Today in London’s unbrid(al)led herstory: Edith Lanchester sectioned by her family for ‘living in sin’, 1895.

On 25 October 1895, Edith Lanchester was kidnapped by her father and brothers, sectioned, and forcibly incarcerated in a lunatic asylum  – her punishment for announcing her plan to live unmarried with her lover.

Only a couple of weeks ago, an appeal judgment  in the Supreme Court ruled that the 2004 Civil Partnership Act 2004 – which only applies to same-sex couples – is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, a ruling that may open the door for heterosexual couples to enter into civil partnerships, instead of getting married.

What about those of us who want to continue living in sin?

Cohabiting, living without any formal recognition by church or state, is now much more common, and pretty much accepted in most quarters. But its not quite respectable, and there are plenty of carrots and sticks like tax breaks for married couples, legal problems with inheritance and passportry, that lean heavily on unmarried couples.

Less than a century and a quarter ago, it was enough to get you locked up in an asylum and tortured – if you were a woman. Particularly a socialist and feminist, questioning patriarchal marriage and class society…

Living with a lover/partner and not getting married is of course a practice as old as humanity; marriage may have evolved as a way of celebrating/announcing that you were bundling. But aeons of male domination had certainly overlaid the institution of marriage with the patriarchal meaning – this woman in my property, hands off (to other men), and learn your place, b****.

Most religions reinforced this with violent denunciation of ‘living in sin’ – sex, conception outside of ‘holy matrimony’ were abominations and could get you a one way ticket to Satansville. Sex and sharing of lives outside of marriage, opened up the chances of women and men refusing to submit to control in other areas, for one thing, like obeying lords, kings and bosses. Men also feared that women who refused to be branded as property were emasculating them – for some reason many supposedly celibate churchmen were particularly hot on this.

However, resistance to marriage remained powerful, most especially among the poor. Aristos and royal families used marriage as a currency – posh women were traded, sold, to seal alliances, etc. The high profile nature of upper class relations and the belief in the divine superiority of the ruling elites meant that breeding, bloodlines, purity, and the ceremonial pomp of marriage were essential. Not so much for the lower orders, among whom relations conformed a lot less strictly to church and state diktat. Getting together and living with someone, maybe breaking up, leaving a husband and shacking up with someone else, having several partners, were all very common. Marriage was too limiting in a short-lived world where famine and poverty meant a high death rate; where constant war (and forced impressment of men) could mean a husband or partner were sent off to fight/to sea for years… Where you had to pay the church to get married.

[And abuse, selling of women, violence and adultery, abandonment were common too, just as IN marriage – not to see it through rose-tinted glasses.]

This didn’t mean the laws and conventions on marriage were being enforced – that the unmarried weren’t being lectured, shamed in church sermons, sometimes arrested – they were. But the resistance went on, just because co-habitation fitted with many people’s practical needs and desires.

Puritanism, from the 16th century, campaigns for moral reform, from the 17th, and the growth of capitalism, pushed hard at the social relations of co-habitation, and combined to alter the nature of the family. A woman’s role was to give birth to children, raise them, take care of the home, obey her father and then her husband and all other lawful (male) authority.

By the mid-19th century it was forbidden among polite society to cohabit, although it continued quietly among the labouring families of rural communities and also in the poverty-stricken slums of the big cities.

“Among the middle and upper classes, and the ‘respectable’ working classes who imitated the genteel social habits of the class above them, to openly cohabit was considered to be extremely sinful. The scandal damaged the reputations of both parties, though it was much worse for the women, whose ‘reputation’ would be completely ruined.”

Even some early feminists did not approve of ‘living in sin’ – all the risk and danger (especially the chance of having an ‘illegitimate’ child) fell on the woman’s shoulders. Marriage was thought to protect a woman, give her increased respectability, social standing and security.

Edith Lanchester was a feminist, socialist, a member of the early British Marxist grouping the Social Democratic Federation. In 1896 when she announced she intended to live unmarried with her lover, James Sullivan, her family had her forcibly locked up in a mental hospital. A loud campaign by socialists and freethinkers got her released after 4 days.

Born in Hove, Sussex on 28 July 1871, Edith, often known to family and friends as ‘Biddy’, was the fifth child of a well-to-do architect Henry Jones Lanchester and Octavia Ward.

Edith was part of the first generation of middle class women who broke out of the straits of Victorian social control, refused to be used as a bargaining chip or adornment, who fought to get access to education, to find financial independence, get jobs, have careers, determine their own lives.

After attending the Birkbeck Institution and the Maria Grey training college, she worked as a teacher, then as a clerk-secretary for a firm in London.

But in tandem with gaining control over her own destiny as a woman, Edith also developed a socialist politics – not unusual at that time, when the movements of early feminism, socialism, Marxism, anarchism, and others overlapped, influence each other, argued and evolved. Her socialist feminist convictions had led Edith to conclude that the wife’s vow to obey her husband was oppressive and immoral and she did not wish to lose her independence. She was politically opposed to the institution of marriage.

By 1895 Edith was a member of the Social Democratic Federation (SDF), the early British Marxist organisation. She had developed her freethinking to the point that she was prepared to defy the narrow conventions of her background, when she met and fell in love with James (Shamus) Sullivan, a Irish labourer and fellow socialist; in social terms, someone far enough ‘beneath’ her in class position that even marriage would be considered impossible. Marriage, however, was not on Biddy’s mind…

In 1895 she informed her family that, in protest against Britain’s patriarchal marriage laws, she was going to cohabit with Shamus. This didn’t go down well with her family, who had frowned upon her involvement with the dangerous socialists. This was truly shocking stuff for a wealthy professional family, a challenge to all the respectable values that kept society from falling apart and made Britain capital of the world.

Her family tried every argument to dissuade her from this rash act, including the line that she was devaluing herself as a woman, losing her good name, a respectable woman’s most valuable commodity, and that any children would be illegitimate – considered a shameful and despised state for them. In an attempt at compromise, Edith even offered to change her surname and live abroad, but would not agree to marry.

Unable to change her mind, the Lanchester family resorted to asserting male property rights over the rebellious female. On Friday October 25th 1895, Biddy’s father and brothers invaded her house (in the then working class neighbourhood and radical hotspot of Battersea), argued wither, assaulted her when she tried to physically resist, and forcibly subjected her to an examination by Dr George Fielding-Blandford, a leading psychiatrist and author of Insanity and Its Treatment.

The good doctor immediately signed emergency commitment papers under the Lunacy Act of 1890, on the grounds that she must be mentally disturbed to even plan such a union – if she could not see that living unmarried meant ‘utter ruin’ and ‘social suicide’ for a woman, she was of unsound mind and needed to be locked up for her own protection. For her own protection, Edith’s father and brothers tied her wrists and dragged her to a carriage, in which she carted off to the Priory Hospital in Roehampton.

Dr Fielding-Blandford explained his reasoning to the press:

“Lanchester had always been eccentric, and had lately taken up with Socialists of the most advanced order. She seemed quite unable to see that the step she was about to take meant utter ruin. If she had said that she had contemplated suicide a certificate might have been signed without question.

I considered I was equally justified in signing one when she expressed her determination to commit this social suicide. She is a monomaniac on the subject of marriage, and I believe her brain had been turned by Socialist meetings and writings, and that she was quite unfit to take care of herself.”

Thus showing how social and economic ideas that questioned the existing order were labelled as a mental health problem… An advance on the medieval diagnosis, of oppositional thinking or lifestyle choices being the work of the devil and getting you burnt as a witch or heretic? Possibly. Just not much of an advance.

The abduction also illustrated the fear among traditionalists that social change had eroded the boundaries that maintained society in its ideal state, and that allowing women to get educated, think for themselves and act on their own behalf was a terrible error that was leading to all sorts of newfangled monstrousness. ‘Over-education’ was written on the Certificate as cause of Edith’s madness: women should just not be allowed to learn anything that could distract their pretty little heads from serving men’s needs. Its worth noting that the British Medical Journal and the Lancet both felt Blandford may have gone too far by actually signing a medical certificate diagnosing insanity, but still felt socialism was a dangerous influence on women who they saw as ‘mentally weaker’ than men and thus more easily influenced by mad ideas like equality.

After being imprisoned in the Roehampton Asylum, Biddy was subject to mental, physical and sexual abuse. Tortured.

This forcible abduction caused an outcry. Mr Lanchester wrote to the Times, pointing to Edith’s behaviour as evidence of her madness, and raising the mental instability he claimed was in the family, and her ‘overstudy’ and ‘natural impressionability’. However, if the Lanchester family felt justified in violently sectioning Edith, and that rubberstamping her torture would eventually defeat her plans to bring shame on the family name, they had miscalculated.

The abduction blew up into a national scandal that dominated the press for days. The New York Times reported that the affair had “rivet the attention of three kingdoms” and that “no penny paper had printed less than ten columns on this engrossing subject during the week”.

John Burns, MP for Battersea, (and a sometime socialist himself who may well have known Edith personally) intervened on her behalf. Left-leaning papers Reynolds News and the Clarion supported Edith, the latter asserting that ‘a woman has a perfect right to do what she likes with her own body’.

The Marquess of Queensberry offered Edith his support, of a kind, putting up a cheque for £100 as a wedding present if she would go through the legal marriage ceremony but under protest, and then repudiate the ceremony afterward. He justified this by stating:

“I do this because I wish personally to be associated with what will be a strong protest against our present marriage laws, and should be delighted to give such a brave woman a wedding present.”

[Yes, that Marquess of Queensberry, the one who got Oscar Wilde sent to prison for being gay. A very contradictory character: an outspoken atheist – which got him excluded from the house of Lords –  promoter of working class boxing – virtual inventor of the modern rules – violent homophobe… brutal towards his children and wives… questioner of the patriarchy?!]

Protests against the sectioning and torture of Edith began immediately. Some of her SDF comrades joined with the Legitimation League, an organisation set up to campaign to secure equal rights for children born outside of marriage, and organised a public meeting, where a resolution was passed against Fielding-Blandford, and Lanchester’s landlady, SDF activist Mary Gray, was persuaded to being legal action against Edith’s brother for assaulting her during the raid on her home.

Shamus and a group of SDF supporters sang The Red Flag from outside the asylum’s walls and beneath Edith’s barred window on the evening of Sunday 27th October.

Under Section 11 of the 1890 Lunacy Act, Biddy could be detained for up to a week, but further incarceration would require another certificate. After four days of lobbying, by the SDF, with the help of John Burns, Edith was seen on Monday 28th October by two Commissioners of Lunacy, who proclaimed her sane, although they labelled her ideas “foolish”, and ordered her released. She was let out the next morning. She would never see her father alive again.

Although some of her socialist comrades had stood by her, supporting but her “brave and radical challenge by a committed socialist feminist to the institution of marriage and to late Victorian society’s highly constrained and patriarchal conception of femininity”, other radicals, mostly men, were not so helpful. The SDF in fact shied away from officially supporting her in case she brought them into disrepute (?!) As an organisation the Federation never quite got women’s rights or women’s liberation. SDF activist and Marxist theorist Ernest Bax publicly dismissed Edith’s views on marriage from a bourgeois moralistic standpoint. Independent Labour Party leader and sainted Labour guru Keir Hardie accused her of discrediting socialism, worried that ‘the public’ would associate socialism with sexual immorality.

One socialist who did stand in solidarity with Edith was Eleanor Marx, who had been disgusted by the misogynistic failure of male socialists to support and defend Edith’s position, and had herself struggled to enlighten male chauvinist lefties as to the class dimension of the feminist struggle, and the female element in class politics.

