How to look for records of... Asylum inmates

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

View online

How many are online?

  • None
  • Some
  • All

Order copies

We can either copy our records onto paper or deliver them to you digitally

Pay for research

Use our paid search service or find an independent researcher

Visit us

Visit us in Kew to see original documents or view online records for free

Records of lunatic asylums are not held in any one place and often not all their records have survived. Many records of asylums, prisons and houses of correction are kept in local archives and especially those of the inmates. The records held by The National Archives relate mainly to the administration of the institutions, though some of these records may include the names of inmates.

What do I need to know before I start?

Some terms used in historical records may now be considered derogatory or offensive but reflect the attitudes and language of the time. ‘Idiots’ were defined as natural fools from birth and ‘lunatics’ defined as sometimes of good and sound memory and understanding and sometimes not.

Until the 19th century the custody of ‘idiots’ and ‘lunatics’, as well as the ownership of their land and property, fell to the Crown. Wealthier people had to make private arrangements for the care of family members with a mental illness.

Before the County Asylums Act of 1808, which encouraged the building of county lunatic asylums, pauper ‘lunatics’ were sent to workhouses, houses of correction or prisons. County lunatic asylums became compulsory in 1845. The 1890 Lunacy Act gave asylums a wider role, and wealthier patients began to be admitted.

What records can I see online?

Patients’ admission registers (1846-1912)

Search by name the admission registers (£) of asylums and psychiatric hospitals of the Lunacy Commission and Board of Control (MH 94/1-47).

Criminal lunacy warrant and entry books (1882-1898)

Search by name criminal lunacy warrant and entry books (£) (HO 145/1-9). These cover criminals who were confined at asylums after being certified at court, or after imprisonment, as being insane.

What records can I find at The National Archives at Kew?

Patients’ admission registers (1846-1960)

Search, by date, MH 94 for admission registers of asylums and psychiatric hospitals. This series also contains diaries which contain further details on patients.

Please note, some of the early admission registers are available online – please see above.

Records of Broadmoor and Bethlem (c1820-1941)

Search Discovery, our catalogue, in record series HO 8 (1862-1875), HO 20 (1820-1843), HO 144 (1869-1941) and HO 145 (1882-1921) for records of criminals who were confined at Broadmoor and Bethlem (Bethlehem) asylums after being certified at court, or after imprisonment, as being insane.

Please note, some of HO 145 is available online – please see above.

Records of the Ministry of Health and related organisations (1798-2001)

Search our catalogue for records of the Ministry of Health and related organisations from 1798 to 2001 (record series MH and KB) using keywords such as ‘madhouse’, ‘lunatic asylum’, insane’, ‘pauper lunatic’ and ‘mental’; or for the 19th century, terms like ‘imbecile’, ‘idiot’, ‘idiotic’, ‘lunatic’, ‘weak’, ‘weak minded’, ‘mental defective’, or ‘criminal lunatic’. In a few cases names are mentioned in the online records, so it is also worth trying a search by last name within record series MH.

Commissions and inquisitions to determine lunacy (1627-1932)

Search record series C 211 for commissions and inquisitions of lunacy. These records are name searchable from 1853 onwards.

Please note, this is a search across all names that appear in each catalogue description. Search results will include any instance of the name you search for.

Other records may be found in record series C 142 and WARD 7.

Quarterly returns of criminal lunatic asylums (1862-1876)

Search our catalogue, in record series HO 8, by name of asylum and year for quarterly returns of criminal lunatic asylums.

Date range (yyyy):

Date range (yyyy)

To access these records you will either need to visit us, pay for research (£) or, where you can identify a specific record reference, order a copy £.

How do I find records in other archives and organisations?

Search our catalogue using place names and ‘asylum’ as your search terms to find archives around the UK holding records of asylums.

What other resources will help me find information?

Search the Hospital Records Database using the hospital name and/or the name of the town.