Outside the County Asylum: The cases of Charles Luxmore and Edward Lancey


This third post about life outside the asylum ventures over the border into Devon, highlighting two cases which prompted legal processes concerning the domestic confinement and inadequate care of those considered ‘lunatics’. These legal processes demonstrate the turn towards the belief that, in the minds of the authorities at least, the best place for the ‘pauper insane’ was the County Asylum, reinforced by the Acts of 1845. And for Charles Luxmore and Edward Lancey this belief would certainly seem to have been an accurate one.

Charles Luxmore had become a blacksmith in his youth, despite being a child of ‘weak intellect’. However, in 1838, after he displayed increasing episodes of ‘mania’, his father confined him – a situation he was to endure for the next 13 years.

He was restrained with a chain and leg iron within a wooden ‘cell’ measuring 7ft x 4ft, at the family home at Germansweek, near to the Cornwall/Devon border. When his parents became infirm and unable to manage Charles, they asked John Yeo, their son-in-law, to take over. Yeo and his wife moved to Orchard [probably Orchard Barton], in nearby Lewtrenchard, taking Charles and the wooden structure with them.

A local resident reported to the Poor Law Officer their concerns that a ‘lunatic’ was being confined in poor conditions, and Charles was discovered. He was found chained to a beam, naked and filthy. Unable to walk without assistance, he was taken by covered cart to the Devon County Asylum at Exminster, which had opened in July 1845 – 7 years into Charles’s confinement.

This was a complicated case, as it was not immediately apparent how the law had been broken. It was finally decided Yeo should be prosecuted for volunteering to take care of a lunatic but failing to do so. The case was heard in July 1851. Yeo was sentenced to 6 months in prison – although in a common gaol rather than a punitive house of correction – with the clear message that people should report to the authorities if they were unable to humanely care for a family member within the home. The new asylums were the places to manage and treat insanity.

Nevertheless, many families resisted placing their relatives within the County Asylums.

Devon County Pauper Asylum, Exeter

Devon County Asylum at Exminster

Image: The Time Chamber

The second Devon case involved Anthony Huxtable, charged with ‘abusing, ill-treating, and wilfully neglecting Edward Lancey, a lunatic’ at Bratton Fleming, near Barnstaple.

Edward, Huxtable’s brother-in-law, had been discovered after a ‘holloaing noise’ was heard coming from the house by James Richards, the relieving officer of Barnstaple Union. Edward was found in a darkened room, measuring 8ft x 6ft, and less than 6ft high, which could not be opened from the inside. The window was boarded, and, despite it being only 6ft from the family sitting room and opposite the kitchen door, the room emitted a ‘great stench’, attributed to it having no ‘convenience’.

James Richards described how he saw ‘something like a bundle moving about on the bed’. Taking a closer look he realised ‘it was a human being’. Edward was on a bed covered in straw, with just a piece of unidentifiable cloth as bedding, and wearing only a shirt.

‘I could not see much of the lunatic in the bed’, continued Richards, ‘but from what I did see, I remarked that his legs were drawn up, and his nose was almost between his knees’. Lancey would not – or could not – give Richards rational responses, only talking to himself, and appeared ‘wholly without intellect’. Richards requested ‘some clothes for the lunatic’, but Huxtable stated he did not have any. When Richards threatened to take ‘the lunatic’ to the magistrates at Barnstaple naked, Huxtable found some clothes, although from his ‘bent, fixed position’ Richards supposed it would be impossible to clothe Lancey in trousers. Indeed, he observed, ‘when he was carried out of the house into the omnibus, he retained the same position in which he had been lying’.


Edward Lancey, a few days after his admission into Devon County Asylum, by G. Pycroft, published in The Asylum Journal of Mental Science Vol. II (1856)

Edward’s terrible condition and rescue was widely reported in the newspapers, as was Huxtable’s subsequent trial. It transpired Huxtable was a widower who ‘did not wish to part with the lunatic, as his (lunatic’s) mother and sister wished to keep him’. Huxtable was in receipt of £21 a year to keep Lancey: £7 from his wife’s estate, and £7 each from that of her two sisters, also deceased. Edward had been with him for 7 years, and Huxtable described him as ‘perfectly quiet and harmless’. Previously Lancey had lived with his mother – the intimation being she may also have been ‘insane’ – and Huxtable testified that Edward was:

‘in the same crippled, helpless condition when he came to him; that he was exceedingly filthy in his personal habits; and that it was impossible to prevent him’.

Huxtable also claimed that Edward ‘destroyed his clothes as fast as they were given to him’.