She denounced comrade Belfort Bax in a public letter to an open debate on “the woman question”, but Bax, being scared of Eleanor, declined the challenge. Bax was a repulsive early men’s rights activist, who denounced feminism, thought capitalism was bad largely because it subjected men ‘under the heel of women’. Which shows that an expensive private education and inculcation of bourgeois standards can bring you to ‘socialism’ but it can’t necessarily teach you to look around you and see the world as it is. What a prick.

Eleanor Marx hired Edith as her personal secretary, and sheltered her at her home in 1897 when she gave birth to her first child with Shamus, Waldo Lanchester. Press attention again circled the arrival of this ‘love-child’ of controversial parents.

Other female suffragists also rebelled against marriage. Elizabeth Wolstenholmeinitially refused to marry her boyfriend Ben Elmy because they both objected to the anti-woman marriage laws. They cohabited in secret, but when she became pregnant her suffrage colleagues persuaded them to marry because it would severely damage the suffrage movement to be associated with such ‘immorality’.

But there were Victorians in the upper echelons of life who cohabited, and some who made no secret of it. The parents of prominent feminist Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon Bodichon never married, despite having several children (who took their father’s surname). Historians believe this is the reason their children were shunned by their cousins, who included Florence Nightingale.

In spite of the disapproval of bourgeois society and its continuing hold on some of the so-called radical left, and spiting the predictions of the press that he would abandon her and she would end in the workhouse or on the game, Edith and Shamus’ relationship was not a youthful fad – they remained together until his death in 1945. In 1902 Edith gave birth to her second child Elsa. By this time the family were living at 48 Farley Road, Catford.

During World War I, Biddy and Shamus opposed the slaughter, from both internationalist and pacifist principles of Quakerism. Her daughter, Elsa recalled that Biddy and Shamus were “violently anti-war” and that pacifism ‘roared through’ the house.

When their son Waldo was conscripted he registered as a conscientious objector and was imprisoned in Wormwood Scrubs for a year. By 1917 Edith identified politically as a communist, denouncing the ‘socialists’ who had supported the war as ‘practically Tories’ who had betrayed the working class. She remained associated with the Communist Party for a number of years.

The bohemian and freethinking atmosphere that Edith and Shamus were a part of, and the creative and rebellious spirit that had sustained her against her family, passed on to their children.

Upon his release Waldo was supported by his mother to become a puppeteer and weaver. He would become one of the most innovative and well-known puppeteers of the twentieth century.

His sister, Elsa, became even more well-known… a liberated, self-determined and provocative woman, which in itself serves as a further two fingers to the conservative men who locked up her mother. She became a music hall star, singing songs laced with sexual innuendo, then and actress, having trained with dancer Isadora Duncan (but disliked her autocratic and pretentious approach), founded the Children’s Theatre in Soho, in 1918, and later became a Hollywood name… She had her radical moments, too, being a lifelong atheist, a member of the Independent Labour Party after World War 1, and her participation in the London avant-garde dance, theatre, film and performance scenes in the early 1920s. She ran an artistic nightclub, the Cave of Harmony, on the edges of London’s West End, where “Bohemianism, modern dance and musical comedy opened up new identities and spaces for female self-exploration.”

“In 1920 she made her London debut in a music hall act as an Egyptian dancer. About the same time she founded the Children’s Theatre in Soho and taught there for several years. In 1924 she and her partner, Harold Scott, opened a nightclub called the Cave of Harmony. They performed one-act plays of Pirandello and Chekhov and sang cabaret songs. Performances at the Cave were semi-improvised and often included odd ditties such as ‘Rat Catcher’s Daughter’ that Lanchester had dug up out of the magnificent resources of the British Library. The Cave of Harmony became a popular meeting place for London artists and intellectuals, including H. G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, Evelyn Waugh, and James Whale (who would direct The Bride of Frankenstein). A local journalist was the first to immortalise the ‘naughty lady’ in song, fatally struck by her bronze hair and her brassy behaviour. His words make one wish to have known her:12 I may be fast, I may be loose, I may be easy to seduce. I may not be particular To keep the perpendicular. But all my horizontal friends Are Princes, Peers and Reverends. When Tom or Dick or Bertie call, You’ll find me strictly vertical!

Simultaneously, Elsa Lanchester joined a group of radical socialists called the ‘1917 Club’ and became something of their mascot. It fixed her image: a bohemian socialist with loose morals, outrageous behaviour, and brightly coloured unmentionables (the famous pink drawers she claimed never to have owned). Geoffrey Dunlap wrote bitterly about her:13 Pink drawers alas — why should her drawers be pink Their colour gives me furiously to think — Pink drawers — and do they never turn red Flushed at their mistress’ sin while she’s in bed. No they are pink, and peonies in their fair hue Their innocence remains forever new.

During a 1926 comic performance in the ‘Midnight Follies’ at London’s Metropole, a member of the British Royal family walked out as she sang, ‘Please Sell No More Drink to My Father’. Elsa closed her nightclub in 1928 as her film career began in earnest. She later noted that art was ‘a word that cloaked oceans of naughtiness’, and she had her share of it, working as a nude model by day and a theatrical impressario by night.” (from Underground London: From Cave Culture Follies to the Avant-GardeJaap Harskamp)

Later Elsa married actor and director Charles Laughton; there has for decades been a suggestion, fuelled by her own writing, that she was his beard, Laughton being at least bisexual and possibly gay, and that the marriage was designed to mask this. This she have discovered after they married, and she wasn’t best pleased to find it out, but tried her best to accommodate him and support him.

(However, other friends of Laughton have contended that these rumours were not true…)

Elsa’s most famous film role was as the Bride of Frankenstein in the classic 1935 film…

Edith Lanchester died in 1966.


Civil ceremonies, queer marriage legalised, married persons tax breaks – HAH! You can do it if you really want but  – We salute the spirit of Edith Lanchester.

In the USA they have a brilliant holiday. Loving Day, which celebrates the legal fight of a mixed race couple to beat the racist laws against mixed marriages…

We love that, but also suggest celebrating those of us who choose to live and love without submitting to any nonsense from church or state. We don’t need your vows, stamps, or bits of paper to tell us how to freely share our lives. Neither of us obeys or owns the other.

Past Tense would like to humbly propose 29th October as a candi/date when we can hold an annual ‘’Unmarried Love Day’…


An entry in the
2018 London Rebel History Calendar

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Today in London radical history; mass meeting protests threat to Paddington Day Hospital, 1972

Paddington Day Hospital was an important nexus in the UK radical psychiatric community, a ‘space of convergence’ of various progressive counter-cultural forces that were a feature of the period, bringing together radical mental health workers who were attracted to therapeutic communities as an alternative to the conventional psychiatric hospital, ideas of anti-psychiatry, and key figures in the emerging patients’ movement. According to Helen Spandler, Paddington’s story contains “both the possibilities and limitations of the radical psychiatrist as an ‘agent provocateur’ within psychiatry… That the history of Paddington Day Hospital was so clearly riddled with these tensions and paradoxes marks it as an important moment in history. Not only did patients and staff struggle to collectively defend the progressive elements of the day hospital, they were also vociferous in resisting its practices when it failed to meet their expectations.”

The Paddington Clinic and Day Hospital opened in 1962, replacing the Camden Clinic which closed.  It was one of the first NHS units to provide psychoanalytic therapy.

The Clinic and Day Hospital were located in a new 3-storey building next to a petrol station on the Harrow Road, adjacent to the Westway motorway.  The building also housed the Child Guidance Clinic, transferred from the St Marylebone Hospital for Psychiatry and Child Guidance.

Most of the ground floor was occupied by the Day Hospital, which had been established initially as an out-patient facility for the rehabilitation of patients discharged from Horton Hospital.  The cafeteria and the Art Therapy Room on this floor were shared with the other departments in the building. In 1965 an Out-Patients Department opened to provide psychotherapeutic treatment for adults.

In the same year a ‘therapeutic community’ was established in the Day Hospital by a consultant psychiatrist who did not believe in ‘organic’ means of treatment, such as E.C.T. or chemotherapy.  The community was run democratically by both staff and patients and the days were filled with group work and activities, comprising community meetings, shared decision-making and group therapy.

In 1970, Julian Goodburn took over as medical director on the unit, and began to introduce more libertarian methods into the Day Hospital. A conventionally trained psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, Goodburn tried to develop a more informal, egalitarian and libertarian approach to treating patients. He was often associated with famous ‘anti-psychiatry’ figures like R.D. Laing and David Cooper, because of his increasingly radicalised thinking and ideas, though he had little contact with them.

Goodburn aimed to challenge accepted psychiatric, psychoanalytic and therapeutic community thinking at the day hospital; not only questioning the ideologies of the medical professions, but also tackling patients’ own perceptions of themselves in relation to the world and their place within it.

Rather than seeing individuals as victims of ‘mental illness’, Goodburn saw patients as exposing wider social tensions: “There is a correlation between the contradiction, or disquiet that they’re experiencing, and the contradiction or disquiet that everybody ought to be experiencing a propos some factor of society at large, which, you know, they are, through circumstances of their particular experience, the bearer of—the victim of, you might even say—and will subsequently manifest this as if it were something solely going on in them, when in fact it is going on in them, but as a consequence of the fact that these issues are not resolved in the world at large, and it just happens that they are the person standing on that particular street corner at that particular time who’ve copped it, as it were.”

He challenged his own accepted role of the Medical Director (the consultant psychiatrist) in a psychiatric setting, refusing to take ‘medical’ responsibility for the day hospital and carry out official mental health assessments, give out diagnoses, hand out palliatives or sign their medical certificates which would designate patients as ‘mentally ill’. “Not wanting to perpetuate their role as helpless victims and as ‘mental patients’, staff challenged their need to be designated ‘sick’. As a result the staff queried the need to sign medical certificates. Goodburn had a confrontational therapy style, pushing issues to their limits in an attempt to force personal and political awareness. Some of this style was developed from his long-time association with the group psychoanalyst, Henry Ezriel, although Goodburn radicalised Ezriel’s approach in the more politically aware context of the day hospital, following a politicised campaign to save it from closure. Humour was an important and often under-recognised trait of both Ezriel and Goodburn, who presented their ideas and experiences with case studies, stories and selfmocking jokes…. Goodburn used psychoanalytic interpretation and humour in an attempt to reveal underlying interpersonal, social and political dynamics which were impacting on the situation at Paddington… On one occasion Goodburn was reported as being found under a table refusing to make decisions on behalf of the patients, forcing them to take responsibility for their own lives and actions; on another occasion as barricaded into one of the therapy group rooms for refusing to sign patients’ medical certificates.”

This last incident reveals some of the tensions that Goodburn’s approach though up. Questioning the meaning of ‘mental illness’ is one thing – but patients depended on doctors’ signing medical certificates for daily survival, dealing with the dole etc. So refusing to sign them was not always helpful. But the double-edged nature of the ‘anti-psychiatrist’ went even deeper.

