Link back to main ROSSBRET websiteImbeciles


Link back to main ROSSBRET websiteImbeciles


The number of classified Insane, Idiots and Imbeciles residing in Workhouses is defined on each County Page.

Higgs states (pp88-89 A Clearer Sense of the Census" by Edward Higgs, pub. PRO ISBN 0 11 440257 4).
" The exact definitions of terms such as 'lunatic', 'imbecile', 'idiot' and 'feeble-minded' are plainly extremely problematic".

He goes on to say that according to the 1881 Census Report 
"No accurate line of demarcation can be drawn between the several conditions indicated by these terms. Speaking generally, however, the term idiot is applied in popular usage simply to those who suffer from congenital mental deficiency, and the term imbecile to persons who have fallen in later life into a state of chronic dementia. But it is certain that neither this nor any other definite distinction between the terms was rigorously observed in the schedules, and consequently no attempt has been made by us to separate imbeciles from idiots. The term lunatic also is used with some vagueness, and probably some persons suffering from congenital idiocy, and many more suffering from dementia, were returned under this name."

Mental Health Acts

An 'asylum for idiots' was established at Park House, Highgate which later became known as Earlswood Asylum. 

The Idiots Act 1886
Legislation addressed the needs of the Mentally Handicapped for the first time. Registration and Inspection of specialised Asylums was introduced.

The National Association for the Care of the Feeble-Minded was founded

The Mental Deficiency Act 1913 
Four "classes" of Mental Deficiency were defined:

The Board of Control was established who took on the powers and responsibilities of the Lunacy Commissioners. 

The Mental Deficiency Act 1927 
Local Authorities were given responsibility for providing occupation and training for those with Mental Deficiency.

Mental Deficiency was defined as "a condition of arrested or incomplete development of mind existing before the age of 18 years whether arising from inherent causes or induced by disease or injury."


Page updated March 12, 2008 by Rossbret