"Fit objects for an asylum" : the Hampshire County Lunatic Asylum and its patients, 1852-1899
This research uses the records of the Hampshire County Asylum (HCA) between its opening in 1852 and the end of the nineteenth century to offer a different perspective on asylum history. Though it discusses the asylum in legal, medical and social welfare contexts it focuses on the experience of individuals and their families and the part played by the HCA in their lives. The perspective and methodology of the research reflect the recognition of the importance of individual experience in the construction of historical exposition. In the course of the research a database of patients' personal information was constructed from asylum records. The resulting analysis of individual experience of admission to the HCA suggests that, for many patients, admission was short-term and temporary, caused by a combination of symptoms and events that erupted into crisis. For others the HCA provided a level of care that could not be sustained at home and for some an asylum admission was only part of a wider and continuing strategy of care which enabled troubled families to continue to function. The thesis concludes that, although the county asylum was a potent symbol of many aspects of Victorian society, it should be seen, not as defining those who encountered it, but as a part, sometimes essential but often small, of their personal and family narratives.