“Whilst the radical psychiatrist… can be seen as a positive force for change in contributing to emerging radical mental health movements, it inevitably expresses a number of limitations and problems. Indeed, radical psychiatrists occupy a ‘paradoxical space’ in which they simultaneously subvert, and yet often also reproduce, prevailing power relations… even though the radical psychiatrists frequently used ‘alternative’ psychiatric discourse, they ultimately had more power to do so than patients, or other workers. Their ‘alternative’ could still be considered in the broader lexicon of the ‘psy’ disciplines, which tries to impose particular forms of expert psychological knowledge”.(Helen Spandler)

Some patients and staff at Paddington believed that psychoanalytic interpretation were being imposed, however seemingly democratic… Other commentators viewed Goodburn’s regime as manipulative and ultimately dangerous, with the staff applying “implicit psychoanalytic rules which acted as a coercive regime of truth in the day hospital”. The pursuit of these ideas led to a ‘anarchy, chaos and tyranny’… a situation in which some patients felt neglected, mistreated, eventually leading to an official enquiry and the eventual sacking of the medical director and the closure of the day hospital.

The Day Hospital had little in the way of furniture or ornamentation, and its floors were bare.  The main group meeting room was a large L-shaped room marred by a central pillar.  It contained a sagging sofa and a variety of armchairs of varying degrees of comfort.  Rather surprisingly, the room lacked heating, which was often a source of complaint during meetings.

The consultant felt it was the responsibility of the patients to tidy up after themselves rather leave it all to the cleaner, so the Hospital became increasingly unclean and untidy.  Patients occasionally used materials from the Art Therapy Room to paint graffiti on the walls to express themselves and their opinions about the Hospital.  These were left on the walls so that they could be discussed by the group.  The appearance of the Day Hospital thus contrasted strongly with the more aesthetic environment of the rest of the centre, where it was becoming increasingly viewed as ‘different’.  It was becoming estranged from the traditional psychiatric establishment.

The Day Hospital accepted patients who had been assessed as psychologically unsuitable for psychotherapy.  Its ‘open door’ policy means that people could attend when they wanted.  Staff began to refuse to diagnose psychiatric conditions or to prescribe medication, or even to keep medical records for their patients.  Initially the Day Hospital had received patients from its catchment area, but soon took on those from other areas who had heard of the therapeutic community and self-referred themselves.  Since few records were kept, it was not known where patients came from, but some had come from as far away as Ipswich in Suffolk.  The patients were mainly white, well-educated, young adults, although a number from the local African Caribbean community also attended.  Most patients remained at the unit for about one to two years.

Some patients shared a commune, living together in cheap accommodation.  The Day Hospital supported this, so that the intense group dynamics could continue for 24 hours a day.

In December 1971 the staff and patients formed a protest group, after the impending closure of the Day Hospital and its transfer to the newly opened psychiatric unit at St Mary’s Hospital was announced by the Area Health Authority. At this time the Day Hospital had 50 members of staff and 80 places for patients.  The new facility at St Mary’s Hospital had 60 beds and 80 places for day patients.

The Paddington Day Hospital protest became symbolic of the anti-psychiatric movement; public awareness of mental health issues and resistance to psychiatry was growing at this time, and there were interesting initiatives sprouting around the world.  The campaign’s slogan was Paddington Day keeps madness at bay.

On 25th February 1972 patients and staff invaded a meeting of the Regional Hospital Board to force a discussion of the planned closure. This was followed by a packed public meeting at Sidney Webb College, ‘Madness, A Choice of Treatment’, to protest the closure, organised by the action group opposing the move. The meeting was attended by 700-900 people.

The protest was successful – on April 11th 1972, the action group learned that the closure and transfer had been abandoned. A planned demo turned into an impromptu celebration in the street. The Day Hospital remained open, at a time when similar units around the country closed.

In March 1973 about 100 people, mostly patients or former patients, met at the Day Hospital to discuss forming a union for mental patients.  Following this, the Mental Patients Union was established, with full membership reserved for patients and ex-patients.

In 1974 the Clinic and Day Hospital were renamed the Paddington Centre for Psychotherapy.

In January 1976 the patients called for an inquiry into the functioning of the Day Hospital and its lack of shared decision-making.  This provoked an investigation by the Area Health Authority, which led to the Medical Director being dismissed.

Although the new Medical Director attempted to re-establish a therapeutic community, it failed to gel, and the Day Hospital began to be wound down through 1978, and the patients discharged.

The Clinic and Day Hospital closed in 1979.  Services moved to the Parkside Clinic in Lancaster Road.

Interestingly though the old Day Centre building is still in use, by St Mungo’s Housing Association, providing hostel accommodation for 41 homeless men aged over 50, many of whom are mentally ill.  Breakfast and an evening meal are provided, and residents are permitted to drink alcohol in their rooms and in two communal lounges (another lounge is a designated ‘dry’ area).


An entry in the
2017 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online.

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Today in London’s mad history: Mad Pride founder Pete Shaughnessy’s funeral, 2002.

“This has to be the most difficult thing I’ve ever written. Pete Shaughnessy, a great man and true friend is dead. The last month has been a daze. Christmas and New Year have passed, seemingly everybody rushing around enjoying themselves, whilst I’ve been feeling anger and extreme sadness, then shock and disbelief.”
(Simon Barnett, Mad Pride)

Pete Shaughnessy was a mental health activist, a founder of Reclaim Bedlam, and of Mad Pride. He died on 15th December 2002, after committing suicide, stepping in front of a train at Battersea Park station.

Pete was born in South London in a working class Irish family. After studying drama he worked in a children’s home and as a carer for people with disabilities, before becoming a bus driver in 1990 on London Buses, driving the no 36. In April 1992, coming to the aid of a conductor who was being assaulted, Pete was hit with an iron bar. Shortly afterwards he went on a silent hunger strike outside his bus garage in protest at the privatisation of the service, which was leading to more work for less pay: “my road into ‘madness’ began with direct action. I worked on the buses at Peckham, south London for three years, and had to put up with some shit there. So, when the company announced longer hours and less wages to a group of drivers at my garage, enough was enough. I went on a hunger and speech strike at the bus stop outside the garage. Most drivers at the time said that this was when I went ‘mad'”.

By the end of the year he was hospitalised, diagnosed with manic depression.

Signed off sick for six weeks, Pete went on a journey to Glastonbury via the road protest at Twyford Down before being declared ‘fit for work’: ‘Back at work, they made me sit around for a day before giving me my first job on the road. At 8.20am on the 4th of January 1993 I went to pick up a bus in Peckham. I spotted the brake light wasn’t working, so I should’ve got the engineer out to fix it, but instead decided to drive the bus as far away from the garage as possible. At Harrow Road Police Station, I booted the last two remaining passengers off, told the police about the defects i..e. no brake light, no fare chart, dummy video and a cold bus, as said ‘PC Harrow Road’. I rang the engineer and he choked in his tea when I said ‘No fare chart.’ That was the end of his career as a bus driver (though not the last time driving a bus! In when his illness was at its most florid, Pete chanced upon a bus with its keys in, at a depot in south London. He drove it all the way to Worthing. Realising he wasn’t well, he headed to the local A&E. After several hours unsuccessfully waiting see a psychiatrist, he returned to the bus and drove it back to London’.)

Pete’s depression was exacerbated by further violence in his life – his sister was murdered by her boyfriend in Brixton, and Pete was then sectioned in Guys after hitting a policeman.

In response to the 750th anniversary of ‘Bedlam’ – the asylum which was the precursor of South London’s Maudsley Hospital , where Pete was a patient – in 1997, Pete and others gathered under the banner of “Reclaim Bedlam”, seeing nothing to celebrate in either the original Bedlam (‘a symbol for man’s inhumanity to man, for callousness and cruelty,’ in historian Roy Porter’s words), or the state of mental health care.

As Pete wrote: “Maudsley & Bethlem Mental Health Trust saw itself as la crème de la crème of mental health. In 1997, it was more like the Manchester City of mental health [This was written back when Man City were the shite end of Manc football… ho hum – Ed]. Situated in one of the poorest areas of the country, it put a lot of resources into its national projects, and neglected its local ones.

It’s history went back to the first Bedlam, the first institution of mental health. If you pop down to the museum at Bethlem Hospital, you will see a picture proudly displayed of the 700th celebrations in 1947, with the Queen Mother planting a tree. Well, not exactly planting, more like putting her foot on a spade. So, when some PR bureaucrat came up with the idea of 750th celebrations, it must have all made sense. An excuse for a year of corporate beanos. The Chief Executive could picture the MBE in the cabinet. There was only one problem: in 1947, the patients would have been well pleased with a party, in 1997 some patients wanted more. In the so-called ‘user friendly’ 90s, I thought ‘commemoration’ was more appropriate. So, a few of us went to battle with the Maudsley PR machine. It was commemoration vs. celebration. I think for the first time, we were taking the user movement out of the ghetto of smoky hospital rooms and into the mainstream. We spoke at Reclaim the Streets and political events. We would gatecrash conferences to push the message. I know we pissed users off by our style; personally I found some users more judgemental than the staff we talked to. They were even a few users who wanted to have their stall at the ‘Funday’ and cross our picket line. Frustrating. When that proposal was put to me, I lost my nut, which meant I threatened to bring Reclaim the Streets down to smash up their stall. Because of that remark, I had two police stations hassling me up to the day of our Reclaim Bedlam picnic and the picket at the staff ball, the appropriate opening event of the celebrations, had to be dropped. We had our first picnic at Imperial War Museum, one of the sites of Bedlam Hospital; Simon Hughes MP came and spoke. Features in Big Issue and Nursing Times, and we were afloat.

Our next event was to screw up the Thanksgiving Service at St Paul’s Cathedral which a member of the Royal Family was attending. BBC2’s ‘From the Edge’ got in on the act for that one, and it’s widely thought that because of our antics on the steps of St Paul’s – as well as stopping the traffic at 11am with a boat forcing Tower Bridge to open – that the Chief Exec didn’t get his MBE.

Our next event was to join up with ECT Anonymous and the All_Wales User and Survivor Group and picket the Royal College of Psychiatry. It was the first time Reclaim Bedlam had been involved in International Direct Action. Keeping up the pressure on the Royal College of Psychiatry we hijacked their anti-stigma campaign, ‘In Every Family in the Land’. The soundbite I used was: ‘the psychiatrist is patting you on the head with one hand, and with the other hand he /she is using compulsory treatment to inject you up the bum.”

Pete also re-invigorated a local mental health group, turning it into a legend of user-led self-help:

“Before 1997, Southwark Mind was essentially just a management committee accused by some of being a middle-class do-gooders consisting of Maudsley consultants’ wives and the like, who would meet up every month or so to decide which worthy causes at the Maudsley should get grants out of the money Southwark Mind is given from the shop in East Dulwich. Pete, with the help of Denise Mckenna changed all this by carving up the 1997 AGM and turning Southwark Mind into a user-lead charity. This led to a development worker – me – being employed to take ideas forward including Pete’s. I met him at my first day at work at Southwark Mind. He said that he’d just come out of hospital and was depressed, but nevertheless introduced me to the Lorrimore drop-in and Mary’s Caff. We got on immediately.

Pete had already built up quite a reputation for himself by this stage. He was being groomed by Mental Health Media to be a top ‘mad’ media spokesman. He’d started the group ‘Reclaim Bedlam’ who had organised a sit-in outside the original Bedlam site at the Imperial War Museum to protest against ill-conceived ‘anniversary celebrations.’ And he’d started the Bermondsey and Rotherhithe mental health Support Group, a local self-help organisation. In all these ventures, Pete gave of himself without talking very much.” (Robert Dellar)

Pete was involved with others around Southwark Mind organized a demo against SANE head-quarters in 1999 “opposing their support (at the time) for compulsory treatment orders being proposed by the government – to no small part because of SANE’s lobbying – things started to get serious. We managed to get 200 people turning up to the SANE march – which at the time was an unprecedented figure for a ‘mad’ demo. We had whistles, drums, a 7-foot long syringe together with a kitchen table, corn-flakes and milk, tridents (because we’re the devil), banners, flyer you name it – we pulled out the stops. SANE didn’t know what the fuck had hit them. They dropped their support for CTO’s and to this day, they’re still reeling from this event.”