Speaking at the trial on Huxtable’s behalf was the rector of the adjoining parish, Reverend Carwithen. He testified that Huxtable was industrious, hardworking, and of excellent character. Carwithen had visited the property and heard Lancey ‘raving’: he had also smelt the ‘intolerable’ and ‘offensive’ stench. Huxtable had assured Carwithen he tried to keep his brother-in-law clean, but any ‘convenience’ placed in the room had been destroyed.

Mr. Torr, the surgeon called to the property at the request of Richards, reported he had found him to be pale and emaciated, with his ‘knees up to his face’, unable to use his legs to walk. However, he also observed Lancey had been on clean oat straw with no bedsores or marks of violence. Huxtable informed Torr he had not put him in an asylum as none would take him due to his ‘dirty habits’ – an assertion refuted by Torr who told him ‘there were places provided for them’.

Edward was removed to the Devon County Asylum, where John Bucknill, the superintendent, examined him. Bucknill reported that whilst he had seen ‘persons kept in farm houses’ they were ‘not in the filthy condition as was this lunatic’. He took the opportunity to emphasise the benefits of the asylum, attributing many aspects of Lancey’s condition as due to, or exacerbated by, his previous confinement, and highlighting how his condition had improved with proper food, care, and a larger, well-ventilated room.

Bucknill deposition

In a judgement shocking to modern sensibilities, Huxtable was acquitted, as he had not imprisoned Edward, ‘the lunatic being himself, by very nature, a prisoner’, whilst the charge of wilful neglect was dismissed as it was ‘more accountable to ignorance and the incapabilities of the farmer’s house’. The evidence was thought to show Huxtable had done all he could for Lancey under the circumstances – and to usefully demonstrate the undeniable benefits of the County Asylum.

Bucknill published an account of Edward Lancey’s case, to underline precisely that, drawing attention to another recently admitted patient called Joseph Adams. Joseph had been discovered in an attic room where he had been confined by his mother and brother for 18 years. In that time he had never been out of the room nor had clothes on – although Bucknill notes he was well fed and not crippled.

Nevertheless, despite the promotion of the benefits of the County Asylums, mistrust, combined with financial and geographical factors, meant the workhouse continued to be used to house the pauper insane throughout the 19th century.

References and further reading:

Sarah Wise, Inconvenient People: Lunacy, Liberty and the Mad Doctor in Victorian England (2012)

Elaine Murphy, ‘Workhouse care of the insane, 1845 – 90’ in Pamela Dale and Joseph Melling (eds) Mental Illness and Learning Disability Since 1850: Finding a place for mental disorder in the United Kingdom (2006) pp. 24 – 45

Leonard D. Smith, ‘The County Asylum in the Mixed Economy of Care, 1808 – 1845’ in Joseph Melling and Bill Forsythe (eds) Insanity, Institutions and Society, 1800 – 1914: A social history of madness in comparative perspective (1999) pp. 33 – 47

Further Report of the Commissioners in Lunacy, to the Lord Chancellor (1847)

‘Cruel Treatment of a Lunatic’, Medical Times & Gazette Saturday, January 13 1855, p. 559

‘Cruel Conduct Towards a Lunatic’, The Standard Tuesday May 29 1855

‘Alleged Ill-Treatment of a Lunatic’, Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post or Plymouth and Cornish Advertiser Thursday July 261855

‘Seven Years in a Lunatic’s Life’, Lloyds Weekly Newspaper Sunday, June 3 1855

John Charles Bucknill (ed) The Asylum Journal of Mental Science Vol. I (1855)

John Charles Bucknill (ed) The Asylum Journal of Mental Science Vol. II (1856)

The Time Chamber: http://www.thetimechamber.co.uk/beta/sites/asylums/asylum-history/asylum-architecture

Devon County Mental Hospital: Social Attitudes and Mental Illness in Devon 1845 – 1986: http://dcmh.exeter.ac.uk/


Outside the County Asylum: Care at Home in 19th century Cornwall



 Cornwall County Asylum today

© Examining Mental Illness in Cornwall 2013. All rights reserved.

Some families could afford a private keeper and manage their relatives at home, or lodge them in single houses under the care of an attendant. However, many were confined in the family home. Families were exempt from official scrutiny when caring for relatives who were mentally ill or had a learning disability, as, particularly prior to the County Asylum Act of 1845, this was understood as wholly appropriate, and in some cases a legal obligation.

Newspapers and reports of the time sometimes provided a tragic glimpse of this arrangement, bringing to public attention incidences when care at home was woefully inadequate.

For example, on April 7th 1810 the West Briton reported that the previous Monday Thomas Hunkin of Megavissey, a married man with five children, had hung himself ‘in a small room in which he had been confined for some time, in consequence of his evidencing symptoms of derangement’.

