Anna Shepherd – The Domestic Environment as Therapy in Two Surrey Asylums

Royal Holloway University of London Department of History

Event Date:
14 and 15 September 2010

11 Bedford Square, Royal Holloway (Central London)


Inhabiting Institutions in Britain, 1700-1950

Spaces and Institutional Structures


Anna Shepherd (London): The Domestic Environment as Therapy in Two Surrey Asylums

Brookwood, Surrey’s second county asylum, opened in 1867 under the auspices of the Metropolitan Asylums Board to alleviate the problem of the county’s pauper insane. The nearby Holloway Sanatorium was established by private bequest for the exclusive benefit of the middle-classes suffering from mental disorders in 1885. Although the asylums catered ostensibly for two very distinct social groups, I will explore the attempts made by the management of both institutions to re-create domestic spaces, with suitable modifications, as part of the broader therapeutic environment for their patients. Their success in creating a ‘domestic idyll’ will be gauged, the exploration aided by unique – and powerful – photographic evidence.

Despite the asylums’ physical and cultural differences, both institutions sought to provide regulated, well-managed and secure accommodation to endorse the medical theory of separation and justify the existence of the asylum as an appropriate environment for custodial treatment. Both aimed to bring about a cure and a return to ‘normality’ for their inmates. At the pauper Brookwood, ‘ a cheery hamlet of almshouses’, the comfortable surroundings, carefully planned gardens and regulated diet were arguably superior to that enjoyed by many patients outside the asylum walls, and offered patients a level of domesticity and homeliness that they were unlikely to encounter once they were discharged. At Holloway, the impetus to provide superior facilities for the middle and upper class patients and to provide them with the companions of an equal social standing to facilitate their recovery and their return to former lives was an overriding concern that – arguably – superseded medical treatment. The tension between achieving this and allowing patients the privacy appropriate to their social standing will be shown to have had often tragic results.









<== back to conference page

share this entry: