Link back to main ROSSBRET websiteWiltshire Asylums


Link back to main ROSSBRET websiteWiltshire Asylums


The Wilts County Lunatic Asylum

Located at Devizes, opened 19th September 1851, is a structure of Bath Stone, in the italian style from designs by Mr. Thomas Henry Wyatt, architect.
The asylum has been repeatedly enlarged since its first erection and will now hold about 1,004 patients.
The land belonging to the asylum consists of nearly 159 acres.
James Turner, Clerk to the Asylum
In 1924 it was called Wiltshire County Mental Hospital until 1948. Then renamed Roundway Hospital.

Kingsdown Lunatic Asylum

Link to List of Inmates

Fisherton House, Salisbury

The Fisherton House Lunatic Asylum stands in beautifully wooded grounds, containing cricket field, lawn tennis and croquet courts. Included in the civil population were 274 patients, and 57 other occupants.

Letter on Lunatic Asylums from W Finch, M.D., F.L.S. 
of Laverstock House Wiltshire dated 13th Nov. 1837.

Your observations on the "Regulation of Lunatic Asylums" are judicious and humane; for although much has been effected to improve the management of the insane since the existence of the flagrant instances of abuse which you quote, it is to be feared that much still remains to be done. To assist in such improvement has been the great object of my professional life, and I trust that my efforts have not been altogether unavailing. Unwilling, however, to thrust myself on public notice, I should not now have addressed you but for an expression in your remarks which has been misinterpreted
to my disadvantage, and which, as it is evidently unintentional on your part, I feel confident you will permit me to explain.
In page 135 you say "In a Wiltshire madhouse Dr Fowler found a man confined in an oblong trough, chained down" and you then copy a part of Dr Fowler's evidence. You do not, however, as Dr Fowler did, mention the name of the house; and as this is the oldest asylum in Wiltshire, and as Dr Fowler has been for more than 20 years the physician appointed by law to visit here, the observation has been erroneously supposed to point at this house.  You are aware that the slightest breath is sufficient to taint the purest reputation, and you will not wonder at my earnest desire to correct so groundless a mistake; and rather, that the Minutes of Evidence before the Select Committee of the House of Commons, from whence the extract is made, contain many flattering testimonies on the conduct of this asylum, and that Dr Fowler himself stated that Laverstock House was the best private asylum he had ever seen.
This good opinion, I have reason to believe, has never been forfeited. Whilst I am upon the subject, I would remind you that the legislature formerly sanctioned the ignorant and barbarous treatment of lunatics to which you allude; for an Act of Parliament, which has not been repealed many years, actually authorised the confinement of lunatics in asylums, "there to be chained and beaten if necessary" And to show you that such practices exist even now out of asylums, it is not long since, that, on the arrival of a patient here, the person who brought him counselled my partner, Mr. Lacy, to show the patient the whip if he was refractory, for that he was always better after a good horsewhipping. Every day's experience, indeed,  shows me how little the kind and true management of the insane is understood, where they are under the care of relations or mere keepers; and as I am willing to hope that great improvements have taken place in most lunatic asylums, I entertain the firmest conviction that no management can be so perfect and effectual as may be found in the best establishments of that kind.
Your "strongest instance" to prove the necessity of better regulations in licensed houses - namely the "Willis-Moseley" case - is scarcely available a an argument; because in that case there was no licenser and consequently no visitations. 
With respect to the proportion of cures at the Middlesex Lunatic Asylum being less than the acknowledged excellence of its arrangements may lead you to expect, it should be borne in mind, that as the  house was quickly filled with pauper lunatics, brought from all parts of the country, many of them were old cases, long established as incurables. To illustrate this remark, I would mention the result of practice at Laverstock, transmitted some time ago to the Lord Chancellor, in conformity with his instructions. Of every 100 patients admitted here, within 3 months from the first attack of insanity, there were cured 88. Of every 100 admitted whose disease had existed more than 3 months, and not exceeding 5 years, there were cured 45. Of every 100 admitted whose insanity had been existing more than 5 years, there were cured only 12. A similar return from the York Retreat shows the number cured within 3 months of insanity as 87, the return for the best American asylum was 89. The number of patients here, [at Laverstock] under restraint does not exceed 2 and a half percent. and the number of deaths, including periods of influenza and cholera, is not more than 5%. I have been led on farther than I intended, and fear that I have intruded too much on your space; but the subject is one which deeply interests me, and if I can see my way clearly to a point where legislative enactment may, without cramping and fettering the energies of Honourable practitioners, effectually guard the unhappy objects of its care from ignorance and brutality, I shall indeed  rejoice; but there are a thousand considerations which arise, too important to be dispatched hastily, and which require the most cautious examination. The cure is as much an object of anxious attention as the care of lunatics; and after all that can be accomplished by mere law, much must necessarily depend on the skill,
feeling, and integrity of those who have the conduct of asylums.
I am, sir, Your very obedient servant - W Finch, M.D., F.L.S.
The London Medical Gazette 1837-8 Vol 21 1053 pp
p 333 25th November 1837
Submitted by Alan Longbottom

Wiltshire and Swindon Record Office

County Hall East
Bythesea Road
BA14 8BS
(UK) 01225 713709

Page updated March 12, 2008 by Rossbret