Captives of the System: The Commissioners in Lunacy as Regulators of Services for Lunatics and Idiots, 1845-1914

Hughes, Frank Arthur (2022). Captives of the System: The Commissioners in Lunacy as Regulators of Services for Lunatics and Idiots, 1845-1914. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis examines in detail the work and workings of the Commissioners in Lunacy (CIL) over the period 1845 to 1914 across the whole of England and Wales. Some previous studies focused attention on the administrative structure and working of this regulator, without looking in detail at what it reported. Others have examined how it interacted with individual asylums or small groups of asylums, extrapolating the results from these samples. In most cases only the years before 1890 were examined. The results have produced a range of contradictory conclusions about the effectiveness of the CIL and there are substantial gaps in what is known about its work and working. Using a detailed analysis of the lunacy legislation and the published Annual Reports of the CIL, this study builds a more comprehensive picture of how this regulator worked and its effect on the asylum system. It offers explanations of the variation in performance previously reported. It shows that the ability of the CIL to protect detained patients from harm was affected by a combination of internal and external factors. Also highlighted is the greater protection for those detained in private asylums compared to the public asylums and between the pauper and non-pauper detainees. Whilst the CIL contributed to these discrepancies, from the way it organised its work, most of the constraints were the results of impositions over which they had little or no control. Overall, the CIL has been shown to have had an impact on the asylum system, but this was limited and, in many cases, transient. The findings show that this regulator was as much constrained and contained as the patients.

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