Lichfield Lunatic Asylum

“The Lunatic Asylum, pleasantly situated at Sandfield, about 1 mile S. of Lichfield, is a well conducted institution, belonging to Dr. Rowley, of Freeford Cottage. It was commenced in 1818. Mr. Samuel Heighway is the superintendent”, was William Wright’s description in his 1834 History, Gazetteer & Directory of Staffordshire.  Figures for 1844 show the asylum housed 4 private and 32 pauper ‘lunatics’.
In 1851 “The Parliamentary gazetteer of England and Wales” was still describing it as a ‘well-conducted and useful institution’.
However, this was far from the true state of affairs – in 1847 the Lord Chancellor had submitted his report “Commissioners In Lunacy” to parliment, as follows:
“No particular mention of Sandfield Asylum in the County of Stafford, occurs in the Report of 1844, except that it is stated …”that a Patient thereto. had escaped from it, and had not since been heard of. The premises, however, are inconvenient, and the rooms and yards appropriated to the Paupers very confined. On visiting the Asylum in February and April, 1846, various defects were observed by the Commissioners, and commented on, with a view to their removal; similar remarks had been made by the Visiting Justices, but apparently without much effect. The outer dormitories, for the Paupers, especially were noted as being cold, damp, and uncomfortable. On again visiting the Asylum on the 17 th of December last, the Commissioners found the place in a very unsatisfactory state. After adverting, in their report, to the want of space in the yards (which are exceedingly small and unfit for the purposes of exercise, and are moreover surrounded by high buildings), they state, amongst other things, that they observed no tables in any of the Paupers’ sitting-rooms (where, however, they dine and take their meals): that the bed clothes were quite insufficient during that inclement season; that in the various beds which they uncovered they found only one rug and a blanket for the upper covering, many of the blankets being old and several consisting of fragments only: that a Patient in bed complained of being starved with cold: that the Patients of both classes, with scarcely an exception, were unemployed; and that they (the Commissioners) saw no book nor any means of amusement provided for them. Upon hearing this report read at the weekly board, we directed a letter to be addressed to the Proprietor of the Asylum, intimating that unless the defects noticed in the last report were forthwith remedied, we should think it our duty to recommend that his licence should not be renewed. This establishment is by no means well adapted to the accommodation of Insane Patients”.
A further horrfiying account was given by Robert Gardiner Hill* in his book ‘Lunacy: its past and present’, who described the asylum as “One of the most disgusting places I visited”.  He goes on to say “The house was in a state of filth, and the buildings generally unfit for occupation. The patients were barely clothed, fastened and manacled as was usual at that time”.
 According to A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14, the asylum was finally closed in 1856 following recommendations from the comissioners that the licence be revoked.
A County Asylum opened in Burntwood in 1864.

 
*From wikipedia ‘Robert Gardiner Hill MD (1811-1878) was born in Louth, Lincoln, of parents engaged in trade. He is normally credited with being the first superintendent of a small asylum  (approximately 100 patients) to develop a mode of treatment where by the reliance on mechanical restraint and coercion could be made obsolete altogether, a situation he finally achieved in 1838′.
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