Then Pete went on to found Mad Pride with Robert Dellar, Simon Barnett and Mark Roberts.

Mad Pride orchestrated a campaign of publicity and protest – holding a vigil on Suicide Bridge in Archway, to remember all of the people who’ve died there and all of the other people who commit suicide – ‘murder by society’; protesting against the pharmaceutical industry’s predominance over psychiatric services; organising a Mad Pride open-air festival in Stoke Newington in July 2000; the publication of a book ‘ Mad Pride: A Celebration of Mad Culture,’ which was highly acclaimed and successful… “we got user-led mental health issues into the media as never before, and we inspired many people. We also, without a doubt, moved the paradigm of the British ‘user movement’ left-wards.”

“Mad Pride has only ever been a small group, but what we’ve managed to do together has been tremendous, and this has been in no small part down to Pete – the ideas man. It was his idea to hold a vigil on Suicide Bridge in Archway, to remember all of the people who’ve died there and all of the other people who commit suicide – ‘murder by society.’ This felt particularly relevant to me as my friend Jo Crane had killed herself there not long before.

Pete’s networking skills ensured that radical clinicians joined with us to protest against the pharmaceutical industry’s predominance over psychiatric services in 2001. Pete offered endless good advice , calmed us and used brilliant conflict-resolution techniques to keep us together as a group. And if he hadn’t woken up in time that fateful day on the 15th of July 2000 ( after a drunken Nikki Sudden performance at a book-shop the night before), the famous Mad Pride open-air festival in Stoke Newington wouldn’t have happened, because the Festival Support Group would have assumed we weren’t turning up. Pete was also our most prolific and best media spokesman, appearing on telly and in Newspapers all over the place. I’ll go into more detail about some of this later, in a book.

I think that we (MAD PRIDE) over-reached ourselves during that summer of 2000, which also saw several indoor concerts, and the publication of a book ‘ Mad Pride: A Celebration of Mad Culture,’ which was highly acclaimed and successful, and for which Pete wrote one of the best chapters( ‘Into the Deep End’). The Mad Pride work was too intense, and none of us have ever been quite the same again. But we tried, we got user-led mental health issues into the media as never before, and we inspired many people. We also, without a doubt, moved the paradigm of the British ‘user movement’ left-wards.

Being a ‘survivor activist’ is hard work in a harsh world, and its not surprising that there is a large burn-out rate in this field. Pete burnt out in the most shocking way imaginable, but we must respect his decision whilst mourning his departure. I think Pete would have wanted us to carry on his work and stay alive and help change this obscene capitalist society so that it is not too awful a place for people like Pete – and us – to live in.” (Robert Dellar)

“He was a wild man, a howling wolf. In Mad Pride, Pete could be relied on to arrive dishevelled to our meeting place with always the most outrageous idea. He would have us lying down in the traffic at the Elephant dressed in doctor’s coats, he posed before pigs (real ones) in Parliament Square hoisted up next to Churchill with our monster syringe, he formed our anarchic identity with his polemic and unremitting message of no compromise. Everybody knew Pete. At festivals he fixed up discussion for us in canvas premises of politics and maverick groups. He worked as a volunteer for the Big Issue. He was our mouthpiece, the mouthy one, one step away from professional journalism, the one the media always asked for. It is unthinkable that such a bright flame should end his own life, not reach his own potential, take himself away from us. But the chaos set in, and at one drastic and crucial moment he decided to could not beat it. How any of us wish we could have been with him at that moment to argue him round or try and instil some optimism. He is gone. Our roaring boy, who shocked the establishment and made them love him, as we did. He goes with all his energy, passion and success lighting his path. He was totally committed, to inclusion, to the Survivor Movement for over ten years. As a man and as a star he leaves a huge void which will never be filled. We mourn with pain for a great personality who lit our way for so long. I’ve used the analogy with Pete verbally many times that its as if we were side by side in the fucking trenches in a war, in battle. That’s what it felt like doing all the MAD PRIDE stuff with him. I’ll never forget Pete: my friend, my comrade, a man brave and able enough to change the world through force of personality rather than power. It’s an incredible strength that he had. Hopefully some of us will have learnt something from this.” (Debbie McNamara)

There are many other memories of Pete Shaughnessy here

Check out Into the Deep End, Pete’s chapter for Mad Pride – A Celebration of Mad Culture, edited by Ted Curtis, Robert Dellar, Esther Leslie & Ben Watson.


An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online

Today in London’s mental health history: Winston Churchill statue straitjacketed, 2004.

A fibre-glass statue of former Prime minster Winston Churchill locked into a straitjacket was banned from display in London’s Trafalgar Square in September 2004 by the Greater London Authority ‘on grounds of good taste‘ – after Churchill’s family objected, basically.

The statue, commissioned by the mental health charity Rethink, “was intended to illustrate how for hundreds of thousands of others the discrimination surrounding manic depression and other forms of severe mental illness acts like a straitjacket, denying people work and other opportunities to participate fully in society.”

Churchill famously wrote about the ‘black dog’ of depression that haunted him, and numerous posthumous diagnoses have suggested he was bi-polar, his well-known heavy drink problems have been seen as self-medication…

Ironically Rethink’s point was hardly anti-Churchill – they were trying to suggest that suffering from depression had not stopped him from becoming a great prime minister wartime leader, greatest living Briton blah blah etc…

Rethink had the statue driven around Trafalgar Square on September 14th 2004, in spite of the London Assembly decision… It then travelled around temporary exhibitions, before being later erected in Norwich in 2006. On which controversy erupted again, with Churchill’s grandson, Conservative MP Nicholas Soames, branding it as ‘absurd and pathetic’ (interestingly, adjectives often attached to Nicholas Soames himself, along with ‘parasitical’ and ‘bloated’).

However, some people with mental health problems were “incensed to have Winston as a pin-up boy for madness. After all, while he might have admitted to his “black dogs” of depression, he wasn’t exactly a mental health advocate, having derided the “unnatural and increasingly rapid growth of the feeble-minded and insane classes” and believed that the “source from which the stream of madness is fed should be cut off and sealed up before another year has passed”.

That’s right, like many movers and shakers of his times, Churchill was an advocate of eugenics. In a memo to the prime minister in 1910, Winston Churchill cautioned, “The multiplication of the feeble-minded is a very terrible danger to the race”.

When he was Home Secretary (February 1910-October 1911) Churchill was in favour of the confinement, segregation, and sterilisation of a class of persons contemporarily described as the “feeble minded.” He supported the compulsory internment of people he labelled ‘mental defectives’ in labour camps, but thought forced sterilisation a preferable option on grounds of both cost and libertarian grounds (really).

“The improvement of the British breed is my aim in life,” Winston Churchill wrote in 1899; like most of his contemporaries, family and friends, he regarded races as different, racial characteristics as signs of the maturity of a society, and racial purity as endangered not only by other races but by mental weaknesses within a race.

“The phrase “feeble-minded” was to be defined as part of the Mental Deficiency Act 1913, of which Churchill had been one of the early drafters. The Act defined four grades of “Mental Defective” who could be confined for life, whose symptoms had to be present “from birth or from an early age.” “Idiots” were defined as people “so deeply defective in mind as to be unable to guard against common physical dangers.” “Imbeciles” were not idiots, but were “incapable of managing themselves or their affairs, or, in the case of children, of being taught to do so.” The “feeble-minded” were neither idiots nor imbeciles, but, if adults, their condition was “so pronounced that they require care, supervision, and control for their own protection or the protection of others.” If children of school age, their condition was “so pronounced that they by reason of such defectiveness appear to be personally incapable of receiving proper benefit from instruction in ordinary schools.” “Moral defectives” were people who, from an early age, displayed “some permanent mental defect coupled with strong vicious or criminal propensities on which punishment had little or no effect.”

In September 1910, Churchill wrote to his Home Office officials asking them to investigate putting into practice the “Indiana Law”-dominated by sterilisation, and the prevention of the marriage of the “Feeble-Minded.” Churchill wrote: “I am drawn to this subject in spite of many Parliamentary misgivings… Of course it is bound to come some day.” Despite the misgivings, “It must be examined.” He wanted to know “what is the best surgical operation?” and what new legal powers would be needed to carry out sterilisation.

Concerned by the high cost of forced segregation, Churchill preferred compulsory sterilisation to confinement, describing sterilisation as a “simple surgical operation so the inferior could be permitted freely in the world without causing much inconvenience to others.”

To be fair, many on the liberal left also embraced eugenics… GB Shaw, HG Wells, Labour historian Harold Laski, JBS Haldane, JM Keynes, the New Statesman and the Guardian all went through pro-eugenics phases… Many of them also thought the rights of horrible working class people and suspect foreign types also ought to be restricted when it came to re-production. Socialism meant progress, efficiency, sobriety, proper organisation by the right people, and the weak, morally corrupt and unfit would just have to fall by the wayside as the shining future was built.

More details of Churchill’s beliefs on eugenics


Some retrospective diagnoses of the ‘great man’

Churchill, despite the widespread adoration of him in the UK, is not universally popular… not just warmongering, but obsessed by bloodshed; egomaniacal, fiercely aristocratic, fond of sending in troops against strikers, grandiose and militarily incompetent, misogynistic, racist, anti-semitic…

This article is worth a read


An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online

Today in London’s radical history: attempted royal assassin James Hadfield escapes Bedlam, 1802.

After his unfortunately unsuccessful attempt to shoot king George III failed to kickstart a wondrous Millennium, (see our earlier post) and his subsequent trial and acquittal on the grounds of insanity, James Hadfield was sent back to his cell in Newgate immediately after his trial, but was escorted to Bethlem Royal Hospital a few months later by the Newgate ‘keeper’.

He had been sentenced to imprisonment in ‘Bedlam’ for the rest of his life. His case led Parliament to pass the Criminal Lunatics Act of 1800, allowing the law the power to detain people such as Hadfield until “His Majesty’s pleasure be known”. Giving birth to the concept of criminally insane, and eventually of the ‘Special Hospitals’ as we know them today (Broadmoor, Ashworth and Rampton).

However, two years later, Hadfield and another inmate, John Dunlop, escaped, and Hadfield seems to have got as far as Dover, attempting to flee to France, before being retaken and returned to Newgate. The steward of Bethlem was formally censured by the governors for going in immediate pursuit of him without reporting his absence, or obtaining official permission, but the minute of censure was later obliterated, although it is still legible.

What kind of ‘treatment’ might Hadfield been subject to? Hadfield was returned to Bedlam, where he spent the next 39 years of his life.

During his ‘stay’ Bethlem changed massively. The old regime of simply locking mentally ill (or just strange) people up and charging people to come and poke fun at them had evolved (under head keeper James Haslam) into an allegedly ‘therapeutic’ approach. Haslam thought madness could be cured, rather than being simply an affliction sent by God. His therapy however involved breaking the will of the ‘patients’ through fear, intimidation and violence, before the cause of their problems could be addressed. Some of Haslam’s approach represented a step forward in medical science: the accompanying psychological and physical degradation formed a bridge between the past and the future of mental healthcare… Eventually Haslam’s regime was exposed and a scandal erupted, leading to the closure of the old Bethlem building in Moorfields and a new one’s construction south of the river, in St George’s Fields. However, bad planning and cost-cutting left the new ‘hospital’ cold and damp, and it quickly became overcrowded… It would be the 1850s before new management would usher in some serious advances in care, therapy and rehabilitation…

Hadfield spent much of his time caring for birds and cats, and writing verses – one that has survived is apparently representative of their main subject, the deaths of these pets.

