The lockdowns and traumas of 2020 and 2021 remind us more than ever of the importance of looking after our own mental health and supporting others with theirs. Today, even though society still has some way to go before the taboo of talking about our mental health is truly broken, understanding about mental health as well as care and treatment has come along way since the County Asylums Act of 1808 permitted county authorities to establish asylums for “lunatics” and “idiots”. Despite making this distinction, for the Georgians and Victorians it made little practical difference for the individuals who experienced what today we would refer to as mental health problems and learning disabilities.
Regardless of the enabling act of 1808, the few asylums that were available continued to be private establishments and many of the poor suffering from mental ill-health, along with those deemed criminally insane, were accommodated in workhouses and prisons. In 1845, the Lunacy Act and County Asylum Act obligated counties to build county asylums for the poor and criminally insane, to be overseen by the new the Lunacy Commission.
Asylums in Derbyshire
In 1851, the Derby County Asylum “for the lunatic poor” at Mickleover became the first publicly-funded hospital in Derbyshire, accommodating both pauper and private patients. Responsibility for the asylum transferred from the County Quarter Sessions to the new Derbyshire County Council in 1889, and then to the National Health Service from 1948. It had been renamed the Derbyshire Mental Hospital in 1929, and was renamed again in the mid-twentieth century to become Pastures Hospital. The hospital was closed in 1993 as part of the reorganisation of mental health care.
The main archive for the hospital (reference D1658) includes
- patient admission and discharge registers from 1851 to 1976 (with some gaps)
- medical case books to 1934
- informal staff registers survive for the period c1873 to 1960 (these appear to relate only to porters)
- minutes and other organisational records survive from 1837.
See the Names Index in our catalogue for details of the records we hold relating to Pastures Hospital.
In 1888, the Borough of Derby opened its own asylum to accommodate 27 patients. This later became Kingsway Hospital and although the original building was demolished in 2011, publicly-funded mental health care continues to be delivered from the site. The main archive for the hospital (reference D5874) includes
- patient admissions and discharge registers 1888-1991
- medical case books to 1920 (male patients) and 1930 (female patients)
- post-mortem registers 1900-1925
- register of Mechanical restraint and seclusion 1939-1947
- staff service register 1890s-1909 and certificates of service 1911-1948
- staff report books 1888-1970 and medical Journals 1896-1925
- annual reports 1889-1968 (incomplete)
- service report on hospital 1975.
See the Names Index in our catalogue for further details of records up to 2002 and published materials in the Local Studies Library.
In 1861, the Duke of Devonshire opened a private asylum “for the care and treatment of the insane of the higher and middle classes”. Known as Wye House Asylum, very few records survive in the county archives, though references are undoubtedly to be found in the Cavendish family and estate collection at Chatsworth Archives. Use the Names Index in our catalogue to see the archive and local studies material we do hold for this institution.
Access to the records
Records relating to individuals (such as patients and staff) created within the last 100 years are not generally available for public consultation. If you are researching individuals no longer alive, please contact the search room for further advice, as our staff can usually undertake the research on your behalf under the terms of our Research and Copying Service. If you are searching for your own records, please ask about submitting a free Data Subject Access Request. Please see our website for more information and contact the Duty Archivist with any other enquiries.
For more general information about the history of mental health hospitals, the following publications (available in the Local Studies Library) may be of assistance:
- LS 362.21 Mark Stevens (2014) Life in the Victorian asylum: the world of nineteenth century mental health care
- LS 362.11 G Barry and Lesley A Carruthers (2005) A History of Britain’s Hospitals, and the background to the Medical, Nursing and Allied Professions
We are working to develop the use of subject indexing in our online catalogue, and many items relating to the Victorian asylums and other mental services can be found simply by searching for mental health.
Records held elsewhere
Records of the Lunacy Commission, established under the 1845 Lunacy Act, are held at The National Archives and include registers of patients in both public and private asylums between 1846 and 1912. See The National Archives Research Guide for further information about these registers and other records relating to mental health services. The registers are available to search online via Ancestry.com – access it for free at Derbyshire Record Office and all Derbyshire libraries.