Health, disease and society: Scottish influence in the 19th century
Health, disease and society: Scottish influence in the 19th century

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Health, disease and society: Scottish influence in the 19th century

4 The rise of the asylum

4.1 Introduction

In the nineteenth century, the asylum became – as never before – the accepted place for the care and treatment of insanity. Until that time, people suffering from mental disorders were mostly cared for at home. Of the few institutions that offered care, most were rather small. They were funded by a combination of fees charged to patients and charitable donations or subscriptions. From the early nineteenth century, the number of asylums increased all over Europe as governments accepted a responsibility to care for the mentally ill via various (but strikingly consistent) means and timescales. Most importantly, by the 1840s and 1850s, most European governments required local authorities to build asylums. Yet this shift was not directed solely by central government. From the later eighteenth century, local Poor Law boards, regional departments, townships and other local authorities, as well as a range of private benefactors, individual social reformers and charitable agencies, were agitating for the establishment of larger-scale, purpose-built asylum accommodation. While significant opposition to asylum-building persisted at national and local levels, there was an increase in both the number and the size of such institutions. British Victorian asylums were massive complexes of buildings. County and borough asylums were catering, on average, for over 800 patients by 1890, and some were accommodating over 1,000 inmates, with growing (but often inadequate) numbers of staff to see to their needs. The rise of the asylum was not just about bricks and mortar: governments created regulatory bodies to oversee the care offered by institutions, and comprehensive bodies of lunacy legislation. (This complex of institutions, laws and agencies is referred to as asylumdom.)


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371