In literature of the past we often find mention of the village idiot or simple folk who were mentally and physically disabled. For many years such people were mocked and derided or recieved abuse should have known better.

In London such people were confined in asylums such as the famous Bedlam, which was years ago a great source of entertainment some such institutions also existed out London, counties had their own mental asylums, Warwickshire until recently had one at Hatton. However the mentally sick were not only confined in public asylums, many private ones also existed. In Warwickshire private asylums were found at Henley ? in ? Arden and Wootton Wawen.

Apart from our county during the nineteenth century a famous person to be confined and restrained by quite abusive methods was King George III. His Majesty was confined often in a straitjacket and other cruel practices were tried upon his person by various physicians.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the authorities became concerned about the increase in numbers of insane members of the poorer classes. By 1845 various Acts had been passed to deal with the problem of the insane poor. Parish Officers and Boards of Guardians were empowered in the interests of public safety to place such persons in places of security, often these were work houses as well as asylums. In 1829 Warwickshire authorities categorized the insane in various types according to idiots, those deemed dangerous or not. Such persons who were confined in Public Hospitals, County Asylums, Private Asylums, Workhouses or those not confined. More men, 422 were confined, women numbered 380. Women not confined numbered 70, men at liberty 68.

Various treatments were tried upon the patients as was so with George III. The Quarkers at York tried moral treatment. It was common practice however to put patients in a stratjacket or to chain them up. Sometimes a minder was employed. Pinel in 1793 advocated what chains should be removed and a minder employed, however with poorer persons the chains were retained no assistance was given.

After the Napoleonic wars one John Connolly received medical training. In 1837 the idea was conceived that "an amelioration of the condition of the insane .... with less coercion and more humanity" should be favoured. John Connelly in 1839 became resident physician at Hanwell the County Asylum in Middlesex. Connelly wished to abolish physical restraint of the insane, this he achieved in 1842.

Private asylums in Henley began to appear as early as 1778, the first established by William Roadnight and then by Mary. Such places had to be licensed and in 1797 Thomas Burman obtained license for and asylum followed a year later by Benjamin Gibbs. In 1816 Samuel Brown started an asylum at the Stone House. The Burman family continued to run private asylums for a considerable time.

Thomas's grandson still ran Burman House in 1850. After his grandfather's death in 1882 some patients wee transferred to the newly built Glendossill under Mr. Agar and then his son until 1920 There were also 10 patients in Hurst. House. A smaii number of first class patients were in Arden House with a Mr. G.R. Dartnell until 1876, this building is now a school.

Asylums also existed at nearby Wootton Wawen Mary Gibbs was licensed to keep an asylum in 1818 at Wootton. In 1824 Edward Cooper was licensed to keep a house belonging to Dame Catherine Maria Smythe as a private asylum opposite the paper mill at Wootton", this now known as the Priory.

The licensing authorities also appointed Visitors to Asylums under the Act of 1774, one being the Rector of Beaudesert and curate of Henley. In 1787 the Vicar of Wootton Daniel Geddes Vicar of Wootton Rev. J. Ellis in 1826. Then in 1823 we find Dr. J. Connolly now in Stratford upon Avon appointed as visiting physician for Henley. He advocated treatment without shackles and stripes. For three years he then left the area but returned in 1837 In 1839 he left the county again returning to Hanwell.

Warwickshire and also other counties did place some mental patient elsewhere. In 1839 a Visitor to Lichfield was shocked by conditions there and the unfortunate patients from our county were promptly removed.

The private asylums in Henley housed two rather notable people from Stratford. One was a rather notable American lady by the name of Delia Bacon. This lady was acquainted with some quite influential people, one being Celine Flower of the local brewery family. Delia was a great Shakespearean scholar but had a theory that Bacon wrote the plays. Her writings caused much controversy at the time and as she seemed unable to control her finances she was always short of money, always writing to friends and relations; to fund her activities. Her mental state became so bad that she was confined at times to mental asylums in Henley with a Dr. Fayrer . In 1857 she was described by him at Burman House as "talkative and Delusional".

Another inhabitant of Stratford in the nineteenth century also suffered from mental problems, he was a solicitor, Mr Thomas Coppin of 11 Payton Street. In the late 1820's ? 30's he was in partnership with Mr. B. Barnhurst, but took over the practice after the latter's death.By 1840 Coppin's finances were in a bad way and he seems to have had a breakdown, being described a in so afflicting a state". It is thought that Mr. Coppin was sent to the asylum kept by Mary Gibbs, however this was closed in 1841 and we read of him being conveyed by gig to Hook Norton asylum. Now we do not restrain our mental patients as in the past, but a man in Henley recalled that when young with other lads shackled in the basement of Stone House as late as 1920. How things have changed in less than a hundred years.

This article has been kindly written by Mary Rock

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