Patients at Bethlem were allowed visitors: in previous eras visiting and even taunting the mad was a popular pastime in polite society. Hadfield was often visited, probably due to the fame attached to his attempt to usher in the millennium by knocking off the alleged king.  One person who visited him was the French socialist Flora Tristan (1803–1844) who recorded the visit in her Promenades dans Londres (1840):

‘He lives in a small room and he is not averse to passing the time of day with visitors.  We had rather a long visit with him; his conversation and his habits denote a sentimental and loving heart, a pressing need for affection, and he has had in succession two dogs, three cats, several birds and finally a squirrel.  He was extremely fond of his animals and was grieved at their deaths; he mounted them himself and keeps them in his room.  These remains of his beloved creatures all have epitaphs in verse which express his sorrow.  Above the verses for his squirrel there is a coloured image of the friend he lost.  I might add that he does a brisk little trade with his feelings, handing out the epitaphs to visitors who in return give him a few shillings’ (tr. Dennis Palmer and Giselle Pincetl, Flora Tristan’s London Journal, p. 163).

One surviving poem of Hadfield’s runs:

“The remains of little Dick my partner dear,
Who, with his vocal lays did aft my Spirits Cheer,
By giving him his food one fatal day,
He in the Cages wire caught his clay,
He flutter’d, trembled, panted, and then down he lied,
I took him up and in my hand he died.
Killed Oct. 3, 1806, James Hadfield”.

Another of Hadfield’s poems, written in his own hand, can be seen at the start of this post… Some of which was lifted from here

James Hadfield died of tuberculosis in Bedlam in 1841.


An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online

Today in London’s royal history: Millenarian nutter James Hadfield shoots at mad old George III, Theatre Royal, 1800.

We are all The Messiah, and The King, and death to anyone who denies it…

On May 15th, 1800, James Hadfield or Hatfield attempted to assassinate king George III of the United Kingdom. Hadfield was acquitted of attempted murder by reason of insanity, though he spent the rest of his life locked up.

Hadfield’s background is obscure, but by 1794 he was serving in the British army. In that year he was severely injured at the Battle of Tourcoing (in the war against revolutionary France); he was struck eight times on the head with a sabre, then captured by the French. These wounds affected him severely, and the scars he would bear for the rest of his life.

Returning to England, he became involved in a millennialist movement and later said he had come to believe that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ would be advanced if he himself were killed by the British government. He therefore resolved, in conspiracy with Bannister Truelock, to attempt the assassination of the King and bring about his own judicial execution. In other witness accounts, after James Hatfield received more wounds from prisons and escaped, he said he had found a lake where he could bathe his wounds, claimed he was in heaven and that he was the biblical Adam and made himself a ‘covering of boughs of trees’ to put round his waist. He was taken to prison again after that where he smashed a water jug and proceeded to cut his feet with it to ‘purge away his sins’ whilst claiming he was the ‘Supreme Being’.

After some time, he got well again and escaped to Calais, where he then took a boat to Dover, arriving in London in September 1795. He rejoined his army regiment, arriving in Croydon Barracks on 5 April 1796 and was discharged soon after due to insanity and was collected by his brother. He eventually found work as a silversmith. But he became very depressed, and began to believe that God had big plans for him. God told Hadfield that when he died the world would die too. According to the usually trumpeted account, “after several ‘fits of insanity’ including one where he threatened to dash his child’s brains out (just days before), he made the assassination attempt on Mad King George.”

On the evening of 15 May 1800, at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, during the playing of the national anthem, Hadfield fired a pistol at the King standing in the royal box but missed, although, grabbed at once, he immediately claimed he had fired over the king’s head. Hadfield also warned his interrogators that “it was not over yet – there was a great deal more and worse to come.”

But maybe, just maybe, our Jimmy wasn’t as mad as he made out… Hadfield had become immersed in the murky world of millenarian sects in London’s underworld. Fiercely attractive to the poor, due to its widely touted credo that worldly hierarchies and suffering would come to and end with the imminent return and reign of king Jesus as a real and physical ruler over the earth, millenarian belief was enjoying a popular revival, especially with the career of apocalyptic prophets like Richard Brothers and Joanna Southcott flourishing. And just like during the English Revolution of the 1640s and ‘50s, millenarian ideas merged, mingled and cross-referenced with radical politics. In the same London pubs, radicals and millenarians sat elbow to elbow; millenarian prophets generally proclaimed themselves to be Christ, of king of the Jews, and from there it was but a short step to “demanding king George’s crown” (as Richard Brothers did). The intense fear generated by pro-French revolutionary radicals in the 1790s extended to those making millenarian claims (who were often arrested and interrogated). Hadfield had fallen into the company of Bannister Truelock, who had encouraged him in the plan to shoot the king. Truelock was a shoemaker, a religious activist, who prophesied the second coming of Jesus Christ. He also claimed the Messiah would be ‘born from his mouth’. He and Hadfield hung out in pubs frequented by radicals plotting an English Revolution in 1798-9. And mad, religious or not, Truelock certainly understood the coming of the millennium in a directly radical and practical way. His landlady gave evidence that he was always complaining about the price of provisions – “a seditious bad character”, who told her that “the king would be assassinated and we should have no more Kings to reign at all.” Don’t sound so mad to me. Truelock is said to have persuaded Hadfield that by shooting mad king George, he would bring peace to the world.

Hadfield was tried for high treason and was defended by Thomas Erskine, the leading barrister of that era. Hadfield pleaded not guilty on the grounds of insanity. The authorities made great efforts to prove that Hadfield was sane, and to find evidence to also try Truelock – unsuccessfully. Both may have been cleverer than they made out, since their religious mania was said to have been only evident after their arrests. Ie they saved their lives by emphasising their lunacy… Whatever the truth of it, the authorities clearly associated Hadfield and Truelock’s religious mania with the insurgent proletarian underground they feared.

To be found not guilty on insanity grounds at that time, the defendant had to be shown to be “lost to all sense … incapable of forming a judgement upon the consequences of the act which he is about to do”. That Hadfield had planned the shooting clearly contradicted such a plea. Under the 1795 Treason Act, little distinction was made between plotting treason and actually committing treason. Erskine chose instead to challenge the insanity test. Two surgeons and a physician were called to give evidence that the delusions were the consequence of his earlier head injuries. At this point, the judge, Lloyd Kenyon, stopped the trial, declaring the verdict “clearly an acquittal” but “the prisoner, for his own sake, and for the sake of society at large, must not be discharged”. Before then defendants acquitted by reason of insanity had faced no certain fate and had often been released back to the safe-keeping of their families.

To make sure Hadfield was not released, and that his example didn’t inspire others, Parliament speedily passed the Criminal Lunatics Act 1800 to provide for the indefinite detention of insane defendants (and the Treason Act 1800 to make it easier to prosecute people for attempts on the life of the king). Hadfield later inspired further use of pleading insanity several years later during the case of Colonel Edward Despard.

Hadfield was locked up in Bethlem Royal Hospital for the rest of his life, save for a short period when he escaped. He was recaptured at Dover attempting to flee to France and was briefly held at Newgate Prison before being transferred to the new insane asylum Bethlehem Hospital (or Bedlam, as it was known). He died there of tuberculosis in 1841. Truelock was also held in Bedlam; he was still there in 1816, “perfectly quiet and always occupied at his trade…” he “had an insight into his own condition an acknowledged that his religious views were preventing his discharge, although he considered them perfectly orthodox”. Another observer thought him “cool, steady, and deliberate in all his actions…” Mad Truelock and Hadfield may have been, but then madness is a reasoned response in the face of class oppression, war and exploitation.


An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online

Today in London’s radical history: Mental Patients Union founded to oppose psychiatric oppression, 1973.

The Mental Patients Union (MPU), in the early 1970s, could probably be seen as the first service user involvement movement. Founder member Andrew Roberts described the Union’s genesis:

“The idea of a Mental Patients Union was first developed by a small group of mental patients and supporters back in December 1972. A pamphlet was produced — which came to be known as the Fish Pamphlet (it had a picture of a fish struggling on a hook on the cover) — that was strongly Marxist in its analysis. Its argument was that psychiatry was a form of social control of the working classes in a capitalist state, and that the psychiatrist was the “high priest” of technological society, exorcising the “devils” of social distress through electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), lobotomy and medication. The thinking was that, in the same way that workers formed trade unions, mental patients also needed a union to fight for their rights against political oppression and social control.

There were six of us involved in setting up the union: Liz Durkin, Brian Douieb, Lesley Mitchell, Eric Irwin, me and my partner Valerie Argent, but only Eric, Valerie and I were mental patients. Valerie and I were mainly focused on forming the union. We didn’t participate in the political analysis, or sign the Fish Pamphlet.

The group planned to hold its first public meeting at Paddington day hospital, where Liz had been a social worker. She had been making contact with the press to promote the cause for a Mental Patients Union. The idea of the union caught the fancy of Radio 4’s Today programme and they asked her to come and talk about it on the programme on the morning of the meeting. Liz realised they were asking her because she was a social worker, but at a “council of war” meeting we decided we wouldn’t take part unless they agreed to interview a patient — and that we wouldn’t give them any information about the patient, whether they were from Broadmoor or whatever. We had this idea that we’d line up in the studio and say: “Spot the loony.” They took three or four hours to ring us and agree to interview a patient. They needed time to think about that.

In the end, I was the only one of the three of us with mental health problems willing to do it. At the studio, it was all very civilised. The interviewer’s main question was: “How could patients possibly form a union – if they were sick, how could they take part in something like that?” In those days it was radical to suggest that people with mental health problems could do things together as an association.

The response after the broadcast was overwhelming. I gave out my home number on air and from the moment the interview went out, the telephone was ringing.

We had only booked a small room at the hospital for the meeting later that evening. More than 100 people turned up and there wasn’t room for us all. It was chaos and they found us a bigger room. Some people picked up the Fish Pamphlet and were asking if, to join the union, they had to share its analysis. We told them no, those were just the views of one small group.

We told them the union was about the dignity of mental patients, about being able to speak for ourselves and not having to talk about “them”, because, in those days, if you were in any group and the subject of mental patients came up, everybody assumed you couldn’t be one — you talked about “them”, not “us”.