This news was published less than two weeks after the paper had informed its readers how the High Sherriff, gentlemen, freeholders, clergy, and ‘other inhabitants of the county of Cornwall’ had assembled at Bodmin Assizes to discuss ‘the expediency and propriety of providing a lunatic asylum, or house for the reception of lunatics, and other insane persons’ within Cornwall. Local magistrates were subsequently requested to ascertain the numbers of people within their districts ‘for whose accommodation, comfort and cure it will be necessary in the first instance to provide’.

bodmin asylum

Bodmin Asylum

Image: Old Cornwall in Pictures

The founding of the County Asylum was primarily to address the issue of the pauper insane, for whom the inadequacies of home care – and within the poorhouse and workhouse – could prove fatal. Another case, reported on December 25th 1812 was that of ‘a poor but once industrious man’, Hannibal Thomas of Chacewater, who for two years previously had ‘laboured under that most dreadful of maladies, mental derangement’. His wife and five young children had been supported by the parish, but it was only when one of the children died that ‘the deplorable state of this miserable family was discovered’.

Living in a single room, Hannibal was found:

‘confined to the bed, raving in all the wildness of frenzy; the mother also was confined by illness, and near her lay the corps of her infant; and the other children crying for food, which their wretched parent was unable to supply, their pittance not enabling them to secure a sufficiency of barley-bread or potatoes’.

There was a public appeal for charity for the family.

wrist restraint

Wrist Restraint

Image: Science Museum, London

Poorhouses or workhouses were often the only options for families in poverty when they could no longer manage their relative in the family home. A report on the 28th February 1817 provides another vivid illustration of the dire circumstances these families could find themselves in. A nineteen year old woman ‘subject to fits and occasional derangement’ was removed to a pauper house in St Buryan ‘because the overseers thought two shillings a week too much for her maintenance; her father is an industrious fisherman with a large family; her mother is blind’.

However, a fire reduced some of the St Buryan pauper houses to ruins: 21 of the 27 parish poor managed to escape by jumping from the windows: this young woman was amongst those who perished. Separated from her friends upon being removed to the poor house she had become violent, and been secured by a chain:

‘She was seen struggling in the flames but could not free herself from the fetters, and no assistance could be afforded her’.

restraint harness

Restraint Harness

Image: Science Museum, London

Care at home for those understood as mentally ill or mentally impaired did not necessarily mean confinement. On 25th February 1833 James Symons, ‘of weak intellect’, from Praze in Crowan parish, was missing, ‘supposed to have missed his road, in following his father to work, at a mine’, and ‘to have wandered beyond his knowledge’. A month later a report appeared in the West Briton, and during that time he had only been heard of once, at the beginning of March:

‘when he was found at Mawgan, and was put back to Michell, by a parish officer, who, it is believed, supposed he would find his way home; but his friends have not since that time – about the 4th instant – heard any intelligence of him.’

Symons was described as 5 foot 4 inches, ‘about 26 years of age’ and ‘slight made’, with dark hair and ‘reddish whiskers’. He was ‘of reserved habits; talks to himself, and is capable of telling his name and the place of his residence’. At the time of his disappearance he had been wearing a blue-striped shirt, with a neckerchief and blue and white socks, a blue jacket, a waistcoat and trousers of heavy material (fustian), ‘high shoes, and an old hat’.

‘Whoever may meet the person above described’, the paper stated, ‘are requested to restore him to his afflicted parents, for which a handsome reward will be given.’ Sadly, however, Symons was reported as still wandering nearly 7 months later, although the September 6th edition of the West Briton did report receiving information ‘that the poor lunatic was seen in the neighbourhood of Liskeard, about a month since’. ‘As he is not capable of inquiring his way’ the paper continued:

‘it is earnestly requested, by his distressed father, that he may be detained by any person who may meet with him, and information be sent, by post, to Mr John Symons, Praze, Crowan, who will immediately proceed to take him home, and who will pay all reasonable expenses incurred’.

 It is not clear whether poor James Symons made it home.


References and Further Reading

West Briton

Old Cornwall in Pictures: https://en-gb.facebook.com/OldCornwallInPictures

R. M. Barton, Life in Cornwall in the Early Nineteenth Century (1997)

Sarah Wise, Inconvenient People: Lunacy, Liberty and the Mad Doctor in Victorian England (2012)

Joseph Melling and Bill Forsythe (eds) Insanity, Institutions and Society, 1800 – 1914. A social history of madness in comparative perspective (1999)

Science Museum:                                                                                                               http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/broughttolife/objects/display.aspx?id=92676http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/broughttolife/objects/display.aspx?id=92687. Wrist restraint and restraint harness: these items appear to be replicas made after 1850.