How to look for records of... Asylum inmates
How can I view the records covered in this guide?
Most records of inmates of lunatic asylums, prisons and houses of correction are held by local archives. The records held by The National Archives relate mainly to the administration of the institutions. Some of these records have been catalogued and the catalogue entries might include the names of inmates. Records of lunatic asylums are not held in any one place, and not all records have survived.
What do I need to know before I start?
What records can I see online?
What records can I find at The National Archives at Kew?
What records can I find in other archives and organisations?
What other resources will help me find information?
Did you know?
Please note that the terms used in historical records reflect people’s attitudes and language at the time and may now be considered derogatory or offensive.
Until the 19th century the custody of the lands and persons of ‘idiots’ (defined as natural fools from birth) and ‘lunatics’ (defined as sometimes of good and sound memory and understanding and sometimes not) belonged 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. Many records of these institutions are kept in local archives, as are records of private asylums.