Andrew Roberts is a member of the management committee of the Survivor History Group


Mental Patients Union Demands taken from the Declaration of Intent of April 1973

We Demand

  1. The abolition of compulsory treatment i.e. we demand the effective right of patients to refuse any specific treatment.
  1. The abolition of the right of any authorities to treat patients in the face of opposition of relatives or closest friends unless it is clearly shown that the patient of his own volition desires the treatment.
  1. The abolition of irreversible psychiatric treatments (ECT, brain surgery, specific drugs)
  1. Higher standards in the testing of treatments before use on us.
  1. That patients be told what treatments they are receiving are experimental and should have the effective right to refuse to be experimented on.
  1. That patients be told what treatments they are receiving and what the long-term effects are.
  1. Also the abolition of isolation treatment (seclusion in locked side rooms, padded cells, etc.)
  1. The right of any patient to inspect his case notes and the right to take legal action relating to the contents and consequences of them.
  1. That the authorities should not discharge any patient against his will because they refuse treatment or any other reason.
  1. That all patients should have the right to have any treatment which we believe will help them.
  1. That local authorities should provide housing for patients wishng to leave hospital and that adequate security benefits should be provided. We will support any mental patients or ex-patients in their struggle to get these facilities and any person who is at risk of becoming a mental patient because of inadequate accommodation, financial support, social pressures,etc.
  1. We call for the abolition of compulsory hospitalisation.
  1. An end to the indiscriminate use of the term ‘mental subnormality’. We intend to fight the condemnation of people as ‘mentally subnormal’ in the absence of any real practical work to tackle the problem with active social understanding and help.
  1. The abolition of the concept of ‘psychopath’ as a legal or medical category.
  1. The right of patients to retain their personal clothing in hospitals and to secure their personal possessions without interference by hospital staff.
  1. The abolition of compulsory work in hospitals and outside and the abolition of the right of the hospital to withhold and control patients’ money.
  1. The right of patients to join and participate fully in the trade union of their choice.
  1. That trade union rates are paid to patients for any work done where such rates do not exist.
  1. That patients should have recourse to a room where they can enjoy their own privacy or have privacy with others, of either sex, of their own choosing.
  1. The abolition of censorship by hospital authorities of patients’ communications with society outside the hospital and in particular the abolition of telephone and letter censorship.
  1. We demand the abolition of any power to restrict patients’ visiting rights by the hospital authorities.

22, The right of Mental Patients Union representatives to inspect all areas of hospitals or equivalent institutions.

  1. We deny that there is any such thing as ‘incurable’ mental illness and demand the right to investigate the circumstances of any mental hospital patient who believes he or she is being treated as incurable
  1. We demand that every mental patient or ex-patient should have the right to a free second opinion by a psychiatrist of the patient’s or Mental Patients Union representatives’ choice, if he or she disagrees with the diagnosis and that every patient or ex-patient should have the right to an effective appeal machinery.


Another early MPU member, Joan Hughes, picks up the history of the group:

“In England, around about 1972, a few groups of psychiatric patients and sympathetic mental health staff began to make political comments on their situation in society. Effectively, many mental patients were without civil rights – For example, even the right to vote used to be removed for a mental patient without any address outside an institution


The first group I heard about was a group of patients attending the Paddington Day Hospital in West London. This was reputed to use enlightened methods of treatment including psychotherapy. National Health Service authorities wanted to close it.

There were meetings and discussions among patients and the protest against closure was successful. The Paddington Day Hospital stayed open.


One of the patients at Paddington Day Hospital was Eric Irwin. He and three professionals, Liz Durkin, Lesley Mitchell and Brian Douieb, thought there was a need for an organisation of patients. They met together write a booklet called “The Case for a Mental Patients Union”. Later they were joined by two other patients, Andrew and Valerie Roberts.

This group is called the pilot committee for a mental patients union. The booklet is often called “The Fish Pamphlet” because it has a picture of a fish on a hook on the cover. This is to illustrate that the behaviour of someone who is suffering from mental illness may appear mad, but may really be a way of getting over his or her problems.


A big meeting to discuss forming a Mental Patients Union was held in the evening of Wednesday 21st March 1973. About 100 people attended this meeting at Paddington Day Hospital. The majority were patients or ex- patients. Most lived in London.

It turned out that this was not the first Mental Patients Union. People came who had previously formed the Scottish Union of Mental Patients. People were present who had tried to form a Union in Oxford and a message was received from another group in Leeds.

The national Mental Patients Union was formed with full membership reserved for patients and ex-patients.


There was a lot of discussion about the content of the Fish Pamphlet. Many patients objected to its use of marxist ideas. It was decided that the Fish Pamphlet could be circulated by The Mental Patients Union, but would not be a MPU publication. The policy of the union would be written independently and voted on at meetings where only patients and ex-patients had a vote. This was called Declaration of Intent of the Mental Patients Union. It begins

“We proclaim the dignity of society’s so-called mental patients. We challenge repressive psychiatric practice and its ill-defined concepts of ‘mental illness'”


The declaration contained demands.

Some demands were moderate. For example, the right to receive private letters unopened by staff.

Some were long term aims. For example, the eventual abolition of mental hospitals.

Some were impractical. For example, the right to be represented by a member of the Mental Patients Union at mental health tribunals. This was impractical because not enough MPU members were available to be representatives.

The most controversial demands seemed to be the right to refuse certain forms of treatment, such as Electro Convulsive Shock Treatment (ECT) and drugs.


As I have said, when the MPU was formed nationally, it was found out that patients unions had been formed already in different parts of the country.

SUMP, the Scottish Union of Mental Patients, was formed in 1972 by Tommie Ritchie and Robin Farqhuarson. This was the first union of psychiatric patients in the United Kingdom that we have the written records of. Tommy and Robin both helped to form the national MPU in 1973.


We know that a lot of history is forgotten or goes unrecorded. One of the aims of a history group should be to trace the activities of patients in different parts of the country before and after the public start of the mental patients movement in 1973.


Following 1973, mental patients unions were established in many parts of the country. Hackney MPU acted as a coordinating centre for some years.

Some, like the West London MPU, were very small, others had a substantial membership. Some operated in mental hospitals, other were outside the hospital. Two (Hackney and Manchester) ran houses for members.

Sometimes there was a union in a hospital linked to a union outside. This was the case in Hackney where Hackney Hospital patients established their own union with the support of the Mayola Road MPU. Hackney Hospital MPU may have been the first hospital union to win recognition from the hospital authorities.

A Federation of Mental Patients Unions was formed, at the Manchester Conference, in 1974.

Mental Patients Unions did not all have the same Declaration of Intent. Groups were free to select their own demands from the original declaration, and add others that they wanted.

It needs to be remembered that the main surviving record of the Mental Patients Union are those kept by Hackney for the movement generally.

This means that a lot of local history is still to be recovered – Including the history of MPU groups outside Hackney that carried on after Hackney MPU closed. One group. Dundee MPU is believed to have carried on into the 1990s. Although it changed its name.


In Hackney there were two autonomous MPU’s who worked together. Although I was, at one time, a patient in Hackney Hospital, the group I belonged to was the Mayola Road Mental Patients Union. I lived in Robin Farquharson House and was, at one time, the union treasurer and, at other times, its secretary.

As far as I know, no Mental Patients Union ever received any public funds. Hackney MPU was supported by donations from patients and ex-patients, and some associate members and from the rents that those of us living in the houses paid.

Associate members were people like sympathetic social workers and health service workers. There were very few of these and, whilst I was involved, all the active members were patients or ex-patients. Any patient or ex- patient could attend and vote at our meetings. Before anyone else attended, the full members present had to agree that they could.

Without funding and relying completely on our own resources, we provided services. We ran the Robin Farquharson House in Mayola Road for three years. This was divided into individual rooms that were entirely under resident’s control, but it also had an office which served as a crash pad in emergencies. We often had people staying who were going through a crisis and who were supported by other residents. We also helped and advised people by telephone and letter, and there were any visitors from all over the country as well as from abroad.

We set up two other houses in Woodford to accommodate people and, after a while, these became self managing.


COPE (Community Organisation for Psychiatric Emergencies) was running in West London at the same time as MPU. Some of its members were patients. others were not. It ran a crisis centre with and published a magazine, and also tried to provide short-term housing. COPE provided a base for Eric Irwin’s “West London MPU”. Many people met him there. One of those people was Julian Barnett, the founder of PROMPT (Protection of the Rights of Mental Patients in Therapy)


I joined the Mental Patients Union shortly after it started. I took part in many activities but, because of my experience, I was particularly interested in the side effects of psychiatric drugs. In October 1975 I was one of the three people who brought out A Directory of the Side Effects of Psychiatric Drugs.

As an analytical chemist, I was able to help a lot on the scientific side and in reading and understanding reports.

My name at this time was Joan Martin. The other two people were Andrew Roberts and Chris Hill, who typed the directory.


Let me tell you something, first about my experience of psychiatric drugs and why it is so important that people who take them are well informed about their effects.

One day in 1969 I visited my G.P. and told her about my depression. She said that she could give me an injection for this and I would soon feel better. She said that the title of the drug was “Modecate”, which I knew nothing about.

I had this injection, walked home and into a cinema to see a film. Midway through the film I felt not sleepy but incredibly depressed. The world was slipping away from me. Everything which was happening around me appeared to be taking place in another world, with which I had no connection.

For the next two years I did not initiate any activities for myself. It was a shadowy world in which I lived and I am not able to describe it. In fact I could observe what people were doing, but not act for myself, except in a desperate way, which soon ended with my entering Rubery Hill Mental Hospital.

I am not against Doctors. It was a doctor who took me off the drugs and restored my health. I entered Goodmayes Hospital on November 1st 1971, having taken an overdose. My drugs were stopped and the first day on which I began to feel better was November 29th, 1971.

Some years later I told a doctor in Hackney Hospital

“I know that drugs do me no good. And the MPU is not against doctors. In Goodmayes Hospital there was someone called Dr Abrahamson. He must have been a good doctor for he stopped giving me drugs, and after two years chronic illness, I suddenly got better.”


When MPU was formed, many doctors denied that psychiatric drugs had serious side effects. There are also drugs now considered dangerously addictive that doctors then said were entirely free of problems.

We had been issuing a one-sheet listing the main psychiatric drugs with their side-effects, almost since MPU was first formed. Some people thought this was based on patients reports. But it was based on the official reports of the drugs. We were careful not to be sensational and explained that the side effects only sometimes occurred. The list was so that people would not blame their illness if they suffered the side effect.

We thought this was very reasonable – But many people were very angry about it. Mind re-published it in the first Consumers issue of their magazine, but forgot to include the warning that it was only a list of effects that might happen. This caused a great debate in its correspondence columns.

The side effects directory was eight pages. We researched it carefully, and divided it into different types of drugs, so that people were not confessed by changing names. By this time Mind were frightened to mention side effects, but the Directory was well reviewed by some medical papers. Many drug companies bought copies. We charged them extra.

Orders for the drugs directory soon outpaced the supply and I kept on reprinting it for several years, and even revised it. It is now, of course, hopelessly out of date.


Hackney MPU closed in 1976. Members who lived in the house moved into two new house. One of these was run by Matthew O’Hara until his death in June 1980. The Matthew O’Hara Committee: for Civil Liberties and Community Care was formed in his memory.

I [Joan Hughes] lived, with other members, in the other house (which still exists). We kept the same telephone line and continued to answer calls to the union and correspond with people who wrote. Visitors from the movement in the United Kingdom, Europe and America frequently stayed with us. One of those who stayed was Judi Chamberlin from America, a patient activist from the United States. When she was invited to the World Congress of Mental Health in Brighton in June 1985, she was shocked to find no United Kingdom activists were invited – But worked with those who came uninvited.


PROMPT (Protection of the Rights of Mental Patients in Therapy) was formed in 1976. It was not a patients group, although several patients and ex- patients joined. Eric Irwin from West London MPU was one of its most active members. The group used the MPU logo and reprinted many MPU publications, with additions of its own.

PROMPT did not try to provide housing or set up groups in hospitals. What id did do was to provide a telephone advice service for patients and ex=patients in difficulties, unsatisfied with their treatment or living conditions. It also gave considerable attention to campaigning on specific issues such as the abolition of Electro-Convulsive Therapy.”

