Photograph of Foresters Asylum, Kent, 1890 (Catalogue reference: COPY 1/401)

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?

    • Try to find out:

      • the full name of the patient or inmate
      • the name or location of the asylum or other institution
      • the approximate date of admission to the asylum or other institution
  • 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 (c.1820-1941)

      Search Discovery, our cataloguea search tool with descriptions of tens of millions of documents from the UK central government, law courts, other national bodies and from over 2,500 archives across the UK, 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.

  • What records can I find in other archives and organisations?

    • Records held elsewhere

      Search our catalogue and refine your results using the filters.

  • 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.