were in the best interests of the patients although this was tempered with their desire to protect public finances. The annual reports of the medical superintendent and the Committee of Visitors together with those of the Commissioners in Lunacy confirmed that Powick’s ideology was one of ‘moral treatment’ and a good example of the requirements of a modern nineteenth century asylum. Finally, the assessment of extant records of the regime at Powick confirmed Browne’s framework was implemented in terms of occupation and kindness. Occupation has been derived from the witting testimony of the asylum reports. Kindness has been determined from the actions of the superintendent and the attendants as reported in the annual reports. However, the voice of the pauper lunatics themselves was inevitably missing from the available data and the narratives. This is not surprising as Powick’s records were written by those in control of the people who were patients there.

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