Friday, 22 February 2013

Old Buckenham hears about Victorian asylums

Social and Wine Circle
The talk for February’s meeting was entitled “Life in a Victorian Asylum”. A dry subject you might think but, after Alison Hannah’s talk about a similar subject last year, she was invited back to give more interesting information about asylums, especially the Norfolk Lunatic Asylum (NLA). This was built in 1814, shortly after the passing of the County Asylums Act in 1808 and, when it closed finally in 1998, was the third oldest asylum in the country. In its first year, the NLA had 62 patients, the majority of which were male and who had been transferred from workhouses which until then had been the main unit for housing such individuals. Some thirty years later, there were more than 550 patients in the NLA, recognition that mentally ill persons needed to be looked after rather than abandoned. The patients were expected to work, this being therapeutic as well as practical. The men looked after the gardens where food produce for the inmates was grown (the amount available to feed inmates was 4s 9d per person per week, approx 24p) while the women cleaned and cooked. All inmates were expected to look after themselves to a degree, there being very few staff to do this. Treatments were many and varied. Opium, cannabis and nicotine were some of the drugs used whilst purgatives ‘helped to calm or distract’ some patients. Alison had researched the subject bringing a wealth of information with her, helped as she advised us by the fact that the Victorians recorded everything in great detail.

Next month’s talk, on Thursday 14 March, will be “Computers today” to be given by Steve Hammond.

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