For more information about the Mental Patients Union see:

The Mental Patients Union evolved during the 1970s into PROMPT (People for the Rights of Mental Patients in Treatment), which eventually turned into CAPO (Campaign Against Psychiatric Oppression) in the early 1980s. CAPO went on to issue a seminal manifesto which is still regarded by many as inspirational.


An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online

In London’s radical history: Marx on The Increase of Lunacy in Great Britain, 1858

OK, not sure how we got this down as happening on March 20th; twas August. Our proofreaders have been sent to a re-education camp. However, in keeping with our theme of March as the month of madness, we re-produce Marx’ article, published in the New York Daily Tribune in 1858, in response to a flurry of stories  in the British press about how outrageous it was how many rich people were ending up in asylums.

The Increase of Lunacy in Great Britain

Source: New-York Daily Tribune, August 20, 1858.
Transcribed: by Tony Brown for the Marx-Engels archive

There is, perhaps, no better established fact in British society than that of the corresponding growth of modern wealth and pauperism. Curiously enough, the same law seems to hold good with respect to lunacy. The increase of lunacy in Great Britain has kept pace with the increase of exports, and has outstripped the increase of population. Its rapid progress in England and Wales during the period extending from 1852 to 1857, a period of unprecedented commercial prosperity, will become evident from the following tabular comparison of the annual returns of paupers, lunatics and idiots for the years 1852, 1854 and 1857 :

Date. Population. Patients in County or Borough Asylums. In licensed houses. In Work houses. With friends or elsewhere. Total of Lunatics and Idiots. Proportion to population.
Jan. 1, 1852 17,927,609 9,412 2,584 5,055 4,107 21,158 1 in 847
Jan. 1, 1854 18,649,849 11,956 1,878 5,713 4,940 24,487 1 in 762
Jan. 1, 1857 19,408,464 13,488 1,908 6,800 5,497 27,693 1 in 701

The proportion of acute and curable cases to those of a chronic and apparently incurable kind was, on the last day of 1856, estimated to be somewhat less than 1 in 5, according to the following summary of official returns:

Patients of all classes in Asylums. Deemed curable.
In County and Borough Asylums 14,393 2,070
In Hospitals 1,742 340
In Metropolitan licensed Houses 2,578 390
In Provincial licensed Houses 2,598 527
Total 21,311 3,327
Deemed curable 3,327
Deemed incurable 17,984

There exist in England and Wales, for the accommodation of lunatics and idiots of all sorts and of all classes, 37 public asylums, of which 33 are county and 4 borough asylums; 15 hospitals; 116 private licensed houses, of which 37 are metropolitan and 79 provincial; and lastly, the workhouses. The public asylums, or lunatic asylums properly so called, were, by law, exclusively destined for the reception of the lunatic poor, to be used as hospitals for the medical treatment, not as safe places for the mere custody of the insane. On the whole, in the counties at least, they may be considered well regulated establishments, although of too extensive a construction to be properly superintended, overcrowded, lacking the careful separation of the different classes of patients, and yet inadequate to the accommodation of somewhat more than one-half of the lunatic poor. After all, the space afforded by these 37 establishments, spreading over the whole country, suffices for the housing of over 15,690 inmates. The pressure upon these costly asylums on the part of the lunatic population may be illustrated by one case. When, in 1831, Hanwell (in Middlesex) was built for 500 patients, it was supposed to be large enough to meet all the wants of the county. But, two years later, it was full; after another two years, it had to be enlarged for 300 more; and at this time (Colney Hatch having been meanwhile constructed for the reception of 1,200 lunatic paupers belonging to the same county) Hanwell contains upward of 1,000 patients. Colney Hatch was opened in 1851; within a period of less than five years, it became necessary to appeal to the rate-payers for further accommodation; and the latest returns show that at the close of 1856 there were more than 1,100 pauper lunatics belonging to the county unprovided for in either of its asylums. While the existing asylums are too large to be properly conducted, their number is too small to meet rapid spread of mental disorders. Above all, the asylums ought to be separated into two distinct categories: asylums for the incurable, hospitals for the curable. By huddling both classes together, neither receives its proper treatment and cure.

The private licensed houses are, on the whole, reserved for the more affluent portion of the insane. Against these “snug retreats,” as they like to call themselves, public indignation has been lately raised by the kidnapping of Lady Bulwer into Wyke House, and the atrocious outrages committed on Mrs. Turner in Acomb House, York. A Parliamentary inquiry into the secrets of the trade in British lunacy being imminent, we may refer to that part of the subject hereafter. For the present let us call attention only to the treatment of the 2,000 lunatic poor, whom, by way of contract, the Boards of Guardians and other local authorities let out to managers of private licensed houses. The weekly consideration per head for maintenance, treatment and clothing, allotted to these private contractors, varies from five to twelve shillings, but the average allowance may be estimated from 5s. to 8s. 4d. The whole study of the contractors consists, of course, in the one single point of making large profits out of these small receipts, and consequently of keeping the patient at the lowest possible expense. In their latest report the Commissioners of Lunacy state that even where the means of accommodation in these licensed houses are large and ample, the actual accommodation afforded is a mere sham, and the treatment of the inmates a disgrace.

It is true that a power is vested in the Lord Chancellor of revoking a license or preventing its renewal, on the advice of the Commissioners in Lunacy; but, in many instances, where there exists no public asylum in the neighborhood, or where the existing asylum is already overcrowded, no alternative was left the Commissioners but to prevent the license to continue, or to throw large masses of the insane poor into their several workhouses. Yet, the same Commissioners add that great as are the evils of the licensed houses, they are not so great as the danger and evil combined of leaving those paupers almost uncared for in workhouses. In the latter about 7,000 lunatics are at present confined. At first the lunatic wards in workhouses were restricted to the reception of such pauper lunatics as required little more than ordinary accommodation, and were capable of associating with the other inmates. What with the difficulty of obtaining admission for their insane poor into properly regulated asylums, what with motives of parsimony, the parochial boards are more and more transforming the workhouses into lunatic asylums, but into asylums wanting in the attendance, the treatment and the supervision which form the principal safeguard of patients detained in asylums regularly constituted. Many of the larger workhouses have lunatic wards containing from 40 to 120 inmates. The wards are gloomy and unprovided with any means for occupation, exercise or amusement. The attendants for the most part are pauper inmates totally unfitted for the charge imposed upon them. The diet, essential above everything else to the unhappy objects of mental disease, rarely exceeds in any case that allowed for the healthy and able-bodied inmates. Hence, it is a natural result that detention in workhouses not only deteriorates the cases of harmless imbecility for which it was originally intended, but has the tendency to render chronic and permanent cases that might have yielded to early care. The decisive principle for the Boards of Guardians is economy.

According to law, the insane pauper should come at first under the care of the district parish surgeon, who is bound to give notice to the relieving officers, by whom communication is to be made to the magistrate, upon whose order they are to be conveyed to the asylum. In fact, these provisions are disregarded altogether. The pauper lunatics are in the first instance hurried into the workhouses, there to be permanently detained, if found to be manageable. The recommendation of the Commissioners in Lunacy, during their visits to the workhouses, of removing to the asylums all inmates considered to be curable, or to be exposed to treatment unsuited to their state, is generally outweighed by the report of the medical officer of the Union, to the effect that the patient is “harmless.” What the workhouse accommodation is, may be understood from the following illustrations — described in the last Lunacy Report as “faithfully exhibiting the general characteristics of workhouse accommodation.”

In the Infirmary Asylum of Norwich the beds of even the sick and feeble patients were of straw. The floors of thirteen small rooms were of stone. There were no water-closets. The nightwatch on the male side had been discontinued. There was a great deficiency of blankets, of toweling, of flannels, of waistcoats, of washing basins, of chairs, of plates, of spoons and of dining accommodation. The ventilation was bad. We quote:

“Neither was there any faith to be put in what, to outward appearance, might have been taken for improvement. It was discovered, for example, that in reference to a considerable number of beds occupied by dirty patients, the practice exists of removing them in the morning and of substituting, merely for show during the day, clean beds of a better appearance, by means of sheets and blankets placed on the bedsteads, which were regularly taken away at night and the inferior beds replaced.”

Take, as another example, the Blackburn Workhouse:

“The day rooms on the ground floor, occupied by the men, are small, low, gloomy and dirty, and the space containing 11 patients is much taken up by several heavy chairs, in which the patients are confined by means of straps, and a large, projecting fire-guard. Those of the women, on the upper floor, are also much crowded, and one, which is used also as a bedroom has a large portion boarded off as a privy; and the beds are placed close together, without any space between them. A bedroom containing 16 male patients was close and offensive. The room is 29 feet long, 17 feet 10 inches wide, and 7 feet 5 inches high, thus allowing 2,39 cubic feet for each patient. The beds throughout are of straw, and no other description is provided for sick or bed-ridden patients. The cases were generally much soiled and marked by the rusty iron laths of the bedsteads. The care of the beds seems to be chiefly left to the patients. A large number of the patients are dirty in their habits, which is mainly to be attributed to the want of proper care and attention. Very few chamber utensils are provided, and a tub is stated to be placed in the center of the large dormitory for the use of the male patients. The graveled yards in which the patients walk are two for each sex, surrounded by high walls, and without seats. The largest of these is 74 feet long, by 30 feet 7 inches wide, and the smallest 32 feet by 17 feet 6 inches. A cell in one of the yards is occasionally used for secluding excited patients. It is entirely built of stone, and has a small, square opening for the admission of light, with iron bars let in to prevent the escape of the patient, but without either shutter or casement. A large straw bed was on the floor, and a heavy chair in one corner of the room. Complete control of the department is in the hands of an attendant and the nurse: the master seldom interferes with them, nor does he inspect this as closely as he does the other parts of the workhouse.”

It would be too loathsome even to give extracts from the Commissioners’ report on the St. Pancras Workhouse at London, a sort of low Pandemonium. Generally speaking, there are few English stables which, at the side of the lunatic wards in the workhouses, would not appear boudoirs, and where the treatment received by the quadrupeds may not be called sentimental when compared to that of the poor insane.


An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online

Today in London’s radical history: Reclaim Bedlam oppose Compulsory Treatment Orders, 1999

In the 1990s, a wave of panic against the mentally ill was sparked by a very small number of highly publicised, tragic incidents, where members of the public were attacked by people with mental health problems, not necessarily already diagnosed, who had fallen between gaps in services and who were “defaulting on medication.” Chief among these was the 1995 murder of Jonathan Zito by the itinerant “schizophrenic” Christopher Clunis at Finsbury Park tube station, an incident which catalysed a wave of newspaper headlines and campaigns by maverick ‘mental health’ charities like SANE and the then newly formed Zito Trust, to restrict users’ civil liberties and reinforce public distrust of the mentally frail.

Prior to this, the Royal College of Psychiatrists had been pushing for many years increased powers for doctors to compel treatment.

In 1998, then Health Secretary Frank Dobson unveiled in parliament a Mental Health Bill aimed at satisfying these campaigners by replacing the 1983 Mental Health Act with new legislation, broadening the definition of mental disorder and removing several exclusions such as alcoholism and eccentricity. A major plank was to introduce Community Treatment Orders (CTOs), which would allow psychiatrists to compel users in their own homes to submit to treatment whether they like it or not, at threat of readmission to hospital, regardless of their current state of health; and replacing the previous “treatability clause” with “appropriate treatment,” in effect allowing doctors to incarcerate indefinitely those with the unscientific diagnosis of “personality disorders” – IN CASE they became dangerous in the future. Announcing the Bill, Dobson described patients as “nuisance neighbours” and dismissed as “weasel words” Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes’ concerns that the proposals constituted a draconian attack on patients’ civil liberties.

