Early Eighteenth-Century Newspaper Reports compiled by Rictor Norton

Treatment of Lunatics

24 January 1719
Bedlam, Jan. 18.
IT is not long since one of the female inhabitants of these frantick territories, gave the following occasion for a very pleasing entertainment. Some bricklayers happen’d to be a work here, to repair and clear the passage leading to Common-Shore; who going to dinner, and leaving the ladder which descended to the Common-Shore, standing, the said inhabitant had a sort of an odd notion, that the workmen had been prying into the Secrets of the Lower World, and therefore (no body seeing her) she went down the ladder, which led into the Common-Shore, and in that subterraneous cavern, finding none to controul or stop her passage, she travell’d with great pleasure and curiosity, till she came to Tokenhouse Yard, which is near half a mile: There it happen’d, that a couple of young female coming to the vault [i.e. outside toilet], head a voice below, crying, Who the plague are ye? What d’ye make that noise for? What, is the Devil in ye? Upon which, away flew the women, not staying to look behind ’em. And coming half frighten’d into the house, said the Devil was in the vault. Accordingly more company going, they still heard the same noise: Upon which, they call’d out, and ask’d, Who’s there? What are ye? The Devil, replied the traveller below. How came you there? said they. Nay, How the Devil know I, answer’d the madwoman; why don’t ye bring me a candle, that I may find my way. Finding it certainly to be a humane voice, they fear’d somebody might accidentqally have fallen in, and therefore they immediately went to work to deliver the poor wretch from her stinking thraldom, and found of her a lamentable spectacle: So that they began to question how she came there, and where she liv’d. She answer’d, That she was going to Hell, but had lost her way; that there were several in her company who had got thither, and the gate was shut upon them, but she had lost her way; but she said, She would overtake them by and by. These wild expressions made some of them fancy she was a mad woman, and after some consideration, they resolv’d to bring her hither, where she was presently own’d, and the people that brought her let us into the story; but her head still runs on her Journey, and she talks of little else. (Weekly Journal, or, British Gazetteer)

16 October 1725
Concerning Lunatick or Melancholy Persons.
Any person that has friend or relation (of the female sex) afflicted with l may have them treated with the greatest care and lenity, where there is a large garden, good air, and a very pleasant situation, not far from London. They are attended by nurses or servants of their own sex; no man-servant being allow’d of. There is likewise good accommodation, at an easy rate, for women-lunaticks, or melancholy persons, who are deem’d or thought incurable. Enquire at the Golden Key near the Penny Post Office in St. Christopher’s Church-Yard, Threadneedle-Street, near the Royal-Exchange, and know farther.

N.B. No men lunaticks are entertain’d at the same House. [Weekly Journal, or The British Gazetteer]

13 January 1726   There is a subscription going on towards the building for incurable lunaticks adjoining to Bethlem-Hospital in Moorfields, at the book for that purpose is left with John Taylor, Esq. Treasurer of the said Hospital, at his house in New-Street in Shoe-Lane, near Fleet-Street. The Preamble whereof is as follows, viz.

Whereas the Hospital of Bethlem, London, was erected by charitable contributions, and intended for the harbouring poor lunaticks whose distraction might probably be cured, and the revenues thereof are appropriated for the providing diet and physick for such patients, and servants proper to attend them during such time as there appears any hopes of recovering them to their former senses: But when after tryal made with the greatest application and diligence, a cure is not found practicable, then such are, by the rules of the Hospital, discharged from thence, to make room for the admision of others whose cure may probably be effected. And whereas these incurable lunaticks, when discharged, are destitute of relief, and no provision has hitherto been made for their support by the publick, notwithstanding they are in themselves the most helpless and deplorable objects of charity, and to their neighbours most expensive and dangerous: Upon these considerations, the Governours of Bethlem Hospital, ever ready to promote acts of charity, made application to the Mayor, commonalty, and citizens of the City of London, for a grant of a piece of ground in Moorfields, part whereof was a common foot way, in order to build apartments for habouring one hundred incurable lunaticks, half men and half women, which grant they have lately obtained; and they have also obtained His Majesty's Royal Licence for inclosing the said foot way, for the purposes aforesaid, and have begun to build thereon out of some benefactions already given for that use; but the said Governours cannot perfect the same, and raise a fund for the maintenance of such incurable lunaticks and necessary attendants, without the assistance of well-disposed persons. Now therefore, we whose names are hereunto subscribed, have voluntarily contracted and paid the several sums of money by us respectively underwritten, for and towards the advancing and carrying on of a charity so great and well designed, hoping that they who enjoy the blessing of a right mind, will lend their assistance to them who are ever like to want it. [Daily Courant]

16 April 1726   By the Report of the Governors of the several hospitals under the care of the Lord Mayor and the citizens of London, it appears, that for the year last past there have been put forth apprentices out of Christ’s Hospital 116 children to several trades and callings, 10 whereof being instructed in the mathematicks, were put forth to the Commanders of ships.

