Madness, gender and class: the Lincoln Lunatic Asylum

  • collage of historic documentation from the Lincoln Lunatic Asylum

The Lincoln Lunatic Asylum (LLA) was opened in 1820 and became the first asylum in the country to achieve total abolition of mechanical restraint in 1837. Through an analysis of the original documents, we are seeking to understand how the construction of identities, including conceptions of gender and class, influenced how people’s madness was constructed and experienced

The Lincoln Lunatic Asylum (later known as the Lawn Hospital) was opened in 1820 as a subscription funded, purpose built asylum, situated in central Lincoln, receiving both private and pauper patients. Although embroiled in controversy, under the leadership of figures such as Edward Parker Charlesworth and Robert Gardiner Hill, Lincoln is acknowledged as the first asylum to be run without recourse to mechanical restraints (such as straightjackets and chains which were, at that time, standard practice), though institutions such as The Retreat in York, and the Hanwell Asylum in Middlesex, are much more widely discussed in this context in the available literature.

Using the records of restraint, we have broken down the overall picture of the reduction in use of mechanical restraint into different pictures depending on gender and class. This data, alongside qualitative depictions of patients within documents such as the House Surgeon’s journal and the records of admission, allows an analysis of how restraint was applied differently to different groups, indicating how late Georgian society constructed gender, class, and madness, and how these interacted to shape people’s experiences in the asylum.

This work situates the dynamics of asylum reform of the early nineteenth century within the shifting social attitudes towards freedoms and identity, and the move of such institutions from private to public spaces. Understanding madness, identity and control in the LLA is directly applicable to investigating how modern society shapes constructions of identity and experiences of madness today.

Project Team


Rob Goemans         Dr Jade Shepherd       


Nigel Horner           Rebecca Goddard