SANE were thrilled. Chief Executive Marjorie Wallace’s subsequent Daily Mail column was headlined, simply, “Victory.” Photocopies of this article were plastered all over the walls of the charity’s Whitechapel offices. Others were less pleased.

Every credible mental health charity in Britain came out strongly against the Bill, as did bodies representing social workers, and hospital and community psychiatric nurses. MIND, Rethink, and dozens of other charities and professionals’ groups formed the Mental Health Alliance, aimed at challenging the threats through negotiation and media work, on the following grounds. The Bill’s exclusive focus on public safety and violence would exacerbate public fear and hostility towards patients. CTOs, nicknamed “psychiatric ASBOs,” would risk scaring people away from services, making them still more likely to default on medication. Numbers of people likely to receive forced medication would increase, and real service delivery problems, and discrimination and inequalities within the system, would not be addressed. The dignity, respect and rights of service users would be further undermined.

The most angry responses came from patients themselves. Since the 1970s, groups such as Survivors Speak Out and the Campaign Against Psychiatric Oppression had sought to challenge the many systematic abuses inherent in traditional psychiatric treatment, and promote alternatives. However, too much energy was frittered away in divisive debates on whether “mental illness” really existed, and appropriate or otherwise use of medical terminology. Ironically, the Bill had the effect of galvanising and uniting what had become known as “the user movement” against a common enemy.

In March 1999, pressure group Reclaim Bedlam organised a march on patients’ old enemies SANE protesting against this charity’s support for CTOs. Dressed playfully in white coats, “we managed to get 200 people turning up to the SANE march – which at the time was an unprecedented figure for a ‘mad’ demo. We had whistles, drums, a 7-foot long syringe together with a kitchen table, corn-flakes and milk, tridents (because we’re the devil), banners, flyer you name it – we pulled out the stops. SANE didn’t know what the fuck had hit them. They dropped their support for CTO’s and to this day, they’re still reeling from this event.” (Pete Shaughnessy, Reclaim Bedlam)

Chief Executive Marjorie Wallace came out and confronted the gang of screaming lunatics, disingenuously claiming that she’d “always opposed CTOs.” This failed to prevent the negative headlines and TV coverage severely damaging her credibility.

This direct action marked a sea change in the nature of opposition to the Bill. SANE, at least in public, were forced to reverse their position. The Royal College of Psychiatrists followed, suddenly mindful that increased powers of coercion would also engender increased responsibilities, with doctors further scapegoated in the event of the occasional and entirely unpredictable tragedy. The entire mental health profession was now united against the government’s proposals.

The Department of Health, reluctant to back down, spent the next few years conducting a series of consultations and working groups with charities, patients and statutory professionals. In a game of cat and mouse, the experts failed to alter the DoH’s intentions, but at least managed to repeatedly delay their implementation.



“Reclaim Bedlam”, had its origins in 1997 in the 750th anniversary of ‘Bedlam’ – the Bethlehem hospital. Pete Shaughnessy, who had been a patient at South London’s Maudsley mental hospital, saw nothing to celebrate in either the original Bedlam (‘a symbol for man’s inhumanity to man, for callousness and cruelty,’ in historian Roy Porter’s words), or the current state of mental health care.

Reclaim Bedlam organised ‘Raving in the park”, a picnic/rave/a sit-in outside the original Bedlam site at the Imperial War Museum to protest.

“Maudsley & Bethlem Mental Health Trust saw itself as la crème de la crème of mental health. In 1997, it was more like the Manchester City of mental health. Situated in one of the poorest areas of the country, it put a lot of resources into its national projects, and neglected its local ones. Its history went back to the first Bedlam, the first institution of mental health. If you pop down to the museum at Bethlem Hospital, you will see a picture proudly displayed of the 700th celebrations in 1947, with the Queen Mother planting a tree. Well, not exactly planting, more like putting her foot on a spade.

So, when some PR bureaucrat came up with the idea of 750th celebrations, it must have all made sense. An excuse for a year of corporate beanos. The Chief Executive could picture the MBE in the cabinet. There was only one problem: in 1947, the patients would have been well pleased with a party, in 1997 some patients wanted more. In the so-called ‘user friendly’ 90s, I thought ‘commemoration’ was more appropriate. So, a few of us went to battle with the Maudsley PR machine. It was commemoration vs. celebration.

I think for the first time, we were taking the user movement out of the ghetto of smoky hospital rooms and into the mainstream. We spoke at Reclaim the Streets and political events. We would gatecrash conferences to push the message…

Our next event was to screw up the Thanksgiving Service at St Paul’s Cathedral which a member of the Royal Family was attending… it’s widely thought that because of our antics on the steps of St Paul’s – as well as stopping the traffic at 11am with a boat forcing Tower Bridge to open – that the Chief Exec didn’t get his MBE.

Our next event was to join up with ECT Anonymous and the All-Wales User and Survivor Group and picket the Royal College of Psychiatry. It was the first time Reclaim Bedlam had been involved in International Direct Action. Keeping up the pressure on the Royal College of Psychiatry we hijacked their anti-stigma campaign, ‘In Every Family in the Land’. The soundbite I used was: ‘the psychiatrist is patting you on the head with one hand, and with the other hand he /she is using compulsory treatment to inject you up the bum.” (Pete Shaughnessy)

Hundreds of mental patients around the country supported Reclaim Bedlam, and the BBC2 series From The Edge made a programme about it. At a time of many community-care horror stories, a very different message was finally getting out.

Pete Shaughnessy went on to be one of the founders of Mad Pride. He took his own life in December 2002.


An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online

Today in London’s radical history: it’s not madness to think the Tories are persecuting you…

Daniel McNaughton (alternatively spelt McNaughtan or M’Naghten) was the son of a Glasgow wood turner, who tried to assassinate Prime minister Robert Peel, but instead killed Peel’s private secretary Edward Drummond. He was acquitted on grounds of insanity, thus leading to the McNaughtan Rules of Madness, which have dominated insanity defenses in the English-speaking world ever since

Traditionally MacNaughtan has been said to have been mad, harbouring a delusion that there was a conspiracy against him,, orchestrated by the Tories, Catholic priests and the help of Jesuits.

However more recent analysis has led some to conclude he was in fact a dedicated political revolutionary who “aimed not merely to murder Sir Robert Peel but to destroy the very foundation of aristocratic government in England” in favour of a more democratic system.

On 20th January 1843, MacNaughtan shot Drummond, coming out of the Prime Minister’s residence, mistaking him for Peel. McNaughtan was arrested by a constable who had witnessed the incident and was taken to BowStreet police station.

Drummond died five days later.

Under interrogation in Bowstreet police station, McNaughtan is aid to have claimed that “the Tories in my native city have compelled me to do this. They followed me to France, into Scotland and all over to England. In fact, they follow me wherever I go… They have accused me of crimes of which I am not guilty; they do everything in their power to harass and persecute me. In fact they wish to murder me.”

At his trial it was argued by the defence lawyer that McNaughtan was insane, and thus not responsible for his ctions, and therefore not guilty. Various experts on insanity discussed ‘homicidal monomania’ and ‘partial delusion’; when prosecution experts agreed with the defence, the case collapsed. McNaughtan was acquitted of murder; and considering insanity, he was forcibly institutionalized for the rest of his life under Criminal Lunatics Act 1800. He was first remanded to Bethlem Royal Hospital for 20 years; and in 1864 he was transferred to Broadmoor Asylum, and he died on 3rd May 1865 at the age of 52.

The establishment and the press protested the verdict. Queen Victoria was displeased to a greater extent and wrote to Sir Robert Peel for a wider interpretation of the verdict.

On 6th March 1843, there was a discussion in the House of Lords, and Lord Chancellor put five questions to a panel of His Majesty’s judges. The five questions were replied on 19th June 1843, and they were construed as McNaughtan’s rules, which have acted as guidelines in criminal cases ever since: “Nothing is an offence which is done by a person who, at the time of doing it, by reason of unsoundness of mind, is incapable of knowing the nature of the act or that he is doing what is either wrong or contrary to the law.”

However, some have questioned whether McNaughtan’s background and political beliefs indicate that he was rational, and that while the defence may have saved his life, he has been wrongly cast as a nutter ever since…

McNaughtan had known and worked with well-known Glasgow political activist and lecturer, Chartist Abram Duncan. McNaughtan became known as a political radical, eager to debate the points of the charter with anyone in his shop. It became generally known that he hated the Tories, whom his father supported.

By 1837 the Tories had political control of Glasgow. In 1838 McNaughtan’s shop rent was raised from nine to twelve pounds and he became eligible to vote. In the local election of 1839 he voted against the Tories.

McNaughtan’s suspicions about ‘persecution’ may have also reflected the very real activities of the tories, church, police and allied authorities in general to counter the rise of the Chartists. Networks of paid informers and private spies, including soldiers, old-aged pensioners, superintendents and inspectors of factories and mills reported on political meetings; police infiltrated the movement and speakers at Chartist meetings were prosecuted. The Chartist movement was strong in Glasgow and the government concentrated much of its intelligence gathering efforts there. The Church was also heavily involved in denouncing those uppity plebs involved in agitating for reform.

With the backing of the aristocracy, Peel became prime minister for the second time in 1841; with the country was in financial crisis. Peel blatantly acted in the interests of the aristocracy, while ignoring the suffering of the poor, and stepped up the harassment of the Chartists and other agitators by initiating criminal prosecution of their leaders.

McNaughtan’s act has to be seen in the context of the times: not only had radical Chartists atttempted to organise uprisings in 1839-40, but three attempts to assassinate Queen Victoria also took place in 1842. 18-year old Edward Oxford attempted to assassinate her, was tried for high treason, but was acquitted on grounds of insanity. The defense portrayed Oxford as a confused imbecile, but the Queen believed him perfectly sane. Many suggested a Chartist conspiracy. On 29 May, John Francis fired a pistol at her, was convicted of high treason and was sentenced to transportation for life. On 3 July, John Bean attempted to shoot the Queen, even though his gun was loaded only with paper and tobacco. Prince Albert encouraged Parliament to pass the Treason Act of 1842 and Bean was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment.

There seems to have been a concerted effort to portray McNaughtan as a madman, as there was with Oxford. The information that Peel was the intended victim was suppressed. Scotland Yard told Peel that McNaughtan was in touch with other men. Victoria recorded in her diary:

“Had a letter from Sir Robert Peel, with very curious enclosures, relative to MacNaughten who is clearly not in the least mad. A most mischievous paper was found in his lodgings in Glasgow—quite shocking.”

The document was never made public. A second document that was referred to in a letter to the Queen was said to have contained “information… [which] will prove that MacNaghten is a Chartist, that he attended political meeting sat Glasgow and that he has taken a violent part in politics.”

The claim of insanity was based on the fact that he killed the wrong man and that he thought he was being persecuted by the Tories. But McNaughtan’s mistake was understandable – Peel and Drummond looked similar, traveled together, and there were few public images available for everyone to know what Peel looked like. And what was not dealt with in court is whether or not McNaughtan was in fact being persecuted by the Tories, who had the motive and means to do so. Half the people in the UK today could reasonably claim that the Tories are persecuting them – because the bastards ARE persecuting them.

Some interesting research can be found at:

Click to access Daniel_1b%20rev.%20website.pdf


An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online