Children now remaining under the care and charge of the said Hospital,
Buried the last year,
There have been cured and discharged from St. Bartholomew’s Hospital the same year, of wounded, maimed, sick, and diseased persons,
Buried the same year,
Remaining there under cure,
Cured and discharged from St. Thomas’s Hospital for the year last past,
Buried from thence this year,
Remaining under cure,
Received this year into the Hospital of Bridewell, vagrants, &c.
Apprentices brought up in diverse arts and trades in the said Hospital,
Admitted into the Hospital of Bethlem, distracted men and women,
Cured there of their lunacy,
Distracted persons bured the last year,
Remaining there under cure,
[Weekly Journal, or The British Gazetteer]

28 June 1729   Some days ago a woman, one of the poor distracted patients in Bedlam, by some means made her escape out of that hospital, being stark naked, and ran about Moor-fields in that condition, to the great terror of the people before she could be secured; which was done at last by throwing her down, and entangling her with cords. (London Journal)

6 January 1739   Last Wednesday a mad dog bit seven persons, belonging to Mr. White, Master of the Highgate Stage Coaches; and on Thursday they all went in order to be dipt in the salt water below Gravesend. (Read’s Weekly Journal, or, British-Gazetteer)

Saturday, 17 February 1739
Gloucester, Feb.
10. They write from Lantwardine, near Ludlow, that one Edward Meredith, commonly called Ned of the Toddin, an Ideot, having been about the country for some time, on his return home miss’d his mother, and enquiring for her, the neighbours told him she was dead; and being inform’d of the place where she was buried, he went on Thursday night, the 25th past to the church-yard (which was about a mile from his habitation) and open’d the grave, took out her corpse, which had been interr’d a fortnight, and fill’d up the grave again: After this he brought the corpse home on his back, and forcing open the lid of the coffin, rent the shroud, and took out her naked body, which he placed in a sitting posture by the fireside, and then cutting the coffin to pieces, he burnt it to warm her, asking her, Why she was so foolish as to die, to go to such a cold hole. Towards the break of day, he carried the corpse up a ladder, and laid it upon some hemp, binding her head with part of it; and then went about the country as usual. The neighbours having acquainted the parish officers therewith, they have caused her to be buried under a pew in the church, to prevent his taking her up again. (Read’s Weekly Journal, or, British-Gazetteer)

Saturday, 6 October 1739   On Thursday Sept. 20. died Mr. Knight, of Silson, near Towcester in Northamptonshire, in a raving mad condition, occasioned by the lick of a young dog, which he kept in his house to divert the child. One morning as he lay in bed with his wife and child, the dog came to them, and licking them as usual, he perceived that the dog thrust his tongue up one of his nostrils, which caused a great pain, and suspecting the dog therefore to be mad, he, with his wife and child, went to the salt-water; but it had no effect upon him, for he died three days after it in a deplorable manner, complaining all the while of a pain in his nose. (Read’s Weekly Journal, or, British-Gazetteer)

3 November 1739   Wednesday a Court was held at Bridewell by Mr. Alderman Parsons, when Richard Hoar, Esq; was admitted a Governor of that and Bethlem Hospital; and at the same time directions were given by the Court to the Bethlem Committee not to take in incurables, ideots, or mopes, but such as were mischievous, or might be troublesome to their friends or the publick. (Read’s Weekly Journal, or, British-Gazetteer)

(Texts have been modernized with regard to capitalization, italicization, and punctuation, but original spelling has been retained. This edition copyright Rictor Norton. All rights reserved. Reproduction for sale or profit prohibited. These extracts may not be archived, republished or redistributed without the permission of the compiler.)

CITATION: Rictor Norton, Early Eighteenth-Century Newspaper Reports: A Sourcebook, "Treatment of Lunatics", 28 December 2001, updated 30 March 2007 <http://grubstreet.rictornorton.co.uk/lunacy.htm>

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